“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Rev. 2:1–5).
The church at Ephesus may have been the greatest church in the first century. It was a diligent, discerning, decisive, doctrinal, and determined church. It was strategically located and most likely was instrumental in starting other churches in Asia. Certainly Christ was pleased with such accomplishments. Isn’t intentional ministry energy what He desires most of all?
No! Christ said that the Ephesians were deficient in first love. Christ told them that they had left (not lost) their first love. This is another way of saying they were guilty of misdirected love. They were busy in ministry, but their love for God had found substitutes. Form, function, routine, and ritual had replaced their passion for God. What they had forgotten is that our first love affects all other loves. It is our first love that creates true passion for ministry; church programs, ministry opportunities, or energetic worship service “enhancements” do not do this.
Misdirected love is the basis for worldliness. First John 2:15 says, “If anyone loves the world, the love of [or, for] the Father is not in him.” Since God’s children can never be without God’s love, it is best to use the word “for,” indicating that when we direct our love toward the world, we are not directing it to the Father. The world system can seduce our love for God.
- Misdirected love treats Christ as an enemy (James 4:4).
- Misdirected love is spiritual adultery (James 4:4).
- Misdirected love characterized Demas as a traitor (2 Tim. 4:10).
- Misdirected love chooses temporal satisfaction (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life) over the sufficiency of Christ to meet our needs (1 John 2:15–17).
Worldliness is any substitute for God’s love that draws me away from God and His will. It is always initiated by an inward attitude, but it always results in an outward conformity that has yielded to external pressure (Rom 12:2). It is characterized by loving the sinful ways, habits, thought patterns, stylistic practices, spirit, and cultural tastes of the world system as a substitute for our first priority of loving God. The frightening thing is that diminished love can go undetected and may not, as in the church at Ephesus, result in the lack of activity. It is the danger of zeal without love.
This being the case, the greatest danger facing the believer is not future persecution but daily love seduction from the world system. The writer of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Robert Robinson, wrote, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.” One author has stated, “Time is the great sanctifier; the sin of today becomes acceptable behavior tomorrow.” When the Christian community becomes like the world in attitudes and actions, it will cease to bear an effective testimony (Rev. 2:5). Diminished love results in diminished light!
We need to remember, repent, return, and repeat our first love for God. The believers at Ephesus must have done this, because 15 years later Ignatius wrote to this church and commended them for refusing to tolerate false doctrine. Three hundred years later, Ephesus was the site for a church council. It is never too late to do what is right. Let us remember, repent, return, and repeat our first love. Christ wants our hearts as well as our hands and heads.
Bernie Augsburger is state representative of the Illinois-Missouri Association of Regular Baptist Churches.