Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.Revelation 2:1-7
Somewhere in my memory of a homiletics class there was a young man who chose to sing “You’ve lost that loving feeling” as the opening for his class sermon. I don’t have the temerity to do that this morning, but the lyrics are at least reminiscent of our text in Revelation 2. We want to consider this text this morning in light of the strangeness of 2020. The message of Christ to the church at Ephesus is book-ended in a format that will be repeated in the messages to all of the churches. This morning we will just consider the message itself, which breaks out into 4 components.
Christ commences his message to this church with a commendation for their faithfulness and endurance. Ephesus, like most of the ancient word, was not an easy place in which to be a Christian. Nevertheless, the believers there endured and did not faint. Furthermore, they were known for their labors. This may have included ministering to the sick and poor, evangelizing Jews and Gentiles, and caring for other believers in personal ways. On top of this, Christ commends them for knowing the truth well enough to be able to identify and reject false apostles. These commendations are all highly desirable for a church today.
Nevertheless, Christ says, he has something against this church: they have left their first love. The word “left” has a broad semantic domain, so it could refer to something as innocuous as leaving a bag, or it could mean something as purposeful as forsaking a spouse. It seems more likely, given the commendation they received, that this church continued to do the outward things of Christianity but somewhere along the way abandoned the love they had at the first.
Mankind is prone to initial bursts of emotion and adrenaline, but as any married couple could testify, love must be maintained. Jude commands believers to keep themselves in the love of God. Paul prays for the Philippians that their love would abound more and more. There is no excuse for loving God less as time goes on.
The severity of this criticism is indicated by the consequences it will have. Christ promises that He will remove their candlestick, no doubt referring to His presence in their midst as evidenced by the filling of the Holy Spirit. If the church continued to operate without genuine love for God, they would become a shell with no life. They would have the motions of a religious organization, but God’s spirit would no longer be present.
Jesus taught that loving God is the greatest commandment, so it follows that a failure to love God is a great sin. Many people today have adopted the identify of a victim. They feel as though things in their life have gone badly and that they haven’t had the advantages that others have had. This is a false narrative. The true story of every individual is the story of God pouring out His love to a world that by and large spurns it. This is exactly what happened in the Old Testament when God commanded Hosea to take a wife and love her, only to have her commit countless adulteries. Then, when she had fallen so low that she wound up in the slave market, Hosea was to go and buy her back and love her. The real story of life is the story of God’s relentless compassion towards those who have rejected Him.
What do you do when you “fall out of love”? Since the world does not understand love, the world has no good answer for this. Maybe many Christians don’t, either. Christ’s cure for their lack of love is that they should repent and return to the works they did at the beginning. Failure to love is not an emotional failure but a moral failure, and so it can and must be repented of.
Love and hard work are not mutually exclusive. I saw an advertisement for a marriage seminar that said, “Is your marriage hard work? It doesn’t have to be!” I rather disagree with that (although it’s hard to know precisely what they mean), but certainly there is a labor involved in love. We don’t love in word only, or in feeling only, but in deed and truth. Love lifts heavy burdens and love makes long journeys and love is active. We love primary by doing, not by feeling.
It is necessary for all believers to periodically evaluate ourselves and make sure that our love is waxing, not waning. The goal is for the most aged and mature among us to love Christ the best.