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THE REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST

Previous: Revelation 2:2-3

Complaint

4 Nevertheless I have this against you: That you have left your first love. - Revelation 2:4

Unfortunately Jesus had a shocking problem with the Ephesian Church at this date in history. "Nevertheless I have this against you," is the one major issue that He did need to raise.

Like a heart-broken lover, Jesus cried, "That you have left your first love." The word "left" is aphiemi, meaning "to send away. It is from the preposition apo, "away from" and hiemi, "to send." The use of this word indicates a willful decision to break the relationship. Most Christians who find themselves in this state do not accept responsibility for the problem. They often do not even remember how it happened.

How can this be? What does it mean? Imagine a husband or wife, saying for the first time, "You don't love me anymore!" When this happens in a marriage it is usually the result of a very slow process, and even if the one who still loves his or her spouse fears that their love is dying, it is a most dramatic moment when the bitter truth is finally blurted out.

If we are even capable of feeling sorry for God, this is the issue that should make us the most ashamed of ourselves. The Great God of the Universe, who is by His very nature "love" (1 John 4:7-8); who created us in His image for the purpose of being able to receive and return that love (Genesis 1:26-27); and who "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16); is heart-broken when His ungrateful creatures just don't love Him anymore! It happened in the Garden of Eden, before the great flood, during the Exodus, and countless other times in the Bible, so much so that He called Israel an adulterous wife! (Ezekiel 16, Book of Hosea). Under the Old Covenant Israel was His wife, and under the New Covenant the Church is called the "Bride of Christ" (Matthew 25:1-13; Ephesians 5:22-33).

During His earthly ministry Jesus taught that loving God was the most important thing we could do (Matthew 22:36-38). In this letter to the Ephesians, He didn't give any examples, or proof that His precious Apostolic Church had lost its first love, but they would know it was true.

There are still churches today that resemble those of the Apostolic Period. Some of them are in areas of the world where the Gospel is just now taking root and spreading like wild-fire. But there are others, especially in old denominations, where they are just going through the motions. The work is a burden, but they are laboring hard to maintain the status quo. They may even be valiant to preserve the purity of doctrine, but they don't really have the love or the joy of the Lord.

If the First Century Church could lose its first love for Christ, it is possible for any Christian to be distracted from his devotion to the Lord by the cares of the world. Jesus Himself gave the Parable of the Sower, which teaches that some new Christians fail to develop deep roots, others are choked by the competing "weeds" that spring up around them, and others grow well and bear good fruit (Matthew 13:3-8).

Critique

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. - Revelation 2:5

The good news is that if a person or even a whole group of people in a church should lose their first love, there is a way to be restored. Jesus gave three steps to remedy this problem. First, He said, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen!"

Many times during pastoral counseling I have heard people say about their spouse, "I never really loved him (or her)." Or they might say, "He (or she) never really loved me." Once a relationship has gone bad it is a normal human response to forget all the good times and only remember the bad ones. I always asked people who said this to be honest with themselves. Surely they were not so shallow when they decided to get married to make that commitment to someone you didn't love, did you? Do you think your spouse would have made that mistake if he or she didn't love you?

Jesus asked them to remember what a wonderful experience it was when they first turned the burden of their sins over to the lover of their souls! They had to have been "on top of the world" when that happened! They just needed to recapture that sense of wonder and appreciation they felt then when they first gave their hearts to Him.

Often we have to "decide" to remember things. There is so much buried in our minds after decades of living! There are hundreds, or even thousands of people's names permanently written in the storage banks of our amazing memories. But we often need to instruct our mind to remember a person and then wait for a while. Often, in the middle of some other thought, that person's name pops into our heads! This also happens when old friends or relatives get together and talk about the "good old days." Memories about events one had not thought about for ages come flooding back with surprising clarity.

If any sincere Christian will just take the time to remember how Jesus found him in great need, and forgave him of his sins, then brought him into His great family, and became his truest friend, his heart will surely be softened, and he will want to return to that wonderful state of mind.

The next thing Jesus said would be necessary for the Ephesians to be restored to their first love was to "Repent." The Greek word metanoeo comes from the preposition meta, which in this case means "change" and the verb noieo, "to think." Therefore the process of repentance, which most people rightly understand is a call to changing one's evil ways, actually means "a change of thinking." Many people will change their behavior when reprimanded, but unless they also change their way of thinking, they will make the same mistake over and over.

Some people think that a Christian never needs to repent since his sins have been forgiven, but John was most definitely writing to believers when he penned this wonderful promise:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9

The word "confess" also needs to be explored. It is homologeo, from homou - "together" and lego - "to say." It means "to say the same," or "to agree." It is much more than simply admitting that we have done something wrong. If we would say the same thing God does about our sin. We would utterly hate it and desire never to do it again.

How can we get to this point? We might allow the Holy Spirit to show us how vile our thoughts are, and how selfish our actions have been. We might write our sins on a sheet of paper. At first we would admit to one or two things, then, as we continued to be honest, we would begin to write things we would never want the rest of the world to know.

"The heart is deceitful above all things
And desperately wicked;
Who can know it?" - Jeremiah 17:9

I have had these moments of agony and tears. As terrible as it is to have a glimpse of the way the Lord sees my sin, the relief and cleansing it brings is beyond description.

There is a third prescription Jesus gave for restoring their first love. He said, "and do the first works," What was it like for you when you first gave your heart to Christ? Perhaps your priorities were changed. Your new friends were probably committed disciples of Christ. You probably could hardly wait to go to the next Bible study. You wanted your old friends to find what you had discovered about Jesus. You loved to worship the Lord.

If you have drifted away from that wonderful "first love," it is possible to regain it, but you will need to return to the sincere simplicity that you once had when you were first born again.

"Or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place-unless you repent." Would Jesus really remove the Church at Ephesus, with all of its history? In the Old Testament God allowed the Ark of the Covenant to be captured when the leaders of Israel had become corrupt. He also allowed Eli the priest and his two sons to die in a battle. Just as this happened the wife of one of his sons gave birth to a child, and she called him "Ichabod," meaning "inglorious," because she said, "The glory has departed from Israel" (1 Samuel 4: 22).

In the course of time, God did allow the unrepentant church to be removed. In fact the whole city of Ephesus ceased to exist, and even its ruins are unimpressive today.


Next: Revelation 2:6-7


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