• The Bible Studies for Life lesson for July 26 focuses on Revelation 2:1-7.
My first “love” was a boy named Donald. We were in third grade, and he gave me presents and wrote notes to me in class. I remember that he attended Vacation Bible School with me in the summer, and he carried a piece of chalk in his pocket to cover the scuffs on his white canvas sneakers. That’s really all I remember about Donald. I have not seen him since I was 9 years old.
When Jesus told the church at Ephesus that they had “forsaken the love [they] had at first,” he was not referring to an immature, juvenile infatuation. Our love for God should not be fickle, dependent on gifts or other temporal blessings. Rather, we love God because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our love for him is an act of obedience as well as gratitude, empowered by the Holy Spirit. God does not need to earn it.
Do ‘the things you did at first’
It seems the Ephesians lost their all-encompassing love for Jesus because they let other issues crowd out the primacy of loving God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). Jesus said, “Consider how far you have fallen!” Then he instructed the Ephesians to “repent and do the things you did at first” so that they could give their love for him its rightful preeminence (Revelation 2:5).
Revelation does not tell us what the Ephesians “did at first.” We know they were hard, persevering workers. They were discerning in their theology and did not tolerate wickedness. They endured hardships for the gospel. They hated the practice of the Nicolaitans, a heretical group that claimed to be Christian (Revelation 2:2). Yet Jesus still found them lacking. If the Ephesians did not repent and return to their love relationship with God, he warned them he would remove their lampstand.
Revelation 1:20 tell us the lampstands represent the seven churches Jesus addresses in his prophecy to John: “The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” By removing the Ephesian church’s lampstand, Jesus says he will no longer consider them a church, no matter how much they stood for the right things and denounced false prophets.
Lack of love
Is it possible the church at Ephesus gradually had become more famous for what it was “against” than what is was “for”? Compare Revelation 2:2 with Paul’s words in Ephesians 1:15, 16: “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15, 16).
Perhaps, even though the Ephesians were strong and unyielding in their opposition to sin, they forgot in the meantime to love Jesus and love each other above all else. This lack of love threatened their essential identity as a church.
Like the Ephesians, many congregations today are to be commended for their hard work, perseverance and adherence to the truth of Scripture. But how far have we fallen in living lives of mature, holy love for God and each other? This is the love that opens people’s hearts and minds to the saving grace of Jesus and validates our claim to be the Church. As our culture becomes increasingly secularized, God gives the church in America an opportunity to return to its first love.