“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
– Revelation 2:4
We’ve all met them. At some time or another you may have even been one. I’m talking about cold Christians: Christ followers who do all the “right” things without a bit of love. Many a marriage has fallen apart—not because there was an affair, abuse or abandonment—but because there was no love in the marriage. And just as a marriage can’t survive for very long without love, a church can’t survive very long without love. As Bible scholar Leon Morris puts it, “A church can continue only for so long on a loveless course... If they repent they may yet be saved. But if not, there is no hope.”
In Revelation chapters 2 and 3, Jesus delivers seven brief letters to seven different churches in Asia Minor (modern-day
). Christ praises six of
these seven churches for doing certain things very well. And his longest list
of praises is delivered to the Christian Church in Turkey . In Revelation 2:2-6, Jesus
identifies seven different practices of the Ephesian Christians that are worthy
of praise. In short, they practiced good deeds, worked hard, persevered amidst
difficulties, refused to tolerate wickedness in the church, discerned false
teaching, endured hardship, and hated the practices of those who tried to
peddle heresy among their members. Ephesus
By any estimation, this is an impressive list. Most churches would be ecstatic to have Christ shower them with these compliments. On a scale of 1-10, the
looked like a “10.” But even though it appeared to be a picture-perfect church
on the outside, the church had something seriously wrong on the inside. Jesus
bluntly tells the Ephesian Christians in verse 4: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Ephesian Church
What does Jesus mean by this rebuke? Well, there are a couple possibilities. According to Jesus, the greatest command in the Bible is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30-31). So, “you have forsaken your first love” could indicate that the Ephesian Christians were going through the motions of a Christian who truly loved God, but deep down …they really didn’t. They may have had some admirable motives for living out their religion so well, but love for God wasn’t one of them.
Or possibly “you have forsaken your first love” indicates that the Ephesian Christians had forsaken love for people as a top priority. Years earlier Jesus had told his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The Christians in
had been taught well to embrace God’s
love and know God’s love and reflect God’s love in their personal
relationships. But somewhere along the line, their love for people had grown
cold. Although they looked good on the outside, their perseverance, doctrine,
and ministries were loveless. They didn’t do the good things they did out of a
deep love for Christ and others. So, despite how good their deeds may have
looked to outsiders, the truth was: The Christian Church in Ephesus was dying. And only repentance and a
re-prioritizing of love could bring it back to life. Ephesus
I am reminded of the powerful words written by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” And Paul concludes the chapter with this short but powerful insight: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
As I consider the Ephesian Christians’ lack of love, a few words come to mind: unfeeling, robotic, mechanical, impersonal, loveless, lifeless and cold. Perhaps you could think of a few other words to describe a church that does the right things but does them without love. Regardless of the words that come to mind, I hope and pray that my Christianity will never be these things: unfeeling, mechanical and impersonal. I hope and pray that your Christianity will never be these things: loveless, lifeless and cold.
Friends, just as a husband and wife must guard themselves against a loveless marriage, Christians must guard themselves against a loveless church. We must be very careful. As we persevere through trials and endure hardship and faithfully teach God’s word and carry out some great ministries, we must make sure that we do it all in love. Cold, loveless Christianity is a dying Christianity. And a cold, loveless church is a dying church. The Apostle Paul was right: When it comes to living out our faith, “the greatest of these is love.” So, let’s make sure that we love Christ and others with everything we’ve got. If we don’t, our Christianity is nothing.
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