Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4
With all of the highly exalted doctrine, majestic Christology, and practical teaching on church and family life, contained in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesian church, we might expect the church at Ephesus to have become the strongest in all of Asia, as they read, digested, exposited, and lived this epistle. And indeed as the risen Jesus Christ appeared to John on the island of Patmos dictating His final inspired message to the seven churches, he commended the church of Ephesus to be much about the Father’s business: they are strong in upholding God’s holiness in their midst; they are quick to recognize false apostles and false teaching; they have persevered and have patience, and have labored for Christ’s name sake and have not become weary (Rev 2:1-3).
Nevertheless, Jesus had a very important indictment against them that strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian – they had left their first love. (Rev 2:4). Somehow they had fallen from the early heights of their devotion to Jesus Christ and descended to the plains of mediocrity. As Jesus prophesied, “the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12), sad to say, this was true of the Ephesians. What a disappointing end for a church to whom much was given!
Without our first love, the work, ministry, holiness, and doctrinal purity of the church is lifeless. It is significant that 30 years prior to this message, Paul ended the epistle to the church with a prayer for those “who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying” (Eph 6:24). By now, a new generation had arisen whose love was faltering, weakened, and dying. They toiled with vigor but not with love; they put the message of their teachers to the test, but without love. Their orthodoxy and orthopraxy had become cold and dead, without the warmth which comes with love for Christ.
Has this not been a pattern in the church over and over again? Wherever there have been revivals of great doctrinal truths, have they not often fizzled out into disappointingly cold dead religion? Just a look at much of Presbyteriansm and Lutheranism today is evidence of how revivals and reformation end up dying. And we are not exempt from this. Just as Jesus warned the Ephesians, He warns us as well, that unless we remember, repent, and resume our first works, that He will remove our lampstand from its place (Rev 2:5). No individual church has a secure and permanent place in God’s kingdom on earth. If we can judge by the letter that Ignatius wrote to the Ephesian church in the second Century, they heeded Christ’s appeal, as he wrote of them in glowing terms; however, by the Middle Ages, it lapsed again and was all but obliterated.
To this warning, Christ adds a promise to the penitent. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God (Rev 2:7). The church has a mission and a work to be done, we have a fight to be fought and creed to be defended, but above all we have a Person to love with love incorruptible. May ours be a church not only about the Father’s business, but continually repenting and burning ever hotter in our love for Jesus Christ.
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