2012 was both the hardest and the best year of my life. It began with me asking God to help me love Him with everything in me. He answered that prayer by taking away from me all that I hold dear while simultaneously revealing how much He loved me. I won’t elaborate on the hard part except to say that these difficult circumstances threw me on God for I was a desperate hurting man.
At my lowest point I reached out to a group of men and asked them for help. They began to pray and within days God began to answer. He made me know, through His still small voice, and scriptures that came to life, that He not only loved me, He liked me.
The passage that helped me the most was John 15:9, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” Jesus was speaking to His disciples when he uttered this remarkable truth. I have read John 15 many many times but I missed this profound revelation. Just as God the Father loved Jesus the Son, so has Jesus loved me. I reveled in this truth.
I had heard the gospel 40 years earlier, but it all seemed new and fresh. Jesus loves me as much as His Father loves Him. I began to believe in a new and deep way that I was not only loved, but liked. I wondered at what God was doing because I had been asking Him to help me fulfill the great commandment and love Him. Then it dawned on me, 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” This is how God works. The more I comprehend how much God loves me, the more I love Him.
I began to study this verse and focused first on how the Father loved the Son. I found over 100 passages that speak of this ideal Father/Son relationship. I saw that before Jesus embarked on His earthly ministry, He was first loved by His Dad. We have a glimpse into their relationship at the baptism. The Father said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” Or perhaps a Dad today would say, “This is my boy, I love Him to pieces.”
After Jesus was perfectly loved by the only truly perfect Dad, then He loved us the same way. I began enumerating the many ways that Jesus loved the disciples. He died, He washed their feet, He served, He taught, He prayed, He healed, He fed, and many more. As the disciples had been loved perfectly and consistently, Jesus then directed them to love others the same way they had been loved. He called this the new commandment.
In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you,” If we put these two passages together we have a beautiful truth. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; As I have loved you, love one another.
Jesus loved the disciples after He had been loved by His Dad. So too, I can’t love others, until I have been first loved. The more I am loved by God, the greater my capacity to love others the same way.
The command to love my wife is simply a rephrasing of the new commandment. I am to love Sandi as Christ has loved me. My relationship with Sandi has improved dramatically as I have applied this principle. But first a confession.
There was a time when I thought it was my responsibility to help my wife be submissive. I hate to even write this, but it is true. But with this new mindset I consider how Jesus loved me. He could have made me submit, He is King of Kings, but He didn’t. Instead, He humbled Himself, laid His life down for me, served me, and in the process won my heart. I chose to submit to Him.
I now see that is not my job to fix my wife or my four sons. It is my job, my calling, my privilege, to lay down my life for them, to serve them, to pray for them, and love them as I have been loved. Regardless of how they respond, I am to continue to love them unconditionally, as Christ loves me. He died for me “while I was a sinner” (Romans 5:8).
My ability to love others as He loved me, hinges on my relationship with God. I can only give what I receive. The good news is that I believe God designed me to die. He created men to lay our lives down for our wife and children. For until a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit. (John 12:24)
In 2012 I thought I had lost my wife, my children, and my ministry. The real battle was fought in my own heart. I had to die. I reached out for help. I even engaged a therapist (which I had vowed never to do). And I had to learn to accept unconditional love and grace. But in dying, I found life. Matthew 16:25 states, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
God took me and my family through deep waters, but we have emerged and are now in the best place we have ever been with God and each other. Before God can turn our hearts to our family, He first will turn our hearts to Him. For when we are loved, then we can love.
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” –2Thess 3:5
Steve Demme is a husband and father. He is the founder of Building Faith Families.