Loving God alone
Often I write about the need to be in an authentic relationship with God. My goal is to love God with utter abandon and to love others selflessly. I write about this, I preach about this, and I try to practice it in my own life. But lately, God has been speaking to me about the other side of the coin – what I shouldn’t love.
The apostle John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-16, ESV).
This passage has been haunting me for months now. I read through John’s letter while I was studying one day. I thought about how God has set me free from the bondage of the love of physical possessions. But what if this command not to love the world or the things in the world also applied to my physical body? I had never really given that any thought. I bring this up because at this time of year, many folks put their attention into getting in shape, losing weight, and the like. I am certainly an advocate for being healthy. But when I read what John wrote, it made me question if part of my desire to be healthy was actually a nice way of saying I loved the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes. I think it is an important question to ask.
In 2014, I had multiple physical challenges. One of the biggest challenges I faced was related to surgery on my knee in April to repair a torn meniscus. The meniscus was successfully repaired, but arthritis flared up in that knee as a result of the surgery. For many months I had difficulty going up and down stairs. Prior to surgery I was cycling up to 26 miles a day. At this time, I am no longer able to cycle at all. I never mentioned it in the newsletters or on Facebook because I don’t like drawing attention to myself. I bring it up now because it ties in with this idea about not loving the world or the things in the world. Ultimately, my physical body is something of this world. Some day, when I die, I will leave this shell of a body behind.
One day I was thinking about how this issue with my knee had been continuing far longer than I ever expected. It occurred to me that perhaps God was trying to get my attention. What if I had a blind spot in my life? What if I unknowingly loved the world through my focus on my physical health? I understand there is a place for being a good steward and taking care of the body that God gives me. But I think I tend to take too much concern for how I look. It is the American way! I want to be Superman and never age! I discipline myself in what I eat. I try to be consistent in going to the gym, working out to stay in shape. Cycling had been a huge part of that area of my life. Then God removed cycling, and for many months I was unable to do anything at the gym for fear of doing more damage to the knee. What surprised me was how much this affected me mentally. Sometimes it really bothered me. This was when I began to ask myself if I were guilty of loving the world or the things in the world.
God is very clear. He wants me to love him with all of my heart. He is not happy with my sharing that love with anything else. My love for God needs to transcend everything. It is not as if I love God first, and then I love things in this world after that. There is no second place as far as God is concerned. In the American church, most people would say that they love God, but they also love this world and the things in this world. They love their bank account, their home, their car, their retirement account, etc. How do I know this? Just ask someone to give any of those things away and see what kind of resistance you face. We worship God, but we also worship our bodies and our health. In short, we love God, but we also love this world.
John was very clear. He wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” That is a pretty strong statement. In the context of the rest of the letter it is even more concerning. The focus of the letter seems to be regarding how to know you are a true follower of Christ. At least ten times in this short letter, John writes phrases such as, “this is how you know…,” or “by this you know…,” and “by this it is evident who are children of God.” If we are loving the world, and the love of the Father is not in us, are we children of God? That is why it is important that we get this right.
Friend, as you set goals this year, consider making your first goal to love God with all of your heart. Ask yourself if there is anything in this world that you would hesitate to give away if God asked you to. Ask him if there is anything in your life that he is trying to change. Yield your life to his kind hand. Fall in love with him like never before. Love God with utter abandon. Love others selflessly.
For me, I think this was an important lesson that God wanted to teach me. I am conscious of this tendency to focus on the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions. My prayer is that I would be careful to love God alone and not the things of this world.
I do want you to know that I am now seeing progress in my knee. In the past few weeks there has been a marked improvement. Perhaps God let the issue linger so I would learn this important truth. Part of loving God with all of my heart is being careful not to love anything else.
This article was originally published in the January 2015 Newsletter.