I have many loves in my life, and I am certain that you do as well. I love my wife, and I love my children. I love my family, and I love my friends. I love my health, and I love to eat. I love to play, and I love to read, and I love to think. I love to run and to walk and to drive. I have many loves.
I do not love them all equally. No one can. We must love one thing over another, and sometimes one thing will take priority over another. Everyone feels this tension in life. Do I stay in my chair and read this book, or do I get up and throw baseballs with my son? Do I watch my favorite show, or do I go with my wife to Wal-Mart? Do I save my money, or do I go in debt with a newer car? All of these things boil down to love and priority.
But there is one love and priority that lives above the rest. In our souls, things clamor for attention. All our loves are potential tyrants, potential idols. The struggle over love and prior can tear a soul apart, unless above this clamor for attention from our lesser loves we can hear this: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27).
Our first love is our God or it is our god. Our first love is the Savior or the destroyer of our soul. Every day, I have to take inventory of my loves. My first love must be my God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Are any of my lesser loves coming between my soul and Him? Is it my wife? My children? My job? My pride?
Some might think, "Wait, if my children get between myself and the Lord, I must sacrifice my children." Oh, how wrong that is. How very wrong. The child is not the problem. Nor the wife. Nor the job. What needs to go on the altar is you. It's me. They are so beautiful, my wife, my children, and my job. They are such gifts, and they cannot be loved or appreciated enough. What needs to die is the idolatrous heart that exalts them above God, that demands from these beautiful things more than they can be expected to give.
Oh wicked hearts that demand something from this world that it was not made to give! It is like a thief that demands $1,000 dollars from an innocent, and then murders him because he is too poor to comply. How much should one love one's wife? She is a treasure from God, a reflection of His grace, she is in his image, and a sure sign of God's kindness. She cannot be loved too much for what she is, but she cannot be loved for what she is not. She is not God; she is from God. If you try to make her be the source of happiness, you will murder who she is. You will be an insane idol maker like a man who carves a stone and says to it, "Protect me! Shelter me! Love me! Provide for me!" It is an affront to both the stone and the God who made it.
Instead of sacrificing the wife or the kids, we must put to death our sinful desire to elevate them to places that they do not belong. We may think we love things better by worshipping them instead of God, but in reality, we love them less. It is as if my wife said, "I love you because I believe you are the President of the United States!" And I say, "But I am not the President." She may snap, "Yes you are, now act like it!" And I say, "But beloved, I am not he." And she says, "Then I do not love you at all! What a dissappointment you are to me!"
See the violence we do to others in our idolatry? Is it any wonder that our idols grieve and anger our God? Not simply because it is an affront to his dignity, but also because it does violence to his creation.
Let us order our loves rightly. Let us offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God that we might love as we ought. Let us agree with Augustine who wrote, "He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with Thee, which he loves not for Thy sake." And finally, let us heed the exhortation of John, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.