“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:4
No biblical book has been the subject of more scrutiny, questioning, or speculation than Revelation. Given its apocalyptic and eschatological nature, many try to unpack it with the intent of discovering some hidden “clue” about the end of time. Even the most learned of scholars will admit that the book’s imagery and language make it difficult to grasp, and this is only compounded by the prevalence of popular misconceptions surrounding Revelation. Of all the books in the Christian canon, Revelation stands at the top of the list of being the most enigmatic. Though this is true, it is God-breathed, inspired Scripture, and it is beneficial for teaching and training in righteousness.
Before John the Apostle received any of the visions dealing with the apocalypse or the end of time, he received messages from Jesus to deliver to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. These churches, located in various cities throughout the region, received specific letters from Christ regarding their faithfulness and obedience to His teachings. Christ speaks directly to each church, calling them out where they have fallen short, and encouraging them to correct whatever wrongs they have made. The specificity with which Christ spoke to each church made it evident that He had been watching them and knew what they were doing.
The first church to be mentioned by Christ is the Ephesian Church. Ephesus was a major city; it was the capital of the province of Asia. The church there had been founded by the Apostle Paul during his missionary journeys, and he stayed there for roughly three years teaching and preaching to the Ephesians. Along with this claim to fame, other leaders in the early church period would come from out of Ephesus. It was a church that certainly had the right credentials and would develop a respected pedigree of church leaders.
Christ’s message to the Ephesians begins with several commendations: He reminds the Ephesians that He knows “your works, your toils, and your patient endurance,” (Revelation 2:2). He compliments their faithfulness to His word and the fact that they are so diligent in opposing evil and rooting out false teachers. The Church in Ephesus was committed to true and sound doctrine, and they would fight those who espoused false teachings. Christ goes on to commend the Ephesians for their patience and perseverance in carrying out their work. It seems as though the Ephesians are doing everything right, but Christ’s issue with this church is not with their doctrine nor is it with their attitude; it is a matter of their heart. Though the Ephesians were not doing anything that they were not supposed to be doing, everything they did was for the wrong reasons.
The Ephesians had left the love—for Christ and for one another—that they had at the beginning. The exuberance and enthusiasm with which they first sought after Christ had given way to a sense of normalcy and routine. Their zeal for their work replaced their love for the One who saved them. They committed themselves to stamp out false teachings while forgetting how to live out the right doctrines properly. The Ephesians were doing good work, but they were merely going through the motions. They were not driven by love for Christ but instead were inspired by a sense of duty and obligation and recognition. The Church in Ephesus was committed to working, but they had lost sight—or sadly, forgotten—why they were doing that work in the first place. The church in Ephesus was doing everything that it was supposed to do, except loving Christ. Even with their “credentials,” the Ephesians had gone off track, and Christ was calling them to come back; to return to their first love, to love Him as much as they once had.
We are no different or better than the Ephesians. Far too often, the “fire” and love we have after first encountering Christ dwindles over time. When once we found ourselves serving Him out of love, we find ourselves doing so for other—selfish and artificial—motivations. Like the Ephesians, we go about the work left for us to do, but we allow our love for the work to supersede our love for Christ. We are driven to complete our work because of the accolades we will receive from other men and women, instead of doing so out of love for Christ and bringing Him glory. We make an idol of doing things the “right” way—our way—and fail to realize that we are serving the One who is the Way. Like the Ephesians, the work we are doing may be good, but if we are doing it for the wrong motivations, what good is it? Are you doing your work because your love for Christ compels you to do so, or because you love the recognition you get for doing it?
Examine your heart and your motives for serving Christ. Identify where you might be abandoning your first love, and return to it. Love Christ as you did when He first changed your life.
Artwork: “Two People. The Lonely Ones,” Edvard Munch, 1899