We read in Revelation 2:4-5, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 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.”
Though the Lord commended the church at Ephesus for their stand, their work for Him, and their care regarding the teachers they heeded, He also warned about dire consequences if they did not return to their first love. Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the seven churches and the Lord was threatening to remove the Ephesian church if they did not repent. Even the church at Laodicea, as weak it was, was not similarly threatened.
Being encouraged to love one another is appropriate and many scriptures support this important teaching. However, the Lord was not rebuking the Ephesians for a lack of love to each other. Instead He rebuked them for leaving their first love. The Greek word translated “first” could be translated foremost, chief, or first of all. Many Christians remember their first zeal for the Lord. Their heart was overwhelmed with gratitude and love to God for His great salvation. They recall being evangelistic, sharing the good news with all those around them. Now they honestly admit that their lives are not what they used to be. But is this the first love?
Jesus’ words in Mark 12:29-31 suggests an answer. “And Jesus answered him, the first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.”
Notice His use of the words first and second. The first command is to love God with all of our being and ability, and the second is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Would it be stretching Jesus’ words too much to suggest that the first love, the love of God, is the one He means in Revelation 2? According to 1 John 5:2, the evidence that we love our fellow believers is that we love God and keep His commandments.
In Joshua 22:5 Joshua reminded the Israelites, “But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Note the separation between loving God and keeping His commandments. Firstly, they were to love Him, and then to walk in His ways, keep His commandments, and serve Him.
Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees in Luke 11:42 brings a charge that is similar to the one against Ephesus, “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” They were good about tithing and such matters but Jesus pointed out their lack of love for God.
Could it be that the church in Ephesus was so taken up with its works that they had forgotten Who it was that they served? Had they left their love for the Lord in pursuit of love for other things, even service for Him?
Though loving their neighbors, did the believers in Ephesus set aside their love of God and the keeping of His Word? Love for God is the first love that Jesus commanded in Mark 12, and it is the love the Ephesians left. Is the modern church becoming so focused on love for their neighbor that it is setting aside their first love? Is the second commandment being pushed ahead of the first? Some churches have set aside teaching from God’s Word that might be unpopular so that they can be more appealing to their neighbors in the world. But our first love must be for God, His Word, and His ways. The Lord Jesus said that it would put us at odds with the world. But when they hate us, remember that they hated Him, too. We must never set aside God’s Word to accommodate the world. How can He use or bless a church that does not love Him and keep His Word? This is something for which the Lord may remove a local church. The promise to remove the Ephesian church apparently came to pass since there is not even a city of Ephesus anymore.
Is it possible for Christians to turn away from their love of God, the One Who is gracious and loving to us? We can become so enamored of work for Him that we miss Him altogether. Recently, a man preaching on this passage told the listeners to set aside theological correctness and to be working. If we do not cling to God’s Word, we have nothing to guide us. If work for God is our focus, and not Him, we miss out; we leave our first love. Let us pray that our Lord would show us if we have left our love for Him.
O what an evil heart have I,
So cold, and hard, and blind,
With sin so ready to comply,
And cast my God behind!
So apt His mercy to forget,
So soon dissolved in ease,
So false, so full of all deceit,
And desperate wickedness!
What shall I do, my God to love,
My loving God to praise!
The length, and breadth, and height to prove
And depth of sovereign grace!1 •
Charles Wesley, O What An Evil Heart Have I