Some Poignant Counsel
Shortly before getting married, I received poignant counsel about something to expect in marriage. A friend told me that, in the beginning, marriage to my wife was going to feel overwhelmingly exciting; everything would feel new, unbelievable, and thrilling. But, as I continued in relationship with my wife, this feeling would change: not diminishing, exactly, but transforming. There would be less of a feeling of novel excitement and more of a feeling of familiar satisfaction. And while this latter feeling would not be as “loud” as the beginning feeling, it would be deeper. Ultimately, if I continued pursuing my wife in love through the years, the marriage would only get richer.
Though my wife and I have only been married eleven years, this advice has proved correct. Ema and I can testify that we love and enjoy each other more now than we did on our wedding day. It’s true that we’re past the “honeymoon period” where everything is rose-colored and neither spouse can do any wrong. But it’s actually in facing the trials of life together, ministering together, learning how to deal with conflict biblically, learning about each other, repenting toward and forgiving each other, and becoming more sanctified together that our relationship has deepened and sweetened.
Recovering First Love
I mention the above because I have been thinking more about what Pastor Babij preached from Revelation 2:1-7: how Christians can leave their “first love” for Christ and how they need to remember and return. Perhaps you think back to your own beginning days as a Christian with bittersweetness. “Yes,” you think, “I was so joyful in the Lord at that time, seeking him diligently in the word, prayer, and church and eager to serve in any way that was available. But how can I go back to that state after all that’s taken place since then? After all the trials, hurts, and disappointments? After the many new obligations I’ve taken on in my life as a worker, married person, or parent? The innocent enthusiasm I once had as a new Christian is gone, so how can I ever return to those joyful days of first love?”
In recovering your first love for Jesus, it’s true that you cannot go back to the same life circumstances you once had or the spiritual naivety you once held—nor should you. But you can and must go back to the fundamental attitude of a new Christian: of seeking Jesus, God Himself, as your true life and ultimate treasure (Mt 10:37-39; Ps 16:2). Just as, in some ways, spouses who have drifted apart must remember and return to the commitment of love they expressed to one another before God when they first got married (Eph 5:22, 25), so backslidden Christians must remember and return to what the Christian life is all about: worshipping the Lord and walking before him in grateful obedience (Gal 2:20).
Maturing in Love
Yet the Christian life is not merely about maintaining a level of first-time devotion to Jesus but of growing deeper in relationship with him. The very aspects of our world that we so often use as excuses to neglect a relationship with Jesus—our trials, our obligations, and even our sins—these become opportunities for us to mature in love for Jesus and actually enjoy him more. As you put the Lord first, relying on him in your trials (Heb 4:16), prioritizing him amid your obligations (Mt 6:33), and by faith repenting and believing in his forgiveness for your sins (1 Jn 1:9), you arrive at a place of deeper love and appreciation for him than even when you first believed. After all, the Bible not only commands that we repent and return, but also that we progress (Phil 3:12-17; Eph 3:14-19).
I think specifically of something the apostle John writes in 1 John 2:13c-14,
I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
In these verses, John addresses Christians at different levels of spiritual maturity rather than physical maturity. What especially stands out to me is the similarity and difference between spiritual children and spiritual fathers as stated by John: children “know the Father,” but fathers “know Him who has been from the beginning.” Both children and fathers fundamentally “know” God, yet the fathers’ knowledge is deeper.
And we’re talking about relational, not merely intellectual knowledge here. It’s not that the fathers are simply more well rehearsed in doctrine than spiritual children but that the fathers actually have come to know God in relationship more intimately. We Christians should, of course, desire the same for ourselves and all people: not merely that they would come to know God but know and enjoy him more deeply. Such is the essence of worship (Ps 67:1-7; Jer 9:23-24; Jn 17:3).
So then, as we consider Revelation 2:1-7, let us indeed believe the gospel again, recover the heart of “first love,” and do the fundamental deeds consistent with knowing God. Yet let us also go forward in the midst of our difficult and harried lives to grow in knowledge of Jesus and love for him so that we might experience more and more his eternal life.
Questions to Consider:
1. Did you once have a heart of greater love and zeal for Jesus than you have now? What steps can you take to get back to that fundamental stance?
2. Has your love for Jesus deepened over time? Why or why not?
3. In 1 John, John links love for God with love for others. Has your love for others also deepened over time? Why or why not?