Our First Love
by Mitch Cervinka

God commands us to study His Word, to hold sound doctrine, to be diligent in good works, to sing His praises, and to proclaim His Gospel to others. Yet, any of these things can become an idol if it is viewed as an end in itself.

The Church is divided into numerous sects and denominations. Even within a denomination, we often see major differences. One church may be filled with lots of busy people, working hard with Sunday Schools classes, committees, social events, concerts, etc. Another church may be characterized by a preoccupation with doctrine and theology. Another church may focus on evangelism. Another on spiritual gifts.

It is tempting to diagnose each of these as cases of imbalance, and that is partly true. However, imbalance is still only a symptom of the problem, and not the root cause.

The basic problem is that Christians often find satisfaction in peripheral things, rather than in the Lord Himself. In other words, we have lost sight of why it is important to study the Word, to hold sound doctrine, to be diligent in good works or to proclaim the Gospel.

Ultimately, our motivation for doing these things should be our delight in the Lord. We study His Word because it is His Word, and because it reveals to us Him and His ways. We hold sound doctrine because these are the teachings which describe our glorious Lord and His gracious salvation. We seek to do good works because it pleases and honors Him when His people are holy in their behavior. We seek to serve other Christians because we know that they are His sheep. We proclaim His gospel because it declares to the world His glories.

Christians ought to be a people saturated with God... people whose hearts and lives are centered upon the Lord. From the time we arise in the morning until we retire in the evening, we should think often of our Lord, meditate upon His perfections, savor His grace toward us, and offer up prayer and thanksgiving to Him. As we go about the business of the day, our words and actions should be governed by a preoccupation with the Lord, seeking to please Him in all that we do.

But often our "Christianity" degenerates into a love of the "things" of God rather than a love of God Himself. Some become fascinated with serving and being involved with various activities. Others become fascinated with doctrine and theology. Still others are excited by various gifts. And others are thrilled with Christian music.

If these interests are centered in the "things" themselves, rather than in the Lord, then we are idolaters. Great zeal for godly things is not necessarily evidence of spirituality. It could be evidence of idolatry!

This was the great sin of the Pharisees. "The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Romans 7:12). But the Pharisees misused the Law, thinking that they could attain to righteousness by following it (Romans 10:2-3). They took something which God ordained for our good and turned it into an idol. How? By neglecting to use it for God's glory.

Likewise, all God's graces (e.g. His Word and doctrine, worship, prayer, ministry, evangelism, spiritual gifts, etc.) are meant to encourage people to center their affections upon Him. Scripture was given to reveal Him to us (Luke 24:27; John 5:39). Evangelism is meant to proclaim His glories to a perishing world. We must avoid the myopic tendency to see Bible study or evangelism as chores we must do. If this is how we think of them, then our basic motivations need some serious readjustment.

What we do is of no value if our motivations are wrong. David wrote "You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise." (Psalm 51:16-17).

Without the proper attitude of heart, David's sacrifices were worthless. So it is with the "spiritual" things we do. God's glory must be our delight. If it is, then Bible study, service and evangelism will not only be worthwhile, but will also be easier and enjoyable. As our Lord said, "My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:30).

Without this focus upon God's glory, our Spiritual disciplines can become burdensome to us and repulsive to others. This is undoubtedly a factor why people sometimes depreciate doctrine. Too often, they have seen Christians who view theology as an end in itself--who love theology as an academic exercise, or to puff up their pride in the things they know.

I suspect this also explains why people often drift into false doctrine. Because they love theological concepts more than the God of the Bible, they follow after whatever doctrines tickle their fancy. If we would maintain a preoccupation with our glorious Lord, we would not fall for doctrines which depreciate His glory or cheapen His salvation.

Here is an illustration which might help: Think of Bible Study, preaching, worship, prayer, theology, service, evangelism, fellowship and gifts as spokes of a wheel with God at the center of the wheel. The spokes are meant to point us to God and to bring Him glory. When we instead become enthralled with a particular spoke, then the wheel is unbalanced and the other spokes are neglected.

But when our focus is upon the Lord, then we are situated at the place where the spokes converge, and we can take full advantage of each of them. At the center, each spoke contributes its individual benefits, and, just as a magnifying glass converges the heat of the sun, so the convergence of the spokes reinforces our delight in the Lord.

Churches today are often filled with people who have a great zeal for good things. Yet, their zeal is misplaced if their zeal for these good things does not stem from their delight in the Lord and their great zeal to draw closer to Him.

Let us each, individually, reevaluate our motivations. Do we genuinely love the Lord more than all these things? (John 21:15).


The theme of this article and many of the ideas presented herein were inspired by John Piper's book Desiring God. I heartily recommend that you read it.

To cultivate your delight in the Lord, I recommend you read the sequel, The Pleasures of God.


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