This week, we studied Jesus's letter to the church of Ephesus in Revelation Chapter 2. There, Jesus exhorts his people in all their good deeds, but points out one serious problem: they have lost their first love. Jesus's words to Ephesus provide a helpful warning for us today, as we continue to explore some of what hinders our love for the Lord.
What is their "first love?"
Scholars have varying opinions about exactly what Jesus meant when he accused the Ephesians of having lost their first love. Did he mean love for one another? Love for God? Or did he mean some combination of both? Since John is the one writing Revelation, we can look to his other letters for clues. In 1 John, John writes, "we love because He first loved us." So our love for others must have a foundation in our right response to Christ's love. The "first love," then, probably refers to love for Christ. And one thing is certain: that love is meant to have absolute primacy. Even the order of the words in the Greek puts primary emphasis on the word "love." Our love for Christ must have first place in our lives so that all our good works flow from the Source of all love.
The works of love
At first glance, the church at Ephesus appears to have plenty of love. After all, they work faithfully to serve others -- so much so that Christ commends them for it. But Jesus is concerned about the why behind their works. It's so easy to drift slowly away -- to get so caught up in doing good things that we forget our motivation. And losing our first love has its consequences. Jesus warns that if the Ephesians do not repent and "do the things [they] did at first," He will "remove [their] lampstand from its place."
At first, Jesus's warning sounds confusing. He just commended them for good works, so what "things that [they] did at first" could he mean? And what does it mean for their lampstand to be removed? As we see from Christ's own words to his disciples and from John's other writings, the most important works we can do are to love God and love others. We must return to these essentials time and again. If we don't, our light will go out. Jesus said that we are the light of the world and that our lamps must be put on lampstands for the whole world to see. When we cease loving, we cease shining God's light to the world around us.
Change your mind, change your life
Jesus is so gracious and loving. He does not simply reprimand his people and leave them dejected. Instead, he provides a solution: "Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first." Step one is to "consider" -- to remember what things were like when you first fell in love with Jesus. Step two is to "repent." Repentance involves changing your thinking in order to change your action. If you advance to step three -- to do the deeds you did at first -- you must change your mind and your way of thinking. And he closes all this advice with, "Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches." So step four is to listen to the Holy Spirit and act on what we hear both individually and communally.
Keep the fire burning
A church community is like a fire. When the individual coals start to go dark and cold, the other coals start to die out, too. So to keep the flame of our world-changing light aglow, we must first remember, repent, listen, and act on what God is leading us toward as individuals. The individual coals have to burn first. Then as a community, we must model and encourage love with and for one another. If we don't follow Christ's instructions, our church will die, and our lights will go out.
Thoughts to consider:
Is Christ my first love?
What would happen if we, as churches and The Church put Christ's love first in all our actions? Imagine how much that would change the church and our community!