August 14, 2006
As we begin the second part of this study, the commendations, and praises have ended, what was desirable in the church of Ephesus has already been related, and now Christ begins to reveal what He has against them.
Revelation 2:4, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love."
What can be more fearful to a single soul, or an entire church body, than to hear the Son of God utter the words, 'I have this against you?' Surely the first part of this letter, made the church of Ephesus smile, and perhaps think themselves superior spiritual beings, but if the first part of this letter caused them to smile, surely the second part caused them to weep bitter tears.
It would be wise to place ourselves before these words from time to time, and see if Christ has anything against us. To see whether our conduct, our speech, our actions or our practices have caused the Eternal One to have good reason to rebuke and chasten us, as He did the church of Ephesus. If we are sincere and honest with ourselves, and if we examine and analyze the inner most parts of our being, we will soon discover if there is anything we must correct, before the sentence is passed, before we hear the words of an omnipotent God say, 'I have this against you.'
Contrary to some men's thinking, that spiritual gifts allow for a wider path, and more questionable behavior, the Bible teaches that a multitude of virtues, talents and good works, cannot cover up even one evil, one sin, one satanic microbe, that would cling to the heart of man and make its home there. One evil, can, with time, destroy all my good works, and all my virtues. This is why our walk with God must be an all or nothing endeavor. Either I give God my all, either I let Him be Lord of my heart and do with it what He will, or He wants none of it. We cannot bargain with God, and piecemeal our hearts to Him, we cannot serve Him only part time and expect a full time reward, or any reward for that matter. The church of Ephesus had virtues to be sure; in fact, it had virtues worthy of admiration, and worthy of wanting and desiring. Yet because they had left their first love, because the fire did not burn in them as it once had, they would fall under judgment if the situation were not remedied, but more on that later.
When one retains Godly virtues in abundance, it is easy for the enemy to try and deceive as to the importance of righteousness, of keeping their first love kindled and burning brightly. Especially when one is endowed with gifts, and is placed at the forefront of a work, the enemy quickly whispers that because you are such a faithful servant, God will overlook certain shortcomings and failures on your part. Remember, the church of Ephesus was located in one of the metropolises of the old world, they were at the forefront of Christianity, and perhaps this, the pride of being one of the first, and most visible of churches, among other things, had something to with their leaving their first love. All are equal in the eyes of God, and He will judge all men equally.
The key to walking in humility, and righteousness before God, is not to look at the multitude of virtues in our life with pride, but to perceive them as a chain, weary and cautious that no link in that chain may be broken. Many believers today, are like mother hens, who continue to guard their nest even though the eggs have been removed from it, time and time again. As long as one or two eggs remain, the mother hen is still vigilant and guards her nest. May we be wiser than the hen, and guard our hearts that we may not suffer a decrease in grace, or even a fall from grace, all the while comforting ourselves with the thought that some virtues still remain, that some good is still evident. Our duty as children of God is to be ever growing, from grace to grace, from strength to strength, never satisfied with the status quo, but always desiring more knowledge, more power, and more of God. Being satisfied with merely what is, or what we possess in God, never hungering for all that God has promised, all that God has to offer, is the recipe for a stagnant Christian, an immature servant, one who never truly realizes his potential in God. What's worse, is that if we remain in the same state of spiritual infancy, the enemy will surely overcome us and make prey of us.
The church of Ephesus stopped growing, it stopped hungering, it stopped being desperate for the greater things of God, and was content with merely what they possessed. Suddenly they found themselves spiritually lethargic, unable to do battle against the enemy, having left their first love and their desire to stand, and having done all to stand.
There is an old proverb that says, the wound that is not mended, will not only deprive you of blood, but in the end, inevitably, claim your life as well.
As servants of Christ, as followers of God, as ones who proclaim truth not only with our lips but with our hearts, we must constantly guard against any cracks or fissures in our armor, always kindling the fire of God burning in our hearts, retaining that first love, that pure love, that love that saw no limits in our willingness to do the work of God, and our desire to obey His every command.
What amazed me is that Christ did not have a laundry list of things He had against the church of Ephesus, but only one. What He had against them was that they had left their first love. Keep in mind, they had not lost, or misplaced their first love, but willingly abandoned it, whether for the sake of convenience or acceptance we will never know.
Much has been written concerning love, love has inspired poets, and song writers, love is the central theme of sonnets and novels, yet the love that man perceives as love, is not the love to which Christ was referring.
By overuse, and baseless uttering the definition of love has been brought down to pure emotion of the heart, to chemical reactions of the brain, to certain synapses firing in tandem causing the giddy feeling, that overwhelming sense of euphoria one has come to equate with love. True love however is more rare than the rarest flower among men, and as Charles Spurgeon so aptly put it in one of his sermons, 'as the lily among the thorns, so is true love among the sons of men.'
True love, the love of God, cannot be perceived by unspiritual men, and the world, those that have found neither salvation or redemption are at odds with true love. A thorough discussion on the true meaning of love in its purest form, would take far too long, for it is a deep well from which much can be learned. However for the truest and most profound archetype of love, we need look no further than God the Father, giving His only begotten Son. This is where the true definition of love has its origins, and where we must first venture if we are to understand the true meaning of what it was that the church of Ephesus had left or abandoned.
John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
If the love of God is lacking, that burning, blinding, all encompassing, sacrificial, immutable, sovereign love, then nothing in the life of any man, or church for that matter, can be good, virtuous or noble. Love is what gives life to our actions, our benevolence, our charity and our works. Absent of love, there is nothing more than a dark vortex of emptiness that consumes our good intentions, our plans, our dreams and our desires. The most selfless acts, the most charitable deeds, the most noble of intentions, the greatest of ministries, are worthless without love, and even though God may commend them and praise them, He cannot receive them. Without love, our new life in God withers.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned but have not love, it profits me nothing."
I am often asked by brothers I meet for the first time, why I do what I do, why I would travel for months on end simply to speak to groups of people, without requiring any financial remunerations, why I would spend much of my free time writing what God inspires me to write, then posting the things I write on a free website, and the one answer I can give consistently, is love. Love compels me, it drives me, and love demands that I do what I do, for the sake of the sheep, for the sake of those seeking knowledge, for the sake of those seeking truth. True love will always urge you, compel you, inspire you, and insist that you do the work of the Father, that you obey His call on your life.
As I went back to reread something I had written, I happened upon a sentence that I believe deserves deeper introspection. The sentence I am referring to is, without love, our new life in God withers. I remember my freshman year of high school, I was required to take a class on botany, and I learned that although the roots of a tree may be dead, the leaves will still remain green for a while but eventually they too will wither, dry up, and fall off the now dead branches. It is the same when love dies in a heart, for love is the root, and heart of all our other endeavors. Whether knowledge, tongues, faith, charity, or even prophecy, are the focus of our ministry, they are as nothing when love is not the center of our calling, our ministry and our drive.
If a believer's love toward Christ withers and dies, then all the other virtues die along with it, for love was the root of them all.
Our primary concern, should be keeping the roots strong, and deep. Our hearts must always be alive, and filled with thankfulness, and gratitude toward our heavenly Father, loving Him, not for what He can do for us, or what He can give us, but simply for having first loved us, and for the priceless gift He has already bestowed upon us, namely salvation. Absent of this constant state of love, the leaves cannot remain green for long.
What is the condition of your soul today my dear friend? Are your roots deep, and strong and alive? Do you love God simply for being God, or for what you hope to get from Him in the material sense? Is Christ precious to you, above all else? Is the name of the heavenly Father a treasure for you in and of itself? Does the Holy Spirit move you toward righteous works? Are you perpetually thankful for all that He allows in your life?
These are heavy questions, but questions worth considering, and reflecting upon. Though some may consider them harsh, or inappropriate given the politically correct climate in which we live, they are questions with which we must confront our own individual selves, for it is better to know that which ails us, and find a remedy, then to never know, and slowly wither into nothingness. Love compels me to ask the hard questions, love should compel you to answer them.
The man who doubts his love for Christ, most often doubts Christ's love for him.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul illustrated the downfall of a people that knew God that saw His invisible attributes, and even understood His eternal power and Godhead. The first signs of this dark and terrible fall were the lack of glorifying Him as God, and an absence of thankfulness.
Romans 1:20-21, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."
Now that we've skimmed the surface as to the need for love, and what love is, the question begs to be asked, what is first love? For what Christ had against the church of Ephesus, was not that they had left love, but that they had left their first love.
So what is first love? Is it the love of truth? Is it the love for the work of God? Is it the love for the things of God? Is it the love of spreading the Gospel? Is it the love of defending the truth? As the first three verses of this chapter clearly point out, it is none of these things. For the church of Ephesus was not lacking in either works, nor labor, nor patience, nor testing the spirits, neither was it lacking in perseverance, patience, or sacrifice on behalf of God.
First love is something that surpasses the love of truth, something greater than love for the work of the Gospel here on earth, something more than perseverance and patience on the spiritual battlefield that is the life of the believer. First love is love for Jesus, the person of Christ, the Son of God.
First Christ, love for His Person, then love for His virtues, nature, attributes and gifts. Most remember the story of Mary and Martha, the two sisters that welcomed Christ into their home, and the contrast that was made between the two. Martha loved Christ, for it was she that welcomed Him into her home, but between her and Christ, there stood as a stumbling block her labors, and her distractions. Well intentioned as they might have been for she was indeed distracted with much serving, it was Mary that became the shining example that has withstood the test of time itself. For Mary, had no distractions when it came to her and the Love of her heart, she could not bear to leave His presence for an instant, and simply sat at Jesus' feet and heard His words. When Martha approached Christ, voicing her complaint that her sister was not helping, but merely listening to His words, sitting at His feet the answer she was given is good reason for pause, and examination of our own hearts.
Luke 10:41-42, "And Jesus answered and said to her, 'Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
No matter what it is that we have been called to do, if we love the work, more than we love the Christ, we have indeed left our first love. If we love prophecy, dreams, visions, theology, doctrine, or dogma, more than we love the Christ, we have left our first love. If we love all the perks, and blessings, the prosperity and the honor that some believe come with serving Christ, more than we love the Christ, we have left our first love.
In the context of this knowledge, look about you, open your spiritual eyes, and allow God to speak to your heart, that you may truly see how many have left their first love.
How tragic indeed, that some love the ministry, the work, the calling, more than Christ, and thereby abandon their first love, the love for Christ and Christ alone, the Person of Christ.
How heartrending that today even many preachers and evangelists, pastors and worship leaders, would hear the omnipotent voice of a sovereign God utter the words on their behalf, 'nevertheless, this I have against you, that you have left your first love.'
First love is the only means by which our works are quantified and appropriated as noble, good, of sovereign inspiration, and Godly.
First love, is the love that never grows old, but continually renews itself, it is the love whose fire burns brighter still with every passing moment, a love that can never die out, that can never be stifled, that will not be deterred. First love, is forever young, and endless in its giving of itself, always willing to sacrifice, always ready to be of service.
God once spoke of Israel's first love toward Him, in such a way as to make even the most brilliant of poets seem as nothing more than a blubbering fool.
Jeremiah 2:2, "Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the Lord: I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after me in the wilderness, In a land that was not sown."
It is this love of our betrothal to which God was referring through the prophet Jeremiah, that we must make certain never dies out, this love of the person rather than the ideal of the person.
Even humanly speaking, there is nothing sweeter than first love, when one is first betrothed, the sweetness, the newness, the freshness, the limitlessness of it all. This first love has no ulterior motives, no hidden agendas, no other interests, other than love itself, and the object of its love. This is the love, which Christ desires to find in our hearts; this is the love He longs for in us.
Is He our heart's one and only desire? There can be nothing separating us from Him, there can be no hindrances, stumbling blocks, or distractions, even if it is work we do on His behalf. I remember an old church hymn whose chorus intoned just give me Jesus, and I have need of nothing more. May this be the plea of our heart, the desire and focus of our walk, may we truly yearn to know Him, and only Him, for mere appearances cannot replace true love. Yes, men may look upon us and think us good, virtuous, steadfast, and even righteous, but only Christ knows where our true love is, that for which the heart yearns and is desperate. May He truly find within us, a first love, a pure love a love for Him, where Christ is first in all things, a heart in which He can reside, and call His temple.
Revelation 2:5, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place — unless you repent."
It is easy to forget. Everyone has done it, to some extent or another. Some things that are forgotten, such as checking the air in one's tires before going down the block to pick up milk and eggs, carry little or no consequence. Other things however, such as forgetting your wife's birthday for the third year in a row, carry great and terrible consequences, not that that's ever happened to me, but I digress.
Forgetting all that God has done for us, forgetting the gift of salvation, is something that carries greater consequences than we may imagine, for to forget the good, is like an open door that allows evil and all its destructive forces to come in unhindered; to forget truth, is allowing deception to take root in your heart; to forget your own transgressions on the path of life is certain death. Yes, for some things that men willingly forget, there are great and terrible consequences indeed.
Here the church of Ephesus is admonished to remember, and namely to remember from where it had fallen, repent, and do the first works. The first step toward restoration, healing and renewal, is to remember from where one has fallen. To remember the tenderness with which God used to speak, the joy God used to bring, the peace God used to bestow, in short, to remember the goodness and grace of God, and consider his condition today, a condition of lukewarm ness, uncertainty, dread, and fear of tomorrow. If one remembers from where he has fallen, and the desire of his heart is to be restored, then as it was for the church of Ephesus, hope remains.
Man readily forgets the path of goodness, kindness, righteousness, and love, the path that God has so mercifully traced for us to follow, and begins to follow his own chosen path, the path that the sinful heart begins to trace of its own volition, which leads to all manner of turmoil, and in the end death. It is the choice with which all man is confronted, the decision all men must make, whether to follow the path that God has set out for them, or the imaginings of his own heart. The choices we make will echo with the consequences thereof, throughout eternity.
The command to remember from where we have fallen, and be appropriated singularly, for one believer in particular, or as was the case for the church of Ephesus, an entire body, or community of believers.
A man returns to the place where something valuable is lost, in order that he may find it once more. I have often watched, and must confess, with some measure of amusement, as people look for contact lenses that have somehow fallen from their eye, everyone cautiously concentrated on the last place the person felt that it had been where it belonged, and suddenly was no longer there. Surely any man, even one of limited intellect would seek out a priceless treasure he had lost, and would return to the place last remembered seeing it.
Although the church of Ephesus had desirable virtues, its admonishment was to return from where it had fallen, that it might be restored. If one does not fix a hole in a wall of his home, how well he cares for the rest of the rooms in his home becomes irrelevant.
Upon remembering from where it had fallen, the next instruction given to the church of Ephesus was to repent, and do the first works.
Throughout my years in ministry, I have seen many versions of repentance, from the collective prayer of repentance, to the raising of the hand in church, however every true act of repentance must have at its core the return to that place where the offense first took place, the regret and heartfelt sorrow for the offense itself, and a commitment never to return to that place again. If these elements are not found in one's repentance, then it was not true repentance, not true contrition of heart.
As I said in the beginning of this study, there is no passage absent of relevance, and even this passage, that so many choose not to search out has spiritual relevance for us today. The root of every evil that leads to the ruination of a faithful soul, or the ruination of an entire church body, is the leaving, or abandonment of their first love. This is why some refer to repentance for having left first love, as the repentance of the believer. As previously mentioned, repentance is to recognize our faults, our offenses and trespasses, and before a sovereign God feel regret for that which we committed, never returning to that condition again. As one ancient philosopher so aptly put it, 'repentance is the ladder that elevates us to the place from which we have fallen.' Some centuries later another philosopher completed the statement by saying, 'there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, save for the sin of which one does not repent.'
It is a precious thing to know oneself, to study oneself, and to be honest with oneself, and in light of these words a question begs to be asked. Do I love Christ, the person of Christ, His nature, less today than when I began my walk in Him? Do I love Him less today than the first day He revealed Himself to me? If in the sincerity of our hearts the answer is yes, than we too are fallen as the church of Ephesus was, and are admonished to repent, and return to our first love, those first works done out of sheer love, with no interest, or shadow of hidden motive. Repentance is the life of the redeemed, the lamp that allows their light to shine brighter still in the darkness that surrounds them.
First love, and its works are so consequential, that once it is left, once it is abandoned, the very lamp stand, the light, is in danger of being removed from its place.
It is the warning that Christ gave to the church of Ephesus, the sobering admonition, that if indeed it did not repent, and do the first works, He would come and remove its lamp stand from its place. This is a heavy and fearful thing, one that many churches are unwilling to acknowledge, namely the possibility of Christ Himself removing the lamp stand from the midst of a congregation.
What this means in essence, seeing as the lamp stand signifies light, and light can only be received by true repentance, and that sin of any kind puts out the light in us, is that the removal of the lamp stand is nothing less than the removal of His light from the midst of the congregation, leaving it in utter darkness. For in the absence of light, darkness prevails.
When the lamp stand is removed, spiritual darkness reigns supreme, and neither Godly revelation, nor even the Word itself can be perceived or rightly divided any longer. This is the true danger in leaving one's first love. Absent of repentance, the inevitable end, is spiritual darkness.
It is even possible that the outward appearance, the external seem good and righteous, but if the heart connection has been lost with the living Christ, if He is no longer our all in all, then all that we endeavor to do has no worth in his eyes.
Why such hard reprimand one may ask? Why go as far as removing the lamp stand? The simple explanation would be because of God's nature. I know some are wondering what exactly that means, so I will try to put into words what I know to be true in my heart.
I have written often that the nature of God is holiness and righteousness. He cannot bear to see evil among His children, nor can He stand to be in the presence of evil. Seeing as the lamp stands stood before the Lord, and He walked among them, as stated in previous verses, the imminent removal of said lamp stand from before His presence is justified if repentance is not found, for darkness and light cannot coexist. One who has fallen, and has not from the depths of his heart sought repentance, is no longer suitable to do the work of God.
Every believer, and every community of believers, is given a lamp stand upon their rebirth. When one is born again, he is a new creature in Christ, and as such is given the light that he may live and be a beacon in the terrible darkness that is the world of sin. The lamp stand, the light, is kept safe only in an atmosphere of repentance. When this atmosphere ceases to be, the lamp stand is removed, for if left in its place the winds of sin would surely put out its flame. Repentance is the Christian soul's protection against the enemy's attempt to put out his flame. Now a heavy question must be asked, one that I am sure will be controversial to some. If our light goes out, if our flame stops burning, and we are thrust into darkness, what difference is there between us, who once possessed the light but no longer do, and those that simply lived in perpetual darkness?
The only difference, between those who were once enlightened, but by their own choosing and lack of repentance returned to the darkness, and those who have always been in the darkness, is that those who once retained light live with the memory of how sweet and blessed it was to see, to know, to feel the presence, the warmth and the comfort of the light, and with the regret that their willful disobedience, and lack of repentance has separated them from that light. To have once seen, then plucked out one's own spiritual eyes, what could be more tragic?
2 Peter 3:21, "For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them."
The church of Ephesus, the 'Ephesus condition' is that it has all the works of the Holy Spirit in order, save one, namely love. They left their first love.
How can one continue to have the light of God, if they do not retain the love of God? Love is what keeps the light burning in our hearts, for love in and of itself is a fire that burns away sin and vice, a fire that illuminates our thoughts as well as the mysteries of God.
1 Peter 4:8, "And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins."
I can retain the gold and pearls of truth, but if I do not retain the light of love along with them, I will never be able to make use of these great treasures. Only in the light can one tell the difference between the precious and the worthless, only in the light can a man labor.
The church of Ephesus was not a hateful church by any means. It still retained love for the brethren, for the work of God, and for the things of God, but they had left their first love, that love of Christ, that love without partiality. Human sentiment, and love with partiality, does not first love make, for first love is deeper, purer, and above all sovereign.
Christ's last option, if repentance is not seen, is to remove the lamp stand from its place. He takes no pleasure in doing this, but being constrained by righteousness He must. We serve a God of infinite patience who does not set about to do a work, unless He has first warned, and admonished, as He did the church of Ephesus that there is an imminent need of repentance, and if repentance is not found, there will be dire consequences.
What can be more tragic than being left to our own devices, and be given over to a debased mind? That after all is what occurs when the lamp stand is removed.
Romans 1:28, "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting."
May we this day search our hearts, may we bare our souls to Him who knows all things, and if there is a need for repentance, may we with all diligence do our utmost to be that faithful servant, obedient in all things, willing to do what is asked without excuse or delay.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.