The Healthiest Ordering of Our Loves
J.R.R. Tolkien’s character Gollum chased after the Ring of Power, which he affectionately called his “Precious,” because he believed it would meet his every need if only he could only hold on to it. But the longer it remained in his grasp, the more poisoned his soul. Like every idol, like every person or place or thing we try to turn into a surrogate Jesus, Gollum’s Precious backfired on him. It failed to deliver on any of its promises, and instead it ate him alive.
There is something, Someone, right and good to hold on to. There is a worthy treasure; a valuable pearl. There is a Precious that is life giving and promise keeping. Jesus is the True Precious who actually holds onto us. Instead of poisoning us, he gives us life. Instead of diminishing us, he makes us flourish. Instead of ensnaring us, he sets us free. It is Jesus who holds us and who we hold above all else.
Does this mean that redirecting our gaze toward Jesus and holding him above all others will lead us to neglect, ignore, or dismiss the significant people in our lives? Does gaining Jesus mean we will end up losing all the other meaningful people, places and things in our lives? Absolutely not! Nothing could be further from the truth. In a curious twist, it turns out that the key to really loving people well is to “hate” them in the hyperbolic sense of the word. Hyperbolically, Jesus said these words:
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.
It’s important to recognize here that Jesus is not speaking in absolute terms, but in degrees. Our love for any created thing, when compared to our love for him, should look by comparison like hatred—Not because we’ve come to hate anyone or anything, but because of how much we have come to love him.
Think of it this way. If my love for Jesus is so strong that it leads me to “leave” my mother and father for his sake—if I begin looking to him to be my ultimate Precious around which all other loves in my life take a back seat—then my affection and loyalty to my parents will become greater, not lesser. This is true because honoring my mother and father is part of demonstrating my gratitude and loyalty to Jesus. To love Jesus is to obey his commandments, including the ones that say, “Honor your mother and father” (Exodus 20:12) and “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). When my love and loyalty to Jesus exceeds my love and loyalty to my mother and father, it will actually make me a better son to them.
Similarly, to the degree that Jesus is positioned above my wife and children in the hierarchy of my loves—to the degree that Jesus becomes more precious to me than them—I become a more loving, more attentive, more selfless, more intentional husband and father. Why is this so? Because treating Jesus as my ultimate Precious includes loving my wife as Christ loved the church, cherishing her even to the point of laying down my life for her, treating her as my equal versus as a rival or an inferior, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but considering her wants and needs more important than my own (Philippians 2:1-4; Ephesians 5:21-33).
Loving Jesus in this way also includes being the kind of father who gives good gifts to his children, who raises them to love and obey the Lord, who instructs them in what is true and beautiful, who reminds them often how fiercely loved they are, who leads them without provoking them to anger, and who humbly apologizes and asks for their forgiveness when I fail to do any of the above (Matthew 7:11; Ephesians 6:1-4; James 5:16).
When my inner Gollum is put to rest and my career takes a back seat to Jesus, I become an even better employee and boss. Why is this so? Because treating Jesus as my ultimate Precious includes doing all that I do, including my work, to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). As an employee, I will seek to do my best work versus lazy and shoddy work—whether or not I am being watched—because it is ultimately the Lord that I am serving. As a boss, I will pay a fair wage, I will not belittle or threaten those who work for me, but will treat them as my equals before God, with dignity and respect (Ephesians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:18).
When money takes a back seat to Jesus, my relationship with it will also become healthier and more life giving. Why is this so? Because treating Jesus as my ultimate Precious and as my truest Treasure will lead me to avoid debt, give generously to God and to the poor and to people in need, to save for the benefit of future generations, to pay the taxes that I owe, and to provide for those who are depending on me for their care and their basic needs (Proverbs 22:7; Malachi 3:8-10; Proverbs 14:31, 13:22; Romans 13:8; Mark 12:17; 1 Timothy 5:8).
Lastly, being aware of how Jesus loved me even when I acted as his enemy will make me not only a better neighbor to my friends, but also a better neighbor to those who may regard me as their “enemy”. Why is this so? Because treating Jesus as my ultimate Precious will lead me not only to love those who think and believe as I do, but also to love those who do not. It will lead me not only to serve those who like me, but also to serve those who don’t. It will lead me to respond to insults with kindness, and to persecution with prayers. It will, as Jesus commanded, lead me to love even those who are intent on not loving me (Matthew 5:44).
When the love of Jesus captivates us, and when we begin to see him as our True Precious, our hearts will naturally, and quite effortlessly, love him first and to love him most. This will lead us to hold everything else loosely, no longer desperately tightening our grip. And yet, when we loosen our grip on these things, our loving Jesus sometimes has a way of giving them all back to us—and in an even greater, more healthy measure than before. Just as the second half of Job’s life was blessed twice as much as the first (Job 42:12), just as Paul the Apostle found greater joy in a prison cell than he ever had as a violent, yet successful mover and shaker (Philippians 3:8, 4:11-13), and just as the man who gave up all his possessions for a single, hidden treasure started leaping for joy (Matthew 13:44-46), so will our lives become rich when Jesus becomes our Treasure above all other treasures, our King above all other kings, and our Lord above all other lords.
As Jesus said, if we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all these things will be added to us as well. The way to gain our life is to lose it. The way to become full and rich in the truest sense is to pour out and generously give. The way to become the kind of person who does the most for the present world is to think the most of the next. We remind ourselves of truth when we preach to our souls daily saying, “Soul, Jesus lights the way for you. He has all of the resources you’ll need for all eternity—all of your needs both big and small as he, your Creator, defines them. All this and Jesus Christ too! Let your soul rest. Enjoy, and be merry.”
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