Have You Forsaken Your First Love?

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In Revelation 2 and 3, the risen and exalted Jesus speaks to the seven churches of Asia. In 2:1–7, the focus is on the church at Ephesus. 

Ephesus: At the time of Apostle John, Ephesus was a major city of Asia Minor with about a quarter of a million residents. It was a commercial and export center for Asia, with three trade routes passing through it. Politically, the city was led by a governor and had massive theatres, stadiums, and marketplace infrastructure. This city also had a rich religious history. In this city was the magnificent temple of the goddess Artemis/Diana (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world). The city also had a shrine and a great altar built for the imperial worship of the emperor Caesar Augustus. 

Apostle Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila first brought the gospel to this city (Acts 18:19-20). Paul also spent two years establishing the church in this city so that “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Act 19:10). Also, Paul sent Timothy to reign on false teachers in this church (1 Tim 1:3). Apostle John is credited as the one who strengthened the church in this region.

For clarity, in 1:20, the seven stars are the angels (= messengers=, ministers of the gospel) of the seven churches, while the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

In 2:1, Jesus is portrayed as the one who HOLDS the seven stars in his right hand. He controls, preserves, and protects the churches, including Ephesus, and is watchfully present among them (Lev 26:12). Jesus also WALKS  among the seven golden lampstands. He walks amidst the churches. He is near his people and watches over them.

Jesus expresses an understanding of the strengths and the weaknesses of the church in Ephesus. What Jesus KNEW about this church:

  • Their deeds– Faith is demonstrated by action (Eph 2:8-10; Jas 2:18-26). In the next letter to the church in Smyrna, the Lord understands their affliction and poverty. Jesus knew all men (Jn 2:24). Also see 2 Chronicles 16:9
  • Their hard work/love– “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you helped his people and continue to help them” Hebrews 6:10
  • Their perseverance/hope

Commendations:

1) They were intolerant of evil-doers (false apostles)- Because of their love for truth, they did not tolerate those who were counterfeit apostles. They closed their ears to harmful teaching. In verse 6, they hated the practices of the Nicolaitans. This was a group known for its false teachings and erroneous behavior like immorality and idolatry. They hated what God hated (Isa 61:8; Zech 8:17).

2) They tested those who claimed to be apostles– They examined those who self-proclaimed themselves as apostles and found them false (they did not have the behavior of the Lord). Jesus had warned his disciples of false prophets in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matt 7:15); Paul warned the church at Ephesus to keep watch over themselves and the flock of God, and added, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock” Acts 28-31). We are exhorted to test spirits to see whether they are from God (1 John  4:1-6; 1Thess 5:21; 1 Cor 14:29).

In a world full of false teachers and prophets, the necessity of testing spirits cannot be underestimated. We should be able to discern/identify (like the church in Berea, Acts 17:11) these false messengers and have nothing to do with them.

3) They persevered and endured hardships (v3)- They endured hardship in Christ’s name and considered it blessedness (Matt 5:10). In their hardships, they did not grow weary. To Romans (5:3-5), several years before, Paul had these to say, “…but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us….” They persevered in the correct doctrine and were willing to endure difficulty (under hostile environments and teachings).

Despite the commendations, Christ offered some rebukes:

Disapprovals v4:

The Loss of the First Love– The church at Ephesus had forsaken (‘given up’) their initial love- This is a church that Paul, about 35 years earlier, had praised for their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for their saints (Eph 1:15-23). Love is a great ingredient in the Christian life (it is one of the fruit of the Spirit), and it is vital for the church should be known for its love. It should have been nurtured to grow and mature. But now, their love had diminished! Now the church was no longer known for the things they were praised for!

Jeremiah had proclaimed to Israel, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me…” (Jer 2:2).

The greatest tragedy in Christian life is when your best days of devotion, service, and intimacy with the Lord are all in the past.

The greatest tragedy in Christian life is when your best days of devotion, service, and intimacy with the Lord are all in the past.

The loss of their first love entailed the loss of their identity, purpose, and destiny.

What really happened to this church? This was more than a loss of focus. What exactly happened?

Three Realities:

1) The Devil– Satan had stolen their love. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). That’s his identity.

Can be likened to the seed that fell along the path, “as soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them” Mk 4:15

They had fallen into the enemy’s deceptive schemes.

2) The World– They must have fallen into the trap of the patterns of the world.

Can be liked to the seed sown among the thorns, they hear the word “but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Mk 4:19). Other loves displaced the love of God. The love of the world, the allure of the world, and everything in it make our love grow cold.

3) The Flesh– It took over and produced its fruit. Galatians 5:16-18: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other….” Also, the cravings of sinful man, lusting of the eyes, the boasting of what one has (1 Jn 2:16).

The loss of their first love entailed the loss of their identity, purpose, and destiny.

The exalted Christ gives three antidotes in imperative forms. First, love can be restored if we pay attention to the three imperatives:

1) Remember (v5): They were to remember the height from which they had fallen. They were to trace the path of decline and failure. They were now instructed on the things they were praised for in the past! “

All religion commences in serious thought” (the good, and the Gen 3 moment… and redemption). They were to remember their experience and conduct before the devil came and stole, killed, and destroyed their passion, before the world and its pressures got hold of them before the cravings of the sinful man.…

This is not something alien to us today.

Remember when you used to heed God’s voice, passionate about winning souls for Christ; you had an intimate relationship with God; you used your voice to praise God; you had the joy and assurance of salvation. But it is now all gone!

In these past times, you accomplished so much and transformed lives. During these times, you saw miracles and God at work… So how do you know that you’ve lost your first love?

You had time for God, but now you are busy and unavailable (haushikiki, haupatikani). You used to pray and fast; nowadays, you rarely even thank God for food or when retiring to bed is a problem. You used to read the Bible in a few months, but now you can’t complete a chapter even in half a year! This is serious! You used to go to church; nowadays, even the Christmas service that comes once a year, you don’t attend. You used to speak so boldly (even with little knowledge) but now? You used to lead churches, ministries, and Christian movements…You used to cross rivers and mountains to take the gospel, but now you can’t even go to the next-door neighbor. If Zaccheus was here, we would have asked him, where did you throw your confidence that you had to climb a tree without minding about your status/ what will people say…. Where did the hunger and thirst to meet Jesus go? Where did that heaven-mindedness go?

Little by little, this love waned, and the flame went off because of the devil, the world, and the flesh.

How is our love for God today?

Consider the state of grace in which you once stood but have fallen from. Recollection can positively lead us to know our true identity and know our enemy. It can lead to healing in relationships (the prodigal son, Lk15:17-18).

As we commit ourselves to remembering, I pray that God renews the old golden days and that he reignites your passion for him and his work.

2) Repent: Remembrance must lead to sorrow (mourning) for sin and the desire to change one’s heart and mind. It should cause us to think again. Repent for going astray; repent for losing what you shouldn’t have lost, for not loving the things God loves, and hating the things God hates.

3) Reproduce: Do the things you did at first; resume your former zeal, diligence, watchfulness, prayer, and hatred for sin. Recover all the lost ground. Go back to the cross of Christ…gaze at it and be renewed. The Ephesian church needed to return to the first love and do what they used to do for God. True repentance should lead to a changed life.

Warning: If you do not repent… or heed what the Spirit says,

JudgmentI will come and remove your lampstand (church)” v5d. This verb, “I am coming,” emphasizes immediacy, “I am coming quickly.’

In Genesis 4: 7, the Lord told Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you but you must master it.”

If you do not repent and thus do not shine your light, God will remove his lampstand on which you are anchored.

We mostly know God as a Giver and not a taker. It is dreadful when God removes anything from us. Moses feared the thought of moving forward without God’s glory and presence. The case of Saul when God removed his Spirit (1 Sam 16:14-23) when God removed his Spirit from Samson (Jdg 16:20), and the fear David had when he sinned (Ps 51:11,12). As a Vinedresser, God prunes the plant for cleanliness and fruitfulness, but he cuts off the unfruitful/useless branches.

The letter closes with a promise:To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God,” (v7b). “The one who is conquering., or continually overcomes.”

Eternal life is promised to the one who is steadfast and overcomes doctrinal errors, schemes of the enemy, and the allures of the world. Assurance is given to the one who remains faithful to the end.

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God,” (v7b).

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