By W. H. Burnett
If one was to ask the question “what the greatest need in the church is today?”, a considerable list of items could be proposed, all of which would have some merit. However, above all, the greatest need in the church today is the restoration of our love for Christ. Let’s consider therefore how our love for Christ can be restored. First, we have the example of Peter’s personal experience, and second, we have the example of the collective experience in the church at Ephesus.
Restoration of First Love Personally (Jn. 21:14-22)
Peter had loved the Lord with a deep sacrificial love and indeed had given up everything to follow Him. He was the one who said that even if all the disciples abandoned the Lord, that he would stand by Him. These were not empty words because even when the mob came to arrest the Lord in Gethsemane, and the other disciples fled, Peter followed the arresting band to the High Priest’s palace. It was as this point that he failed so miserably when he denied the Lord three times. Immediately, the cock crowed, and he went out and wept bitterly. Peter was repentant and filled with depression and self-deprecation he went back to the fishing business. But the Lord had other things in mind for Peter and met him on the shores of Galilee with a view to his recovery.
The Lord might have taken Peter to task about his abject failure and denial but the Lord knew that Peter had repented with bitter tears, so that issue was behind him. The thing to be addressed was not his past, but his future. The Lord directs three questions to Peter. He asks him, “Lovest me more than these?” and twice over he asks Peter “Lovest thou me?” Peter was grieved when the Lord asked him the third time and he said, “Lord thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love Thee.” There can be no doubt that the Lord knew that Peter loved Him before He asked these questions. Why then the questions? The Lord asked these questions so that Peter would look deep into his heart, and discover that despite all, he still really did love the Lord.
The lesson here is that if we have repented of past failures, they are no longer an issue, and there is still a future for us in God’s service. The Lord’s challenge comes to us today – “Lovest thou me more than these?” Notice that the Lord does not identify these things but leaves us to determine what things in our lives may have turned our affection away from Christ. Each of us knows his own heart and today we should allow the Holy Spirit to search it to see if Christ is our sole object. The hymn writer truly wrote:
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.
The glad sequel was that Peter was restored and recommissioned. For the second time in his life Peter heard the Lord say, “Follow thou me.” Afterwards, Peter was at the forefront of that great movement of the Spirit recorded in Acts, where thousands upon thousands were saved. Perhaps the Lord is saying to some saint today, “Follow thou me.” May you hear the Lord’s call afresh and renew your first love that He so desires.
Restoration of First Love Collectively (Rev. 2:1-7)
The church at Ephesus was one of the most outstanding churches in the apostolic age, and the Lord commends their many spiritual excellences. But He then says, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” It was a fatal flaw which threatened the church’s right to exist. These are very solemn things to consider. The true measure of any assembly, isn’t the number of gifted people in fellowship, their scriptural knowledge, or their doctrinal acumen. No! If love for Christ is absent, then that church could forfeit its right to exist, and the lampstand may be removed. We wish to consider what rekindled love for Christ would look like in practical terms.
The apostle Paul exhorted in Romans 12:1, “Brethren I beseech thee by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” The apostle is saying that there can be no sharing of our affections with any other than Christ.
Again, the Lord said to his disciples in John 14:15, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” The Lord was indicating that one of the evidences of genuine love for Him is that we will be obedient to His Word, even if we find it convicting and discover that it requires major adjustments to our lifestyle.
Once more, the Lord Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” One of the sure evidences of our love for Christ will be seen in the measure in which we love our brothers and sisters.
Yet again, the apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:15, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” James follows up by saying in James 4:4, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” After all, the church is the Bride of Christ, and it would be reprehensible even on a human level, for a bride to share her affections with any other one than her husband. Remember, “The Lord our God is a jealous God.”
Finally, the writer to the Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is…” Before He left the world, the Lord promised his own: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This promise is valid on every occasion that the church meets together. If we truly love Christ, we will have an overwhelming, irresistible desire to be wherever the Lord is present. The power of the early church was evidenced in this way. Time after time the expression, “With one accord,” is used to describe the conduct of the local churches, meaning that all were present when the church met.
This message from God’s word is a challenge to all that it will provoke a conscious evaluation of our hearts so we might yearn to return to our first love for Christ that we once knew. Once this is realized at the personal level, it will naturally flow over into the assembly. We repeat the words of the Lord to Peter on that occasion of his restoration “Lovest thou me more than these.”