First Love

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day when lovers young and old mark in some special way the breadth, length, depth, and height of their love one for another.

Actually, all that we know about genuine love comes from God, for “God is love,” and His love has been “shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:5).

In the Greek New Testament world, a writer or speaker could employ three words when discussing or writing about love. First, the word eros, from which we get the English word erotic, referring mainly to physical, sexual attraction. It does not appear in the New Testament.

Second, the word phileo, which refers to a friendship kind of love. It is common for someone today to say “I love you” without implying a romantic or physical attraction to the person spoken to—but merely, “I value our friendship deeply,” or something to that effect. The English word Philadelphia comes from the Greek word phileo, and of course the word Philadelphia means “city of brotherly love.”

Third, the New Testament word agapao means genuine, selfless, sacrificial, pure love that can only originate in the heart of God. “God so loved (agapao) the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (John 3:16) This is the love of which Paul wrote when he said that “Now abideth faith, hope and charity (love)…but the greatest of these is charity (love).” (I Cor. 13:13)

The nuances of the latter two words comes subtly into play in the post-resurrection discourse between Jesus and Peter on the seashore following an early morning breakfast between Him and some of the disciples. (John 21) Three times, Jesus asked of Peter, “Do you love (agapao) Me?” Three times, Peter answered “I love (phileo) Thee.” It was not that Peter did not understand the difference between what Jesus was asking and what Peter was offering up as an answer. He knew well that he was affirming a deep affection for the Lord Jesus, a “best friend” kind of relationship. But, fresh from the early morning scene at the Judgment Hall of Pilate when Peter denied vehemently that he even knew who Jesus was, Peter was not going to allow himself to say, “Yes, Lord, I love you with a genuine, God-like love.”  Not then at least, maybe later on. 

So, having said that, how do you love your beloved? I mean, the cherished person whom you pledged your heart’s affection to at an altar some time ago when the two of you exchanged holy vows and promised before God and witnesses that your bond of love in marriage would be severed only by death.

Jesus wrote a once-model church, the church at Ephesus, as recorded in Revelation 2, that they had left their first love! In less than a generation, this privileged church—which had been the recipient of one of the loftiest and loveliest New Testament epistles—had lost their affection for, and admiration of, the Lord Jesus. They had drifted from ardent devotion to indifference.

If that can happen to a church that was at one time “red hot” in their love of Jesus and His Word, it can happen to “lovers” in a marriage relationship. The drift is gradual and, at first, almost imperceptible. But with month added onto months, years onto years, the cares of life and the burdens of living can take their toll on the once-sweet and deeply committed twosome.

Do you remember your “first love?” The spasm that swept across your soul or soul and body when you “by chance” crossed paths with him/her as you walked across campus? The speed with which two hours “flew by” when you were in each other’s presence, exchanging dreams one with the other about what your futures together might hold?  The day or night that you stood facing each other, hands clasped together in the other’s, before an assembled crowd of witnesses, each affirming “I do” to the pastor’s “in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, until death doth you part?” Ah, first love. There is nothing to be compared except the soul-thrilling rapture that touched every fiber of your being the moment you bowed your heart before your God and Savior, trusting Him as Lord and instantaneously experiencing the new birth; transformed from death to life, and translated at that moment from the kingdom of darkness and death to the kingdom of light and life!

But, back to Valentine’s Day. For any who may read this who are still waiting for that “first love” in romance to come into your life, I want to share with you what our friend, the late Dr. Monroe Parker, shared with us once when he was visiting. Someone asked him what should be the criteria for looking for a life’s partner.  He wrote the answer on a 4×6 card and handed it to my wife, Ellen.  For anyone interested, here is what he wrote:

“(1) Born again; (2) has same philosophy of life as I do; (3) has same ideals and goals; (4) has affinity or that mystique which is sometimes mistaken for love; (5) Must have a good sense of humor; (6) Must have loyalty; (7) Must have common sense; (8) Must be committed to Christ and (9) Must be committed to me.”

Dr. Parker, when mentioning these nine “musts” in a message, once said of Mrs. Ruby Parker that “on a scale of 1-9 she rated about 27!” I hope, if you are still waiting and wondering how God will meet your need for a helpmeet, that you will be prayerfully patient, trusting that “He shall direct your path.” (Prov. 3:5, 6) It’s worth the wait! 

And, above all, I pray that you and your church will never be such that the letter Jesus gave John to deliver to the church at Ephesus concerning their relationship with Him will apply to you. Let us guard zealously our love for Him so that it may never be said of any: “You have left your first love.” (Rev. 2:4)

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (I Cor. 13:13)

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