‘Assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.’ -Joel 2

Joel is a minor prophet with a major message. His book may only be three chapters, but his prophetic poetry pulls no punches — and it preaches the gospel.

In this bit of verse, Joel calls his listeners to interrupt child and marriage schedules to seek God. He says that when drawing near to Go, no one must stand in the way. Those in possession of large swaths of our heart’s real estate must submit their claims to the King and Creator — whenever he may call for them.

So… who is the person you just can’t live without?

Children, boyfriend, spouse, parent, best friends — there will be times when we have to choose between them and Christ. Such moments may be rare, but God allows them. It’s not those who hate us who will be our biggest challenge. Rather, Jesus said ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household’. It’s finding the courage to say ‘no’ to someone’s self-centered neediness or forgiving the sense of betrayal left when affection is withheld — that’s when our hearts need grace.

We are chiseled by God with the hammer of relationships. Obeying Christ will not always please those we care the most for. Jesus preached a less-than-family-values sermon when he said, ‘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.’

Our challenge is to love our haters and hate our lovers.

Some timid souls may try to balance those words of Christ by saying that Scripture elsewhere commands us to love our parents our friends and our wives. Quite. But this is to de-tooth the lion. Hate can be the felt emotion on the receiving end. It’s not until God asks us to do something that breaks our heart that we find out if we’re truly committed to following him. It’s no coincidence that the first time the word ‘worship’ is used in the Bible is when Abraham offers up Isaac (Genesis 22).

Ensuring that Jesus is our bae, is also in the interest of the other person. It is not loving to make an idol of someone. When we do, we are searching for something in them that only God can bestow — ultimate affection, approval or security. The moment you take your good relationship and let it become ultimate, it will rot quicker than a black banana. It will be unhealthy and sicken you both. It will be called ‘love’, but it will be more about you loving yourself.

Following Christ first opens the door for blessing in the other people’s lives. In Joel’s prophecy, it is only after the children are gathered under God that it is written ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and daughters will prophecy.’ To do the ultimate good for them, we cannot make them our ultimate good.

If we cannot say ‘no’ to a relationship, then it is not we who have the relationship — it has us. We are its slave. Following Christ liberates us from these competing affections. Some of you are in a relationship (romantic, familial or platonic) that is hellish. How can you escape? Follow Christ above all. Human love will cease to be a demon when it ceases to be a god.

We can find the strength to put God first only because — in a sense — that is what he did for us. ‘For us and for our salvation’ — as the old creed goes — he left the comforts and company of heaven to live and die. In death, he was abandoned by both heavenly and earthly relations alike so that we may have the only type of acceptance and love that ultimately matters — in life and in death.


Joshua D. Jones is a writer, mentor and preacher based in Nottingham, England. He is author of the book, Forbidden Friendships: Retaking the Biblical gift of male-female friendship. He loves sharing good coffee with his family and close friends.

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