Yesterday we began looking at the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, noting that Jesus' address to it was rebuking it for losing its "first love" and to communicate His desire for a loving church. We witnessed how Ephesus had a long history through the New Testament of exceptional Bible teachers, preachers and apostles and that she had endured conflict with heresy. Despite her many strengths, Ephesus had grown cold in the one area that is of chief importance: her first love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think of "first love" as a fist against apathy and unbelief
As we noted yesterday, the idea of "first love" is in reference to the "foremost" love that the believer ought to have for God. (Matthew 22:37-38) Like an opposable thumb, love for God enables the Christian to grab hold of the other types of things that the Bible commands us to love: love for neighbor (Matthew 22:39); love for the scriptures (John 14:21); loving to pray (1 Timothy 2:1-3) and loving Christ's second coming (2 Timothy 4:8). Now when you take all five of those and ball them up into the fist of faith - you will deal a knockout punch to apathy and unbelief every time. However, take away the opposable thumb of "loving God" and what do you got? No way to grip. Ephesus had over the decades defended the faith, defeated heresy and demonstrated commitment, however she was going through the motions. Ephesus was showing the wear of battle, and her worship services bore the heavy atmosphere of suffocating routine. It was the "love for Jesus" that she needed to get back if she was ever to continue as an effective church for Jesus' sake.
What Jesus told Ephesus to do in regaining her "first love"
We read these words in Revelation 2:5 "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." Jesus tells her to "remember" and "repent". Why do this? Robert M. Mounce in his commentary notes: "The church is called upon to remember the earlier days in which love abounded in the congregation. Memory can be a powerful force in effecting a return to a more satisfying relationship."1 Repentance comes from a Greek word meaning: to change one's mind or heart about one's sin.
Therefore in order to begin the road back to recovery, the church will have to go back to the place where it last remembers having its first love. What Jesus then does is mention a group of false teachers called "the Nicolatians". Who were they? According to Jesus' third letter to the church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:12-17, the Nicolatians held to the same doctrine and practices like Balaam did back in Numbers 22-25. Balaam had been a Pagan prophet who attempted to curse Israel but instead blessed the nation. To attain payment from the Moabite King Balak, Balaam ended up sending forth Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men and lead Israel into gross immorality and idolatry. The Nicolatians may very well had combined some form of Judaism with pagan rituals and immorality.2
Whenever you consider what the Ephesian church was up against, she was fighting for her life. She won the battle but almost ended up losing the war. Now why does Jesus refer to her rejection of the Nicolatians in Revelation 2:6 when he had just rebuked her for forsaking her first love in Revelation 2:4? Whenever you consider her not "enduring evil men" in Revelation 2:2 to what we see of her hatred of the Nicolatians in 2:6, it appears Jesus is giving her a clear way to turn around her condition.
Getting back your first love - warnings and prescriptions
Whatever had taken place in her battling of the Nicolatian sect, it had weakened her to the point of losing her first love. Has that ever happened to you? Perhaps in your "fight of faith" or experiences of intense disappointment, you have closed off the portion of your heart that you swore to yourself "never again." Churches are full of Christians who are committed, hard working people, and yet there is a corner in their heart that got hurt, and they decided to never make themselves vulnerable.
Jesus knows what is best for his people. Often we may to go back to the proverbial scene of the crime - whether it be literal or mental. Repentance in this case has to do with telling God that you regret closing your heart off to His love the day you got hurt. The moment you talk to the Lord and ask Him to forgive you for resisting His repeated attempts to heal your pain, He will. (Ephesians 4:25-32, 1 John 1:9)
Jesus warns of the increased danger we face as a church and Christians in these last days in Matthew 24:11-12 "Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold." May you and I be not among that number.
What is the solution to gaining back your first love? How can we be more loving Christians?
As we already mentioned, Jesus lays out the prescription as the Great Physician. First, remember back from whence you last recall having a passionate love for God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Secondly, repent for letting go of that first love. A third prescription Jesus gives is what we could term: "receive the word from the Spirit." Revelation 2:7 states: "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 all seven letters in Revelation 2-3, Jesus urges the membership to heed the Spirit's voice speaking forth from His words - the words of scripture. Whenever we begin to exercise the love we had let go of, love for other things will automatically return as well: love for people, the scriptures, prayer and Christ's return. Jesus wants a loving church. May we endeavor to be a people of God who love Him, people, His word, prayer and His soon return. May we love Him first and foremost!
1. Robert M. Mounce. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Eerdmans. 1977. Page 88
2. Interestingly enough, the name "Balaam" in the Hebrew and "Nicolatian" in the Greek translate nearly in the same way: "Balaam" means "mastery over the people" and "Nicolatian" refers to "victory or conqueror over the people."