Forsaking Your First Love: What Was the Ephesians’ Problem? (Rev 2:1-7)

Camilla and I are celebrating our 11th wedding anniversary today. We were married on Easter Monday in 1999 and because Easter moves every year, this is our first anniversary to fall on an Easter Monday. So it’s an extra special day. By the grace of God it has been 11 years of heaven on earth. Every year has been better than the last.

So what’s all this about forsaking our first love?

In Revelations 2:4, Jesus accuses the Ephesian church of forsaking their first love. Sometimes this verse is used by preachers and songwriters to promote our love for God. “Remember your first love. Remember how much you loved Jesus at the beginning and go back to that. Love him like you used to.”

I totally don’t get that.

Imagine if someone said that to me about my love for Camilla. “Remember how you loved her in that first year and go back to that.” Sure, we loved each other with all our hearts. But since then our capacity for love has grown. Our hearts have gotten bigger and we love each other more deeply. Why? Because we’ve been through stuff. We’ve had babies together. We’ve faced death together. To go back to our first love would be a step backwards.

It’s the same with Jesus. I know and love Jesus more now than I ever did. We’ve been through some stuff, he and I. We’ve walked on the water and chased off demons together. We’ve been to the mountain-top and the valley floor. We’ve faced death together. He has always known me completely but each year I learn more about him and his limitless love for me.

Do you understand me when I say that every year Jesus just gets bigger and better!

For Jesus to say to the Ephesians that they had forsaken their first love, that they needed to repent and do the things they did at first, tells us that there was something seriously wrong with this church.

What went wrong in Ephesus?

For those who equate “love” with “works”, it’s obvious that the Ephesians had lost their zeal. Perhaps their prayer meetings were lifeless. Perhaps they went about their works of service without any real enthusiasm. Sadly it’s not hard to find churches like this today.

The usual remedy is that churches like this need to straighten up and fly right. They need to confess their sin of apathy, repent and get busy for Jesus. If they don’t, bad things are going to happen. Lampstands will be removed. Preach a message like this and the church will soon be back out on the street witnessing as if their lives depended on it. They will be zealous, but joyless. They will be earnest, but fruitless. And in a year or two they will be worn out and lifeless once again.

No, the real problem with the Ephesians was that they had lost something of their understanding of God’s love for them. They had forgotten that they were beloved sons of God. They were a busy church but their works were based on their love for God, rather than His love for them.

Do you know the love of God?

In writing to the Ephesians Paul prayed that they would know the love of Christ (Eph 3:18). He did not pray that they would grow in their love for Christ. Some people think we are filled with the nature of God to the degree that we love God but that’s not what Paul said. He said we’re filled to the degree to which we know the love of Christ.

John, the beloved disciple, was at one time a member of the Ephesian church and he was famous for reminding people of the Father’s lavish love toward us. “Love comes from God” (1 Jn 4:7). “Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us” (1 Jn 4:10). Our love flows out of, and is a response to, his love. He is our love-source.

In Revelations 2:4 Jesus says to the Ephesians, “You have left your protos agape” or your foremost or primary love. What is the source of our protos agape? It is a revelation of Christ’s love for us.

Why do I say the Ephesians had become religious? Because Jesus commends their hard work but then says they’re not doing the things they did at first. So they’re working hard but to some extent is the wrong sort of work.

From this we can conclude that the Ephesians were a hard-working, non-loving church. That sounds a lot like a church that’s coming back under the law. They may have started out with grace but they are now trying to attain their goal by human effort.

Paul once told the Ephesians that they were seated with Christ in heavenly places but by the time of John’s revelation it seems they had forgotten this. They’re no longer resting, they are striving. In a sense they have fallen from that seat of heavenly rest to a place of earthly works. They have fallen from a great height of grace. They have become known for their works, not His. Like the Galatians they have perverted the gospel and are no longer living by faith. Like the Laodiceans they have mixed law with grace and ended up in a lukewarm muddle.

What’s the solution? Like the Galatians and the Laodiceans, they need to repent. That is, they need to change their way of thinking. They need to change their theology. They need to do what they did at first which was presumably trust in the goodness and love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

What is the lesson for us?

We are called to be shining exhibits of God’s grace not tarnished testimonies of human effort. Like the Ephesians we need to do the work of God which is to “believe in the one he has sent” (Jn 6:29). Faith in God is not displayed in human effort but in Holy Spirit power. We are called to reveal Christ not ourselves.

A church that is walking in the revelation of God’s awesome grace will be seeing the the captives freed and the dead raised. The poor may be getting food parcels, but they’ll also be getting the good news preached to them and it will be setting them free. The sick may be getting hospital visits but they’ll also be getting healed by believers who believe that they have authority to heal in Jesus’ name.

Jesus warned he would remove the Ephesians’ lampstand from its place. The lampstand refers to the church itself (Rev 1:20). Jesus’ warning applies to any church that tries to mix human effort with Divine grace. You cannot put the new wine of grace in a wineskin of human performance without something breaking. Eventually something will have to give.

It may be that the Ephesian church was in danger of fading into irrelevance. But I like to imagine that in this church there were some nobodies who still knew the love of Christ and who were troubled by the increasing emphasis on performance and manipulation. If the church didn’t corporately repent, perhaps these nobodies went their own way and started a new church in some other location and leaving the somebodies to their religious works. If so, the lampstand would have literally moved from its place.

A healthy church, like a healthy marriage, is one that remembers its protos agape. It stands on the bedrock of Christ’s love for us. If your church (or your marriage) is not like that, then I pray what Paul prayed:

I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. (Eph 3:17-19, GNB)

_______

Postscript: If you’re wondering how we celebrated our anniversary, we’ve just returned from a very stiff 4 hour hike up and down some muddy hills. The perfect day!

enjoy_signup

Comments

  1. Catherine Wood says:

    Hey Paul & Camilla, congratulations on 11 years of marriage. Thanks for the insight of not wanting to go back ‘to our first love’ of Christ but to be in a place where we are more in love and in awe of him because of what he has brought us through over the years. Good stuff.

  2. Richard Khaw says:

    I believe with all my heart that actually there is no ‘gospel of grace’. It is THE gospel,there is no other,as Paul assets in Galatians. A couple of questions still niggle at me;perhaps you can share your take on them:
    1.why Jesus taught His disciples,in the Lord’s Prayer,to ‘forgive our sins’. Is he teaching them to keep confessing their sins?Are we to do the same.?
    2. What actually happened to Ananias and Sapphira? Weren’t they in the post-crucifixion age of grace?
    Thank you

    • Dear Richard,
      I agree with you that the gospel of grace is the gospel. Still, the label “the gospel of God’s grace” comes straight from Paul (Acts 20:24). I have written a short post comparing the different gospel labels if you’re interested.
      1. Jesus had two ministries that were distinguished by the cross. In the first He preached law to those born under law (you weren’t). The Sermon on the Mount is vintage law. Do we need to forgive to be forgiven? Thanks be to God we absolutely, 100% do not. We live under grace and we forgive as Christ forgave us Col 3:13. You can read more about that here.
      2. Who killed Ananias and Sapphira? The Bible doesn’t say yet most people are quick to blame God. If God were punishing them for their sins then I guess the cross wasn’t the once-for-all-time sin sacrifice Hebrews says it was. I have written a little about this here. My friend Ryan Rhoades has written a longer post here.

    • Ananias means “Yahweh is gracious” in hebrew. Sapphira means “beautiful”. I believe that God has been gracious to Ananias and Sapphira just like Abraham and Sarah. Despite of grace being shown to them, they “lied to the Holy Spirit” and instead wanted to have a position in the church by putting God’s love for them aside and replacing it with the love for money.

      Please see this sermon..
      http://www.gracehope.com/video.php?v=u_cIQlO4tXZ4M

  3. Wow….how awesome is God. The Lord gave me a picture about this five years ago when I was first saved. I didn’t know the Bible and didn’t know God could speak to me through pictures. I put the vision away and tried to forget it (because I didn’t know what to do with it being a new Christain I thought i had to do what the more mature people said)…and after about 6 months it did go away. Here I am 5 years later and the Lord brings this back to me so strong. I prayed into it for revelation and what He was trying to show me. I was immediately lead to this site…..and wow the revelation I have received is overwhelming. I know what God is speaking to me about this now and more along the lines of what to pray! O Lord how we need to know your love….America needs a baptism of the love of God. Thanks for the post

  4. It’s been months since this topic have had comments but I believe that when you talk about the grace of God which is the good news; which is God’s love in the person of Jesus, it will never get old. I do hope that there be more people, more church who would spread the good news like this. I’m tired of hearing people talk about morality but no relating it to the love of God. I’m tired of hearing people boasting about their love for God and forgetting about what we believers should really fix our eyes on.. Jesus.. the love of Christ.. the unconditional love for us.. how greatly He loves us all apart from our works. This blog speaks some part of it. Thank you for this message and I hope that we all continue to grow deeper in the love of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

  5. Sometimes age has the opposite effect. I’ve been a Christian for about 23 years and have sat under law-mixed-with-grace teaching for about 22 years of that. Can you understand why I no longer can bear being taught the law and long for more and more grace teachings! I have come to the end of my own works and finally realised how useless they are! Praise God for His matchless grace and Son!

  6. Paul the post you write about pure grace is so life giving. I can’t stop feeding on it. When Jesus mention “difficult is the way which leads to life” in Matthew 7:14 I believe he was not referring to himself but referring to law based religion that makes the way difficult. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:52 NKJV)

    The posts you are writing are removing hindrances for people that want to know Christ. It’s making the way easy!  Your response to people who attack or Challenge this gospel of grace is as good as the post itself. This is encouraging to see this, it is a win win situation. God puts a fire in us to proclaim grace and when we are attacked the word of grace increases! one last thing I just want to complement on Your posts. They are so deep it’s like a ocean that never ends. One teaching linked to another I really like that. Also it’s so simple a child can understand it. Be blessed brother! 

  7. Derick Manilong says:

    God blessed you, I am so blessed with your post on the gospel of grace , I love Jesus more and more.

  8. The word of God is alive.

  9. Errol Pietersen says:

    Hi.If there is a first love then there must be a second love.So i think the church was busy with their second love in every way possible.might be that they begin to preach more about their second love more than their first love.God is a jealous God.Now who then could their second love be?thx.Br Errol.

  10. Paul I really appreciate you man! Grace has taken my life by storm yet has only scratched the surface of what it’s going to turn me into. I know of Nee, Prince, Wommack and now you but who else has awesome commentary and teaching on unmerited favor and grace? Thx again
    Seth Marshall
    OnlyGraceWorx.WordPress

  11. Came across this blog doing some Bible study. And even though it is a few years old I thank you for the post. I hadn’t really been able to put my finger on what I was seeing in my own church. Isn”t it amazing that centuries ago an old man in a cave could tell us about ourselves through the timeless teachings of the Holy Spirit? Got to love Revelation. God bless you for the way you explained it. I think I will put down my silver polish now and pray instead to shine through God”s grace. Oh and hug my husband who I love more now since we too have been through some “stuff”. God bless.

  12. Errol Pietersen says:

    Hi.I think that there are more been preach about husband and wife,on how to run their marriage,then about the marriage between Christ and the Church.All day long on the Christian Radios you hear about divorce and adultery within the members of the church.There are millions of books sold about marriage problems.Nowadays everybody goes for marriage counciling.This problem has taken over of what the church is actually suppose to do.The church should focus on how to strenghten the marriage bond with Christ.And it can only be done with the help of the Holy Spirit.People should go and see professional marriage councilers outside the church.They should not bring their partners problems to the church.Thx.

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