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. (Revelation 2:3–4)
Many of us have been haunted by Jesus’s words to the Ephesian church. The danger of “abandon[ing] the love you had at first” can feel all too real. We’ve had our moments, our ups and downs, the times when our hearts have cooled and become calloused, the days when we had far too little interest in what matters most.
In the passage of time, in the confusion and complexities, amid the many distractions in this world, the fire seemed perilously close to being snuffed out. Yet as our lives teem with many things, God has his ways of calling us back to the one thing, to our first love.
The Scriptures strengthen us with one thing that deserves our focus and reorients our souls when they begin to wander. We hear it in the Psalms, and in Paul’s letters, and in the voice of Christ in the Gospels — one essential answer in three-part harmony.
All About One Thing
First, hear the singing voice of the great King David in Psalm 27:4:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
David cares little for mere brick and mortar when he mentions the temple. He wants to be near to God himself. He wants to know God and enjoy God. He aches to catch a glimpse of God himself in his splendor and majesty; to know the God who is, and marvel at him, and be known by him; to hear this God speak and respond back in relationship — and to remain there, with God.
For David, this one thing is God himself. Amid the threats of enemies plotting against him, the complexities of governing a nation, and the worries about his own family and friends, David reorients himself with this one thing: he returns to his first love.
Lost Within the Joy
Now take up the apostle Paul’s first-century letter to the church in Philippi. Here he writes, as David sang, with clarifying singularity of purpose and calling, even in the midst of complicated tensions within and outside the church.
As with David long before him, Paul points to knowing God — now expressed as knowing him in his Son, Jesus Christ — as the pursuit that surpasses all others (Philippians 3:8). He longs “by any means possible” to “attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11) that he, like David, may dwell in the house of the Lord forever, to be in the immediate presence of God himself in Christ.
He clarifies, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). First, Jesus took hold of Paul; now Paul, energized in Jesus, presses on to take hold of him. Then comes his “one thing”:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13–14)
In a world where sirens call from every side, Paul drowns them all out to hear one great voice above them all: the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. This one call, this one focus, this one longing — to set and reset his compass on the person of Christ, to know and enjoy God in Christ — this one thing gives him clarity and stability to steady his soul and keep his feet moving even in otherwise crippling conflicts and afflictions.
My One Desire
Finally, come to the long, winding road from Galilee to Jerusalem and hear the voice of Jesus. David sings about God himself. Paul writes about God himself in Christ. But what about the Christ, the Messiah, the divine Son? To what “one thing” would he would direct us?
On his way to Jerusalem to die, he came to the village of Mary and Martha. Mary, of course, “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39), while Martha was “distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40). Martha thought she was doing the noble thing, but in the many things she was juggling, she was missing the all-important one thing — Christ himself. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42).
So, let Christ’s haunting words to the Ephesian church have their effect and draw you again and again back to the purity of that first love for Christ — now deeper, now higher, now richer and fuller. Don’t forget the one thing. Don’t neglect the one thing. Don’t lose your first love.