“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: … I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
Here we see the “kindness and severity” of our Risen Lord (Romans 11:22). Kindness expressed in understanding and encouragement and compassion toward the Ephesian Church. But severity expressed in clearly confronting a heart issue, calling for repentance, and laying out the consequence otherwise.
In many ways, this church sounds exemplary. Their doctrinal standards are above board, accurately weighing the claims of those who purport to be godly leaders, but are not. This is a congregation that has persevered, even in the midst of hardship and opposition. They have kept-on-keeping-on, not tiring or flagging, but pressing forward. Who wouldn’t want to lead a church that had these stalwart characteristics?
And yet … And yet there is an issue of the heart that has gone unaddressed. With severity, but deep compassion, the Lord confronts it. The members of this church have turned aside from their first love.
“First” may refer to time or it may refer to place. If it’s time, the Risen Lord is telling them that the passion and sincerity of love they exhibited in the early days of their faith has now grown stale. How tragic, and yet how common. Think back in your own experience to early days. Think back to moments when you felt a clear passion for the Lord and his purposes, for his mission and his church. Have you shifted since? Has your faith grown more sophisticated, but your love less real? If so, remember and repent. Turn back to that child-like simplicity of faith, that expressed itself in deep love. Re-embrace that heart position.
But “first” may also refer to place. If so, the Lord is saying that he, who was their first priority, has been replaced by other interests.Perhaps the responsibilities of life and family and job have gotten in the way. Perhaps their hard work and perseverance have distracted them from ongoing spiritual vitality. Perhaps even their commitment to knowing correct doctrine has overshadowed their commitment to really knowing the Lord. Get back to putting first things first, the Lord says. Get back to your first love.
But “love”, too, could have two different focuses. It could be love of God, as we’ve been assuming so far. But it could also be the love Jesus commanded us to express to one other. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he said. If this is what the Ephesians have lost, could it have happened by relentlessly examining doctrine and refusing to “tolerate wicked people.” Had they become judgemental and dogmatic, such that love withered? Ultimately, both loves are crucial. A diminished love for God will express itself in a diminished love for our brother. And, on the other hand, “anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
“Repent,” says the Risen Lord, in both kindness and severity. He loves them too much to leave it unsaid.
Lord Jesus, examine my heart. Take stock of my love, both for you and my neighbour. Call me back to simplicity and priority and commitment and heart. For your glory.
Pray the prayer above. Listen for the Lord’s response. What do you hear? How will you respond?
Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash