Elder Neil Phelan, Jr.
THOU HAST LEFT THY FIRST LOVE
"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love" -Revelation 2:4
Perhaps the minister of the church at Ephesus thought things were "in order" at the church he served until one day he received an epistle from John written to all seven of the churches in his area.......and he read these words: "Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love".
It would not have been such an awakening statement had the letter been written by a fellow minister or from one of his members. But the admonition was from a much higher source: "I have somewhat against thee." Though the letter was from the pen of John, its author was Jesus Christ; the head of the Church; the One who walks amidst the seven golden candlesticks: the Church in every age. The problem at Ephesus was clearly defined: "thou hast left thy first love."
As a CAT scan penetrates every fiber, looking for abnormalities and deadly cancers within the body, He whose "eyes were as a flame of fire" had searched the heart of every member of this church as well a her pastor. These penetrating eyes detected a disease within the bosom of Ephesus, a disease so deadly that immediate action was required or the living organism, the church of Ephesus, would die and their candlestick would be removed. Their disease: they had left their first love.
Even though the primary theme of this message to Ephesus was one of admonition, the Lord was careful to mention her positive attributes as well. He wanted Ephesus to recognize that His judgement was based upon all the facts and that His knowledge was perfect: "I know."
Their collective "works" as a body of people were first addressed by the Lord for the word "works", implies deeds, both good and bad. The Lord is saying by this: "your lives are an open book before Me; I see it all, both good and bad." Has His vision altered over the centuries?
There were still those at Ephesus who were laborers in the kingdom: "thy labor". They were busy taking care of the immediate needs of the church. The specific labors they were involved in we are not told. But the Lord knew. In every active church there are labors that go on behind the scene, labors unobserved by the majority many times known only by that person and the Lord. This is always well pleasing to the Lord and He makes mention of it in this letter.
He also notes that their labors were for the correct reason: "and for my name's sake hast laboured". They were not looking for a reputation of their own.
In these labors, they had not grown weary in well doing: "hast not fainted". They had not allowed others rob them of their joy nor ceased their efforts because of persecutions from the enemy or criticisms of their friends. For this they were also commended.
They were also patient in the midst of these persecutions and tribulations: "thy patience." The word patience implies, "cheerful endurance", which means that they were not only enduring the trials of discipleship, but they harbored the correct spirit in the midst of their difficulties.
The discipline in their church was orderly: "thou canst not bear them which are evil." Those who were injurious to the cause of Christ were placed without the church. Some of these were false apostles.
They were doctrinally sound. They were quick to pick up on the erroneous teaching of the false "apostles", finding them to be "liars" and they were in agreement with our Lord concerning the teaching of the Nicolaitans (v.6). For this they were also commended.
They had "borne" the burdens of their brethren during their time of need, shouldering the weight they were laboring under. They were "patient" in that endeavor as well.
From a human perspective, it would seem impossible for this church to die. Much of the body of Ephesus was intact and functioning properly. Her light had not gone completely out. If we were her judge, would we not place a period after the notation of commendations? Many positive attributes could still be found among the membership of this church. But in the eyes of her judge, her sin was one that would, in time, destroy the whole body. The light at Ephesus was flickering; they were slowly dying. The Lord observes the problem at Ephesus as a most deadly one and warns her of her impending danger: "thou has left thy first love."
Something of utmost importance was missing at Ephesus, something they had "left" or forsaken. In the midst of their labors, their discipline, their endeavors to maintain a proper doctrinal position on every point, they were slowly, by increments, leaving out the most vital principle of the kingdom: "thou hast left thy first love."
The word "first" can refer to nothing other than the love that each member had at one time felt for Jesus Christ. This word "first" means "foremost in time, place, order, or importance." Who, or what else, should hold such a distinguished position in the hearts and minds of the "general assembly and church of the firstborn?" We might read the admonishment to the church of Ephesus like this: "I want you to love Me and go after Me again like you did when you first trusted in Me and took My name upon you." For Ephesus, the honeymoon was over. They had marriage problems! They had abandoned the husband they were supposedly married to!
Ephesus was like many defiant wives. She had not abandoned her husband physically. She had abandoned Him emotionally. Although present in body, Ephesus was absent from Christ in mind and heart. She was deficient in love. Ephesus was in violation of "the first and great commandment" -Matthew 22:36-38.
Slowly, by minute increments, Ephesus had altered her affections; Her priorities had shifted. Christ was no longer at the top of her list. He must have been at one time or she could not have "left" Him. Rather than a labor of love, Ephesus was going through motions. They had become mechanical. They had "works" in the Lord's name but no longer were they motivated by love for their husband.
Perhaps Ephesus was so caught up in the order of the church; the doctrine; the discipline; and the works, that she had forgotten the foundation of it all which is the love she had at one time felt for her husband. He had taken a less honored role in their hearts and lives. She had become so involved in dusting, vacuuming, cooking, mending, and caring for her children that she had forsaken the head of the house. And even though all of these other attributes are of vast importance, Jesus tells Ephesus that He should come "first". The voice of her abandoned husband cries unto her: "thou hast left ME."
It is true, that many great and marvelous feats might be accomplished in the name of religion and still be lacking the necessary foundation of love: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" -1 Cor. 13:1-3. Ephesus was becoming "sounding brass" and a "tinkling cymbal". They were becoming unprofitable because they had left their first love.
Externally Ephesus appeared healthy. But within the bosom of Ephesus lurked a disease which has killed many churches since the time of this letter. Like the disease state of hypertension, from an external perspective, they looked and felt fine. But within the body lurked a silent killer unobserved by the natural eye.
This problem can occur within the bounds of any marriage. Husbands and wives can become mechanical. They can live in the same house, perform the duties of a home, and slowly, by increments, forget the blessed bond on which the relationship was founded. The Lord's solution for their marriage problem is three fold: 1) Remember 2) Repent 3) Do the first works.
The Lord would first have Ephesus to exercise their memory: remember. He wants every member to remember a former time when they first fell in love with their Savior. It is interesting to notice the very same admonition to a former people who were at one time espoused unto the Lord: "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown" -Jeremiah 2:2. Even though Israel of old continued to have her "solemn feasts", the Lord was not pleased with them. Temple motions were going on, but their hearts had gone after other lovers. They, too, had abandoned their husband, and ultimately He had given her a "bill of divorce" -Jeremiah 3:8.
How many times have we been in the Lord's service, going through temple motions, only to find our minds and hearts pursuing worldly things. Oh, how easy it is for us to become mechanical and forget this first love; to place Him in a less honorable position in our lives. As we take our seat to worship, He is nowhere near the top of the list. He is found somewhere beneath the mall or a host of other entertainments.
As a husband or wife recalls the wonderful time when they were first in love, the Lord calls upon each member of Ephesus to do the same. Consider the time when you first met your husband or wife. All you could think about was that person. You wanted to share every moment with them. You loved to hear their name. You wanted to buy something for them. You would walk miles just to be in their presence. You wanted to share the same name......"remember." But for Ephesus, they were to remember Jesus, when they first fell in love with Him. How needful it is to remember those times when we seem to grow cold, when we seem to be slipping away from the Lord. As Elder Virgil Lowrance used to say: "When we feel ourselves backsliding from the Lord we should ask this question: Who moved?"
Each of the churches that received a censure from their Lord were called upon to repent: Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea. The Lord is never pleased when a church dies and He sends sufficient reproofs and warnings by the mouth of His angels. The word repent means to "think differently". Even though Ephesus thought they were in order, the Lord is telling them, "Your thinking is not accurate. You need to think differently about your situation. It is not good."
Sleeping Ephesus needed to be awakened and this letter was her alarm. She needed to recognize the good but take note of the bad. From the content of the message, He would have them think about both: His admonitions and warnings, as well as the positive attributes of their membership. There was a lot of good that remained at Ephesus; there was plenty to build upon. Until a candlestick is removed there is always hope. But they must "think differently" or they will continue to move in the wrong direction and "I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."
3) Do the first works
If Ephesus will "remember" and "repent" she will be able to "do the first works". But she must follow the Lord's admonition. The first works are the works she did when she was first married to the Lord. She must return and once again go after the Lord. The Lord must once again occupy the top of the list in the hearts and lives of each member of Ephesus. Each member of Ephesus must say in his heart, "this letter is to me" or it will have no impact. After all, had they not all gone through the marriage ceremony? Had not each member of Ephesus once confessed a saviour's love by entering the watery grave of baptism? This admonition is not to a stranger, it is to His bride.
These messages to the seven churches of Asia are preserved by God as a permanent looking glass for God's church in every age. For Ephesus, each member must get their priorities in order. By doing so, each flickering light will burn brighter. Then, and only then, will there remain the need for a candlestick to place their lights upon. As our love for Jesus grows more intense, so will our light and lumen. The church will beacon His doctrine, His Holiness and His charitable endeavors to the world around. Christ will be magnified as they see Him in them, "I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me" -John 17:23. What a wonderful testimony for any church!