Return to Your First Love

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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. (Revelation 2:4-5)


remember from where you have fallen,


repeat the deeds you did at first.

In NT Greek, repentance (metanoia) means changing one's mind about someone or something.  What was Christ admonishing the Ephesian church to change their minds about?  What was so serious about it that failure to do it meant the divine removal of this church?  

One cannot accurately comprehend the Lord’s reproof without being familiar with the history of this church, found in Acts 19.  What were the deeds they did at first?  How could their first love be characterized?  What could have changed about their thinking?

When Paul came to Ephesus, he found a small group of disciples - numbering about a dozen men.  These were Jewish believers in Jesus who had only heard and responded to the preaching of John the baptist.  Paul instructed them more fully in the teachings of Jesus, and then baptized them in the name of Jesus.  When he laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit manifested himself with the gifts of speaking in other languages and prophesying.  

Paul preached in the synagogue for about three months, but because of increasing opposition there, changed his teaching venue to the school of Tyrannus.  He taught there daily for two years, during which time the message about Jesus spread to both Jews and Greeks in all of Asia.  Surely this widespread promulgation of the gospel message was enhanced by the fact that God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hand of Paul.  

Some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to cash in on Paul’s popularity by attempting to cast out evil spirits, "By Jesus whom Paul preaches."  The men who had the evil spirits then turned on seven of these Jewish exorcists, overpowered them, and sent them running for their lives, naked and wounded.  This incident became known among all of the residents in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, so that they were all both fearful as well as respectful of the name of Jesus.

Now many of those who believed in Jesus were coming forward to publicly confess and renounce their involvement in spiritism and magic.  A large group of them voluntarily participated in the burning of their books of magic, in a very public display before the citizens of the city.  Some of them — perhaps those in the watching crowd — counted up the value of the books that were destroyed to be 50,000 pieces of silver.  

After these things, Luke the historian notes that, “The word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.”  But this was not without opposition.  There was a major riot that occurred in the city because the silversmiths, who generated significant profit from the manufacture of idols.  These merchants claimed that Paul’s preaching was responsible for a slump in sales.  Paul wanted to address the mob, but the disciples and some friendly city officials convinced him that it would be too dangerous.  The town clerk finally quieted the people down and urged the offended parties to take their complaints to court if they felt they had a case.  After this, Paul met one more time with the church, and then continued on his missionary journey.

So this is what we know about the beginnings of the church that Jesus was addressing in the second chapter of Revelation.  It could be summarized this way: the church in Ephesus had a dramatic, exciting, and public genesis; there was great enthusiasm and declaration of commitment, in the midst of significant opposition.

The book-burning demonstration stands out as a grand expression of the church’s first love.  First love does not care what anyone else may think; it is only concerned with the one who is being loved.  First love is not concerned about the cost of showing love; it gladly makes extravagant expressions to the one who is loved.  Just how extravagant was this expression?  One piece of silver was about a day’s wage.  Fifty thousand of them amounts to 200 year’s wages, or $3,000,000 at minimum wage today.

This demonstration of love is strikingly similar to that of the woman who poured expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus.  She didn’t care what others thought, only what Jesus thought.  She gladly gave what was very costly in order to show her love for Jesus.

There appears to be at least two characteristics of first love that were true of the Ephesian believers: 1) they were unafraid to make a public expression of their love for Jesus; and 2) they gladly gave what was very valuable to show their love for Jesus.  To fall from this lofty height, would be to become very private and fearful of others’ opinion of one’s commitment to Christ, and to be “more sensible” and less extravagant in expressing one’s love for Jesus.

So then, what does Jesus want these believers to change their minds about?  First, that they would choose to care less about what their peers think about their commitment to Jesus and more about what he thinks.  And second, that they would decide to be less miserly and more extravagant in their expressions of love for Jesus.  

Jesus gives a three-step process to return to one’s first love for him:

1) Remember from where you have fallen.  Take some time to mentally review what it was like at the beginning.  Think of how your life was changed, how your thoughts, your values, your relationships, and your dreams were all radically altered.  Think of specific changes you made, without deliberation, but just because it seemed the natural and reasonable thing to do.  As you unhurriedly and mentally rehearse and review these lifestyle changes you made, you will begin to feel what you felt then.  You are taking an important first step toward returning to your first love for Jesus.

2) Repent.  As we have noted, this word is best translated change your mind.  Well then, change your mind about what?  Change your mind about what you love.  Do you love Jesus most of all?  Do you love Jesus more than your pleasures, more than your possessions, more than your popularity?  Decide to love God more than anything or anyone else.

3) Repeat the deeds you did at first.  How could the Ephesian believers do the deeds they did at first?  They had already burned their books; did Jesus want them to burn something else?  Maybe.  We need to simply do the kinds of things that demonstrate love for the Lord and for our neighbors.  These are the two things that Jesus said were the most important to him.

Now we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of making up a list of “do’s and don’ts”, and calling it love.  It is easy for a relationship to slide into a ritual; first love is clearly a relationship, not a ritual.  The deeds don’t need to be spontaneous; they can be planned.  In fact, when we plan to show our love, we can bring great joy not only to the heart of God, but also to our own hearts, as we anticipate and work toward our demonstrations and expressions of love for our Savior.

I was once counseling a woman who had been unfaithful to, and was estranged from, her husband.  When I told her that God wanted her to remain married to her husband, she responded: “But I just don’t feel love for him any more.”  I exhorted her to just start doing loving things, and trust God to cause the feelings to return.  When we creatively devise ways to show love, we experience joy — and feel love — as we carry out loving actions.

So why was loss of their first love such a serious offense?  Most important to God is our wholehearted love for him.  We know from Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea, that tepid love for him is unacceptable, even nauseating to God.  Why is lukewarmness so revolting to God?  People that have a lukewarm love for God, don’t really know him and therefore misrepresent him to the world around them.  They cause other people to think that he is a bully, that he is capricious, that he is arbitrary, that he is ruthless, that he wants to take all of the fun out of their lives, or that he demands that they be religious.

If the community gets an incorrect view of God from the ones that claim to be followers of his, this is certainly counterproductive to what God is trying to accomplish.  It therefore makes perfect sense that God would remove these people as an “official” representative of his and as a presence in the community.  Is it possible that the proliferation of church splits and church failures are attributable in part to Christ removing them for this very reason?  If the subject churches are presenting an inaccurate representation of God because their love for him has grown cold, it seems that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about to the Ephesian church.

So what can you do personally to make sure that your church is demonstrating first love to the Lord?  Take responsibility for yourself; don’t wait for someone else.  Don’t say it’s the leaders’ responsibility; set an example for others.  The servant will be the leader when it comes to showing love for the Savior.  Set the pace; be the leader!  It's your move now...

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