By Bas Rijksen
The Ephesian Church had a problem. Jesus tells them in plain words: “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)
Read this verse through a legalistic lens and you’ll end up feeling condemned. Plus, you’ll be trying hard to love God more because your interpretation of this verse will sound like:
“The Ephesian Church had a problem, it didn’t love God enough. Thus, it has fallen and needs to repent of this lack of love for God and if it doesn’t repent it will lose it’s lampstand.”
Does that sound like a familiar interpretation to you? If so, it’s time to see this verse through a grace lens!
The real problem with the Ephesians was that, even though they worked hard, they were not working out of a revelation of God’s love for them. They had forgotten that they were beloved sons of God (Eph. 1:6). They were a busy church but their works were based on their love for God, rather than His love for them.
Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know the love of God (Eph. 3:18). Notice, he doesn’t pray that they would love God more, but that they would know more about God’s love for them. That’s a BIG difference. God doesn’t love us because we love Him, but rather we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).
So if we only love in response to Him, what then is our first love? It’s not our love for Him, that comes second. Our first love is understanding His love for us.
Forsaking our first love, therefore, is to forget we are loved. We can still be doing a lot, but if is not rooted and grounded in His love for us it smells like a steaming heap of dung; also called self-effort (Phil. 3:8). Why? Because if you put the do before the who you get poo-poo When that’s the case, like the Ephesians, we can be known for our works, but not His.
Paul once told the Ephesians that they were seated with Christ in heavenly places but by the time of John’s revelation it seems they had forgotten this. They’re no longer resting, they are striving. In a sense they have fallen from that seat of heavenly rest to a place of earthly works. Instead of serving God out of a revelation of His love for them, they had fallen from a great height of grace into dead religious works. In short, the hard working Ephesians had become religious.
Jesus calls them to repent so that they’ll do the things they did at first. To repent means to change the way you think. They needed to change their thinking so they’ll get back into the place of serving and loving God not based on their achieving things for God, but based on their receiving of His love for them. What they needed to do is what they did at first which is to trust in the love of God for them not in their love for Him.
To sum up
Our first love means to understand God’s love for us. Forsaking our first love is to forget that we are loved. If that happens we fall from that seat of heavenly rest to a place of earthly works and cease to be shining lights of God’s grace. God’s goodness will lead us to repentance (that is to change the way we think) so that we don’t forsake our first love by not forgetting how much God loves us. So what’s the lesson for us today? Live Loved.