RESTORE YOUR FIRST LOVE
Key Verse: 2:4,5a
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
We mentioned in the last two messages that the book of Revelation is mysterious and obscure in many ways. But the holy purpose and divine intent are made clear from beginning to end; That Christians must undergo many sufferings before the Second Coming of Christ; That Christians must endure their sufferings with Godly patience until the Lord’s Return; That Christians must not lose heart but remain faithful even to the point of death. But above all else, the divine purpose of these writings testify to the truth that the Final Victory belongs to our Lord— and to us who continue (not in the Christian life but) in the way of the cross. With that resolute Hope burnt on his heart and mind, John related 7 letters to the 7 churches of Asia Minor. He counsels them, each according to their own situation. The wording is stern and in some cases severe. But the intent is clear. The love of God shines through each word of rebuke or word of comfort, to inspire repentance, faith and rededication and commitment to the only way a Christian can take, the way of the cross.
Sometimes, what we fear the most would happen happens. Throughout the years, we serve God’s ministry at the high price of sacrifice and servantship. The Lord accepts it as our love offering, for we are not called to a life of ease and comfort and self preservation but we are called to lay down our lives for the Lord. Then the unthinkable happens. The burdens of life begin to replace the fundamental cost of discipleship that we gladly take upon ourselves when we first come to Jesus for forgiveness and for cleansing. And from there, we begin to bear the life we are called to live with a grudge rather than to bear it for the King’s sake. Then a fellowship once built on the sacrifice of the builders degenerates from zeal to legalism, and from forgiveness to contempt. For the most part, the Shepherd of the fellowship is responsible, for he is weak and sinful and the life of the cross takes its toll on him. But the church builders are also responsible for it becomes hard for them to bear the failures and failings of each other. The Lord who is King and Sovereign tells us why this happened to the exemplary church at Ephesus. First, they lost their first and true love for Jesus. Second, they also forgot the height from which they had fallen. They had once been a fellowship of pioneers and the vanguard of the Lord’s missions. Once they had been gracious shepherds and Bible teachers concerned mostly with the Lord’s suffering children. But at the time of this letter the Ephesian church had degenerated into a Sunday fellowship of disgruntled and arrogant Christians.
It was Paul and his two close coworkers Priscilla and Aquila who brought the gospel to the city of Ephesus and won a following of many converts. From the lecture hall of Tyrannus the gospel spread throughout the whole region until idolatry, hedonism and immorality were exposed for what they are— Sin. Then, the Holy Spirit compelled many Ephesians to confess their sins and wicked deeds before God, and to turn their hearts to Jesus. God’s in Ephesus was great. (Ac 19:17-21)
Jesus began his letter to the Ephesian church with a commendation. He tells them: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, 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.” The Ephesian church was an exemplary fellowship of believers. Jesus commended them for their deeds accomplished through faith, and prompted by love. They were hard working, active in sharing the gospel and in discipleship training. They had no tolerance for false apostles with anti-cross teaching and lax doctrines. (2d,3,6) They exposed heretics and discredited their false teachings.
Above all, Jesus commended them for their perseverance. Twice He notes their perseverance. Perseverance is one of the greatest of Christian virtues. Who could persevere when repeatedly harassed, constantly persecuted, always struggling to remain in Jesus in the face of Satan’s many temptations? Yet, they persevered! How? Jesus tells that they endured hardship for his name. For his name’s sake, they were able to persevere under difficult trials. The Ephesian church was an exemplary fellowship of genuine Christians. Yet they were still men and women who had to live in a sinful world full of godless influences. After graciously commending them for their many spiritual merits, Jesus challenged them with an excruciating truth. Out of his great love for them, he pierced their conscience with a word of truth so serious that it endangered their very standing as a church. If they did not deal with their problem, Jesus warned that he would remove their lamp-stand from its place among the churches. What problem then was so serious? Let’s read verse 4. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
What does it mean that they had forsaken their first love? They had forsaken their first love for Jesus who was the First True Love in their lives. Once, when they were in the world, before they met Jesus, they thought they knew what love is. But they didn’t. Their love was only worldly love of human origin. Human love is emotional love and therefore unstable love. Human or worldly love fails many times each day. In time some of them found out that they could not love their husband or wife anymore. Sometime they could not even love their own children. Rather they loved themselves more than anyone else. There is yet another kind of love they did not have. They thought they loved God because they believed in God; or because they practiced religion; or because they did some charitable works. But they did not really love God at all. How could anyone truly love God when so many things always take priority over God! But then something happened that changed their lives. They met Jesus. Jesus in his grace visited them and taught them the meaning of True Love. He taught them what Real Love is. He taught them the Love of God in all its glory. It was the very First Love they had ever known in their lives.
What is the First Love? The Bible says: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The Bible also says: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 Jn. 3:16)
So began the most beautiful story of love ever told. It was a love unheard of in a loveless world; a love so alien to our selfish nature; a love that gave itself First without hidden motives nor expectation. It was a love First of its kind, because it was a love so deeply rooted in self sacrifice; a love that gave itself freely wanting nothing in return. The Son of God had left his throne in heaven and was born to us in poverty. He grew up among us in simplicity. He befriended the helpless and the hopeless among us; those who are broken and abandoned. He touched our painful sores and cured our diseases. He spoke to us of our real home— the Kingdom of God— a place away from the places of our sorrow and anguish where we live in from day to day. He taught us that God had not forgotten us, that he had not abandoned us to our miseries. He revealed to us the depth of God’s favor on us in spite of our failures. He taught us to pray believing that God hears every word that comes from our hearts. He promised us peace of mind and he planted in our inmost being the seeds of hope— hope that some day we would be liberated from this body of sin and taken home to be with him there forever. And finally he revealed to us the depth and the width of God’s immeasurable love for us. One day, Jesus was crucified— on our behalf— in our place. His blood poured out of his wounds he offered it up freely for the cleansing of our sins. But the story did not end there. After his life was taken from him, he rose from the dead in an ultimate act of power. Through it he opened the door to the kingdom that we might enter in and live forever with him.
This is the story of True Love, the story of First Love by which Jesus loved us. When these sinful people heard it, they broke down and cried. They confessed their sins. They asked for forgiveness, and the joy of forgiveness and the assurance of the Holy Spirit was poured into their hearts. When they met Jesus, they met their True First Love— a love far greater than any love they had ever known. It was that First Love that compelled them to become what God wanted them to become— his great servants. Unless we come to know Jesus as our First Love, we cannot possibly understand what True Love is. Nor can we possibly serve God’s work.
The Ephesian Christians had been so personally touched by the love of Jesus. It was their first love. It was his love that brought them out of darkness into the light of life. It was love that forgave them their sins and changed them into the holy saints of the Lord. It was a first love that should have remained in their hearts even if everything else perished. Yet Jesus told them in verse 4. “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” The first Christians of the Ephesian church may have held on to their First Love Jesus with a tenacity that could not be broken. But it may be that later generations of believers forsook their First Love for the same reasons that plagues all churches and drives them to forsake what is most important in life for what is mundane and practical. The question is how could such a thing happen?
There are many reasons how the Ephesian Christians may have forsaken or lost their first love for Jesus. Sometimes when problems come upon the church; when God’s people become engaged in the struggle for life; when problems arise that divide coworkers and set them up one against the other— when that happens, the love that united them now compels them to forsake each other. Then they also forsake their first love Jesus. The devil hates us and especially hates the love bond we have with each other and with our Lord Jesus. And he is ever waiting, prowling around, looking for an opportunity to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The struggle for life is not the only thing that causes us to forsake our first love for Jesus. It also happens when we lose sight of God’s sovereignty in our lives. God’s sovereignty in our lives is that which allows the circumstances of our lives according to the will of God. When I am discontent with my situation; when I look to other people’s circumstances and my heart longs to be what they are and to have what they have; when I fall into hard times in my life and no longer ask God “What are you teaching me through this?” but rather wonder “Why is this happening to me; what have I done to deserve this?”; when my heart is quick to fill up with complaints and I grow tired of my struggles; when serving God is no longer a joy but another of life’s burdens to bear; when all this happens then I have lost sight of God’s sovereignty in my life, and the love of God no longer reigns in my heart. We cannot separate God’s sovereign will in each of our lives from the love he holds in his heart for us. God dictates every circumstance in our lives according to his love for each of us.
There is another principle here at work that causes God’s people to forsake the First Love of Jesus in their lives. The grace of God is the very foundation of our relationship with God. It is the grace of God that found us trapped by our dark sins. It is the grace of God that extended to us forgiveness for our offenses against God and against our fellow man. It is the grace of God that called us when we were useless to God, and made us to be what we are today, his servants. That first love that had so powerfully graced the lives of the Ephesian Christians was more precious than gold. It’s that great grace that the Ephesians forsook as they busied themselves with church functions together with their worldly affairs. We must not lose sight of his grace nor must we forsake our first love.
Jesus wanted the Ephesian Christians to “remember”. Jesus urged them to remember the height from which they had fallen. In other words he urged them to remember what they were before he rescued them from their lives as slaves to sin. How could anyone forget the life once lived in the anguish of sin? How could anyone forget such incredible love? Yet they did. How often we forget what we were before Jesus found us. But we must remember the depths of sin and misery where we once were— and always remember the heights to which the Lord has brought us.
Read verse 5a again. “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” It is important to remember. But it is not enough to remember. In order to climb back up to the heights of God’s blessings, Jesus urged them to repent. And here is the truth about repentance. Repentance is a continual process for those who would follow Jesus and serve him in their lives. Repentance is the response of the soul to the challenges we find in God’s word as we study and hear it. Thus, repentance is the wisdom of God to keep our souls humble, our hearts open, and our hand ever ready to do all that God would have us do for his honor and glory. The Ephesian church had fallen from the heights of God’s blessing. They had become an ordinary church busy with ceremony, ritual and activity. They had forgotten God’s vision to let go of the selfish life and surrender it to God and to his glory— at any cost.
How can we return to our first love? How can we restore our first love for Jesus our Lord? We must remember what God had done for us. And with daily repentance, we must commit and recommit our hearts and lives to do what we did at first. Our Lord Jesus commands us to return in our hearts to what we were at first, to do the things we did at first, to build up our lives and ministry, our nation and the world on the word of God. How precious is the power to remember— not my sufferings and hardship and all that I had to give up and sacrifice for the Lord and his work— but to remember his love his great love for me, and his calling to walk in the way of the cross, until I arrive at the Kingdom’s gate victorious! That is the message of Revelation— all of it. That we remember the grace of Jesus that leads us not to loss but to gain, not to defeat but to victory. As we study the book of Revelation, let us restore our first love for Jesus. Let us obey his command to love one another. Let us make a commitment to the way of the cross, to the way of repentance, to that of faith and to mission. And may God lead us this year to do the things we did at first. Amen.