I was getting ready to go teach last week when I heard one of Danny Gokey’s songs on the radio. The song was released more than a year ago, but its message is so timely that it’s finding new life today. Gokey was on American Idol several years ago but didn’t win. He has chosen to sing for the Lord and his music is popular with those listeners.
If you have time, listen to his song and consider the lyrics of “Love God Love People.”
It is simple
The first commandment God gave Moses was: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The first beatitude Jesus preached was: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Both of those verses can be summed up as God saying, “Let me be your first love.”
The most important part of our spiritual journey is learning to love God most. When Jesus said blessed are the “poor in spirit,” he was saying blessed are those who understand how much they need God. Those are the people who will allow God to be King of their lives. But, that’s a tough choice to make sometimes. Moses was up on the mountain receiving the first commandment while the people were busy making a golden calf.
We tend to complicate what God has made simple. When we choose to love God most, the idols just don’t have as much appeal. That’s why both God, then Jesus, made it their “first words” of command.
How do we stay in love with God?
I’ve been to Ephesus three times. It is a beautiful place, located in modern-day Turkey. Most people visit it as a cruise ship excursion these days. Much of the amazing city and its antiquities are still under centuries of dirt, waiting to be excavated. But, this video shows you what the ancient city of Ephesus looks like today.
The apostle John spent a lot of his life and ministry in that important city, and you can visit his tomb there today. The culture of Ephesus had a lot of similarities to modern cities in America. Ephesus was a mixture of many cultures due to the fact it was a major seaport of that day. There was a strong Christian church, led by John and others. There were Jewish synagogues, a temple to Artemis, a huge library, a magnificent arena, and one of the largest marketplaces of that day. There were Roman baths, brothels, mansions, and other cultural meeting areas.
The church in Ephesus was one of Paul’s favorite places, and he ministered there for several years. Paul wrote to Ephesus saying, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15–16). According to Paul, this was a church that was fulfilling the commandment to love God and love others.
Later, Jesus appeared to John on the island of Patmos and instructed the apostle to give the church in Ephesus a different message. Jesus said to tell the Ephesians, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:2–5).
In many ways, Christians in America are comparable to the Christians in Ephesus. We are “enduring patiently” and “bearing up” for the sake of Christ. We are doing our best not to grow weary, even though it seems like what we value most is no longer valued as much. We are “keeping the faith,” but is that enough? Jesus didn’t think so.
Is it possible that Jesus would give the faithful in America the same message he told the Ephesians? “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
It isn’t that we don’t love God and want to serve him. We do. But, do we love him like we used to? Do we serve him out of a sense of love and gratitude, or a sense of duty? There is a difference.
Physician, heal thyself?
I make a living “serving God.” Everything I have written in this blog post is likely more for my own soul than anyone else’s. But, I have lately been impressed in my own moments with God to dwell on this subject.
I want to serve God because I love him, not because I’m supposed to love him. How can I make sure I am motivated by love for God? How can I make sure I am giving God’s love to others instead of a version of that love that I have manufactured myself?
If you have been a Christian for a while, do you have these same thoughts?
It’s simple: love God and love people
Danny Gokey’s song lyrics appeal to God’s people today. We do tend to complicate God’s priorities. He gave his message to Moses. Jesus gave the message to his followers and, decades later, to the apostle John.
The most important part of our spiritual journey is learning to love God most and to remain in that love of God as our highest priority. It is only when we continually receive God’s love that we have his love to give others. Everything else we work at in life depends on that one key factor of our faith.
How do we know if we love God enough?
The apostle John answered that question for us. He was called John the Beloved. He was probably Jesus’ best friend and the only one of the disciples who loved Jesus enough to be at the foot of the cross. John took care of Mary after Jesus’ death. John knew how to love.
John told the churches in Ephesus and the surrounding areas, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:11–12).
The challenge: don’t put the cart before the horse. We tend to love others so that we can be loved by God. That’s backwards thinking. God wants us to love him most. God loved us so much that he chose to abide in us through his Holy Spirit. That is how his love is perfected in us.
How can we know if we love God enough?
We can look at the way we love others. Are people aware of God’s love because it abides in us and therefore flows through our lives to theirs?
Moses, Jesus, and John would remind us to put first things first. Danny Gokey’s song gets it right. It is simple. If we love God, we will love others.
How will you return to your “first love” today?