How to Stay in Love with God
Dr. Jim Denison
Sometimes the honeymoon ends too quickly. And sometimes it never starts.
I read about this classified ad: “For sale—Wedding dress. Never been worn. Will trade for .38 pistol.”
I heard about the man who was determined to marry a certain woman. He began writing her a love letter every day, then three a day. In all he wrote her more than 700 letters—and she married the postman.
What do we do when love grows boring? When the new wears off of our faith, or our family?
One third of all married Americans say they are now or have had an affair. Nearly half of all Americans say there is no reason to ever be married. Only 32% say they would stay in a bad marriage for the sake of the kids. 53% say they would cheat on their spouse, given the opportunity.
And what’s true horizontally is also true vertically. Only 27% of Americans participate in worship regularly. Only one in ten of us believe in each of the Ten Commandments. It takes 39 Baptists a year to lead one person to Christ. Across all denominations, it takes 85 church members one year to lead one person to Jesus.
How do we stay committed to the ones we love? Horizontally and vertically? How do we continue to love God with our heart, soul, and mind? How do we continue to love our neighbor as ourselves? God’s word has the answers we need.
Today we’ll look at our vertical relationship with the God we love. Next week, we’ll explore our horizontal relationships with the people we love.
Losing our first love
We need to go to ancient Ephesus, to study the two letters in Scripture written to them. One came from the Apostle Paul, the other from the Lord Jesus. Both deal directly with our issue.
Let’s begin with a brief tour of the city.
Ephesus was located on the western coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). It was often called Lumen Asiae, “the light of Asia.” This was the wealthiest city in Asia Minor, with the greatest harbor and most lucrative trade routes in that part of the world.
Her ruins are spectacular even today. A massive theater, holding 25,000 people. Ornate marble temples to the various Roman emperors; a gargantuan Library of Celsus; marble even in the public latrines.
Her chief claim was the Temple of Diana. 425 feet long by 225 feet wide, with 127 columns, each 60 feet high; 36 of these columns were covered with gold, jewels, and carvings. The Greeks said, “The sun sees nothing finer in his course than Diana’s Temple.”
And the church here was magnificent as well.
Their congregation was probably founded by Aquila and Priscilla; they were later joined by Paul, who preached here more than two years. Timothy pastored the church, as did Apollos. And John the Beloved Disciple pastored this church, and is buried in the city. Church councils were held here in later centuries, bringing Christians from across the world.
Jesus commends this congregation in wonderful ways.
First, he applauds their actions (v. 2a): he knows their “deeds” (the word means activities) and “hard work” (the word means toil or sweat). He commends their “perseverance” (the word means to endure with steadfast courage despite all opposition).
Second, he compliments their theological integrity: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (v. 2b). Later he commends them for rejecting the Nicolaitans (v. 6), an early cult of heretical, self-indulgent behavior.
Irenaeus, bishop of Antioch, wrote them just a few years after this letter arrived. He said that they were so well taught in the gospel that no sect could gain a hearing there. This is a congregation filled with hard-working, Bible-believing Christians.
But they have a problem. A spiritual malignancy is growing in their hearts; left unchecked, it will destroy them. “You have forsaken your first love,” Jesus tells them (v. 4).
“First” here means “first in time.” They have forsaken the One they loved first when they became Christians—the Lord Jesus. This church has gotten so busy with the work of the Lord that they have forgotten how to walk with the Lord. They are consumed with “doing,” and have lost “being.” They have fallen out of love with Jesus.
Enemies of the heart
How does this happen? How do we fall out of love with God, and with other people? The Ephesian story is ours as well.
First, time makes love boring.
It’s been forty years since these Christians have first trusted in Jesus, first heard his word and responded to his love, first knew the thrill of sin forgiven and life changed.
Their faith is now routine. Their worship is set and standard; their prayers are learned; their work is organized and efficient. And the same thing happened to them that happens to our churches, our marriages, our relationships: time makes love boring.
The fastest-growing churches are five years old and younger. Past that, churches almost always plateau in growth and energy. The hardest time for marriages is between ten and fifteen years. The kids are well along in school; careers are established; finances are steady. And we get bored, and trouble starts.
What about your faith? Are you settled into a routine, a tradition? Be careful—time can make love boring.
Second, busyness makes love secondary.
They’re hard at work—toiling, persevering, enduring. Jesus commends them for all of this. But they’re so busy working for Jesus, they’ve forgotten Jesus. They don’t love him any more—they’re too busy serving him.
How easily this happens to us. So busy with our kids, work, church. We spend time together, but not really. Not quality time, just for each other. We’re too distracted, too busy, working too hard. And love burns out.
What about you? Are you really busy serving Jesus? Committees, work, Bible studies, activities? Then watch out—busyness can make love secondary.