There’s something so endearing about newlyweds. When I talk on the phone with our daughter, Leah, our own little newlywed, I’m always delighted to hear about the little things she and Bryant do for each other. It’s especially sweet to hear of their tender responses toward each other when things get a little tougher.
Somehow my thoughts about newlyweds made their way into my prayer time one morning. I was praying about some different troubles and what concerned me more than anything was my response to them. Was I responding with a sweetness of spirit that is so endearing of a newlywed or was I responding with an old, married, nag type of response to the Lord’s dealings with me? Oh my.
I turned to Revelation 2 and the letter to the church in Ephesus. This dear church had so much going for it. Jesus Himself commends them in verses 2-3 when He says, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate 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.” The Ephesian church was known for its service, for its love for the Lord and His Word, and for its longsuffering in trials. They persevered. They endured. They hadn’t grown weary.
Yet something happened to them along the way. Their sweet response to the Lord grew a bit thin-lipped, a bit stale, for Jesus said, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love (verse 4).”
You’ve left your first love. What sad, painful words. Some married couples retain the newlywed spirit throughout their marriage. The years come and go yet there is still an eagerness to do what the other wants, to think well of their spouse in spite of the many failures along the way, and to think of ways to bring a smile to their hearts. While for others, there is a change. Within their marriage there is a stubbornness in doing things for their spouse’s sake, more often than not there is complaining—complaining about everything that the spouse does, and though they have persevered in their marriage, they are weary. The bright, hopeful and cheerful responses that characterized those early years somehow changed into a harping, less than sweet kind of response.
The Ephesian church is a case in point that our love for the Lord can fade into a shadow of its former brightness. And it's also true that this sad state can happen to any believer, even the most faithful. The Ephesians started out well, yet they didn’t continue well.
What’s the answer then? Is there hope to rekindle our love for Jesus? Thankfully yes, and Jesus Himself tells us how this can happen. Verse 5 tells us what to do, “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.”
1. Remember Your Love at the Beginning. Take the time to think about what you were like in that first flush of devotion to Jesus, and more importantly, consider the ways your responses are different now. You may discover that you actually love Him better now and that your responses are more tender, more consistent, and more humble than your early love for Him. Yet, there may be some patterns of habit, rote response, or “just cuz” that have crept in. Assessing your responses to the Lord’s dealings with you will help you take the pulse of your heart’s response.
2. Confess and Repent. If something’s broken, the way to fixing it includes admitting our wrong responses, any stubborn attitudes or feelings of entitlement, anger, or bitterness. Yet admitting our sin is only part of the solution, the other part means actually turning away from those sinful responses. This can be the tricky part because wrong responses can slip in undetected, so that we're not even aware we're doing them. That's why we need the mirror of God’s Word—to reveal our sin and any danger zones (James 1:21-25; Psalm 19:11-14).
3. Rekindle Your Love by Doing What You Used to Do. What practical advice Jesus gives here! Basically, this is applying what we remembered in #1—remember how you used to respond and then do that. That seems disarmingly simple, but if we've accumulated some baggage along the way, doing what we did at the beginning can feel like we're slogging through the mud. Yet if there is a problem with our response, then this is the time to persevere in doing what's right—for our love for Jesus isn't what it should be. Our heart response to the Lord’s work in our lives directly reflects the state of our love.
Do what you used to do. What characterizes that fresh love for Jesus and His work in our lives?
Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by humility. Humility is that meekness or gentleness of spirit that recognizes God’s right to and perfect wisdom in orchestrating our lives. Newlywed love toward the Lord humbly accepts whatever He gives, whether we understand His ways or not. Ephesians 4:1-2 calls us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and one way manifests itself is in our humility. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” If you’re aware that some stubbornness or pride has crept into your heart, ask the Lord for His help in keeping your heart soft toward Him. This humble spirit is what separated Job’s response to his trials from that of his wife. He was soft toward the Lord while she grew stubborn and hardened toward Him. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I humbly receiving the Lord’s dealings with me?”
Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by willingness. Willingness can be described as readiness to do whatever the Lord desires. The heart is inclined toward His ways rather than our own. Jesus illustrated that ready spirit for us when He told the parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. The virgins were part of the wedding ceremony as they waited in readiness for the bridegroom to come and claim his bride. As soon as the bridegroom came into view they were to be ready to join the procession, yet there were some among them who hadn’t prepared for his arrival. That ready and willing spirit for whatever the Lord brings our way should characterize our newlywed love for the Lord. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I ready and willing to do whatever the Lord asks whenever He asks it of me?”
Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by patience. Nothing says love like a patient spirit. We tend to grow more impatient with people when we know them better or feel they owe us something. And that same impatience can creep into our responses toward the Lord and His ways. It’s no wonder that it’s the first description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4. Patient love doesn’t get ruffled. It remains even-tempered no matter what the circumstances. Newlywed love for the Lord remains patient with God’s timing. That kind of love waits well, rather than demanding that things happen on our own timetable. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I patient and cheerful with the way the Lord is working or am I demanding that He fix things according to my agenda?”
Newlywed love for the Lord is characterized by passion. Do you remember the story of Zaccheus, the little tax collector who scrambled up a tree so he could see Jesus in Luke 19:1-10? Zaccheus’ newfound faith was so passionate that he willingly volunteered to recompense 4 times over all those he had previously defrauded and give half of his wealth to the poor. His complete devotion to the Lord and willingness to do whatever was necessary to please the Lord exemplifies newlywed love. That fresh love only sees the Lord’s smile and looks for new and extravagant ways to express it. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I passionate in loving the Lord and willing to give up anything that might get in the way of my devotion to Him?”
Newlywed love for the Lord is humble, willing, patient, and passionate, though that's just the beginning. It's safe to say that there's not one of us who loves the Lord perfectly though it’s the first and foremost commandment of the Law of Christ (Mark 12:30), yet we can be encouraged to consider our responses to Him and ask, “Have I maintained a sweet spirit toward the Lord or has that first love for Him faded?” Then may our voices rise in whole-hearted devotion to the Lord with the words from Elizabeth Prentiss’ hymn, “More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!/Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee./This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;/More love to Thee, more love to Thee!”