Two small boys were standing in the church lobby one Sunday morning as a pretty girl walked by. One little boy said to the other, ‘You know something Joey – when I stop hating girls, she’s the first one I’m gonna stop hating!’
One legend says that Valentine was a Christian who lived during the early days of the church, and like so many Christians, he was imprisoned for his faith. During his imprisonment began to become discouraged and one day, as he looked outside of his prison window, he saw a plant growing with heart-shaped leaves. Valentine plucked one of the leaves and scratched on it, ‘Remember your Valentine.’ He then tied it to the leg of a dove and sent it off with the hope that it would fly to someone he knew. It gave him such comfort to do this and so the next day he plucked another leaf and wrote another message of love on it as well. In a matter of days, Valentine had plucked all the leaves and scratched the words ‘I love you’ on all of them and sent them out by doves.
There are several legends concerning how Valentine’s Day originated and therefore no one knows for sure. I hope you didn’t forget your Valentine this year and even more, I hope you never forget your ‘first love.’ Turn with me to the book of Revelation, chapter 2.
Revelation 2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
We all know that the Lord loves us, but how important is it that the Lord knows that we love Him? Apparently it is very important.
The first part of the book of Revelation contains seven letters dictated by the Lord Jesus to the apostle John while he was exiled on an island called Patmos. These seven letters were to be sent to seven different churches, yet with each letter is says this – “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (vs 7) In other words, these seven letters were for seven specific churches, but they are also for all churches of all ages. These seven letters are for us today and so it’s as important for us as it was as important for the church at Ephesus that we stop and consider – ‘have I left my first love?’
I’m sure that as John wrote those words, he must have been greatly troubled and here’s why I say that –
1) John understood better than any other disciple the importance of love. We might call John, the ‘apostle of love’.
a) John is the one who understood that love is a part of God’s nature. 1 John 4 says, “God is love.”
b) John is the one who understood that it was love that caused Christ to come to this earth. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Jn 3:16
c) John is the one who understood how great it is that God would love us. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” (1 John 3:1)
d) John is the one who understood that God’s will for our lives is that we love one another. “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” (1 John 4:7)
e) John is the one who understood the power of God’s love in a man’s life. At one time he and his brother James, had been known as the ‘Sons of Thunder.’ Apparently they were very quick tempered, hot blooded young men who were quick to judge others. Yet Christ had dramatically changed his heart and as you read through the NT you discover that 1 out of every 3 verses on the subject of love was penned by John. John wrote more about love than any other disciple. No wonder he liked to refer to himself as the ‘disciple whom Jesus loved.’ It was not that John believed that Jesus loved him MORE than all the other disciples. It was that John realized MORE than all the disciples that Jesus loved.
f) John is the one whom church tradition says – “When he was an old man in living Ephesus, he had to be carried to the church in the arms of his disciples. At these meetings, he was accustomed to say no more than, “Little children, love one another!” After a time, the disciples wearied at always hearing the same words, asked, “Master, why do you always say this?” “It is the Lord’s command,” was his reply. “And if this alone be done, it is enough!”
g) John is the one who understood that those who don’t love, don’t know God. “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
2) John had at one time been the pastor of the church at Ephesus. Therefore, how it must have broken his heart when he heard the Lord say about his dear church – “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”
The question I ask you as a believer today is – ‘Have you left your first love?’ Have you become so busy and preoccupied with life, that Jesus is no longer that important to you? Has your relationship with the Lord become just another part of your routine? Some who would say, “Pastor, I love the Lord, but He’s not my first love. I love my children. I love my family.” I praise God that you love your family and if you didn’t, I would be the first to get on your case. But let me you a question – Will loving the Lord first cause you to love your family less, or will it cause you to love them even more? I believe that it will cause you to love them even more. Many of you know first hand the blessing of having a parent who genuinely loves God.
How did the church at Ephesus lose their first love? It didn’t happen over night. It gradually happened over time. It’s been said that there are four stages in the life of a church:
1) Pioneer stage, when everything is an adventure.
2) Growth stage, when members begin to develop the various areas of ministry.
3) Maturing stage, when as the ministry begins to mature; members also begin to get settled in and become a bit complacent.
4) Dying stage, when while the members are becoming more and more complacent, the momentum shifts from upward to downward.
Let’s look at the church of Ephesus and see if we can determine what caused them to lose their first love.
I. Commendation of the Ephesian Church
A. Christ begins by commending their church.
Revelation 2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
1. It was a productive church
Revelation 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour..
If these seven churches represent seven time periods in church history, then the Ephesian church represented the early church. The ‘apostolic church’ that we read about in the book of Acts. Vernon McGee says that it was ‘the church at its best.’
a. ‘Works’ refers to its activities. It was a very active church. If it was in existence today, you would find a ministry and program for every need and age. It was a dynamic church.
b. The word ‘labor’ refers to the amount of effort and energy the members put into its ministry. The word literally means to toil in labor.
Ministry requires work and labor. Good things don’t happen in a church just by accident. Someone is working. Yet we must never forget that labor is not a substitute for love.
2. It was a persevering church
Revelation 2:2 … and thy patience … 3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
For many, being a Christian has cost them a big price. For some, even their live. The believers of the early church were constantly be attacked by those who opposed them. Christ commends them for being faithful and not giving up.
a. ‘borne’ – to bear what is burdensome
b. ‘patience’ – steadfastness, endurance
c. ‘laboured’ – to labour with wearisome effort, to toil
d. ‘not fainted’ – to not quit when you grow weary ( quit)
John could well appreciate the importance of staying true to Christ during difficult times. At the time of this writing, he was living on an island in the Mediterranean Sea that was ten miles long and six miles wide and little more than a barren rock. The isle of Patmos was a place the Roman government sent prisoners in order for them to work in the mines. In addition to this, church tradition says that along with John’s exile, he was also ‘boiled in hot oil as a form of punishment.’
3. It was a pure church
Revelation 2:2 ‘… and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.’
In Acts 20, we read of a time when the Apostle Paul was with the Ephesians and during his final address to them he said,
Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
False apostles who promoted false teaching was a great problem in the early church. Yet the Ephesians had remained true to the Word of God. They would not tolerate those who tried to join their church and promote things other than the truth.
How many of you would like to belong to a church like that; a church that was pure in its doctrine, productive in its ministries and persevering in its trials? I’m sure that’s the kind of church many of us would like to belong to, however, that’s not all there is. It’s possible for a church to be extremely sound, yet extremely dead.
Christ commended the Ephesian church for many great qualities and characteristics; yet He also condemned them over one great problem – Revelation 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
B. Problem? – It was not a passionate church
II. Condemnation of the Ephesian Church – ‘they had left their first love.’
What is most amazing about this is that I would imagine that many of the Ephesian believers were in a state of shock when they first read this letter. “What does He mean – we have left our first love?” “Doesn’t He see all we’re doing?” “I love the Lord.”
Christ was not speaking to believers who had left the church and gone out into the world and begun again to live a life of sin. From the things He has said, many of these believers must have been the core members of the church.
It was not that they no longer loved the Lord, but that they no longer loved Him in the way they had when they first became Christians. Can that actually happen? Can a Christian be doctrinally pure and actively involved and yet cold in their love for the Lord? Apparently so because it happened to one of the greatest churches of the New Testament period.
A. Nancy Leigh Demoss gives Forty Evidences of Leaving Our First Love. I won’t list all forty, but I will group some together and give you a general idea of what it looks like when a believer’s love for the Lord has grown cold.
1) No strong desire to spend time with Him
2) Private worship / prayer – almost non-existent
3) Corporate worship – dry
4) Crave things of this world, more than the things of God
5) Talk about everything else other than the things of God
6) Makes us uptight / uncomfortable – talk about spiritual things
7) We enjoy secular songs / entertainment more than sacred songs
8 )Justify our disobedience
9) Judgmental and critical of others
10) We have become greedy and selfish
B. For the Ephesians, their Christian walk had become more duty and drudgery than delight. Perhaps they were much like the children of Israel that the Lord spoke to through the prophet Malachi –
Malachi 1:13 You say, ‘It’s too hard to serve the LORD,’ and you turn up your noses at his commands,” says the LORD Almighty. “Think of it! Animals that are stolen and mutilated, crippled and sick – presented as offerings! Should I accept from you such offerings as these?” asks the LORD. 14 “Cursed is the cheat who promises to give a fine ram from his flock but then sacrifices a defective one to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is feared among the nations!
The Israelites were going through the form and ritual of worship, yet their hearts were not in it. They were giving to the Lord their second best instead of their very best.
Years ago the great evangelist Dwight L. Moody returned home for a brief rest before he went back out again. Seeing the tiredness on his face, his family encouraged him to cancel some of his meetings and take an extended rest. Moody replied, “I may grow weary in the work, but I never grow weary of the work.’
III. Counsel to the Ephesian Church
Revelation 2:5 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 .
1. Some Bible translations puts it as – ‘remember the height from which you have fallen.’
2. Apparently the Ephesians had at one time enjoyed a very deep and rich relationship with the Lord, and over time, labor became a substitute for love and now they were only going through the motions.
1. Renounce your sin of pride, self-sufficiency and self-centeredness and put Christ back at the center of your life.
2. Recently I heard a story about the great pastor W. A. Criswell and one of his members. It seems that the two were having lunch together and sensing that the business man was growing cold in his relationship with the Lord, Dr. Criswell began to probe and ask him questions. Finally it came around to the subject of money and the man confessed that it was much harder for him to tithe now that he was wealthy than when he first started and was struggling. Dr. Criswell told the man that he was going to start praying for him. “I’m going to pray that God takes away all that is keeping you from serving God and that He will bring you back to the place of where you need Him.”
1. The Lord says, “Do thy first works.” ‘Do’? Wasn’t the problem that they were doing? The problem was not what they were doing but why they were doing it. They were not doing with delight, but out of duty and drudgery.
2. I’ve sought for a clue of what their first works were like. The Bible doesn’t really tell us. Therefore I would like to use one of David’s psalms as a guideline for doing our first works.
Psalm 100:1 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. 2 Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. 5 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.
a. Be joyful in your worship. The phrase ‘joyful noise’ means to shout as those who have won the victory! A Sunday morning service in the house of God should be one of the most exciting places on earth.
b. Be glad in your service. Jesus was not saying to the Ephesian church – ’stop serving.’ Instead He was saying – ‘Serve Me with gladness and not with madness.’ If it begrudges you to serve the LORD, you need to get your heart right.
c. Be thankful in your living. Has God been good to you? Are you appreciative of His goodness? Do you enter His gates with thanksgiving? Are you thankful and bless His holy name?
If the Ephesian church could lose its first love, so can we. Perhaps many of us have. If we sense we have, we need to stop and remember what it was like when we really loved the Lord. We need to repent of the things that have come between us and the Lord. And we need to return to the basic things of a relationship with the Lord: joyful worship, glad serving, and thankful living.