John David Hicks, Evangelist / Bible Teacher • Winter 2003 • Volume 7 Number 1
“If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, O Lord!The grace of the
Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Corinthians 16:22-23). “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you’” (John 21:17). “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
By John David Hicks
Seeking to find biblical priorities, Ray Ortlund wrote Lord, Make My Life a Miracle! Three priorities changed his life and his church, which became one of the largest in California.
So often, we let the good things we do for God rob us of the best. Your intentions, busyness, programs, and methods may be good, but when you’ve missed God’s priorities, you will not have His fullest blessing.
In a series of three articles, we’ll look at the three great priorities of life. They are: 1) Our relationship with God. We are to glorify and enjoy Him. 2) The church, the body of Christ in the world. We are to build up one another in love and commit our lives to one another. 3) The world for whom Jesus died—your work in it, your service for it, your witness to it.
God Is First
Priority number one must be your relationship with God. Your faith is born out of relationship. Other religions emphasize rules and regulations, but the Christian faith is one of relationship with God. When asked what was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied without hesitation, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). The whole structure of your faith is erected on this base. The Christian life is a natural outgrowth of your personal relationship to God in Jesus Christ.
God’s Part—Everlasting Love
Our God is a triune God, three in one—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without the Trinity you cannot have a God who is love. The selfless love of the Father, the self-sacrificing love of the Son, and the devoted love of the Holy Sprit make God relational and undivided in agape-love. From eternity He is love; He does not change. As a trinity God is relational and is unselfish love.
Not one leader of the world’s other major religions demanded that his followers love him. Only the Christian God—the God who is Himself love—demands it. Love and life flow from God. That is also why only Christians are commanded to love their enemies, because God loved us when we were His enemies.
God’s love for you flows forth from eternity. “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving–kindness’” (Jeremiah 31:3). God reminds His people of His faithfulness and steadfast love; He has always loved them and will continue to love them. He will restore their lost glory. His everlasting love compels His loving kindness. This love endures without end. God’s people had to endure suffering, but now they will experience God’s blessing after the chaos of exile. The Lord vows to be faithful to His covenant.
God then gives three word pictures that characterize what He will do. First, He will renew their joy, and they will dance and sing with tambourines. Their sadness will disappear. Second, He will give them peace and pros-perity as they plant their vineyards. He will free them from their enemies, and they will enjoy the fruit of the land. Third, they will worship and have a renewed commitment to the Lord. The watchmen will call the people to go up to Zion to worship the Lord.
God has loved you with an everlasting love. He has predestined you to be conformed unto the image of His Son, and ordained you to be heirs of the fullness of His love, His grace, and His glory. There will be no question about God having chosen you, when you have chosen Him.
God made man in His own image. We were created for relationship with Him. But then sin entered the world, and Satan’s nature of selfishness became a part of every man and woman. Thus, sinful mankind generally comes to God out of self-interest. That’s all God can appeal to. Problems seem overwhelming and there is no place else to turn. We’ve made a complete mess out of every human relationship. Broken, hurting, and looking for an escape from judgment, we come to God. Self-interest is the primary motivation.
When you repent of your sin and rebellion against God and trust in Christ for salvation, you are redeemed—you have been born again by the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, there is still a “God and me” mentality in your attitudes. You are still living for yourself. Now God asks you to unreservedly turn yourself over to Him so He can live through you and the world may see Christ in your life. Jesus said you must deny yourself—you must die to this sinful, selfish nature, so that God’s nature can live through you. God changes your motivations from being self-centered to being God-centered and other-centered. Paul expresses this concept by saying, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). This sacrifice is “a sweet-smelling aroma” to God (Ephesians 5:2 NKJV). It is a glorious aroma to God’s nostrils, says Paul. This is God’s ultimate intention for your life—to destroy self-interest and reflect Him and His love.
Out of this death to self, God becomes your desire. No longer are you seeking power, wealth, blessing, or material things, but only God Himself as revealed in Jesus Christ. As you walk in the light, this holiness expels the darkness of sin (1 John 1:7). John Wesley described holiness as “Perfect Love.” God is love, and His holiness reproduces unselfish love and opposes a lack of love. Holiness mirrors the godly character of agape-love.
This is a passion for the Lord Himself—not for the rules and standards of religion, but for holiness in a relationship. If you do not have a love for the Lord, your walk with God is external and not internal. Love for God is not a matter of doctrine, but of relationship. This is not an issue of religious duty, but it springs forth from a Christian’s deepest satisfaction in the Lord. It is a love that frees and transforms your service and worship into delight. Empty formalism and traditions miss the relationship God desires. Jesus said of the Pharisees, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts (spirit) are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matthew 15:8-9).
When you seek God for anything besides God, your love is polluted. If a wife seeks to love her husband be-cause he is wealthy, her love is not pure. She is not seeking her husband, but the gifts of her husband. Our love for God springs up within us out of His worth, beauty, love, and holiness. The beauty of holiness and the beauty of the Lord are the same reflections of God’s love. Out of this relationship the world and sin lose their attraction, because something better has taken its place. A holy passion for God is the foremost remedy for temptation.
You were created for intimate relationship with God. Man’s life and nature were to reflect the nature of God. God is love and we must have love. We were made for divine fellowship. You can’t communicate with an in-sect, because you are not like one. But because you were made in God’s image, you can communicate with God. Communication between the creator and redeemed humanity should be natural and normal. “This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it—the LORD is His name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know’” (Jeremiah 33:2-3). There is no relationship without communicating. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
In Scripture, our relationship to Jesus is likened to marriage. We are His bride. God is love, but we must learn love and choose to love. That’s why God commanded us to love. Any marriage that lacks love will have difficulties. To have a genuine marriage, you must have love and be interconnected. The big advantage in our marriage to the Lord is that He certainly loves us. He has made a marriage vow: “I will never leave you nor for-sake you!” (Hebrews 13:5). God’s love was not a response to man’s love, but God’s choice. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). Sam Storms talks about this kind of love in his book The Singing God. If you understand marriage, he says, you can understand your relationship to God.
One day I said to my wife, June, “I love you so. You are so wonderful. I believe God made you for me.”
“No, He didn’t,” she answered. “He made me for myself.”
She was right. What I offered her was a selfish love centered on me and my own pleasure. What I needed to give her was an unselfish love, what the Greeks termed agape—the kind that loves her for who she is and not for what she does. That is God’s kind of love—one that is willing to lay down your life for another.
June and I have been married for almost 40 years. She is the love of my life. I can say that easily enough, but how would anyone know it is true? What evidence is there? Just as there are things I do and actions I perform to demonstrate that I love my wife, there are similar things I can do to show God that I love Him.
1. When I truly love June, I will love her with all my heart. It starts first with the choice of my will and then goes into a deep emotional affection in my heart for her. This love will be expressed by actions, but it is also something you feel.
Similarly, the saints delight in the Lord (Psalm 34:7), and in His presence they find pleasure without end (Psalm 16:11). Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4), while Peter tells us that the Lord is joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). When love and affection are lost, your marriage is on the rocks. When love for the Lord is lost, regardless of your dedicated service, you are on the verge of backsliding. What was the sin of the church at Ephesus? “You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place” (Revelation 2:4-5).
The only way to experience God is through love. The Song of Songs illustrates this relationship to the believer: “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (5:16). To love God as a person, I must say that: “I care for You, Lord, as Yourself. I love You and I will follow You. I take up Your desires as my desires; Your character as my character, with a willingness to lay down my life for You.” He is altogether lovely! He is my beloved; He is my life and desire; He is my joy and my delight; He is my passion and my love.
Time only enhances a relationship like this. My marriage is now more deep, full, undivided, and complete than it was when we were newlyweds. Of course, we have had our struggles, but they have rubbed off the rough edges and only improved our relationship.
2. Because I love June, I will be true to her. Because I love only her, she alone receives my affection. I can’t claim to love her if I’m involved with another woman. Loyalty is the proof of my love.
The same is true with God. I will not commit idolatry—I desire neither money nor status nor position nor the praise of men above the approval of God. “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Because God is love, He is jealous over you and will rage against your unfaithfulness until you change.
3. My love for my wife also means I will cherish and protect her. I will oppose and resist anything or anyone that seeks to harm her. What kind of love would stand by idly and let her enemies assault her?
The same is true of my love for God. I get upset when anyone uses His name in vain. “Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10). God also loves and cherishes me.
4. When I love June with all my heart, I desire to spend time with her. Just being together brings genuine joy. We don’t need to schedule lots of activities; it is enough just to be together.
How much time do you spend with the Lord? An hour on Sunday? David said, “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). There is guidance, joy, and pleasures with Jesus at the right hand of the Father.
5. My love for June also means I will want to communicate with her. Communication is crucial to any relationship. My love is revealed by my efforts to open my heart to her and to let her share with me her struggles, hurts, and fears. I must be quiet and listen. Time is required for communication.
The same is true with God. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). If love is measured by the depth of your communion, how is your prayer life? Let God share His heart with you, as you share your heart with Him.
6. I will seek to do the things that please my wife and increase her joy. Helping with household chores relieves her of extra work, so I take out the trash and cook on the evenings when she works. I seek to build her up and watch out for any careless criticism.
In the same way, we show our love for God by doing the things that please Him. “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching,” Jesus said. “My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:23-24). Obedience develops out of love for Jesus.
7. A man who loves his wife praises her to others. My friends know that my relationship with June brings me great satisfaction. I would never demean her or put her down in public or private. All who are acquainted with me know I have no problem bragging on her. The passion of your witness is in direct proportion to the passion of your love.
Do your friends know that God is the hub around which your life revolves? Do you tell them how the Lord has worked in your life? “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Psalm 107:2).
8. Loving my wife also means that I tell her so. The stupidest thing a man can say is say, “I don’t need to tell her I love her. She knows it by my actions.” Love is more that talk, but it’s not less than that. Saying “I love you” is not always easy. We fear letting our real feelings show. Being rejected is terrifying, and the possibility of not being loved back is fearful.
It’s fine to say, “We love the Lord,” but it’s not personal; it doesn’t engage your innermost feelings. That is why we sing, “I worship You; I love You; I adore You; You are my all in all.” If you are not intimate in your relationship with God, you will be uncomfortable in speaking passionately to Him. How often do you tell God that you love Him? Why not say, “Dear Lord, I love You”?
Your Part—Desire the Relationship
God never forces Himself on anyone. Before He enters your life, you must invite Him in. Some Christians never progress much beyond an invitation to Jesus to save them. Those who are truly intimate with the Father, however, hunger and thirst after everything God has for them. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2). As the deer cannot conceal its thirst, neither can David the psalmist hide his passion for the living God.
The first priority in our lives, says Jesus, is to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Seek it above everything else—give it first place in your life. Do not become distracted by things of lesser importance.
Saul of Tarsus had an encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus that utterly changed his life. The persecutor of the church became the church’s greatest spokesman. The great motivation of his life was to love God and show His love to a lost and dying world. This love for Christ compelled Paul to preach the Gospel and to lay down his life for Christ. The pages of church history are filled with others who, like Paul, were willing to give everything, including their own lives, for the cause of Christ and His kingdom.
Do you think that to follow and sacrifice your life for Jesus is suffering? Then you do not really understand love. For the joy of doing the will of the Father, Jesus endured the cross. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3). Love made Him go, and this love will make you go.
When you have believed, the Lord appeals to your love to carry out His commission to love God and your neighbor. After His resurrection, Jesus three times asked Peter if he loved Him. “The third time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He said, ‘Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep’” (John 21:17).
Jesus required two essential proclamations of faith from Peter: a profession of his love for Jesus and a will-ingness to tend His sheep. When you are centered on God, your love for God naturally overflows into a love and concern for others.
Out of your longing to know Christ more deeply, you will obey His command to “go into all the world” as his witness, because you understand that the place of service is the place where you will get to know Him better. Peter would be faithful unto death (verses 18-19). The saints have testified that the pain and suffering are a light and momentary affliction compared to the glory that is revealed.
Concerning this relationship Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). As a servant, you are given directives to follow; your role is only to obey. But as a friend you are “in” on the plans and purposes of the Father because you have common interests. The Greek word translated “friends” has the connotation friends of the king. They were the king’s closest and most intimate friends, his most trusted advisors. They had direct access to the king at any time and could influence any of his decisions. The king included them in his plans and purposes. He talked to them before his generals and rulers. Jesus says, “I accept you into My inner circle of friends. I want to be your best friend.” What a tremendous offer!
Yet not all believers are Jesus’ friends. Friendship carries with it companionship, intimacy, and honor. We are all “chosen” by God for relationship, since we all belong to God, but few in the Bible are called “friends” of God. Abraham was one. Because of his intimacy with God, Abraham was admitted to God’s inner councils. How did Abraham become the “friend” of God? I am convinced that His interests were the same as God’s. God’s welfare was his welfare, and God’s plans and purposes for this world were his.
Jesus describes friendship even in a deeper way—as identity. “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). The Message puts it this way: “We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me.”
You are so closely identified with Jesus, He is saying, that “your authority is Mine, as My authority is My Father’s. When people receive a disciple, they receive Me. If they reject My ambassador, they reject Me, the Christ. If they receive Me, they will get the Father.” Paul understood: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I am to be Jesus Christ to my world. Jesus is the only purpose for which I live.
George Mueller once said, “I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished…. I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it.”
The first and main business of a Christian is to seek God. God offers you friendship with Him, but He will not force it on you. You must choose to pursue it. Don’t let yourself get sidetracked by things that are of lesser importance. Remember Mary and Martha, who was so busy getting her house in order and cooking meals that she didn’t take time to be with Jesus. Mary, however, sat at His feet and listened to His words. She chose the better part. She chose to put God first.
Is God first in your life? Will you recommit yourself to God and the relationship? Will you seek Him on a consistent, daily basis?
I met God in the morning
When the day was at its best,
And His presence came like sunrise,
Like a glory within my breast.
All day long the presence lingered,
All day long He stayed with me;
And we sailed in perfect calmness
O’er a very troubled sea.
Other ships were blown and battered,
Other ships were sore distressed;
But the winds that seemed to drive them
Brought to us a peace and rest.
Then I thought of other mornings
With a keen remorse of mind,
When I, too, had loosed the moorings
With His presence left behind.
So I think I know the secret
Learned from many a troubled way;
You must seek God in the morning
If you want Him through the day.