Every Christian should be aware of the danger of leaving his first love for the Lord. Long ago, the church in Ephesus was busy doing many things for God, yet Jesus told them, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” He then commanded them: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:4–5).
Let’s consider some indications that you may be wandering from your first love for Christ.
1. You delight in someone else more than you delight in the Lord.
Your love for God should be foremost in your heart, exceeding the bond of any other relationship. Jesus identified this truth as the greatest of all commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). As we delight in the Lord and seek Him and His Kingdom first, He promises to meet the needs and desires of our heart (see Psalm 37:4 and Matthew 6:33). Are you making your relationship with God your chief priority, or are you guilty of the idolatry of placing family or friends before your relationship with Him? (See Luke 14:26.)
2. Your soul does not long for times of rich fellowship with God through His Word or in prayer.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy . . . soul” (Mark 12:30). When your mind, will, and emotions wander from devotion to God, watch out! Your relationship with God deepens as you spend time in His Word and commune with Him in prayer. If you forsake this fellowship, your awareness of your true condition before God will grow dull. And how can you really know God, in all of His mercy and truth, if you do not spend time with Him? As God’s children, His friends, and as the Bride of Christ (see Matthew 5:44–45, John 15:15, and Revelation 21:9), we must draw near to Him to grow in our relationship with Him. (See James 4:7–8.) Do you have the same excitement to read the Bible, pray, and commune with Jesus, or do other books, activities, and friends steal your quiet times with Him? (See Psalm 119:15, 18; 5:3, and John 14:23.)
3. Your thoughts in leisure moments do not reflect upon the Lord.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy . . . mind” (Mark 12:30). The things that captivate your thoughts in your free time reveal much about the priorities of your heart. The Apostle Paul instructed believers regarding their thought life: “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). What occupies your mind throughout the day? At night? While sitting at a standstill in rush hour traffic? Are the cares of the world possibly replacing thoughts of your Savior?
4. You claim to be “only human” and easily give in to those things you know displease the Lord.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy . . . strength” (Mark 12:30). Have you fully committed yourself to the Lord, yielding every member of your body “as instruments of righteousness unto God (see Romans 6:13)? God wants you to dedicate your whole body to Him as a “living sacrifice” (see Romans 12:1–2).
A believer has no excuse for disobeying God. His grace is sufficient to rescue you from every temptation. (See I Corinthians 10:13.) So, when you are giving in to those ungodly thoughts and activities with the excuse that you’re “only human,” remember this truth and admonition: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren” (James 1:14–16).
Your obedience to God demonstrates your love for Him. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love” (John 15:10). Are you perhaps allowing the pull of the world, your fleshly lusts, and the devil to cause you to forget God’s great love for you and His desire that you obey His Word?
5. You do not willingly and cheerfully give to God’s work or to the needs of others.
Generosity is part of God’s holy character: “For God so loved the world, that he gave . . .” (John 3:16, emphasis added), and He “loveth a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7). Therefore, “whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (I John 3:17).
As believers, we are to love giving—even to our enemies! (See Luke 6:27–36.) We can give like this only by the grace of God. If we are focused on “getting ahead,” hoarding extra funds, or satisfying unnecessary wants rather than looking to the needs of others, then we are drifting away from God’s plan for believers. What is your response when you hear of a need that you have the resources to meet?
6. You cease to treat every Christian as you would treat the Lord.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). “Love one another” is not a suggestion; it is a command that we are enabled to fulfill by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Do you find that you are quick to judge and condemn other believers? Consider God’s love for you and His command that you love others with His love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (I John 4:10–11). When you look at others, do you see their weaknesses, imperfections, or idiosyncrasies, or do you see Jesus? What are some ways that you show Christ’s love to others each day? (See I Peter 1:22.)
7. You view Christ’s commands as restrictions to your happiness rather than expressions of His love.
God’s commandments—the words of your wise and caring Heavenly Father—lead you toward what is good and away from what is evil. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). Obedience to His commandments will bring you true freedom and joy. (See John 8:31–32, 36.) How have you viewed, perhaps recently, a commandment from Christ as a limitation rather than as a protection?
8. You strive for the acclaim of this world rather than the approval of the Lord.
Our Savior chose for a time to give up the glory of Heaven, to humble Himself as a man, and to suffer persecution and die a cruel crucifixion death for you. While He was on the earth, Satan tempted Him by offering Him all the kingdoms of the earth—if Christ would worship him. (See Luke 4:5–7.) Jesus refused because of His overriding devotion to God. (See Luke 5:8 and Philippians 2:5–8.) Remember that, according to Scripture, you are to “love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John 2:15–17). Do you long for the recognition and honor of others, or are you content with God’s abundant love for you?
9. You allow fears to keep you from making Christ or His words known.
If your faithfulness to God depends on the reactions of those around you, you are serving men instead of serving God. Jesus faced misunderstandings and rejection because of His obedience to God, and you will face similar situations. Jesus’ obedience to God aggravated many people, including the religious leaders of His community. “Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).
Share the Gospel of Jesus Christ boldly. Publicly acknowledge His work in your life. Be faithful to proclaim the truth in love. Remember that God has said “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5–6). What fears can you identify that are hindering your witnessing? Or are you letting God’s love cast out fear (see I John 4:18) and boldly telling others about Jesus?
10. You refuse to give up an activity that you know offends a weaker brother.
In every generation, Christians seek God’s will concerning discretionary activities. God has given every believer freedom, but each person must live by his conscience. (See Romans 14:5.) At the same time, we are to honor one another. “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:14–15). (See also Romans 12:10 and Philippians 2:3–8.) If you are not concerned about causing offense or another to stumble, then that is a strong indication of having lost your “first love.” Jesus’ entire focus was on others—not Himself! What activity do you find joy in that brings heartache or internal unrest to another? Are you willing to forsake that activity so that God’s love will flow through you to others?
11. You become complacent to sinful conditions around you.
Jesus warned that “because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:12). Witnessing the sinfulness of the world around you should motivate you to follow after God with even greater determination. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour; Whom resist steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:8–9). Otherwise, frustration with sin leads to complacency about sin, and eventually compromise with sin. According to Scripture, Lot was “vexed with the filthy conversation [lifestyle] of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them [in Sodom], in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds)” (II Peter 2:7–8). Later, Lot would make compromises that yielded ungodly consequences because he was influenced by the sin about him. (See Genesis 19:30–36.) What worldly practices bring you sadness? Have you become desensitized to sin and its devastating consequences?
12. You are unwilling to forgive those who offend you.
“If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar” (I John 4:20). Holding a grudge against another person indicates that you have lost sight of the greatness of God’s forgiveness of your sin and your need for His grace. (See Matthew 18:21–35). Refusing to forgive your offenders is disobedience to God and a sign you have lost your “first love” (see Mark 11:25–26).
As believers, we are to “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:14–15). A spirit of forgiveness is essential to the Christian. Having that first love for Jesus means you kindly forgive others as you long for the unity of the brethren (see Ephesians 4:32 and Psalm 133:1). Are you known to have a forgiving spirit, or are you holding bitterness toward another?
Return to Your First Love for the Lord
A prayer of Moses, a leader in ancient Israel, gives us insight into the goal of keeping our first love: “Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight” (Exodus 33:13). The longing of our hearts should be to know God—to know Him intimately. That is the reason for knowing His ways and His will: to know Him. And this is God’s promise to His children: “Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the LORD” (Jeremiah 29:13–14).
If your love for God seems to have grown cold or distant, take steps now to renew your relationship with Him. Return to your first love for Jesus!