“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.”
The church at Ephesus is commended for their stand for the LORD, their work and labor for Him, and their care regarding the teachers they heeded. But the above rebuke comes from our LORD, and a dire consequence was promised if things didn’t change. Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the seven churches. The LORD was promising to take away the Ephesian church. Even Laodicea, as weak as they were, was not similarly threatened.
The problem in Ephesus was they had left their first love. At this point in the passage, preachers often go into discussion and encouragement to his hearers to love one another; to care for one another and those in the world. We want to avoid the fate of the Ephesian church and being encouraged to love one another is appropriate. Many scriptures encourage us along these lines. It is important teaching. But are we missing the point if we focus on the love for those around us? Is our LORD rebuking the Ephesians for a lack of love to each other?
The LORD’s rebuke of the Ephesians is they have left their FIRST love. The Greek word translated “first” could be translated foremost, chief, or first of all. Many Christians remember their first zeal for the LORD because of His salvation. They honestly admit that their lives are not what they used to be. They recall being evangelistic, sharing the good news with those around them. Is this the first love? Is this the foremost or chief love? Is it the first-of-all love? They also remember that their heart was overwhelmed with gratitude and love for God for His great salvation.
Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29-31 suggest an answer. “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Notice His use of the words first and second. The first command is to love God with all of our being and ability, and the second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Would it be stretching Jesus’ words in Mark too much to suggest that the first love, the love of God, is the one He means in Revelation 2? According to 1 John 5:2, the evidence that we love our fellow believers is that we love God and keep His commandments. In Joshua 22:5 Joshua reminds the Israelites, “But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Note the separation between loving God and keeping His commandments. Firstly, they were to love Him, and then to walk in His ways, keep His commandments, and serve Him.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Luke 11:42 brings a charge that is similar to Revelation 2:4, “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” They were good about tithing and such matters, but they passed over the love of (or for) God! They were wrong in many other ways, but Jesus pointed out their lack of love for God.
Could it be that the church in Ephesus was so taken up with its works that they had forgotten Who it was that they served? Had they left their love for the LORD in pursuit of love for other things, even service for Him? The promise to remove the church, which apparently came to pass since there is not even a city of Ephesus any more, is a strong judgment. As noted before, this judgment was not put before any of the other churches in Revelation.
The Israelites of old were warned time and again to turn back to God. They refused to listen, and ultimately they lost their nation for a time. Other writers of God’s Word encouraged their readers to love their neighbors. But a judgment such as the loss of their church was not mentioned. Turning away from loving God would bring a strong judgment.
Did the believers in Ephesus set aside their love of God and the keeping of His Word in order to love their neighbors? Love for God is the first love that Jesus commanded in Mark 12, and it seems that it is the love the Ephesians left. Is the modern church becoming so focused on love for their neighbor that it is setting aside their First love? Is the second commandment being pushed ahead of the first? Churches have set aside teaching from God’s Word that might be unpopular so that they can be more appealing to their neighbors in the world. But our first love must be of God, His Word, and His ways. If that puts us at odds with the world, that is only what Jesus said would happen. If they hate us, remember that they hated Him, too. We must never set aside God’s Word and commands to accommodate the world. This is something for which the LORD ought to remove our church! How could He use or bless a church that does not love Him and keep His Word?
Is it possible for Christians to turn away from their love of God? Is it possible for Christians to commit any other sin? He is gracious and loving to us. Yet it is possible for us to become so enamored of work for Him that we miss Him altogether. Recently, a man preaching on this passage was heard to encourage his hearers to set aside theological correctness and to be working. If we do not cling to God’s Word, we have nothing to guide us. If work for God is our focus, and not Him, we miss out; we leave our first love. Let us pray that our LORD would show us if we have left our first love for Him.
O what an evil heart have I,
So cold, and hard, and blind,
With sin so ready to comply,
And cast my God behind!
So apt His mercy to forget,
So soon dissolved in ease,
So false, so full of all deceit,
And desperate wickedness!
What shall I do, my God to love,
My loving God to praise!
The length, and breadth, and height to prove
And depth of sovereign grace! (Charles Wesley)