“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4)
by Tom McLemore
Christ dictated letters to John that were addressed to seven churches in Asia. For one church he had nothing but praise. For others he had both praise and criticism. For one he had only criticism.
We will consider what Christ said to Ephesus, a church Paul’s preaching had established. “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’” (Revelation 2:1-7). As we study, let us be asking what Christ would say to us in this church.
An UPRIGHT, Yet FALLEN Church
Jesus said they had fallen (Revelation 2:5). What happened? Were the members not working or had they stopped working? NO! In Revelation 2:2, Christ refers to their “toil and endurance.” Were the members denying Christ when persecuted? NO! In Revelation 2:2, Jesus acknowledges their “patient endurance.”
Was the church tolerating false teachers? NO! In Revelation 2:2, the Lord states that they had exposed false apostles. Were they being disloyal to Christ when persecuted? NO! In Revelation 2:3 Jesus affirms their “bearing up for my name’s sake...not grown weary.” Were they living immoral lives, practicing idolatry? NO! In Revelation 2:6, Jesus recognizes that they hated the works of the Nicolaitans (compromise with idolatry).
Yet, they were fallen! Wherein? In Revelation 2:4, the Lord testifies that they had abandoned the love they had at first.
An Abandoned LOVE
What is the love they had abandoned? Paul identifies it in Ephesians 1:15. “...I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints...” Once, they were well known for their love for one another. But somehow, they have left it behind. The result of abandoning their love toward all the saints was that they had abandoned that in which the church could build itself up and function correctly (Ephesians 4:15, 16; cf. 1 Peter 2:1, 2). They had abandoned the essential ingredient without which all other good is meaningless, nothing, unprofitable (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 13; Colossians 3:14; cf. Matthew 23:23 [“neglected” is same word translated “abandoned” in Revelation 2:4]).
Ultimately, they had abandoned real devotion to Christ! Devotion to Christ involves love for Christ’s people. John, who is believed to have spent his latter years in Ephesus, and whose first epistle may have addressed the Ephesians, urgently stresses this (1 John 3:14-18; 4:20-5:3).
Many will recall the story preserved by Jerome. It is reported that the aged apostle John was constantly repeating the words, “Little children, love one another.” This was all he said when he was often carried into the assembly. His friends, wearied by the repetition, asked him why he always said this. “Because,” he replied, “it is the Lord’s commandment; and if it only be fulfilled, it is enough.”
RETURNING to Love
The Lord Jesus issued three commands. The first is, “Remember.” Peter (1 Peter 1:22) teaches that we were baptized in order to love the brethren. This is the first and foremost thing new Christians must learn. If we have lost sight of that, we need to remember.
Christ gave the Ephesians another command. “Repent.” Repentance is a change of mind. In this case, it meant the change of mind called for in 1 Corinthians 14:1a–“Make love your aim.” There must be a reordering of priorities.
Jesus’ third command is this: “Do the works you did at first.” What they had been taught at the first was the behavior of Christian love. Christians’ walking in love was what God had in mind from before creation (Ephesians 1:3, 4). Walking in love involves lowliness, meekness, patience, and forbearance (Ephesians 4:1-3). We MUST love all the saints because there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6).
The essence of loving the brethren is this: “...be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). The example of Christ (and ultimately, of God) sets the standard. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”(Ephesians 5:1, 2).
What is at stake? The removal of their lampstand (and ours)! We might say that love for one another is the beacon light that identifies Christ’s people. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34, 35).
Let us be a church that has all for which Jesus praised the Ephesians, but let us also make sure we have the love to which Jesus wanted them to return! Why? “Because it is the Lord’s commandment; and if it only be fulfilled, it is enough.”
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