My wife, Paula, tied the knot with me in 1986. We celebrated thirty years of marriage last year. It’s been a typical journey with its ups and downs, pleasures and pains, and lots of growing up to do (especially on my part). But, I’m grateful to report, that Paula has become my treasure. I love being with her. All glory to God. Sometimes marriage love grows, and sometimes it fades. We don’t always have control over that, either. It takes two to make it fully happen.
The Christian life is similar. God’s love for us is steady, but our love for the Lord can grow strong and stay strong, or it can gradually fade and diminish, like a marriage slowly falling apart. This, unfortunately, is what was happening to the church at Ephesus. On the surface, they seemed to be doing all the right things, but after praising them for their strengths, Jesus issues a chilling rebuke and warning: “Revelation 2:4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
“You have forsaken your first love.” What does that mean? At the very least, it means that they now loved Jesus less than they had at first. Last week I made some suggestions about how a “forsaken first love” might manifest itself. This week we’ll look at it from a more positive angle:
How can I maintain my “first love”?
1. I maintain my first love by properly valuing it
Possessing a deep love for God is not a random accident. It’s a gift of immense value. Most people in our world do not have it and many never will. Without it we are always caterpillars and never butterflies. His love saves us from our sin, makes us beautiful, and, most importantly, draws us into His loving arms. I called it a “gift” because we, by ourselves, could never generate this love. God has worked very hard to make it available for us, by sending His Son to die, and using His Spirit to draw us to Him. Our part is to receive this unearned, undeserved, priceless gift. To love God in a consuming, hungry way is to soar on spiritual eagle wings. Yet, too often, believers, having received this powerful spiritual bond, begin to take it for granted, losing a sense of its priceless value. When this happens, as the Ephesians demonstrated, our “first love” can fade. Which leads to the next suggestion:
2. I maintain my first love by making it my highest priority
It’s not easy, in our sinful world, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:36,37). Ironically, those who lose this first love usually do so unintentionally. As in some marriages, the love is lost more due to neglect than to intent. We just get busy and distracted. The world in front of us seems more real than God and soon commands more of our attention and, eventually, more of our loyalty. Those who are able to hang onto that first love never do so by luck or by accident. They do it by choice. How do we hang on to it and make it our first priority?
3. I maintain my first love by feeding it
First love fades if not fed. Like any close relationship it requires regular, qualitative interaction with God. This includes devotional time; time spent reading the Word, meditating on it, praying, worshiping, and so on. While, this needn’t take hours, it’s also hard to accomplish in five or ten minutes. This time is meant to bond us to God and reinforce a spiritual dialogue that continues throughout the day; an ongoing conversation with Him. We also feed that first love by spending quality time with other committed believers. But this feeding seldom happens by accident. We must push back some of life’s relentless demands and carve out a space to hang with God and His people.
4. I maintain my first love by guarding it
There are many other competing loves in our lives. Some of them, in themselves, are legitimate; like family, friends, career, and so on. These are fine as long as they’re kept in their appropriate place. God is meant to come first, ahead even of our marriage and family. Otherwise, even good loves become an idol. Other competing loves are illegitimate – those involving sinful activities and attitudes. We may, for instance practice sexual immorality or harbor hatred or bitterness. Some of these sins can be quite subtle, like hidden pride toward others or God. I suspect that this is what was happening at Ephesus. Our sins must be confessed and repented of or they will spoil our first love. I guard this first love by making sure it gets my main attention and loyalty; pushing back against any other loves which threaten to diminish it and its priority in my life.
5. I maintain my first love by enjoying it
Jesus is stern with the church at Ephesus about “forsaking” their first love. That’s because doing so is a sad mistake with negative spiritual consequences. Yet the opposite is also true. Living in our first love for Jesus is a great choice which is intended to bring spiritual pleasure and blessing. One of best antidotes to a struggling marriage is sharing joy together. Walk the spiritual meadows with Jesus, laughing together, chatting about anything and everything, savoring the fragrance of His presence. Sit quietly at His feet, resting, listening and worshiping. His love is truly “better than life” (Ps. 63).
6. I maintain my first love by spreading it to others
One of the signs that we are living in first love is that it inevitably flows out toward others. God’s love sloshes. By its very nature it spills. To love God is to love those whom He loves. Believers who attempt to hoard their first love lose it. But those who share it, ironically, find that the more love they pour out, the more they’re left with. And what a gift it is to others! Jesus becomes less of an abstract concept and more of a winsome reality for them when His heart flows out through our hands. Unbelievers are drawn to Christ. Believers are encouraged, inspired and instructed as they feel our love for Christ reaching to them, soaking their hearts.
Although, they outwardly may appear identical, there is a world of difference between a first love and a forsaken first love. Jesus says to Ephesus: “Remember the height from which you have fallen. . .” If you still have your first love, hang on to it. It’s a treasure beyond compare. If you’ve lost it, the good news is that this state need not be permanent. With the help of the Spirit that first love can be restored.