The church at Ephesus had a lot going for it. Jesus commends them for a number of things.
1. There was a lot of activity - "I know your works…"
2. They were a hard-working church - "I know your labor." They worked to the point of exhaustions.
3. They were a persevering church. They were enduring under trial.
4. They were doctrinally discerning - "I know you cannot tolerated wicked men."
5. They examined the claims of those saying they were prophets.
6. They labored for the name of Christ without becoming weary - they didn't quit.
7. They did not allow the teachings of the Nicolaitans to have any place in their church.
But in verse 4, Christ raises a concern.
Revelation 2:4 NKJV
4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
"Nevertheless I have this against you,…" You have certainly been busy doing good works in these very difficult day. You have been faithful to confront wicked men and false prophets. But in the midst of all those good activities, those good projects, those good examinations, you let the main thing stop being the main thing. You have allowed spiritual activity to replace your love.
The word "Nevertheless," is a word of great contrast. And we should not think for a moment that the problem of these believers is minor. Though they were commended highly for their efforts and loyalties, it is a sharp contrast which the Lord makes when He accuses them of neglected priorities. Christ expresses to them how He feels about this fatal flaw, to the point of saying there would be consequences if His instructions weren't heeded.
Let's look at how different Bible translations render the accusation of Christ.
NKJV, KJV, NAS, ASV, Darby "You have left your first love."
NIV "You have forsaken your first love."
RSV, NRSV, ESV (Eng. Std V.) "You have abandoned the love you had at first"
LB, TEV (Today's English), Williams "You no longer love Me as at the first."
Phillips, "You do not love as you did at first"
Amplified "You have deserted Me, your first love."
Beck "Your love isn't what it was at first."
Message "You have walked away from your first love."
Contemporary English "You don't have as much love as you used to."
There really isn't a whole lot of difference between these various translation and paraphrases. I have shown them to you for two reasons.
1. In some cases we find the word "ME" is inserted into the phrase. These translation assume that the love that has been forsaken is their love for Jesus. While that may be true, the Greek does not include the word "me".
2. I have at times heard this phrase quoted as "you have lost your first love." None of these translations allow that kind of meaning. They had not lost their first love - they had left it.
Most of you know that in my younger years I loved to play the game of Basketball. Even now, I enjoy mixing it up on the court. For professional basketball players, rebounding is an art form. Some players just have a knack for getting in the right positions to rebound. You may not score a lot of points, but if you can rebound effectively, you can demand a high price tag.
Why is rebounding such a valuable art in basketball? It's because those guys miss a lot of shots - even the good shooters. The ball doesn't go in the hoop. It bounces off the rim or caroms off the backboard. The winners are those who get the rebound and take another shot.
That's true in the Christian life too. All of us take bad shots. We know where the hoop is and we have the ball, but somehow the two don't meet. The issue I am concerned about here is not so much the missed shot - but the rebound -- what you and I do to get up and get back in the game.
Let me put it in different terms. If you have allowed something to replace your first love for Jesus Christ, .there has been a missed shot somewhere. But the game isn't over. You can rebound. You can regain that first love and still come out a winner in the game of life.
You have heard me say, in an earlier lesson, that none of these 7 churches of Revelation were beyond hope, if they would only follow the advice and instruction of their Lord. That is so true as we go through this letter to the church at Ephesus. If the love you once had has dimmed, all is not lost if you rebound. Christ does not just tell you and me that we no longer walk as close to Him as we once did. He also give us the remedy and the steps back to that first love.
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE TO BE COMMENDED FOR ALL THIS CHURCH DID AND YET THEY HAVE WALKED AWAY FROM THEIR FIRST LOVE?
I hope each of us pay very close attention to what Christ says here. We can be guilty of the same thing. Despite all the praiseworthy elements in the Ephesians church, the penetrating, omniscient gaze of the Lord Jesus Christ had spotted a fatal flaw. Though they maintained their doctrinal orthodoxy and continued to serve Christ, that service had degenerated into mechanical orthodoxy.
Edmund Burke, and 18th century British statesman, said in a speech before parliament:
"Very seldom does a man take one giant step from a life of virtue and goodness into a life of vice and corruption. Usually, he begins his journey into evil by taking little steps into the shaded areas, areas tinted and colored just a bit, almost unnoticed by those around him - until one day, hardly aware that he had made the journey, he finds himself firmly entangled in a life of vice and corruption."
DO WE HAVE EXAMPLES OF THIS IN THE BIBLE?
There are several of them. Let me give you two.
In the book of Judges we read about a man by the name of Samson. He was one of Israel's heroes and judges. Just about everyone of you can recall something about his life from the stories you've heard, or lessons you have learned at church. Samson started his life as a man of God. From childhood to manhood, he was a man set apart for his God. He started the morning with God. He spent the day with God. He ended his day with God. Most of the days of his life were spent in a close relationship with Jehovah, God.
But something happened. Gradually, Samson started flirting with evil. Little by little, pride, lust and selfishness began to replace his love and devotion to God. And then, in Judges 16:20, we read one of the saddest and most startling verses in the Bible.
Judges 16:20 NKJV
20 And she (Delilah) said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" So he awoke from his sleep, and said, "I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!" But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him.
It says that the Lord had departed from Samson, but he did not even realize it. Isn't that sad. Samson had become so deeply entangled in sin and had become so insensitive to God's presence in his life, that when God finally left him, Samson didn't even realize it.
1. King Saul
That same phenomenon happened with Israel's first king, Saul. The sun rises on his life and we see a cloudless sky, a beautiful beginning. He was a man whom God loved, and who loved God.
The Bible says, in 1 Samuel 10:10, "...the Spirit of God came upon him in power..." But gradually, he turns his back on God, and storm clouds begin to gather. His humility gradually was replaced by pride. His leadership became suspect which led to some very bad decisions.
Finally, he can't see the sun anymore because God has left him. We read in 1 Samuel 15:35, "the Lord was grieved that He had made Saul King over Israel." Then we read in 1 Samuel 16:14, "Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him." And later we are told that Saul ended up slinking off to the witch of Endor (a follower of Satan). He seeks help for guidance and direction from the powers of evil because those were the forces that were now controlling his life.
It isn't the giant step from virtue into corruption that we need to fear. It is the little steps that gradually but ultimately lead us away form God. It must have happened that way in the church at Ephesus. I don't imagine this happened in one giant step, but instead it was a gradual thing.
For awhile the Ephesus Church loved God and the people in the community were drawn into their fellowship. Great Bible-based sermons were preached from the pulpit, and when those sermons were preached, wonderful things happened in the lives of those sitting in the pews. Ephesus was known far and wide for their compassion and faithfulness.
But then something happened. The honeymoon had ended at Ephesus. There was a loss of a vital love relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the outward appearance, a deadly spiritual cancer began growing at the heart of the Ephesian church.
In Matthew 24:12, Jesus is talking about the end-times and He said: "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold." That's the way sin works. It doesn't take giant steps, but little bitty steps. The warm, vibrant love begins to grow cold.
Two things should be considered here:
o What is this thing called "first love?"
o Who/What is the object of this first love?
With regard to the last question, we earlier looked at the various translations of this fourth verse. And we noted that some of them assumed the object of this love is Christ himself. There is some disagreement among Bible scholars concerning the object of the first love. In all the theological books I have read on this subject, there are four suggested areas that need to be considered in the whole.
1. Our love for the Lord Himself.
2. Love for other believers.
3. Love for the second coming of Christ.
4. Love for the non-believer.
Can you see that in the Ephesian church all of these could apply, in part? Let me show you why I believe all four of these are crucial. I want to address them from the bottom up. But, before I start, I believe that point #1, above, must be part of the answer here in Ephesus. And maybe a large part.
Love for the non-believer
This was a church that examined what speakers said, to the point of calling them liars if they were false apostles. These people did not allow any aberrant doctrines to infiltrate their church.
While it is absolutely essential, for us as well as them, not to allow erroneous teaching, if they (we) are not careful to examine what people say in a loving manner, they might drive off every new person who visits their congregation. Are they more concerned about doctrinal integrity than reaching nonbelievers with the gospel?
That is a point worthy of our careful consideration. It doesn't have to be either/or. We must have both doctrinal integrity and love for those around us. In commending the believers at Ephesus for their caring about right doctrine, He doesn't say it is OK to not care for people in the process. But is that the "first love" which Christ is exhorting these believers to renew?
Love for the second coming of Christ
Some might believe this is the object of our "first love" since the book of Revelation deals with the event leading up to the Second Coming and beyond. I personally believe that is a weak argument. But I do believe that a love for Christ's second coming must be linked with love for Christ Himself. I look at it this way. If Paula went on a long trip somewhere, I can't wait for her to return. I want to be with her, and her with me. When you love someone that strongly, that's the way you feel. We can hardly wait for Him to return. I will say more about this when I get to our love for Christ Himself.
Love for other believers
You might find it interesting that the majority of commentaries I have read on this Passage take the "first love" mentioned in conjunction with the Ephesian church to refer to the original Christian love the members had for one another.
Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, in his commentary, "The Apocalypse of John", page 450, says:
"Without brotherly love a church must become extinct."
William Barclay writes,
"Much more likely this means that the first fine rapture of love for the brotherhood is gone."
Notice what the apostle Paul says early in his letter to this congregation.
Ephesians 1:15-16 NKJV
15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,
16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:
This letter says the members at Ephesus had a love for each other that was known outside of their city. 40 years of time had elapsed since Paul wrote his letter to them.
This, I believe, is another object of our love that cannot be separated from our Love for Christ Himself. In the first days of the Church at Ephesus, the members really loved each other. Dissension never reared its head. The heart was ready to kindle and the hand was ready to help. But something had gone wrong.
These believers could sniff out false apostles and prophets because they knew their theological facts. The knew the Scriptures. The truth was important to them. Any pastor has to love a group of people like that. But it may well be that heresy-hunting had killed their love for each other. If we are not careful, weighing each and every word a person says, and the possible motives behind them, can lead to dissention in the ranks. Orthodoxy may have been achieved at the expense of fellowship. When that happens, orthodoxy has cost too much. All the orthodoxy in the world will not take the place of love. But, our love for other believers in our congregation must be connected with our love for our Lord. It is impossible to love others, in the way that is stated here, without being connected to the true source of love.
WHEN JESUS WAS ASKED "WHAT IS THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT?", WHAT DID HE SAY?
Matthew 22:36-38 NKJV
36 "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?"
37 Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'
38 This is the first and great commandment.
But He doesn't stop there does He? He adds a second commandment to go with the first.
Matthew 22:39-40 NKJV
39 And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'
40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."
The second commandment must go with the first. The commandment to love our neighbors is a natural outgrowth of our love for Christ.
John 13:35 NKJV
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
Loving others shows or demonstrates our love for Christ.
Love for our Lord Jesus Christ
I believe that Christ, as an object of the Ephesian believer's love, must be all or part of the central idea of this passage in Revelation 2:4. When we are madly in love with Christ, we will naturally:
o love other members of the body of Christ.
o long for the return of our lover.
Although the word "me" is not in the original Greek statement of Christ's instruction to this church, He must be at the center of its focus.
Next week we will answer the question, What is "first love?" But, at a minimum, it is speaking of the love and inner devotion they had for Christ when they first came to know him.
In the context of the Old Testament, God is the husband of his bride Israel.
Jeremiah 2:2 NIV
2 "Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem: "'I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert, through a land not sown.
In the New Testament, Jesus is the husband of his bride, the Church.
Revelation 19:7 NKJV
7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready."
(There is also a reference to the church being the bride in Revelation 22:17)
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians some thirty years earlier, he taught about Christ and his bride and he was thrilled about their love for Jesus. Earlier I read a passage from the early part of the book to the Ephesians. Notice now, what Paul says to them in the very last verse of that book.
Ephesians 6:24 NKJV
24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.
o NIV = …with undying love,
o NASB …with love incorruptible,
o Phillips … with an unfailing love.
The "first love" is the love we should have for the Lord Himself. Everything else flows from that love.
At Ephesus, there certainly was a love for Jesus Christ at the beginning. But now the second generation of Christians had arrived, who didn't display the same devotion and love for Christ. Some of these dear Christians loved the Lord God with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their strength and with all their mind. But over time they became seduced by spiritual activity and abandoned their love relationship with their husband Jesus.
First the bride's passionate love for her husband cooled, then that love was replaced by a love of doing things for him rather than with him. In time, the bride forsook the relationship and gave her heart over to another love - religious activity.
The Christians at Ephesus left their first love as a result of...
1. Letting routines become more important than passion.
2. Committees became more important than Christ's Commission.
3. Past victories became the soft couch of the future.
4. Their desires overrode the desire and will of God.
5. Their love for the things of man overrode their love for the things of God.
Today, we have to be careful lest we fall into the same pattern.
The Prince and the Peasant girl.
Let me tell you a story of a prince and his attraction to a peasant girl. His attraction to her is almost baffling. She, the common peasant - He, royalty. She is not ugly, but plain - He, stately. She can be sometimes cranky and turned inwardly.
To most people's opinion, she is not really the kind of soul you'd want to live with. But, according to the prince, she is the soul he can't live without. So, on the dusty floor of her peasant's cottage, he knelt, took her hand, and asked her to be his bride. She whispers, "yes".
He needed to leave, but he promises that he would return soon. She pledged, "I will be waiting," No one thought it odd that the prince would leave. After all, he is the son of the king. Surely he has some kingdom work to do.
What is odd is not his departure, but her behavior during his absence. She seems to forget she's engaged. You'd think the upcoming wedding would be ever on her mind - but it isn't. You'd think the day of his return would be on the tip of her tongue --- but it is not. Days pass - even weeks - and his return isn't mentioned in her conversation. Some of her friends have never heard her speak of the upcoming event.
Why, there have been times, perish the thought, when she has been seen cavorting with the village men - flirting with them. Is she rebellious? Maybe. Has she forgotten that she is engaged? "That's no excuse" many are heard saying. Why, his return should be her every thought."
How could a peasant girl forget her prince? How could a bride forget her groom? That's a good question. How could we?
You see, this story I have told you is not some wild fairytale. It's not a tail about them, but a portrayal of us. Are we not the peasant girl? Isn't Christ the stately prince? Are we not the one who has been spoken for? Have we not been set apart "as a pure bride to one husband" (2 Cor. 11:2)? Did not God say to us, "I will make you my promised bride forever." (Hosea 2:19)?
Think about it - we are engaged to our Maker. We, the peasant, have heard the promise of the prince. He entered our village, took our hands, and stole our hearts. Why, even the angel bent close to hear our "yes." You see, the angels don't just rejoice when a soul repents. I will always look at that verse as telling me, the angels are rejoicing because they have heard us say "yes" to the Prince's proposal of marriage. We have indicated that we are his.
The same angels must be puzzled at our behavior. We don't always act like we are engaged, do we? Days will pass - even weeks and months - and we'll say nothing about our wedding. Some of those who know us well don't even know about the soon coming of our Prince.
What's wrong with us? Are we rebellious? Maybe. Mostly, I think, we are just forgetful. Like the story of the young peasant girl - which is really the chosen bride of Christ, we feel so common. Self-doubt plagues us. Insecurities stalk us.
Do you want a cure for insecurity? Do you need a elixir for self-doubt? Then meditate on these words.
Song of Solomon 4:9-12
My bride, you have thrilled my heart; you have thrilled my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one sparkle from your necklace. Your love is so sweet, my bride. Your love is better than wine, and your perfume smells better than any spice…..my bride, you are like a garden locked up, like a walled-in spring, a closed up fountain.
Do you find it odd to think of God as an enthralled lover? Do you feel awkward thinking of Jesus as a suitor who is intoxicated on love? If so, how else can you explain his actions? Did logic put God in a manger? Did common sense nail him to a cross? Did Jesus come to earth guided by a natural law of science?
No, he came as a prince with his eye on a maiden. And He's ready to battle even the dragon itself if that is what it took to win her hand. And that is exactly what it took. It took a battle with the dragon of hell. He has "loved you with an everlasting love; [he has] drawn you with loving-kindness" (Jer. 31:3).
There is no doubt that Jesus can live without us, but He doesn't want to. He longs for His bride.
Who is this beauty who occupies the heart of Jesus? It is not nature. He loves his creation and creation groans to be with him, but He has never called creation his bride. It is not his angels. His angels are ever present to worship and serve the prince but He has never called these heavenly beings his bride.
Do you ever feel unnoticed? Learn to see yourself as God sees you.
Isaiah 61:10 reads,
"He has covered me with clothes of salvation and wrapped me with a coat of goodness, like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding, and like a bride dressed in jewels."
When your self-esteem sags, remember what you are worth.
1 Peter 1:18-19
"You were bought, not with something that perishes like gold and silver,……. but with the precious blood of Christ, who was like a pure and perfect lamb."
Do you ever feel like you have nothing? Just look at the gifts He has given you. He has sent his angels to care for you - his Holy Spirit to dwell in you, - his church to encourage you, - and his Word to guide you.
You have privileges only a fiancée has. Anytime you speak, He listens. Make a request, and He responds. Let a tear drop on your cheek, and He is there to wipe it. Let a love sonnet appear on your lips, and he is there to hear it. AS MUCH AS YOU WANT TO SEE HIM, HE WANTS TO SEE YOU MORE.
You might ask, "then why hasn't He come?" There is only one answer - His bride is not quite ready. She is still being prepared.
Engaged people are obsessed with preparation. The right dress - the right weight - the right hair - and the right tux. They want everything to be just right. Why? - So their fiancée will marry them? No! Just the opposite. They want to look their best because their fiancée is marrying them.
The same is true for us. We want to look our best for Christ. We want our hearts to be pure and our thoughts to be clean. We want our faces to shine with grace and our eyes to sparkle with love. We want to be prepared. Why? In hopes that He will love us? No. Just the opposite. Because he already does.
Never forget you are spoken for. You are engaged - set apart. Forbidden waters hold nothing for you. You have been chosen for his castle. Don't ever settle for a one-night stand in the arms of a stranger. Be obsessed with your wedding day. Guard against forgetfulness of His promise to come back and get you. Write yourself notes. Memorize verses.
You are engaged to royalty, and your Prince is coming to take you home! And that's no fairytale!!!