My First Love
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5 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. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Ephesus was a city of about two hundred thousand people. It was a place of resorts, and the Roman emperors came there. It was a city constructed of white marble, a beautiful place, and Paul commented on that. If we think that the impact of the gospel was not great in that area, we are entirely mistaken. Such was the impact of the gospel on Ephesus that four great pillars or towers were placed at the entrance to the harbor, and upon them was the emblem of the cross. One monument was dedicated to Matthew, one to Mark, one to Luke, and one to John. Only one pillar stands there today, but it still bears the symbol of the cross. And there are other evidences of the tremendous impact of the gospel where pagan temples were later turned into churches.
Ephesus was both the religious and commercial center of that entire area which influenced both East and West — Asia and Europe. When Paul landed at the harbor in Ephesus and moved toward the center of the city, he saw all sorts of lovely buildings, temples, and gift shops. There was a large market on his right as he went up the boulevard, and ahead of him on the side of a mountain was a theater that seated twenty thousand people. Off to his left was the great amphitheater that seated over one hundred thousand people. At times there were as many as one to two million people gathered in Ephesus. It was here that Paul had his greatest ministry, and it was here that John later became pastor.
Ephesus was first formed around the temple of Diana. Around the temple of Diana were performed the grossest forms of immorality. She was worshiped by probably more people than was any other idol. Yet in the midst of this pagan and excessively worldly city, the believers there were thriving.
By Revelation 2, we’re now to the second generation of believers there. Perhaps it was these adults who were sort of trying to ride on the coat tails of their parents’ faith. Maybe as the faith was passed to the next generation, some of the sizzle, some of the passion, some of the fire, some of the focus on a love relationship with Jesus had gotten put aside for what appeared right. The angelic messenger in Revelation two which isn’t likely a spirit angel, but a pastor or teacher over this group, is to tell them that even though things appear to be dynamic or proper or right, that they had fallen from a more passionate connection with Jesus. He is to tell them to remember where they had been and take a look at how they had drifted into something which was routine, something that lacked fire. He says, “Remember your first love.”
REMEMBER YOUR FIRST LOVE Firsts are awesome aren’t they? There is so much anticipated, so much excitement, so much thrill. You know how it is when you first get married. The newness of it makes it so exciting. It’s good to take time to remember once in a while.
That reminds me of a story. An 80-year-old couple was having problems remembering those good times, though they were having problems remembering anything. So they went to see their doctor to get checked out. They explained and, after checking the couple out, the doctor said they were physically OK, and they should write things down, make notes. They thanked their doctor and left. Later, while watching TV, the man got up from his chair and the wife asked, “Where are you going?” To which the man replied, to the kitchen. Will you get me a bowl of ice cream,” she said. “Sure,” said her husband. “Don’t you think you should write it down so you can remember it? “No, I can remember that.” “Well, I would also like some strawberries on top. You had better write that down because I know you will forget that.” “I can remember that you want a bowl of ice cream with strawberries.” “Well, I also would like whipped cream on top. I know you will forget that, so write that down.” With irritation in his voice, he said, “I don’t need to write that down; I can remember that!” He then fumes into the kitchen. After about 20 minutes he returns and hands her a plate of bacon and eggs. She stares at the plate for a moment and says angrily, “I TOLD you to write it down. You forgot my toast!”
Taking time to remember and reflect is so important if we’re going to get it right with Jesus, if we’re going to get it right as a church. Remember, the messenger wasn’t talking to nonbelievers. These were Christian people, doing great things for God, yet God was reprimanding for forgetting their first love.
I remember my first date with Thom. I wore this sweater. I wanted to look just right. I bought the sweater and a new skirt to go with it. I took a friend shopping with me so I wouldn’t pick out the wrong thing. I started early in the day, getting ready. I thought about Him. I planned certain things I would say if there was a lull in the conversation. I was self conscious about wanting everything to be perfect. I ordered something specific to avoid having spinach stuck in my teeth. I delighted in his company. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
While he talked, I pictured myself in his arms. I pictured what forever might look like as we talked and laughed (You have to know I was in love with him before date one). By the way, that date was fourteen years ago today! Neither one of us wanted it to end. We spent a few hours at the restaurant and on the way home, Thom said, “I’m driving as slow as possible because I don’t want the date to end. Do you think there is somewhere else we could go?” We went to Perkins, a Shoney’s kind of restaurant that was all night. I could picture myself safe with him. I believed he would protect me and be devoted to me for the rest of our lives, and in that moment I knew I wanted to be His forever. I wanted to be with him every possible moment.
First loves desire to be together. You talk about someone who was smitten. If I wasn’t with Thom, I was with him in my mind. We’d carve out lunchtimes. We’d stay up late. We would work being together into our schedules whenever possible. It wasn’t that we didn’t work. It wasn’t that we had no other friends. It wasn’t that we didn’t do the tasks of life, but being together was a priority. It didn’t matter if we were doing something he wanted to do or something I wanted to do. It wasn’t the activity that was important, but it was being together that was the focus. Thom was the desire of my heart and I was the desire of His.
Ps 73:25 “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.” David is saying, “There is no one I love exclusively in my heart as I love my Lord. I desire him above all others!”
David also wrote in Ps 63:1 “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.”
And again in Ps. 42:1-2 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” In other words, when can I see you again? Do you hear the passion?
Jesus is telling the Ephesian Christians, “You no longer seek me as the deer does.
I’m no longer the chief object of your desire. You may be willing to do things for me, but I’m not at the center of your heart anymore!”
First loves are completely committed, heart, soul, mind and strength. If I needed Thom, he would jump tall buildings in a single bound to get to me. I was drawn to the way he met my needs and paid attention to me. When he looked me in the eyes, I melted. The fact that someone like him would go to such great lengths to be with someone like me literally curled my toes.
That’s the same kind of love we have for Jesus when we finally get that He is completely into us. He wants to be with us so badly that He literally died to make it possible. When we understand that someone like HIM went to such great lengths to be with someone like you and me, how could we resist giving ourselves to HIM, body, mind and spirit? It’s overwhelming. You give Him all of your sin, and He gives you all of His righteousness. I’ve never seen a more unequal relationship. It is intensely beautiful. So you gave Him yourself and He became your God. Remember what that moment was like.
First loves anticipate a special future. I spent days dreaming of what our future together would look like; how many children we would have, what our ministry would look like. I’ve planned vacations in my mind, books we would write together, special moments we would share. And after thirteen years of marriage, I am still dreaming about the future and every day those dreams are more exciting, more real.
Oh church, remember the special future you ran to when you became a Christian? Jeremiah 29:11-13 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” How often do you remember that heaven will be better than your wildest dreams? Do you wake up each day with excitement to see what God has in store? You’re just a breath away from a miracle. You’re just a decision away from a divine appointment. Anticipate that every future moment is a gift that God has planned special just for you!
First loves view challenges and obstacles with determination.
With your first love do you remember how it didn’t matter what life would bring your way? You knew that with your first love by your side, you’d make it through. You’d live on love. You’d figure it out. You’d face it together. Mountains of trouble were just something to be conquered together. Rivers of grief and worry were just something to swim through together. Stumbling blocks were just stepping stones to strengthen your relationship and make you stronger.
Do you remember the faith you had when you first believed? “With God, all things are possible,” (Matthew 19:26) was your mantra? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” (Philippians 4:13) was literally a verse you’d recite as you got ready for your day. “Greater is He who is in me than He that is in the world,” (I John 4:4) gave you the confidence that anything you’d face that day, you and God could handle together. You were unstoppable. You walked around with an appropriate spiritual swagger and you didn’t let Satan and his little imps mess with you. You just took authority over them, rebuking them in Jesus’ name and went on with your business. You weren’t easily offended if someone didn’t speak to you or you thought someone might have said something unkind about you. You just continued to love them. You didn’t worry about your finances or the job interview because your life was in His hands and whatever He had in store was going to be good, was going to be enough and was going to bring you joy and contentment. What a first love!
First loves are grateful. Any little thing Thom did for me was so sweet, so appreciated, and I would be happy to thank him. He’d scrape my windshield, write I love you in the dirt on my car window. It was awesome. I didn’t take him for granted. I noticed when he did something special and I made sure he knew how grateful I was.
Paul is an amazing example of that first love. Paul recognized that he owed everything to God. Again and again he said, “I am the chief of sinners. I don’t even deserve to be called an apostle.” He was always very much aware of who he was, what he had done and what God had done for him. He was overwhelmed that God could love someone like him. No wonder he had to share this amazing first love through the preaching of the Gospel.
Do you remember when you first were saved, every good thing that came your way, you remembered to thank God for. When it was time to pray for your food, it wasn’t about praying the memorized, shortest prayer possible in order to shove that first bite down your gullet, it was an act of gratitude and true appreciation to take time to thank God for being your Provider. You found a parking spot next to the store when it was raining, and you’d say out loud, “Thank you, Jesus.” You found the garment you needed on sale, and you’d even say to the cashier, “Isn’t God awesome? He helped me find this dress at just the right time, when I could afford it.” You’d take off on a road trip and prayer for God’s protection and when you returned home to your driveway, you remembered to thank Him for answering the prayer you said as you left. Like the “little things” that you begin to easily take for granted in a marriage, a friendship or any relationship-You didn’t take them for granted in the beginning of your first love with Jesus.
You want to know why some people weep when they come into this sanctuary and sing worship songs? It’s because they remember what they were and they know deep in their heart that it is only by the grace of God that they didn’t destroy themselves, it is only by the grace of God that they are in their right mind, it is only by the grace of God that they are alive today and they can’t get over that first love feeling of gratefulness and thanks.
The problem with the church at Ephesus was that they had forgotten their first love. The romance between Jesus and them had cooled. They weren’t into Him, heart, soul, mind and strength like they once were. They had quit picturing the special future that God had dreamed with them. Challenges and obstacles were no longer something to be conquered and to deepen their faith and dependence on God, but were hardships and struggles just to endure and get through. Their gratefulness and amazement over God’s care had waned. They took God for granted, forgetting to thank and appreciate Him.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. It’s all about relationship. Our doing for God means nothing if our relationship with God isn’t what it should be. The church at Ephesus had nothing on the Teays Valley Church of God. They did good deeds. So do we. They had several programs in place to help care for people and share the Gospel. So do we. They worked hard to let people know about God’s love and to do things with excellence. So do we. They persevered during some tough times. Throughout this church’s history, so have we. They didn’t tolerate wicked men who had false teachings. So we have held to the truth of God’s Word.
But listen, programs, great worship, special classes, community outreach, it’s all for nothing if we don’t fan the flame of our personal love relationship with Jesus Christ. Just because we’re growing and things look good on the outside, don’t think for one minute that we aren’t in danger of growing cold. That’s what the messenger was telling the church at Ephesus. That’s what God is telling us today. Beware. Be on guard. Protect your first love. Remember what it was like.
One of the greatest threats to our “first love” is complacency. How can you tell if you are losing your first love? What are your answers to these questions?
Do my mind and mouth switch to autopilot during the worship service?
Is my last answered prayer just a dim light in my memory?
Do I feel guilty when I hear someone talk about what they got from their private devotional time with God?
Do I read my Bible because I want to or only because I’m supposed to?
Do I go to Church on Sunday because that’s what I’ve always done, or do I genuinely desire to be there?
Am I continually looking for ways to become less involved, rather than more committed?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may be in danger of losing your first love. The good news is there is something you can do about it. After the Ephesian churches were reminded to remember their first love, they were told to:
Did you know that Christians need to repent? We need to break the shell of self-sufficiency, the crust of conceit, the shield of sophistication, the veneer of vanity, get rid of the false face of religion. Repent! Repentance means to turn back to Him, and it is the message for believers.
If the Ephesian church refused to repent, however, Christ said that he would come and remove the church’s lampstand from its place, meaning the church would cease to be a church. Just as the seven-branched candlestick in the Temple gave light for the priests to see, the churches were to give light to their surrounding communities. But Jesus warned them that their lights could go out. In fact, Jesus himself would extinguish any light that did not fulfill its purpose. The church had to repent of its sins.
In calling the Ephesian believers to repentance Christ was asking them to change their attitude as well as their affections. They were to continue their service not simply because it was right but because they loved Christ.
When John the Baptist started to preach, the first word out of his mouth was the word “Repent.” When Jesus sent the 70 out 2 by 2, the first word out of their mouths was to be “Repent.” We must live in a state of repentance.
Go back and read the prophets. Every time they stood before the rebellious nation of Israel, they spoke with the authority of God and they commanded the people to repent.
Why is it that some of the most difficult words in the English language when strung together are “I’m so sorry. Would you please forgive me? I promise to discontinue offending and hurting you.”
I urge every one of you to be here this Wednesday at 6:45 for our experiential Ash Wednesday service. This will be an opportunity to evaluate your relationship with Christ in a special way. It will be an on purpose, honest look at ourselves, something we don’t do often enough.
Jesus looked at this church and said it needed to repent because going through the motions will never be enough to please God. If we are not burning with the passion of Christ, something is wrong, and it needs fixed.
I like Matthew West’s song that says:
This might hurt, it’s not safe
But I know that I’ve gotta make a change
I don’t care if I break,
At least I’ll be feeling something
‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of life
I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
instead of going through the motions?”
No regrets, not this time
I’m gonna let my heart defeat my mind
Let Your love make me whole
I think I’m finally feeling something
‘Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of this life
‘Cause I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
without Your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
instead of going through the motions?”
Take me all the way (take me all the way)
Remember, repent, and REPEAT the things you did at first. In marriage counseling, often the prescription will be to go back and do the things you once did that you enjoyed doing together. Start dating again. Buy the flowers again. Give the compliments again. We’re thinking about having my diamond reset and we’ve spent a few hours looking at rings recently. Just that process and dreaming about what my new setting might look like has been so romantic and so much fun. When you resume those first love activities, often the first love returns.
The same is true for us spiritually. When you lose something, you go back to where you remember having it. Maybe when you were first saved, you had a great commitment to being in Sunday School and Bible studies and you were one of those “every time the door was open” you were there kind of Christians. Maybe you would start your day in prayer and Bible study. Maybe you went out and purchased lots of Christian music. Maybe you brought your Bible to church and would underline Scriptures and write in the margins. Maybe you would memorize Scripture. Maybe you met with a prayer partner for accountability. Maybe you got involved serving in an area of ministry. Whatever it was, go back and start doing it again.
Have you ever noticed that we take action toward those things we desire? When we truly want something, we take action toward getting what we want. Sometimes it means extra work, sometimes it means doing without some things so we can get what we want. When we begin to remember the joy of our first love with Christ, there is a longing in our hearts that begins to move us toward home, back in His arms.
In Luke 15 the prodigal son, who left home, spent all that he had, and eventually ended up feeding pigs. He went from living in his father’s house of plenty and safety and contentment to broke, depressed, and in despair. Luke 15:17 says, “And when he came to himself,” he REMEMBERED something. He remembered how good he had it back home. He remembered the bread at his father’s table. He remembered the goodness of his father. He remembered that even the servants were well treated there, and after he remembered, he headed home and repented, asking his father to forgive him.
Oh that God would help us to remember that joy when we first received Christ. He was the most important person in the world, more important than jobs, careers, or money. Out of that first love’s joy was a hunger that wanted more and more of Jesus. Does anyone here this morning remember that you were a nobody and God romanced His way into your heart and you became a somebody? Does anyone remember that you were lost, but God found you? Does anyone remember that you were on your way to hell, but God saved you and gave you a place with Him?
1 Peter 4:17 “…Judgment must begin at the house of God…” How is it with your love relationship with Jesus? Has your passion waned, even a bit? What has distracted you? Are you no longer grateful? Have you been taking Jesus for granted? Have you forgotten about the special future He has planned for you? Have you been neglecting time with Him?
Maybe this morning you just want to come and spend some time in the altar remembering that first love you had with Jesus. Maybe you realize that you’ve just been going through the motions and you want to live for Him on purpose. Maybe you need to come and repent of allowing other things to take priority in your life. Maybe you just need to come and spend some time talking and thanking God for what He means to you on this Valentine’s Day. And if you’ve never given your heart to Jesus, I can think of no better day to commit your life to Him. Won’t you come as we sing?