Day 6, Chapter 6: The Priority
“Firsts” can be good or bad. First place is usually good, as are first class and first rate. First degree is usually bad, as is the need for first aid; and the first half and first baseman can be either. While thinking about this chapter, I recalled several of my firsts and a one-or two-word thought concerning them. Here are ten:
First major-league baseball game attended (awe)
First day of school (intimidated)
First bike (fast)
First car (junk)
First time seeing color TV (mesmerized)
First date with Ceci (priceless)
First time seeing both daughters (love)
First dirty diaper change (nausea)
First cell phone (heavy)
First sermon (nice try)
Compiling a few of my firsts was fun. Some were extremely important, others only memorable. The same would be true if you compiled a list. There is one first, however, that is essential and that all of us must have in common. Jesus referred to it as our “first love.” When writing to the Ephesian church He said, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
The Greek word translated “first” in this passage is protos, meaning “foremost in time, place, order, or importance.” Since it would be illogical to assume Christ had been the first person each of them loved, it seems reasonable to conclude He was using the word in the sense of importance. “You have abandoned the love that should be your number one priority,” was His obvious meaning.
The root word for protos is pro, meaning “superior to” or “in front of,” and yes, protos is where we get our word professional, or its shortened form pro. A professional is one who is superior to others in a particular field. I’m a golfer; Phil Mickelson is, as well. But there’s a big difference between us: He’s a pro, I’m an amateur. Watching each of us swing a golf club once would leave no doubt as to the difference.
Shopping is another activity performed by both pros and amateurs. I shop once in a while - when God is punishing me for speeding or some other serious sin. I’m an amateur shopper, and have no desire to ever be anything but amateur. Ceci, on the other hand, is a pro. And as is fitting, she loves it. We have reached the glorious state in our marriage wherein she no longer makes me shop for her birthday or Christmas presents. Oh, I grab a few stocking stuffers and surprise her once in a while with a really cool present like a toaster or lamp, but for the most part she does all the shopping. The reason? She’d rather have what she likes most and fits her best. So I buy her gift cards - really neat ones with cool pictures - purchased from the appropriate stores. Then we both do what we do best: I fish and she shops. Life is good.
Placing the literal definitions of pro and protos into the context of Revelation 2:4 makes clear what Jesus was saying: Relationship with Him should be “in front of” or “superior to” all others. He wants to be our “priority” love. Christ told us elsewhere that loving God is the first and foremost of all the other commandments (Matthew 22:37-38).
This begs the question of why - why does God demand to be first? Is He conceited or egocentric, demanding that we make Him the center of attention? Or is God insecure and in need of our affirmation? The answer to both of these questions, of course, is a resounding no. The Lord is self-confident and self-assured, and yet this confidence is filtered through the utmost humility. He has neither pride nor insecurity issues. Why then, does He demand to be number one? Because He wants us to be fulfilled. Complete. Satisfied.
The reason God must be first in our lives is profound in both its simplicity and importance: The very purpose for the creation of humans was relationship with God. We were formed to be one in spirit with Him, joined together spiritually like a husband and wife. First Corinthians 6:17 says, “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” Our union with Him completes us. There is a place in the heart of every human that God made only for Himself. Period. If we don’t get this right, life will be out of rhythm; the pieces won’t fit. Nothing else can fill this void, including other people, money, pleasure, or accomplishments. And certainly not religion; we weren’t created to connect with a system but a person. God understands this, of course, and for our benefit reminds us of His love for us and our need for Him.
Jesus said to the church at Ephesus: “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure 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” (Revelation 2:2-3).
What believer wouldn't be excited to hear this praise? Most of us couldn't score high in all of these areas. Yet Christ makes it clear that these accomplishments are not the heart of the matter. A good performance can't take the place of intimacy with Him. If this is allowed to occur, our good works will devolve into empty religion every time, satisfying neither God nor us. Our performance must flow out from relationship with Him, never replace or be equated to it.
It is also important to understand that our first (or priority, as the word means), love is not based on emotions or feelings. It would be unrealistic to think we can maintain the same level of emotional excitement that typically occured when we first met Christ. Such a sustained emotional high is not a reasonable expectation in any relationship, whether that be with your spouse, a friend, or the Lord.
Marriages built on feelings become divorces; parenting based on emotions results in fatherless and motherless children; and Christians who base their pursuit of God on feelings and emotions become lukewarm, passionless, and indifferent. They may not walk away from their faith, but they will always leave their first love. How sad this is, and so avoidable.
David, the great psalmist and king of Israel, demonstrated the danger of losing first love. Known as being one of the most passionate God-seekers ever, David loved being with Him. “O Lord, I love the habitation of Your house and the place where Your glory dwells,” he told the Lord (Psalm 26:8). There came a time, however, when compromise entered David’s life and other passions began to outweigh his passion for God. Success can be a thief, robbing us of the zeal that produced it, and this happened with David. It was his zealous heart after God that gained David the throne, not his gifts or good looks (see 1 Samuel 16:7). But success tempered this zeal, and eventually the pleasures of the palace replaced the pleasure of God’s company.
When David’s compromise became great enough, temptation was presented. It always happens this way. The tempter knows that when the shield of our love commitment is lowered, the potential for compromise rises. From the palace roof, David saw a beautiful lady bathing below. Having lost the sustaining power of his first-love relationship with God, Bathsheba entered his life. His sin resulted in her becoming pregnant, which led him to cause the death of her righteous husband, Uriah, so he could marry her. How could David, a man after God’s heart, fall to such depravity? One step at a time, beginning with the loss of his first love. He eventually made it back, but it was a long and painful process involving great heartache and loss.
If Christ is currently number one in your life and you are enjoying the pleasure of His company, treasure it. Let nothing come between the two of you. But if you, like David, or the church of Ephesus, have allowed other things to take priority over your relationship with Him, reprioritize. Make Him protos again - superior to all else. And if you have never yet discovered Christ as your first-love soul mate - well, get ready to find out why you exist.
Amazing joys await you.
Pray with me:
Father, You are incomparable and superior in every way. Your name, Jesus, is above every other name. You hold the place of highest honor and all else must bow at your feet.
Holy Spirit, search our hearts and show us where we’ve failed to ascribe to the Father, Jesus, and You the highest place. Reveal to us the ways in which we have compromised our commitment to You, forsaking our first love. Thank You for tenderly drawing our wayward hearts back to the priority of loving You and receiving Your love.
God, we truly want to live our lives out of the first commandment: loving You first and fully. When this is right, we can share Your love with the world. Our hearts’ desires are that in all things, You would have preeminence. Without Your loving leadership, we are incomplete. May nothing else replace the pleasure of Your company.
We declare that a church is arising, and a harvest is coming, in which Jesus will be prioritized above all!
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
Dutch Sheets, The Pleasure of His Company (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), pp 49-56.