Our first love
Who would have thought it a church razor-sharp in doctrine, with members labouring to the point of exhaustion, but on the brink of demise?
So it was with the Ephesian church towards the end of the first century, according to Revelation 2:1-7. The church was outstanding in its stand for the truth and labouring hard in the gospel, yet verse 4 has this startling verdict of Christ: ‘nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love’.
Churches today must preach the ‘whole counsel of God’ and ‘contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). They must expose the fallacies of the ecumenical movement and insist on separation from those who tamper with the central doctrines of Scripture. They must oppose those who deny the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ and warn against the deceptions of antinomianism.
But sound doctrine and patient toil alone do not make a church commendable before Christ. Other things are necessary as well.
It appears that many Christians at Ephesus no longer loved the Lord Jesus like they once did. The honeymoon period of their conversion was over and Christ was no longer ‘altogether lovely’ (Song 5:16) in their eyes.
How is it with us? Do we recall that love we had for the Saviour when we first believed?
How we were changed! In an instant we were born again of the Holy Spirit, cleansed by Christ’s blood, justified by faith and adopted into God’s family. We became joint heirs with Jesus and possessors of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. How amazing it all was, and how much we loved him!
But is it the same today? To lose our first love is not difficult. The flesh is prone to forget; the world distracts us; the devil convinces us that it is not worth the effort.
But, praise God, there is a remedy, if we have left our first love. ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works’ (v. 5). First, we are to ‘remember’.
We are to engage our minds and think back. What joy we once found in Christ! How horrific our sin was to us!
Second, we must acknowledge that losing our first love is sin; it must be repented of. We know too, for sure, that, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).
Repentance also involves changing our ways, doing ‘the first works’. Matthew Henry puts it like this. Such are to ‘begin again, go back step by step, till they come to the place where they took the first false step; they must endeavour to revive and recover their first zeal, tenderness, and seriousness’.
How tragic it would be for our congregations to lose their effectiveness, for each ‘lampstand’ to be removed from its place, and for church members to know that Christ has this against them – that they have failed to repent of this particular sin!
And what encouragement there is to respond positively to the Lord Jesus Christ without delay. ‘To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God’ (v. 7).
May we who have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches!
Simon L. Ward