In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Lord Jesus Christ commended them for their hard work and perseverance. They resisted the influence of wicked men and shielded themselves from false teachings by testing them, following the admonition of the apostle John: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). Indeed, they did everything they needed to do to stay the course. They were steadfast and did not grow weary, in spite of all the hardships they had gone through—and they did all of these things for the sake of Jesus’ name.
While this church appeared to be perfect to those looking from the outside, it was not so in the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding the good works they had done, Jesus strongly rebuked them, saying, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:4-5). By this rebuke, perhaps this church did the work for which they were commended out of duty and no longer out of their love for the Lord. And if ever they still had that love for the Lord, it was possible that their love for their fellow believers was no longer as intense. It must be noted that all believers are commanded by the Lord not only to love him, but to also love others, when he summarized the Ten Commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39).
The church in Ephesus was known for their love for one another. The apostle Paul had exhorted them many times to love each other. He said, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). They responded to this command very well and were commended for it by the apostle Paul. But as time passed and as they were engaged in the Lord’s service, it seemed that their love for one another had waned. They were no longer as kind, caring, patient and compassionate with one another as before—they had forsaken their first love. Necessarily, this reflected their waning love for the Lord also. The apostle John said “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). For them to fully appreciate the rebuke, the church needed only to look back and see how much they had drifted from their original love and commitment to one another.
As in all cases, the remedy for sin is repentance. However, repentance is not just saying, “I am sorry.” Rather, it requires turning away from sin and doing what is right. Therefore, Jesus commanded them to repent and warned: “Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:5-6). The worst thing that could happen to a Christian who refuses to repent is to be un-churched. That would be the beginning of a continuous slide to perdition. It is through the church that we receive spiritual nourishment needed for our spiritual survival in this wicked and perverse generation. To be un-churched will eventually lead to being detached from the Lord Jesus Christ himself. Therefore, we need to bring back our love for one another, for we need each other for our spiritual survival. We need to go back to doing the things we used to do—being in loving fellowship with one another and doing the work for the Lord together out of our love for him.
Needless to say, their deteriorating relationship with one another was a reflection of their deteriorating relationship with the Lord. If indeed they loved the Lord, they needed to obey his command. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me…” (John 14:21) And he said further, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13).
Friends, let us learn our lesson from this church in Ephesus. We, too, find ourselves in the same situation. Let us bring back our first love for the Lord as we start loving one another again with the same intensity as when we first came to know the Lord. Let us not be moved by the threat of being un-churched, but let us become motivated by the promise of the Lord: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). Praise the Lord!