Title: FIRST LOVE
Text: Revelation 2:1-7
Scripture Reading: Revelation 2:1-7 & Lamentations 5:1, 16-22
Subject: Christ’s Letter to the Church at Ephesus
Date: Sunday Morning - November 12, 1995
Tape # R-94
Ephesus was a wealthy, prosperous, magnificent city, famous for its extravagant temple for the pagan goddess Diana. For many years it was the center of commerce in Asia. It was connected to all the major cities of Asia Minor by well maintained roads. Its harbor accommodated the largest ships of the day. The temple of Diana in Ephesus was a museum, a treasure house, and a place of refuge for criminals. That pagan temple provided employment for artisans and silversmiths, who made and sold little shrines, religious trinkets, and idols to the worshippers and tourists who passed through the temple.
The Apostle Paul came to this city of more than 225,000 people on his third missionary journey. He preached the gospel in Ephesus for over three years (Acts 18-20). Multitudes were converted by the grace of God. A gospel church was established, which quickly became a lighthouse for truth, from which the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ went preached. The church at Ephesus was devoted to Christ. It was known throughout the Christian world for its devotion to and zeal for Christ. But, now, more than forty years had passed. Another generation had arisen. The church at Ephesus still walked in the truth. The gospel of Christ was still proclaimed from her pulpit. But something desperately evil had happened. The Lord Jesus Christ discovered a sad, sad fault in his church at Ephesus. The pastor, the angel of the church, did not discern the fault. The people were unaware of it. But Christ saw it. Therefore he sent this letter to the church, to be read publicly in the assembly of the saints. How their hearts must have sunk when they read these words from the Savior - “ I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”
This letter was not written to the church at Ephesus alone, but to all the churches of Christ in this world (v.7). It is written to you; and it is written to me. Let us each ask God to give us ears to hear and a heart to obey the word of Christ to his church. Let us each ask ourselves this question - Is there in me a declension from my first love to Christ? Painful as the question is to the heart of one who truly does love the Savior, it must be asked and honestly answered.
We must not fail to recognize that there was much in this Ephesian church which the Savior commended (vv.2,3,6). Our Savior always deals with his people in love, kindness, and tenderness. When there is a stern reproof to be given, he cushions it with a kind word of commendation and encouragement. Let no one imagine that the church at Ephesus was an apostate or even indifferent congregation. Nothing could be further from the truth! Few are the churches to whom such a laudable commendation could be given. The Lord Jesus Christ, who is the faithful and true Witness, said to these Ephesian believers, “I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted...And this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” With those words, the Lord Jesus Christ commended his church at Ephesus for eight noble things. Blessed is that man, blessed is that local church in which such commendable characteristics of grace are found!
1. “I know thy works.” These were not idle believers. Their faith was practical. By works of obedience to God, works of charity to men, and by works of devotion to Christ, the saints of God at Ephesus demonstrated their faith. They did not merely profess faith. They practiced faith. Their works were known, approved of, and accepted by Christ.
2. The Savior also said, “I know thy labor.” These believers not only walked in good works before God, they put themselves whole-heartedly into the work God gave them to do for his glory. They zealously and anxiously went about serving the cause of Christ in their generation with all their might. These men and women were not lazy, loitering, listless people. They seized every opportunity to serve their Savior. And they did it willingly.
3. Next, the Lord said, “I know thy patience.” There are many who labor, and labor well, but labor only for a while. They do not persevere in the work. Before long, they faint and fall by the wayside. Not these people! This congregation had labored steadily, in the face of great opposition, in the midst of great trials, and in a dark, pagan world of religious superstition and moral perversion. They had done so for more than forty years! This church threw all its energy and all its means into the cause of Christ, not in spurts and spasms, but in continual, unabated zeal for the glory of God!
4. Then, the Son of God commended the church at Ephesus for its intense adherence to gospel truth. “I know how thou canst not bear them which are evil.” They had an intense loathing for that which is evil, both doctrinally and morally. They loved the truth. And their love for the truth made them “hate every false way” (Ps. 119:104).
5. The Lord went on to say, “I know thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” Few there are to whom these honorable words could be spoken! But the saints at Ephesus knew the difference between things that differ. They knew truth from error. When they heard Judaizers and free-willers (legalists and Arminians) preaching another gospel, another Jesus, and another spirit, their blood boiled. They boldly denounced all such pretentious preachers as liars, deceivers, and wicked men.
6. This church also bore reproach and persecution for Christ’s sake, and did so with patience. The Lord Jesus said, “ I know how thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my sake hast labored.” In the teeth of opposition, they stood firm. In the midst of Christ’s enemies, they boldly confessed him. In the face of hardship, trial, persecution, and imprisonment, they confidently served their Master. They were loyal to the core.
7. The Savior commended them for their rare faithfulness and perseverance. “I know that thou hast not fainted.” They never failed. They never faltered. They never quit. The saints of God at Ephesus were rare, rare people.
8. One other matter of commendation was their hatred of the Nicolaitanes. “I know that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” The Nicolaitanes were a sect of base antinomians which had arisen in those early days of Christianity. They contended that since we are saved by grace and are free from the law, nothing is evil. They made every excuse for lewdness and licentiousness. John Gill tells us that the Nicolaitanes “committed fornication, adultery, and all uncleanness, and had their wives in common.” All this evil was practiced and promoted in the name of Christian liberty! All true believers, like these Ephesians and like Christ himself, despise those who promote ungodliness in the name of grace.
These eight things the Lord commended. Commendable characteristics they are! Yet, the church at Ephesus had one serious flaw, one dreadfully evil weakness which, if it were not corrected, would end in utter ruin. The Lord Jesus said to this otherwise exemplary church, “Nevertheless,” though you are orthodox, zealous, patient, persevering, uncompromising, and upright, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”
I have come here today to preach to my own heart. The message I have to deliver to you is first and foremost a message from my Savior to me. If any of you have offended as I have in this matter, this message is for you, too. I pray that God the Holy Spirit will now apply his Word to your heart and mine. May he graciously, by the renewing that only he can perform, cause us to return to our first love.
“Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus in His Word?
What peaceful hours I then enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
But now I find an aching void
The world can never fill!”
Proposition: Love that is not fed with fellowship and communion soon decays into something worse than indifference. It decays into presumption and ingratitude.
1. What is this first love?
2. How do we leave it?
3. What can be done to regain it?
I. What is this first love?
I am not sure that I can really define the term “first love;” but I am sure that it can be clearly identified. Do not imagine that this is merely an emotional or sentimental thing that has no real significance. This thing called first love is very important to our God and Savior (Jer. 2:1-2).
When our Savior says, “Thou hast left thy first love,” it is obvious that he is not talking about believers who once loved him, but have now ceased to love him. True love can never be quenched. Anyone who ceases to love Christ never truly loved Christ at all. Love for Christ is a gift of God’s grace that can never be taken away, lost, or destroyed (Jer. 32:38-40; Hos. 2:19-20). Yet, God’s people do sometimes leave their first love. Through indolence, neglect of duty, and the care of this world, the heat and fervor of our love for Christ abates, and the exercise of love toward him diminishes.
Let me stir up your memories a little, and see if there are not yet some burning coals which will break out into a flame with a little stirring. Go back with me to the place where we first met the Savior. Go back to Mt. Calvary, where the Lord Jesus Christ first appeared to you, bleeding upon the cross as your Substitute. I remember how he spoke to my heart and said, “I am thy salvation. I have redeemed you. All your sins are forgiven, washed away in this fountain of blood.” Immediately, I fell in love with him. Had he asked me then to give everything I had to him, I would gladly have done it. In fact, he did ask it, and I laid all at his feet most gladly. I think I could have used the language of Samuel Rutherford in those days with honesty and could have said to Christ, “Oh, my Lord, if there were a broad hell betwixt me and thee, if I could not get at thee except by wading through it, I would not think twice, but I would plunge through it all, if I might embrace thee and call thee mine.” It is that love, that first reckless, careless, uninhibited, unrestrained love, that I am afraid we have in measure left.
A. That first love caused us to earnestly and zealously confess Christ to men.
B. That first love inspired our hearts to almost unceasing prayer, praise, and communion.
C. That first love for Christ made His Word our most delightful treasure.
D. That first love made the house of God, the ministry of the Word, and the fellowship of God’s saints the most important and most joyful things in the world to us.
- The songs of Zion.
- The breaking of bread.
- The preaching of the gospel.
E. That first love caused us to do the will of God with unquestioning faith and unhesitating obedience.
- We would give anything for the cause of Christ.
- We would do anything for the glory of Christ.
- We would go anywhere at the bidding of Christ.
Those peaceful hours we once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still!
Do you remember how it was then, when your heart was still burning with those coals from off the altar? But now we are more refined. Now we are more settled. Now we are more learned, more mature, more cold, more dead, more useless!
II. What happened? Where did we go wrong? How did we leave our first love?
Rarely, if ever, does this decline in love begin with some climatic event. It gradually steals over our hearts and suffocates us by degrees. But the cause of the decline is not hard to find. If we will be honest with ourselves, we will find , I am sure, that any decay from our first love comes from three sources.
A. Our love decays whenever we willfully neglect Christ (Song 5:2- 6).
Now let the preacher be honest and preach honestly to himself. One of my most besetting sins is the neglect of Christ, the neglect of sweet communion with my Savior. I am not a lazy man. Give me something to do for Christ, for the good of his church, for the furtherance of the gospel, and I will immediately put myself into the work. But I am not, I shamefully confess, nearly as quick to open my heart to communion with Christ. Yet, love to Christ very much depends upon nearness to Christ.
We are like the planets and the sun. Some of the planets are as hot as fire. Others are as cold as ice. Some move very slowly around the sun. Others move in rapid orbits. Why? Because some are near the sun and others are far, far away. So it is with us. If we live near Christ, we cannot help loving him and being controlled by love for him. The heart that lives nearest Christ in sweet communion is most aflame with love for Christ.
B. Another thing that causes our love to decay is the love of the world (Matt. 13:22).
There are few, few men who increase in riches and increase in grace at the same time. Of all the temptations to which God’s people are exposed in this world, this is the most dangerous, because it is the most subtle. Too much of the world is an evil encumbrance to any man.
Illustration: A man on a journey takes one staff in his hand to help him as he walks. If he is greedy, and tries to carry a hundred staffs, the staff which could have helped him, will very likely keep him from completing his journey.
C. The third thing which causes our love for Christ to decline is our carnal tendency toward presumption, self-confidence, and self-righteousness - “Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1).
When a man begins to think much of himself, he will think little of Christ. Presumption destroys perseverance. Self-confidence destroys faith. And self-righteousness destroys love.
III What can be done to regain our first love?
I sound this word of warning to us all. If we belong to Christ, through we decline in love to him, his love toward us will never decline; and because he loves us he will chasten us and cause us to return to him (Song 5:6-7). If we do not return to Christ, if our hearts do not again glow with love for him, if our decline is a permanent decline, it is because our love is a fake, a pretense, a sham profession, and no more. My soul, do not be presumptuous here!
Help me to love Thee more and more,
If I love at all, I pray:
If I have not loved before
Help me to begin today.
If you would return to your Savior and regain that first love, the Lord Jesus here gives you three words of instruction.
A. Remember! “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen.”
1. Remember what a blessed condition your soul was in when you enjoyed that first love (Song 2:4-6).
2. Remember where and what you were when the Savior found you and saved you by his grace (Isa. 51:1).
Illustration: The remembrance room.
3. Remember what you owe Christ (Ezek. 16:6-14).
Repent as you did at the first. Repent of the evil you have done to Christ in leaving your first love.
1. Repent of your shameful neglect of your Savior.
2. Repent of your sinful love of the world (Col. 3:1-3).
3. Repent of your proud presumption, self-confidence, and self- righteousness.
C. Return! “Repent and do the first works.”
That is just another way of saying, “Return to the Lord.” Return to the place where first you met Christ. Return to the foot of the cross. Bathe your sin-sick soul again in the precious blood of Christ.
1. As at the first, trust Christ.
2. As at the first, let your soul be ravished with his love, and look on him until your heart breaks with love for him again. “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love” (Song 5:8).
Now, in order to stir up our hearts to return to him and regain that first love, our Savior gives us a warning and a promise.
1. The warning is this - If you do not remember, repent, and return to me, “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place” (v. 5).
2. The promise is this - “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (V. 7).
Those who lose their first love fall, but those who regain their first love are made to stand. And that love is fed and nourished by Christ himself, both now upon this earth and forever in heaven’s glory.
a. The Tree of Life is Christ.
b. The Paradise of God is heaven.
c. The feeding of love upon Christ is heaven begun already in the soul!
If I could have anything on earth I might desire, I would choose to have nothing but love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and to do nothing but that which is for his sake and that which is done out of love for him. Oh, may God the Holy Spirit now fill my heart and yours with love for Christ. I know this - There will be no returning of these hearts to our first love, except Christ himself cause us by his Spirit to return. So this is my prayer - “Turn us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned: renew our days as of old.” Amen.