As the Church, What is Our FIRST Love? #154 #Revelation
Hello friends, and happy Lord’s Day to you! Shorter podcast today as my focus needs to be more on preparing for our Sunday morning gathering. As always, you are most welcome and even urged to join us at 11am Pacific for our livestream Sunday morning gathering. Just go to Facebook and type ‘VBC Salinas,’ and like the page, and you should see when we ‘go live.’ Tomorrow’s message includes ten important truths from Revelation and is the beginning of a series I’m calling ‘Letters from Jesus.’ Why Letters from Jesus? Because Jesus Himself dictated the seven letters to the churches of Revelation, and the text makes it very clear – for each letter – exactly who the letter is from. That makes Revelation quite unique among all the books of the Bible, as it contains the only correspondence that we are certain is directly from Jesus. (Yes, of course, the Gospels preserve the Words of Jesus accurately) Last month and this upcoming month are fantastic for me personally – preaching wise. I love Hebrews and Revelation and love the opportunity to be teaching out of both books!
Today’s Bible readings include Deuteronomy 4, Psalms 86-87, Isaiah 32 and Revelation 2, which is our focus passage, and the home of the first few letters of Jesus in Revelation. Let’s go listen to Revelation 2, and you can see if you pick out the section that includes our focus question.
3 I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and you have not grown weary.4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.5 Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to youand remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Powerful and challenging words from Jesus to the church at Ephesus! This appears to be a church that is very faithful to the Word of God – no slide into biblical liberalism here! The Ephesian church doesn’t tolerate false teachers and even roots them out. They are also hard workers and persevere. They endure hardship without becoming weary, and sound like a great church until you get to the one devastating problem: They’ve abandoned their first love! How big of a problem could this be for a church that is apparently hard-working, persevering, doctrinally sound and has faced and endured suffering for the sake of Jesus? Well – apparently this is a HUGE problem, because Jesus tells this church that if they don’t return to their first love, He will remove their lampstand. I take that to mean that He will remove them from being a church, considering that Revelation 1 indicates that the 7 lampstands stand for the 7 churches that are being addressed here. No lampstand, no church. No light from God (remembering that Jesus said we are the light of the world!) no church!
This should be sobering for churches that have faithfully clung to the Word of God without compromise. That is a very good thing and to be commended, but to do so while losing the first love that Jesus is speaking of here is a deadly danger. A church can apparently be doctrinally sound and faithful in many ways, but be in danger of being shut down completely – by God! – if they turn their backs on their first love. And that brings us to our major question – WHAT is Jesus referring to here? HOW did the Ephesians turn their back on their first love? I’ve heard several theories here – including that the Ephesians had stopped loving each other, but were just kind of cold-heartedly going through the motions. Perhaps they were being emblematic of the ‘frozen chosen,’ a nickname often given to those Reformed Christians who might have very biblical doctrine, but very cold hearts.
I certainly think that this could have something to do with what Jesus is saying – to this church. It could very well be that they were cold-hearted to each other, and not loving. As loving our neighbor as ourselves is the 2nd greatest commandment – according to Jesus – this would be an egregious thing for the church at Ephesus to be cold in. However, I don’t know that this is the root of the problem with the Ephesian church. Rather, it would seem a very strong possibility that Jesus is referencing the second chapter of Jeremiah in His message to the Ephesians:
The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Go and announce directly to Jerusalem that this is what the Lord says:I remember the loyalty of your youth,your love as a bride—how you followed me in the wilderness,in a land not sown.3 Israel was holy to the Lord,the firstfruits of his harvest. All who ate of it found themselves guilty;disaster came on them.”This is the Lord’s declaration.
I believe that the love that was had at first by the Ephesians and then abandoned was the same as the love that Israel had for God at first, and then abandoned it. I believe Jesus is reminding the Ephesian church of the First and Greatest commandment:
37 He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.38 This is the greatest and most important command.39 The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.40 All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
This is a serious issue, and the Ephesians appear to have abandoned their love for God. I think it is important for the church to keep the first commandment first, so to speak. One time I was preaching on this concept about ten years ago, and I had a very unfortunate slip of the tongue that was not unnoticed by the congregation, and I still get reminded of it up to this day: “If you keep the first commandment first, God will help you with your number 2.” Yes, given what ‘number 2’ means in American slang, I believe I butchered that statement…but the concept is absolutely true: We must keep the first commandment in our sights as the #1 priority. When we do that, our love for each other will overflow as well. Reverse those two things – put the 2nd commandment first, in other words, and we become far more open to the same danger as that faced by the Ephesians. Our greatest priority and focus must be on loving God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength AND THEN loving our neighbor as ourselves. May we follow those two commands to the full!