“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 with yours. There is one first, however, that is essential and that all of us must keep number one. 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.”(1) 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 an amateur. Ceci, on the other hand, is a pro. And as is fitting, she enjoys it. We have reached the glorious state in our marriage wherein she no longer prefers me shopping 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 enjoy: I fish, 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 of all the other commandments (Matthew 22:37-38).
This begs the question of why - why does God demand to be first? Is He narcissistic or egocentric, demanding that we make Him the center of attention? Or, is God insecure, in need of our affirmation? The obvious answer to both of these questions 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.
This 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 made 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 God made only for Himself. Period. If we don’t get this right, 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 such 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 misconception is allowed to control us, our good works will devolve into meaningless 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 occurs when we first meet Christ. Such a sustained emotional high is not a reasonable expectation in any relationship, whether it 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 inconsistent, 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. 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, The pleasures of the palace replaced the pleasure of God’s company. His life was out of rhythm.
That’s when Bathsheba entered his life. David 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:
Holy Spirit, search our hearts and show us where we’ve failed to ascribe to our Father, to Jesus, and to 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. Without Your loving leadership, we are incomplete. May nothing else replace the pleasure of Your company.
Father, our nation once honored You first. But like David, success, wealth, and pleasure crowded You out. For most Americans, You’re not even a distant second We know, however, from Your Word and from history, this can change. Smoldering embers can blaze again, cold hearts can burn with passion, and prodigals can run into the arms of love-sick fathers. With Your power and love, even dry, dead bones can live again. Breathe once again on this apostate nation. Soon. In Christ, the great Lover of Sinners’ name, we pray, Amen.
We declare that the church is returning to first love, a harvest of lovers is coming, and Jesus will be prioritized above all!
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company and published by Baker Books.
Click on the link below to watch the full video.
James Strong The New Strong’s exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990), ref. no. 4413.