First love: Devotional Commentary for September 26-October 2
This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us wisdom and insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.
1"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;
3and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.
4'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
5'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.
6'Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'
In Revelation chapter one verses four and eleven, John greets and identifies the seven churches to which he was commissioned to write and send letters dictated to him by Jesus Christ in a vision. These were seven literal churches in Asia Minor, (present day Turkey). However, even though each letter was individually addressed to a specific church, the message of the letters was also to the entire Body of Christ and to each individual believer, bearing commendations, corrections, warnings, relief, and promises. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
The first letter was written to the church in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus, located on the west coast of what is now Turkey, was the largest city in Asia Minor. Situated at the junction of many natural trade routes, Ephesus was a vibrant commercial center of the region. It was also home for numerous temples including that of Artemis—Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The gospel may have been introduced to Ephesus through the ministries of Aquila, Priscilla, and later Paul.
John identifies the Sender of the letter to the church in Ephesus as: the One Who holds the seven stars and walks among the seven lampstands. this is none other than Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Author of the letter and the Sender of the message, speaking from a position of Authority and immediate presence. The seven stars in His Right Hand are the seven angels which execute His bidding in an instant. An angel for a church. The seven golden lampstands among which the Lord walked are the churches to which these letters were sent. They are never away from the Lord's presence because He walked in their midst, both as the Head of the Church and as the Omni-present sovereign God.
Jesus commended the Ephesian Christians for their outstanding witness as believers. They worked hard for Christ and patiently persisted in their labor for the Gospel. It is evident that Jesus Himself had been the central focus of everything they did.
The church at Ephesus demonstrated an uncompromising intolerance for wickedness and all forms of ungodliness. They refused to compromise the message of Christ’s redemption with the evil influences of their surrounding culture. In the same way, they did not quietly accept every teacher that came to them. Rather, they tested them, making sure that they were faithful interpreters of the Truth revealed in Jesus Christ and His written Word. That way, they were able to distinguish true apostles from false teachers, keeping the church centered on the teachings of Christ.
They patiently endured in Jesus’ Name and did not grow weary in doing so. Jesus not only praised them for their works but also acknowledged that these acts were done in His Name. Even though these believers suffered, they stood their ground against the ungodliness that was so prevalent in their midst and around them. Amid hardships and hostilities, they remained true to the Lord and persevered in their labors.
Although Jesus commended the Ephesians for their faithfulness, He knew their heart was not right with God. He admonished them for leaving their first love. Evidently, their love for Christ had waned over time. They still loved God in some way and expressed their commitment to Him through their faithful works and endurance, but the Lord underscored that their passion and enthusiasm needed restoration. They remained obedient to God and labored in His Name, but their works were motivated more by duty and Christian responsibility than by their love for God.
Christ impelled the Ephesian Christians to recall the time when they walked most closely with the Lord. He encouraged them to carefully consider the difference between their initial passion for Christ and the quality of their current sentiments toward Him. He urged them to repent for their waning love and once again draw closer to Him. Then, their hearts would be redirected, their priorities would be refocused, and once again, their love for Christ would be restored. If they did not repent, God would judge them by removing their lampstand from its place among the churches. That is, they would be removed from serving in His presence.
Even though He rebuked them for their waning love, Jesus still commended the Ephesian Christians for their commitment to the Truth. They were one with the Lord in their hatred for the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans. Not much is said here about the Nicolaitans, but they evidently displeased God in what they did. Jesus hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans but not the people themselves. The Ephesians were found commendable in their godly indignation toward the enemies of God just like the Psalmist who said: “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?"
In the closing lines of the letter to the church in Ephesus, Jesus calls upon His Body the Church to discern and heed what the Spirit declared to the believers in Ephesus. Return to your first love toward the Savior. Do the work of God in the passion of your first love for God. It is a message to one believer, one church, and all the saints; the Body of Christ.
Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega (Α Ω), held out the promise of the fruit from the Tree of Life to those who overcome in Him, their ungodly inclinations which continue to undermine their love toward Him. This is the Tree of Life which was blocked by the revolving flaming sword when Adam and Eve were dismissed from Paradise. Now accessible in Jesus Christ, that is the gift of Life eternal in Jesus Christ to all who are victorious in Jesus Christ, overcoming and enduring all things in Christ. Jesus urged the Ephesians and all the saints across the ages that we should love our Lord with all our hearts, souls, and minds, exalting Him even higher than all the good works we endeavor to do for Him. A loveless work is the same as a commendable effort that is devoid of worthy meaning and godly significance. Love for God is the fuel for a godly life.
Jesus urged His children at Ephesus to repent and return to their first love. The same living Words are also issued to all of God's redeemed children. When an individual repents, Jesus Himself realigns the heart of the penitent believer with God’s Will.
Conviction over sin and confession of one's sin are important components of repentance, but sincere repentance is best demonstrated through a reformed life: a life transformed from within by the renewing Power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Such life is then filled with Joy, Peace, Love, Faith, and the like, as the Holy Spirit begins to generate His Fruit in the heart that He governs.
It has been reported that, Maltbie Babcock, a nineteenth century pastor and hymnist, once said: “The Christian life that is joyless is a discredit to God and a disgrace to itself.”
The believers at Ephesus lost heart in their commitment to the Love which drew them to God. They still performed notable acts of service but not with the all-consuming passion they once possessed. Christ corrected the Ephesians by exhorting them to remember the time when they cherished their relationship with Him more than anything else, when they marched closely at His side savoring His presence, and the time when their desire to glorify Him motivated their good works.
Through His letter to the church in Ephesus, Jesus invites believers to return to a warm, loving relationship with Him. Without this relationship, all work, all worship, and all prayer is empty and vain. Without Love, everything is devoid of God's Power. Jesus urges us to stay close to Him, to draw strength from Him, and to find direction from Him in everything we do as believers. The Lord is the Christian’s Victor. He is the One Who gives to His people victory over sin and joy in the work of His Kingdom.
Do we identify with these believers at Ephesus? Has our love for our Lord diminished? Are we simply performing acts of Christian service out of duty or good and honorable habit? It is so easy to become so consumed in serving the Lord that we lose focus on the Lord Himself. When this happens, we are easily ensnared by the enemy’s schemes, becoming prime targets for the devil’s advances in areas we never considered ourselves vulnerable. The principle is simple: we dare not withdraw from the presence of our Holy Savior, Master, and Redeemer. May the Holy Spirit strive within us to maintain a fiery passion for our calling in Christ. May the Lord draw us back to Himself so that we might savor the sweetness of His Mercy, Grace, and Love. The Love of God is the fuel for a godly life.