Would it bother you if I told you that I didn’t love my wife, … but I did at least care about whether she was truthful? Or what if I told you that I didn’t love her, but I did at least care that she was diligent with her work as a mother and a wife? Or that I didn’t love her, but I did at least care that she believed the right things? Good gosh, I sure hope that it would bother you! And I hope that you would visit my house with a fist full of fury and jack me in the throat!
It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But when backed against the wall, I wonder how many of us, if we were honest, would admit to living with these glaring contradictions in our relationship with Jesus. Or how many of our churches function this way—believing the right things and pursuing great causes, but never loving Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength? In Revelation chapter two, Scripture describes the church at Ephesus as living in this tragic condition.
“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false. And you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary … (okay, really good so far)
BUT … I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Rev. 2:3-4)
WHOA!! Train wreck! Epic fail here! Everything was sounding great until the big BUT! In fact, it sounds like many churches that I know that are doing good things for the kingdom of God. It sounds eerily similar to many individuals I know who are accomplishing great things for God and standing for truth, and persevering under hardship.
I mean, who can argue that these are not good things? Perseverance. Hating evil. Testing the spirts. A pursuit of orthodoxy (right belief). A pursuit of orthopraxy (right practice). By all accounts, these guys had it together. BUT, they had left their first love.
Here’s the issue: they were pursuing the fruit and the results of loving Jesus, without loving Jesus. They had replaced love for Jesus with love for Jesus “stuff.” They became obsessed with the overflow of love for Jesus, but not Jesus.
To be sure, the overflow is stuff Jesus cares about. Does Jesus care about perseverance? Absolutely. Does He care about standing for truth? Definitely. Does He care about right belief and practice? For sure. But those are secondary issues. What He cares most about is simply love for Him. When Jesus is loved above all else, the rest just happens. Perseverance. Hating evil. Loving truth. Concern for orthodoxy and orthopraxy. All of this is the overflow of loving Jesus first and foremost. All of this happens naturally and automatically when Jesus is loved above all else.
Isn’t this the challenge that you and I face everyday? Because it’s so easy to become consumed with Jesus stuff. To care for orphans and widows. To love and pursue truth. To champion for justice and righteousness. To endure under hardship. To run at a dead sprint because “God’s work never stops.” And all of these things are good. But they’re secondary. They’re secondary to pursuing, above all else, a love relationship with Jesus. Our affections can so quickly get swept away by good causes, theological musings, righteous living, and adrenaline-laced kingdom service, that we miss the one thing that God wants most—love for Him.
Our challenge is to reverse the order. Love Jesus first, and a desire for truth will follow. Love Jesus first, and right theology will follow. Love Jesus first, and a conviction for serving His world will follow. Love Jesus first, and, … well, you get the idea.