“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
The church in Ephesus was a busy church. It was a church that had a great zeal for God’s work. It was a church known for its deeds, its discernment, and its dedication to the work of God. It was a church with a full calendar of activities and that toiled to the point of exhaustion. The church had persevered when things got tough, that carefully tested its teachers and leaders lest false brethren be given opportunity to infiltrate their ranks, and that worked without growing weary.
The church in Ephesus seemed to be doing all the right things. It seemed to be a model church. That is why after reading about their commendable deeds in Revelation 2:2-3, verse 4 comes as something of a surprise. “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
According to Revelation 2:4, our motivation for service matters to God. He is concerned with the question of why we are doing what we do.
Those who have ever been involved in service know that it is easy to get lost in labor. It is easy to lose sight of the purpose for our labor. And it is easy to get so involved in labor that we forget to spend time with the God for whom we labor.
It is not hard to bump time with God off of our agendas, after all, sometimes we are just too busy doing the work to stop and pray or to spend time alone with God. The net result of this is that we labor without love. Our labor becomes mechanical. Our labor becomes an end in itself. Our labor becomes what satisfies us. We have great programs but no passion for God. We have a litany of activities but no adoration for God. We have labor without love.
It is easy to let our activities, programs, and labors distract us from knowing and enjoying God. Luke 10:38-42 records the visit of Jesus to the home of Martha and Mary. Luke records that “Martha was distracted with all her preparations” or “with much service.” Martha certainly felt that she was doing the right thing and could not understand her sister’s inactivity.
Jesus took the opportunity to remind Martha that there are some things more important than activity and labor. The church today, it seems, would rather have a membership of Marthas than Marys. After all, Marthas plan, initiate, participate, and congregate.
Our western culture is inclined to doing. We measure people by what they do rather than by what they are becoming. We measure people by their outward activity rather than by their inward disciplines. We are attracted to achievers whose contributions to the work of ministry are numerous and visible. We are in the business of blessing busyness. And in and through it all, we lose sight of God.
God’s concern for the church in Ephesus was that they had left their first love. Warren Wiersbe defines “first love” as “the devotion to Christ that so often characterizes the new believer: fervent, personal, uninhibited, excited, and openly displayed.” Wiersbe also refers to it as “honeymoon love” and points out that when a husband and wife lose the excitement of their honeymoon days, they begin to take each other for granted and their life becomes routine.
When believers leave their first love, their service becomes mechanical, routine, and often unfulfilling. We do things because they are supposed to be done. We labor without joy. Our hands do but our heart does not feel. We serve without smiling, without joy, and very matter-of-factly.
Notice however, that God wrote that the church in Ephesus had “left” their first love. In other words, they could go back and recover what they had left behind. Notice also that God outlined in verse 5 how they could recover what they had left behind.
First, God said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” You must go back and remember what it was like at the beginning and long for that kind of love and relationship with God once again.
Second, God said, “and repent.” In other words, repent of the attitudes and actions that caused you to leave your first love.
Third, God said, “and do the deeds you did at first.” Very simply stated, you must go back to where you left your first love and cultivate those disciplines and attitudes that helped you to enjoy God as you labored and to labor because you loved God.
May we examine ourselves to be certain that we labor because we love God. May we not lose sight of God in our labor.