Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
Signs of the Times - Love Growing Cold
by Rev Peter Kossen
Sermon: Signs of the Times - Love Growing Cold
Author: Rev P Kossen
Passage: Matthew 24:12
Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 2:1-19; Matthew 24:1-14
Suggested Hymns: BoW 103a; 470; 23:1,2,3,5; 443; 514:5
Congregation of Lord Jesus Christ.
Signs of the Times. With trouble in the world, like we have, all sorts of questions arise about the future of the race. Will we all get wiped out in a nuclear holocaust? Will militant Islam continue to strike terror over the globe? Where will the current conflict end?
As Christians, we often speak of 'signs of the times'. Signs of the times are the Bible-given indicators that the end of the age is drawing near, like wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes, persecution of the church, false teachers, doctrinal leniency, the completed mission task - the Gospel preached to all nations - the man of lawlessness, the antichrists, the great apostasy, the love of many growing cold, and many falling away.
When you see these things, you know the end is drawing near. You may recall Jesus likened it to the way we can look at the sky and say what the weather is going to be like. In the same way the signs of the times tell us that Jesus' coming is near.
But as Reformed folk we have never really become as wound up about them as others. Some religious groups through the ages have given exact predictions of when Christ would come back. But then when it doesn't happen, they are not left with much credibility.
And in some sense every age has in it the signs of the times. Wars and rumours of wars, for example. How many Christians must have thought in their time, things can't get much worse.
And yet, the signs of the times are indicators that the end of the age is drawing near. They are present in some form in every generation, but they increase in intensity towards the end of the age.
Today we are just looking at one sign. Jesus speaks of the increase of wickedness and the love of many growing cold. I am sure that this general sign of coldness of love among God's people is a sign also present in all ages. We are reminded that even in the first century the Lord had to speak to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 about this. He rebuked them for leaving their first love. This sign is present in all ages. Also, in ours. It is among us too. So it means that we are to examine ourselves. We are to see if there is an increase of wickedness and a love growing cold among us.
Why is growing coldness in love a sign of the times? The picture Jesus paints is one of a world moving progressively away from Him. And the further we are from God, the more it will show in our love.
1. Some things about love
(a) It is the great requirement of God's law.
Jesus speaks about the great command - to love the Lord your God with all your heart. In this command God is presenting Himself as the One who is meant to be at the centre of all our attention. He is the One around whom we as humans are to revolve. He is the sun around whom we are to move. And this command is not arbitrary or selfish. It is commanded because it is right. God is the centre of the universe. He alone can meet the deepest desires of the human heart. As human beings we can only ever find true fulfilment in Him. He is the Life Giver. And He should rightly be the focus of our very existence. In the new creation everything will revolve around Him.
So love, then, is the great requirement of the law. When our lives are focussed fully on Him and He is our deepest delight, when God is our centre of existence, then we have come to what we as human beings were made for. You can see this clearly in the new creation where there is no sin. There everything will revolve around God. Completely. It is the great requirement of the law.
(b) It is also the great influencing power of the Gospel.
The religion of the Bible is not so much to do with the outward action but more with the inward motive. 2 Corinthians, for example, speaks about giving cheerfully, without compulsion. That is what it's all about, when love is the thing that is driving us to do what we do. That is the essential difference between sons and slaves. Sons do it out of love, slaves because they must. The law of Christ is not of coercion, like pulling teeth, but one of inward desire. Sometimes we may be driven in our Christian lives by fear, or by a sense of duty alone. But true obedience comes from love. The whole blessing of the new covenant was when the law would be written on the heart. No longer imposed on them from the outside but in them, as the deepest desire.
So with these two brief points we see that love for God stands at the very heart of our faith.
2. Some signs that love for God is growing cold
Love can grow cold. What do you compare it to? Like a car that runs out of petrol. It doesn't want to go anymore. You still have the car sitting there. It might still look good. But it doesn't work. And that's what it's like when our hearts have become cold to God. Those around us might not notice it yet. But we know that our hearts are not in it. We know that we are losing our first love. True Christians can experience this sad decline of love in their hearts. The love of God in them can never be destroyed if it is a work of God. But it can sadly decline.
Let's look at some signs of that.
(a) When God is no longer the deepest joy of the believer.
God is the fountain of life. As Christians, we know that. We know that God is the source of all pure joy. We know that nothing can compare to God. But times can come when God is no longer the deepest joy. I'm not speaking here so much of times of spiritual struggle, when your heart searches but cannot find. Like David in Psalm 84, where he deeply longs to worship God in His temple but something prevented him from doing so. That spiritual struggle is something else. But we are speaking here of the heart slowly hardening towards God. When we are no longer finding our joy in God but in other things. Like in Jeremiah 2 where God's people can't be bothered about God anymore because their interests were with useless idols. It's when other things become more important than God. He becomes second. That's a sign of our love growing cold.
(b) When there is little desire for prayer and communion with God.
Prayer is one of the greatest blessing of the Christian life. It's to have communion with God. Not only speaking in prayer. But meditating on His Word. Letting Him speak to us through His Word. And us speaking back to God through prayer. It's bringing our lives, our sins, our weaknesses, our joys, yes, our everything before Him. But when God becomes less important, then we will spend little time in prayer and it's a sign of a decline in love.
(c) When there is little true walking in fellowship with and obedience to God.
Again, like the car without petrol. As Christians we can walk in complete conformity to the outward law of God. But we may not actually be walking with God because true obedience runs deeper. It is a matter of the heart. And so if the heart is not there, then we have become like the Pharisees, everything is in place but full of dead men's bones. The Christian life is a walking with God. Like Enoch, walking with God through life. But if our lives are not a walk with God, then that is a sign that we are losing our first love.
(d) When Christ is not the primary focus in the believer's life.
It goes without saying, doesn't it, that the centre of the Christian life is Jesus Christ. Our focus as Christians is not on the law. Because if we are focussed on the law we become legalists. And our focus is not on other people. Then we become just humanitarian. Our focus is on Christ; on the glory of His Person; on the wonder of His atoning work; on His sacrifice for sin; on His gift of life and salvation. And the more we focus on Christ, the more joy shall fill our lives. And so a sure sign that we are losing our first love is when Christ is not the centre of our focus.
(e) When love for God's people and for all people is growing less.
The two commands hang together. The more we love God, the more also we will love His people. And so if we find our love for others growing less, then it is a sign of coldness in our hearts for God.
There are, of course, other signs as well.
3. Some causes of love growing cold
(a) The increase in wickedness.
Jesus mentions the increase in wickedness. 2 Thessalonians 2 speaks about the power of lawlessness. It is pictured as a force going through history, culminating in the man of lawlessness. This is the general trend of de-evolution. Of things moving away from the centre.
Now sin, in all its extremes, has been there in all of history. The Assyrians, for example, were one of the worst armies to walk the earth. But the Bible does speak of a restraining power. But also of God taking away the restraint towards the end of time. The increase of sin and the decrease of love for God go hand in hand. That's the story told in many lives throughout history. Never a standing still. Drawing nearer to God or moving further away from God.
It's like living in a pressure cooker. We are surrounded, saturated, by evil. The Old Testament describes Lot like that when he lived in the city of Sodom. And the increase of the temperature of sin around us has an effect upon us. It requires much grace for us to keep standing firm. So the general increase in wickedness is one cause.
(b) General worldliness.
The Bible says that you cannot love both God and the world together. The Lord Jesus spoke of it in the sermon on the Mount when He said that you cannot serve two masters. You will love the one and hate the other. And so the increase of worldliness also has a negative spiritual impact on us. And again, we need much grace to stand against the onslaughts of the evil one. Worldliness has always been there. The apostle John spoke of it already in the first century. And it is just as relevant today.
4. Some ways to keep love for God burning bright
(a) Confessing where we have turned from our first love.
We listen to a sermon like this and we can see all these areas in our lives where God is not first. And it's not just about areas of our life. It's about the priority. God is to be at the very centre of our focus. So how do we keep the love burning bright?
First of all, it is by confessing where we have turned from our first love. You see, God knows already. But He wants us to know. And He wants us to bring it to Him. Why? Because confessing our sin is the first step, in re-centring our life on Him.
Do you know what repentance is? It's like a u-turn. Going one way. Realising it's the wrong way. Then doing a u-turn and heading in the opposite direction. That is why confession is so important to keep our lives heading in the right direction. Because when we are going the wrong way, we have to turn around. We have to admit we are going the wrong way. And repentance is when the Holy Spirit convicts us and brings us to a godly sorrow over going the wrong way and a desire to go His way again. Confession of whichever area. Whichever idol we have put before Him. We are to take it to the Lord in prayer. Because in confessing, we have taken the first step in admitting the wrongness.
(b) Focussing our lives on Christ.
It's not just about turning our lives around. I mean, you might do a complete doughnut and keep going the way you were. Repentance is turning around to the right direction, to Christ.
How do we keep our love burning bright? I think we can learn the lessons for this from Paul. Paul was a man whose love burned very bright. Why? Because the whole of his life was focussed on the Lord Jesus Christ. He said that for Him to live was Christ, and to die was gain. He said that he would prefer to go to be with Christ, which was better by far.
And why was Paul so much in love with Christ? Because Paul had found Christ to be the glorious centre of the universe. Christ does not just want us to focus our lives on Him for nothing. He is the centre. He was before all things. Through Him all things were made. In Him all things hang together. They were created by Him and for Him. He wants us to centre our lives in Him because He is the centre.
He is the One who is the home of our soul. Our souls are secure when they are focussed on Him, resting in Him. Paul was a man just like us. But he found Christ to be everything to him, his life, his joy, his righteousness, his everything. And we, too, will experience the same joy as Paul when we find the centre as Paul did. The more we turn from sin, from selfishness, from idols, from other things, to Christ, yes, the more we turn to Christ and centre our lives in Him, the more we too shall love.
Brothers and sisters, we live in difficult times. I am not speaking so much of the situation in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. But rather, I am speaking of the spiritual conditions in the world. About the times of the increase of wickedness. About the times when even as Christians our focus can so easily be turned from Christ.
Even today, may we have seen the spiritual danger lurking, the devil looking for someone to snare, the devil, like with Cain, desiring to have us. And may the evil we see today shock us and draw us back to focus our lives on Christ again.
The Rev. Peter Kossen is a Pastor in the Christian Reformed Churches of Western Australia.