“Why is God allowing this to happen to me?” It’s a question that hung in my soul for many years. Likely there are many reasons, and I won’t pretend to have it all figured out. But, as my relationship with God has deepened beyond anything I previously knew was possible, my eyes have been opened to something that might offer one explanation: I suspect my Lord wanted to be my First Love. A position He, sadly, did not hold. (Though I would’ve told you He did.)
It seems He wanted my whole and undivided heart, and He was willing to pursue me through the fires of hell to get it!
His Love is Jealous (for Me!)
Deuteronomy 4:23-24 – So be careful not to break the covenant the Lord your God has made with you. Do not make idols of any shape or form, for the Lord your God has forbidden this. The Lord your God is a Devouring Fire; He is a jealous God.
You know what? I totally get this… now. There was a time when the jealousy of God seemed confusing to me because I only understood jealousy to be negative. It certainly can be negative, but now…? Well, now I understand so much more about love.
True love is fierce. It’s exclusive. It gives all of itself, and deeply desires – no, demands that same undivided devotion in return. When that privileged standing is compromised, true love will be aroused to a passionate and righteous savagery that will go after its own. If God is the very definition of true love, then He will surely be jealous for what is His! He won’t just settle for second place, but will demand His right position as our first love.
In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul addresses the church at Corinth with what he calls the jealousy of God Himself. He has reason to believe these people have become “open-minded” to the point that it is compromising their faith. His fear is that as they willingly listen without discretion to the arguments and ideas of others, their faith in God will be corrupted. He says,
“I promised you as a pure bride to one husband – Christ. But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted…” 2 Corinthians 11: 3
And that, my friends, is exactly what I had done to God. I had accepted the teachings of flawed humans who proclaimed the worship of husbands as a righteous undertaking – the commission of a young wife seeking to honor God in her marriage. So, I dutifully gave my husband (and perhaps even more so, my marriage) first place in my heart. I built alters to him all over my life, pouring out my offerings to him day and night. And in so doing, I ignited the devouring fire of my God’s jealous love – for me!
Don’t misunderstand. God wants me to love my husband. He wants that love to be strong and unconditional. He wants me to be committed to my marriage. But He cannot, and will not share first place in my heart. Not with anything. Not with anyone.
God Commands Me to Love the Lord with All of Me
If the Bible says something even once, it’s important. When the Bible says something two or three times, we should take note. When there is something the Bible says again and again, it’s time to zero in and give it our undivided attention! The command to love the Lord my God with ALL my heart, with ALL my soul, with ALL my strength, and with ALL my mind is repeated so many times I gave up trying to count them.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 – The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.
Matthew 22:37-38 – Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.
Mark 12:30 – And you must love the Lord you God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.
Deuteronomy 13: 1-4, Luke 10:27, Deuteronomy 30:6, Exodus 20:1-4, Joshua 22:5,Deuteronomy 10:12, 1 Chronicles 28:9-10 ,
Again, and again, the Bible makes it clear. We are to love the Lord our God with ALL of ourselves. He is to take the first place in our hearts, and in our lives. We are to serve Him with undivided loyalty. He is to be our first love.
The Fury of God when He is Betrayed
I hope I don’t lose you here. What I’m about to talk about is something we tend to gloss over in this New Testament age. Sometimes we even pretend it isn’t true. See, Jesus came as a demonstration of the love and the grace of God. As the people who fall under that grace, we tend to forget about the fiery anger aroused within Him when He is betrayed.
But friends, we have been given the whole of Scripture and it is all there to reveal to us who He is. We forget that He is unchanging. He is the same God today that He was more than 2000 years ago when His hurt and anger towards His people was aroused to the point that He turned His back on them for a time. It is imperative we understand, He is still a God who will not tolerate unfaithfulness.
James 4:5 – Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the Spirit He has placed in us should be faithful to Him.
Isaiah 42:8 – I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with idols.
2 Corinthians 6:16 – And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be My people.”
These verses demonstrate that His heart hasn’t changed, but this isn’t just a flippant warning. To grasp the gravity of it, we must turn to the Old Testament to see what happens when God’s people abandon their first love.
In Ezekiel 16 God speaks to the people of Judah, the descendants of David who, unlike their predecessor, were not people after His own heart. These men and women had turned from God. They still worshiped Him in name, but their hearts were far from Him. They built alters to the pagan gods of the surrounding nations, and gave their first love to idols made of wood and stone. Judah exhausted the patience of God until He was forced to act. (I recommend a reading of the whole passage, but I will paraphrase) Through His prophet, God said to His people,
“You have forgotten who you really are, and what I have done for you. You were born into this world with nothing. Helpless, wicked, unloved and unlovable. But I saw you in that state, and I loved you. I made you My own and cared for you. I gave you honor and great value, adorning you with My splendor and beauty, and making you a queen in My Eternal Kingdom.
But how did you repay Me? By thinking these treasures were your own doing. By betraying Me again and again – giving yourself to others. You even used the bounty of My blessings in your worship of others! It is unimaginable. You have acted shamelessly, like a sick prostitute, and aroused My anger with your idols.
I will not tolerate this! I will turn your idols against you and tear your world apart. You will be left helpless and destitute once again, like the day you were born. But once I have punished you for taking your solemn vows to Me lightly, My jealous anger will subside, and I will remember the covenant I made with you. You will remember your sin and cover your mouth in silent shame when I forgive you. For I am the Sovereign Lord, and I have spoken.”
Friends, our Lord will go to great lengths to recover His place in our hearts. He has boundaries, and He enforces them. When His people stray, He will do whatever it takes to get them back. And sometimes what it takes is punishment. When the hearts of His own turn towards lesser things, He will come at those idols with fury and obliterate them. His love is so great, and unrelenting that He will demolish their hold by any means necessary.
Ezekiel 6:6-10 – Wherever you live there will be desolation, and I will destroy your pagan shrines. Your alters will be demolished, your idols will be smashed, your places of worship will be torn down, and all the religious objects you have made will be destroyed…Then when [mypeople] are exiled among the nations, they will remember Me. They will recognize how hurt I am by their unfaithful hearts and lustful eyes that long for their idols. Then at last they will hate themselves for all their detestable sins. They will know that I ALONE AM THE LORD and that I was serious when I said I would bring this calamity on them.
Ezekiel 11:18-19 – When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new Spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn hearts and give them a tender, responsive heart…
Returning to my First Love
Friends, it absolutely breaks my heart to think about the pain I’ve caused my God.
I know that pain!
But, oh how I praise Him that He did not abandon me to my idol. I am so thankful that He didn’t leave me in that place of half-hearted devotion!
Far be it for me to scorn His discipline. I will not.
I will praise Him until the day I die that He saw fit to do whatever it took to open my eyes and smash that idol to dust! My worship will pour out to the One who is now and will forever be my first love!
The One who left behind the 99 to come after this one lost and wandering sheep. For all my days, I will pray,
Oh Lord, You are so good, so ready to forgive, so full of unfailing love for all who ask for Your help.
Listen closely to my prayer, oh Lord; hear my urgent cry.
I will call to You whenever I’m in trouble, and You will answer me.
No pagan god is like You, oh Lord. None can do what You do!
All the nations You made will come and bow before You, Lord; they will praise Your Holy Name.
For You are great and perform wonderful deeds.
You alone are God. Teach me your ways, oh Lord, that I may live according to Your truth!
Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.
With all my heart I will praise You, oh Lord my God.
I will give glory to Your Name forever, for your love for me is very great.
You have rescued me from the depths of death.