These notes from Paul Tothill are an extended version of his message preached at Gateway Church on 2/9/18.
You can also listen to the message on the Gateway podcast (available on Apple Podcasts or any other device).
This morning I want to build upon what we discussed last week. The key to last week is that the Holy Spirit illuminates the word of God into our heart. When He does that the present word of God revealed to us displaces wrong thinking and anything that does not accord with the eternal truth. Through that displacement Jesus and His Kingdom as life are increasing established in you as you act upon those words into your life by love for Jesus and faith.
To borrow a picture, It is like the word of God is a bowling ball, and our heart that carries wrong patterns of thought are like the pins standing in a particular order at the end of the lane. As the ball hits the pins it displaces the pins that it strikes. Old patterns of thinking represented as the pins are displaced.
That is what happens when we receive, not just hear the word of God through the Spirit, so that the word of God can become a dwelling place we can live from. That is why Paul says that he preached with demonstrations of power of the Spirit so that our faith may not rest on the wisdom of man. God’s word is powerful in the spirit realm that affects the natural realm. When it dwells in us we grow in faith, love and hope of which the greatest is faith expressing itself as love first for Jesus then for others.
Today I want to discuss the Kingdom protocol for our new life, which is the necessity of first things. Everything we respond to and everything we do and live is to come from this first principle I am about to discuss with you.
In the Book of Genesis God set up the most essential kingdom protocol for humanity to have what the Bible calls abundant life or eternal life. Throughout the Old Testament God repeated this protocol. And it was to be brought into Israel’s prayers every day morning and night at the least and known as the Shema.
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-7
When Jesus was asked, “which is the greatest of the Commandments” he replied:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. Matthew 22:37 (The Greek word for mind is Dianoia and means your deep thoughts or imagination)
He then went on to say “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Jesus of course was the fulfilment of the Law and Prophets. And for Paul the Apostle the Shema was realised in Jesus Christ. Therefore, he could speak of the pre-eminence of Christ in all things.
This then becomes fundamental to our life in this world as a believer and the fundamental foundation and purpose of our salvation and being reconciled to God. The finished work of Jesus on the Cross of his suffering restores us back into the love of the Father in Jesus Christ. This reconciliation is essential. It is relational. And in this we can understand that God places relationship with Him first and above anything else and before anything else.
This is echoed by Jesus to the leaders of Israel. He said to them “if God were your father you would love me". John 8:42. Therefore what identifies us as children of God, as genuine believers, is not first our love for one another, but our love first for God, revealed in the Son Jesus Christ.
So, what identifies our life in this world that has eternal and present realities is our love for the Lord Jesus first that then flows from us in all that we do. This is the foundation to every aspect of our new life in Christ and as the church. Only actions of faith coming from a deep relationship with Christ will be measured as eternally valuable when our work is tested by God’s fire at the end of the age. So, this is very important for us to understand and open our hearts up to.
As Paul writes “Grace to be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” Ephesians 6:24, a love that is unfailing and eternal. God’s divine love, known as agape love. This precedes our friendship with God and underpins what Jesus said that “I no longer call your servants but friends” which relates to the mysteries of the Kingdom being revealed.
The restoration of Peter and his future ministry as an apostle was based on his love for Jesus. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Peter thought he was asking him if he was fond of Jesus. But that is not what Jesus meant. He was saying would you love me with God’s love, in a way that would put me first in everything.
Peter would later write to the church “and they you have not seen him, you love Him". 1 Peter 1:8. The word love in this sentence is the Greek word agape. We are to love God in the same way He loves us and with the same love He gives to us through the Holy Spirit.
For Paul the apostle, his revelation was a little more advanced. In his corpus of teaching Jesus was indeed YHWH and he adopted a high Christology, or a pre-eminence of Christ as being first in everything. That meant he was above everything and before everything.
This helps us understand how loving God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind as Jesus taught sits fundamentally as the foundation that Jesus speaks as the first pursuit and frankly necessary pursuit of every believer as having an intimate union with Christ. This why we have been saved. To be reconciled to the heart of the Father that we may live from a deep and intimate relationship with God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus was delivering his sermon on the mount, and speaking about the Kingdom of heaven he spoke about the first pursuit and first thought of every born-again believer as their life priority.
The context was that of tzedakah or righteous giving. But Jesus was saying far more than what we have sometimes realised. He was actually speaking about our hearts and who we love and share deep affection for first. He was telling us what is in our hearts, what we treasure in our hearts the most, is how we will lead our life. We are to treasure God in Jesus Christ as first and foremost as the expression of our deep love for God. He was pointing to what Paul later revealed that we are to love Jesus even before we love ourselves and most certainly before we love others.
From this Jesus set in place the life protocol of all believer for would be identified by their love for Jesus. Jesus was not saying anything inconsistent with the Shema or his summation of the greatest commandment as the protocol of heaven. He was merely expanding it.
Seek first the Kingdom of heaven and God’s righteousness.
For Paul, the righteousness of God is revealed in loving God from God’s love through the work of the Holy Spirit and placing Jesus first in our heart and above all things. Our love for Jesus, put differently is our first desire, our first response, our first thought, our first pursuit in everything we do. This revelation is confirmed in the Book of Revelation which we can now turn to.
I John am your brother and companion in tribulation, the kingdom and the patience that are found in Jesus.
Then Jesus says something significant to him:
Don’t yield to fear. I am the beginning and I am the end, the Living One! I was dead but look- I am alive forever and ever. And I hold the keys that unlock death and the unseen world. Revelation 1:17
Then Jesus tells John the mystery of the lampstands and the seven stars is this: the seven lampstands are the seven churches, and the seven stars in my right hand are the seven messengers of the seven churches.
John then speaks about the churches and what he saw and heard and was to write to the angel of the Lord or the messenger to each church. The first church Jesus mentioned was Ephesus.
I know all that you’ve done for me- you have worked hard and persevered. I know that you don’t tolerate evil. You have tested those who claimed to be apostles and proven they are not, for they were imposters. I also know how you have bravely endured trials and persecutions because of my name, yet you have not become discouraged. But I have this against you. You have abandoned the passionate love you had for me at the very beginning. Think about how far you have fallen! Repent and do the works of love you did at first. I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place of influence if you do not repent.
Although to your credit you despise the practices of the Nicolatians, which I also despise. The one whose heart is open let him listen carefully to what the Spirit is saying now to all the churches. To the one who overcomes I will give access to feast on the fruit of the Tree of Life that is found in the paradise of God.
We see here an amazing church. It is like the other churches were living in challenging times. A people who commenced with a deep surrendered love for Jesus. I am sure all they did was because of their deep love for him. Even as Paul would say to the churches that God’s love compels him. This meant of course that His love for Christ compelled him in all things he did. He kept the Shema now revealed in Jesus first in his heart and mind.
This church was doing amazing things as Jesus recognised. Jesus did not miss one thing they were doing. And this is the truth we must embrace. Jesus alone is the discerner of hearts. He wants everything we do for him to come from our love for Him first. He alone sees and determines all we do and the motives of our heart. What counts is not what we do by way Kingdom activity but what is in our heart when we do it. Are we doing it for our own ego, to satisfy our own insecurity, our own desires or because we prefer to function in faith to get things done or are we doing because of our deep love for Christ Jesus as our first love.
What identifies us with Jesus in the world is our deep love for him. What causes the reality of the Kingdom to proceed through us as life is our heart towards God. In John 15 Jesus said, I love each of you with the same love that the Father loves me. You must continually let my love nourish your hearts.
Then later in the same teaching he said, So this is my command: Love each other deeply, as much as I have loved you. For the greatest love of all is a love that sacrifices all. And this great love is demonstrated when a person sacrifices his life for his friends.
So, the church started well but they then did things still amazing things of faith but without a heart that loved Jesus before everything else they were doing as their first love. The expression of their works was routine, perfunctory, even discerning but not with a deep love for Christ.
A parallel is often used here to explain this. It is like when you are first married. It is a good parallel because we are the bride of Christ. When you are first married, you are deeply in love. You just don’t want friendship with your husband or wife but a place of deep intimacy and so you can give yourselves unreservedly to each other. That is how Jesus behaves to his church. That is what Paul lays out in Ephesians 5 through his discussion of marriage. But after a while in this relationship, we get busy cleaning the house, getting the jobs done and going out to work and raising the children. We give little time to our relationship in a deep and intimate way. We might even sleep in the same bed at night, but we have lost that deep connection that we first had. That connection that cries in our heart, “I will do anything for you” has been lost.
For Jesus something has been loss and the loss is significant. He wants all of us, every single part of us so every part of him can be consumed by us. So, he calls this shift in heart as us abandoning our passionate love we had for him at the beginning. He calls this abandonment a fall- “think about how far you have fallen”.
The letter to the church at Ephesus shows us how easy it is to drift then abandon the passion of our Christ as our first love and fall into a self-focused or functional faith and Christianity. It is clear what Jesus is making plain our close and personal relationship with Him as our expression of love for Him is more important than anything else and shapes every area of our life.
Loving Jesus first deeply and passionately by the grace of God allows us to then love one another as the expression of our love for Jesus. As Paul teaches us, continue to walk surrendered to the extravagant love of Christ for he surrendered his life as a sacrifice for us. Ephesians 5:2.
Too often we try to love each other from our own reservoir of love. This is why we struggle. We have departed from the protocol of first things first of the Kingdom realm. God is first relational before He is functional. And all he does is the expression of His love towards us. Because of His love for us He promises to provide for us. He promises to keep us, protect us, nurture us, develop us and bring us into maturity by us living by the Spirit and loving him as our first love.
When we love Jesus first with all our hearts we will think of ourselves second and this is the hallmark of humility before God. When we love Jesus first we are responding to the love of God put in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Our first love for Jesus shapes our marriages, it shapes our families, it shapes how we give, how we serve one another. It shapes our thanksgiving, our praise and our worship. It shapes our desire for holiness and our desire to please God with every area of our life. It shapes what we look at and what we engage in. It shapes and defines our heart and our faith. It shapes the church and identifies our self with Jesus as being his, and God’s people.
When we put Christ first, it means giving ourselves completely to him. Love includes friendship but Jesus wants us to love him with the same love He loves us. This means as genuine lay down lovers of Christ. This is what Heidi Baker has been speaking and living for decades and the fruit of her life is obvious. The Kingdom breaks in around her because her love is first for Jesus even before herself. That is a love that is completely vulnerable and giving.
This is what love is of course. God’s love in us is not what we get but the measure of what we are willing to give of our self to God. In this sense God calls on us to love Him with all we are- all our heart, all our soul and all our mind- as our first priority.
The problem with so many things, and why we tend to function more than relate is that we have lost our first love. When we lose our first love we notice what is wrong with others, with the church, with everything as we promote ourselves to first place. We become more critical than when we are deeply in love. The problem with the issue of purity is we have lost our first love. The problem with our prosperity is that we have lost our first love and Jesus is pointing out in the sermon on the mount we have already discussed. In fact, if we are honest the very things that Jesus points out to the church at Ephesus.
This is a critical word for us in this hour. Last week we removed the veil of pride and religiosity. Little did I know that this week Jesus would call us back to our first love.
Jesus put it like this:
Loving me empowers you to obey my word. And my Father will love you so deeply that we will come to you and make you our dwelling place. But those who do not love me will not obey my words. John 14:15
I am the sprouting vine and you’re my branches. As you live in union with me as your source, fruitfulness will stream from within you- but when you are separated from Me you are powerless. John 15:5 Separated means separated in our love for Jesus.
If you keep my commands you will live in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands, for I continually live nourished and empowered by his love. John 15:10
When we respond to God’s love revealed in our hearts through the Holy Spirit we want to love him passionately. Because we love him we want to please him and give ourselves to his words of life because of our love and trust in all His says. This love then overflows as the foundation of everything we do. Colossians 3:23 tells us to put our heart into everything we do as though you are doing to the Lord himself not merely for others. We do it to the Lord because of our first love for him.
This key is so powerful and needed in this hour when we are being influenced even in the church to put our self first rather than Jesus being first, loving the gifts of the Spirit without loving Jesus first, loving to prophesy without loving Jesus first, evangelising, without loving Jesus first, being successful in life without loving Jesus first. The pull and potential to drift abandon that first love in doing ministry and church is a very real one.
We see that the accuser is destroyed and the Kingdom realm established from this protocol of doing everything from the place of loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.
REVELATION 12: 11
They conquered him completely through the blood of the lamb and the powerful word of their testimony. They triumphed because they did not love and cling to their own lives, even when faced with death.
I believe like the apostles their love for Jesus was so genuine so deep and so empowering, they actually loved Him more than themselves and life itself. Their love for Jesus was so deep that they were willing to be martyred for the sake of His name and the gospel. I believe there is a present grace of God to draw us and empower us into this kind of first-love life.
Then we must see that when we return to our first love there is a reward. That reward is both present and eternal as I have already pointed out.
The one whose heart is open let him listen carefully to what the Spirit is saying now to all the churches. To the one who overcomes I will give access to feast on the fruit of the Tree of Life that is found in the paradise of God. Revelation 2:7
So, this morning, where are you in respect to your first love? Have you drifted? Have you abandoned that passionate love for Jesus and your heart fallen away from loving him deeply.
Are you “functioning” but not connected deeply to the heart of God? Then Scripture and the ageless instruction of Revelation 2:1 is before us this morning.
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