How can we measure our love for God?

The amount of Bible study we do? The number of times we go to church in a month? How many times we pray during the day, etc…?

All of these disciplines are surely important, but do they definitively measure our love for God?

What is the measuring stick that reveals your love for God?

In Matthew 22, Mark 12, and Luke 10, Jesus answers the question, “What is the greatest commandment?”

Jesus replied, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27))

Romans 13:8 likewise states that love is the fulfillment of the law, and many places throughout the New Testament instruct us, encourage us, and admonish us to love one another. (1)

Why is so much emphasis put on loving one another?

These passages explain that our love for God and our love for our neighbor are very closely associated. One love reveals the other. Our love for our spouse (our nearest neighbor) reveals our love for God.  They are interconnected. As much as we try to separate the two, we can’t. What it looks like to express our love to God is to love our spouse. If we don’t love our spouse, we are expressing our lack of love for God.

1 John 4:20 expresses it plainly and somewhat painfully:

“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.”

The reason loving others is a central command in Scripture is because when we do, we are ultimately expressing our love for God. The point of your love for your spouse should ultimately be directed at the person of God.

Therefore, the best way to measure your love for God is to evaluate your love for your spouse.

How well are you loving your spouse (and God)?

I recently looked up the definition for the word love.  A secular dictionary gave this definition:

A profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.

A Bible dictionary gave this definition:

An earnest desire for and an active and beneficent interest in the well-being of the one loved.

Biblical counselor Jonathan Holmes describes biblical love in marriage this way:

Biblical love in marriage flows out of our relationship with Christ into a covenantal commitment to self-sacrifice in small and large ways for the spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being of my spouse. (2)

Notice the difference between the secular definition and the last two biblical definitions?  The first definition focuses on the feelings of the lover. Definitions two and three focus on the well-being of the beloved. This is a key ingredient in truly loving others – the sacrificial concern for the well-being of another.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us the definitive description of love with eight affirmations and eight negations:

 

Love…

Love doesn’t…

Never gives up

Want what it doesn’t have

Cares more for others than for self

Strut

Puts up with anything

Have a swelled head

Trusts God always

Force itself on others

Always looks for the best

Say, “Me first!”

Never looks back

Fly off the handle

Keeps going to the end

Keep score of the sins of others

Never dies

Revel when others grovel

.

I often take my clients through an exercise with this table asking these questions:

    • Which column best describes how you relate to your spouse?
    • What does that tell you about how well you are or are not loving your spouse?
    • What do you most need to increase in the left column, and what do you most need to decrease in the right column?

How to REALLY tell how well you are loving your spouse

I consider Philippians 2:3 to be one of the most convicting verses in the entire Bible:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”

Clear but convicting, isn’t it?  Do NOTHING selfish.

In addition to considering what your love looks like through the lens of 1 Corinthians 13, consider these questions through the lens of Philippians 2:3 to explore your motivation, or the root of your love (the real measuring stick):

    • Is your love more focused on your feelings or your spouse’s well-being?
    • Is your love more motivated by what you get or what you can give?
    • Is your love expecting something in return?
    • Does your love cost you something, or is it convenient?

Why this matters

When we think of our horizontal love for our spouse in terms of our vertical relationship with God, something should change. Namely, our motivation.

If you’ve been married longer than a day, you know that your spouse will disappoint you, fail to meet your expectations, or just flat out let you down. The question is, how will you respond when they do?

If you think your love is only horizontal, you might be tempted to withhold love or express anger. But, if you remember that your love is not just horizontal but vertical, you should have more motivation to love them.

Remember, the act of loving your spouse is primarily an expression of your love for God. When your spouse doesn’t deserve your love, God does. The goal is to love your spouse as Christ deserves, not necessarily as they deserve.

I encourage you to take the 16 characteristics of love in the table above and use them as a guide on how to fulfill Jesus’s central command to love in this most intimate of human relationships…your marriage. And most importantly, to express your love for God.


  1. Matthew 5:44; John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Romans 12:10; 1 Corinthians 16:14; Galatians 5:13, 14, 22; Ephesians 4:2, 5:2, 25, 28; Philippians 2:2; Colossians 3:19; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; 1 Timothy 1:5; 4:12; 6:11; James 2:8; 1 Peter 1:22; 2:17; 4:8; 5:14; 1 John 3:10-11, 14; 4:11-12, 20-21.
  2. Jonathan D. Holmes, Counsel for Couples, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2019), 89.

** Hans Molegraaf and David Lord co-authored this post.