As I continue through Revelation with a group of friends, I’d like to share a few more thoughts about what we’re learning, as well as some of my own meditations. This week, we looked at the letters that Jesus dictated to the seven churches of Asia minor. They occupy chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation. One phrase in particular has always struck me, as well as many others who have studied this book. First, allow me to do a bit of set-up before I introduce my main topic.
Jesus has just finished congratulating the Ephesian church (the same one Paul had written to a several decades earlier) because of their diligence in the work of ministry. He says, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. An 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” (Rev. 2:2-3).
That’s quite a resume! They have been hard at work to spread the Gospel, building up their congregation, discerning and dismissing false leaders, and, in all this, they’re as fresh as when they began.
But it’s not enough. Jesus continues in verse 4, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (emphasis mine). Pow! Zing!
It’s not enough to work hard, not give up, seek truth, demand accountability in others, share the Gospel, etc. Leaving your first love is a big deal to God—big enough to receive a “nevertheless.” When someone says “nevertheless,” they’re saying, “I’ve added up everything you’ve mentioned and I’ve put it on a scale. On the other side I’ve placed what I believe you’ve left out, and my side is heavier. My side is more important than all your stuff put together.”
If we’re really honest, some of us are thinking, Nevertheless? Really, Jesus? That seems kind of rough. I mean, look at all they’re doing! It’s hard for me to get off my couch sometimes, and You’re complaining about them not loving You enough? Didn’t James say faith without works is dead? Didn’t John say that we have to love our brothers to show our love for you? Doesn’t this count? If it doesn’t, I’m hopeless!
No where does Jesus say that anything they’re doing is bad, or that it doesn’t measure up to a high standard of accomplishment. He is affirming them, even as He’s about to correct them. Seemingly, the first love that the Ephesians put in a lesser place of priority permeates everything else in their lives. They can work diligently doing great things for God, yet fall short because of this prioritization.
Jesus actually taught this during His time on the earth. In Matthew 22, an expert in the law came to Him and asked “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” (v. 36) It seems like the sort of question that has a consideration of priority behind it. This lawyer seems to be asking, “Just to make sure I’m hitting the big one, which is it? If I was going to just do one of the laws, which one should it be? If You could sum it up in a nutshell, what would it be?” Jesus responds by saying, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (vv. 37-40).
Jesus certainly connected the need to love other people with loving God. But He put it in its proper place. If you put more effort into loving people than you do loving God, it’s a tragic mistake of misorder.
When He says “You’ve love your first love”, Jesus is effectively saying, “You don’t love Me as much as you used to.” I hope that you’re able to sit with that for just a moment to feel the impact of His words. I hope you’re able to catch just a little of Jesus’ heart, because it’s a heart of desire, not condemnation. It’s a passionate cry from a lovesick Bridegroom for us to enter deeper into the fullness of His love.
So let us work diligently to enter into this fullness. We must remember our first love.