In the second and third chapters of Revelation are letters from Jesus to seven of the first-century churches in what is today Turkey. I believe these letters were addressed to real churches of that day. But I also believe they have great application to our churches today. The first of these was to the church of Ephesus. An almost perfect church. Except for one critical issue. They had lost their first love.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.Revelation 2:1-7 NIV
The church at Ephesus had a lot to commend them. They were a hard-working bunch; you can imagine there was plenty of opportunity for people to be involved. And the members of the body were likely taking advantage of those opportunities; there were probably not a lot of pew sitters. If this was a modern-day church, you could picture their calendar being full. Rather than having something going on at the building once or twice a week, there would have been activities scheduled throughout the week, busy, busy, busy.
This was also a persevering church, they did not become quickly tired in their service, but kept after it. When things were not going smoothly, or they faced opposition, or things did not turn out the way they had expected, they did not become discouraged and quit. Instead, they continued to faithfully serve regardless of how tempting it might have been to give up.
Ephesus was also doctrinally sound, not compromising the gospel for the sake of being more welcoming to seekers, or less offensive to their community. They held to the truths they had been taught. And they refused to listen to those who came bringing a message that was contrary to God’s word that had been delivered to them by the apostles.
Sounds like the ideal church: doctrinally sound, hard-working, and with stick-to-itiveness. When I am looking for a church to be a part of, these are definitely things that I look for, and Jesus commends them for that as well. And yet they are missing something that is more important than any of that.
Lost Their First Love
They had lost their first love. And regaining that love had to take priority over everything else, or they risked losing their standing with God as a church. But what was that first love? Was it a love for the lost, a loss of evangelistic fervor? Was it a loss of brotherly love for each other as members of the body of Christ? Or was it a loss of love for Christ, the head of the body?
While all of these are serious, I believe that Jesus is mourning their loss of love for himself. My first love as an individual, and ours as a church, should be to our savior, the bridegroom, the head of the church, his body. Only when we love him can we truly love each other, and have a real passion for the lost. And only when we love him does it matter how hard we work and persevere and how pure our doctrine is.
As a church, how much of our focus is on: our calendar; keeping the programs staffed; making the budget; having an exciting (entertaining) worship service; providing good comfortable facilities; having a superstar pastoral staff; enjoying good fellowship. Or is our focus on Jesus, loving him, serving him, and getting to know him better? It is clear from Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus which he prefers.
- Ephesus: Losing Their First Love – Revelation 2:1-7
- Smyrna: The Faithful Church – Revelation 2:8-11
- Pergamum: The Compromising Church – Revelation 2:12-17
- Thyatira: The Tolerant Church – Revelation 2:18-29
- Sardis: A Dead Church With A Reputation – Revelation 3:1-6
- Philadelphia: The Enduring Church – Revelation 3:7-13
- Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church – Revelation 3:14-22