This week, I just reread Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. Paul and his team had spent three years there making disciples and establishing this church in a very pagan culture. For Ephesus was the center of worship for the fertility goddess Artemis, and a stronghold for sorcery.
What caught my attention this time reading Ephesians was the vast number of times Paul referred to love. Paul spoke of love 17 times in this letter in the following ways:
- God’s love for us
- Jesus’ love for us
- God’s love for His Son, Jesus Christ
- Our love for God and Jesus
- Our love for each other
- Christ’s love for the church
- We are to walk in the way of love
- A husband’s love for his wife
Paul records two prayers for the Ephesian believers (1:15-23 and 3:14-21) and both times prays for their love. Paul ends his letter with these words, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24) Clearly, love for the Lord and for others plays a central role in our lives as followers of Jesus and Paul wanted to get this message across to the Ephesians.
But just 30 years later the Lord Jesus dictated this chilling rebuke to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:4, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Another translation says it like this, “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love Me or each other as you did at first!” (NLT)
In Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, He commended them for their deeds, their hard work, their perseverance, their stance against wickedness, their ability to discern false teachers, and their hatred for the practices of the Nicolaitans (a false cult). They were doing all those things right, BUT they had forsaken theirlove for Jesus and love for each other.
This reminds me of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 about the preeminence of love:
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
The other deeds that Jesus drew attention to in His letter to the church at Ephesus are not unimportant, but without love they’re empty. Jesus urges them: “Consider how far 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.” (Revelation 2:5)
History reveals that the church at Ephesus continued for some time, but it eventually died and its “lampstand”—its witness, influence and presence was removed, and it no longer exists today. How sad!
I find Jesus’ rebuke so chilling because in just 30 short years, after none other than the Apostle Paul himself helped plant this church, it had already forsaken its first love, despite having everything else in order.
This is sobering and compels us to think about our own condition both personally and as a church. To what extent have we forsaken our love for Him and others?
In a culture in which we’re used to being able to measure everything, love seems to defy quantifying. Love is a matter of the heart and defines our motivations. That’s why it’s possible to do the right things in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons. We can become enamored with our service instead of with Christ.
Love may defy quantifying, but it doesn’t defy detection. We can gauge our heart’s yearnings and our motivations. In marriage (and other close relationships), we can easily discern the difference between passionate love for our spouse and feelings grown cold.
One of the telltale indicators of genuine, heartfelt love for Christ and others is that genuine love is all about Him. Genuine love is all about the other person. A passion that focuses on ourselves and what we can gain from a relationship isn’t love at all.
We must constantly renew and refresh our love for Christ and for others by focusing on Him, delighting in Him, and valuing Him above all else.
The Psalmist wrote, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You.” (Psalm 73:25)
Isaiah said, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God.” (Isaiah 61:10)
Paul declared, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)
And finally, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:24)