Monday, 5 January 2009

Dear Saints - Remember Your First Love

Remember Your First Love (Revelation 2:1-7)

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev.1:7)

This is how these letters to the churches in Revelation conclude, indicating that the message of these letters has a wider application, both in space and time. There is certainly a good deal of encouragement as well as serious censure in the letter to the Ephesian Church that can be applied to us today.

As with the opening words of the revelation (Rev.1:12,13,20), we are reminded that the church is held firmly in the right hand of the Saviour who is present in the midst of his churches. It is comforting to the faithful to realise that he knows our deeds and is not unaware of our hard work and perseverance (Rev.2:2). Christians can labour to the point of weariness and never get a word of thanks or recognition but they know that their Lord knows and that is enough. William Barclay sees in the word ‘perseverance’ the sense of a “courageous gallantry which accepts suffering and hardship and loss and turns them into grace and glory”. God knows what is happening among his people.

I have often reflected that of all the gifts that are vaunted in today’s church the poor relation has been the gift of discernment. It is praised here as the Ephesian Church is commended for:

a) “Not tolerating wicked men.” Ephesus was a centre for occult and idolatrous sects. It seems that Ephesian letters were used as charms to cure sickness and bring luck (Acts 19:8-10) and it would have been so easy to intermingle religion with magic. The Ephesians stood apart.

b) “Testing and exposing false apostles.” Whereas the wicked culture of Ephesus was a threat from the outside, the claims of false apostles were a real threat to the early church from the inside. These weren’t an obvious danger openly threatening to destroy the church but a subtle threat promising to build the church further through what was ultimately false doctrine. The Ephesians stood for truth.

c) “Hating evil practices.” The Psalmist writes of, “He who has ceased to be wise and to do good. He plans wickedness upon his bed; he sets himself on a path that is not good; he does not despise evil” (Ps.36:4,5 NASB) Such were not the Ephesians who “hated the evil practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” The Ephesians stood firm.

Yet there was a serious condemnation and one of which we can all prove deserving: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Rev.1:4) Leon Morris, in his commentary in the Tyndale series observed:

“They had yielded to the temptation, ever present to Christians, to put all their emphasis on sound teaching. In the process they lost love, without which all else is nothing”

What a remarkable indictment! And yet how close to home. As Paul so eloquently put it, “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor.13) If we have lost our first love the Lord gives is three steps to recovering it:

1) “Remember the height from which you have fallen” ‘Hold in memory’ is the best understanding here. Go back in your mind to the days when you first knew the love of Jesus and hold it as a constant memory in your mind. Dwell on it and re-establish that first close walk with God.

2) “Repent!” Recognise how far you have fallen and truly repent, turn your back decisively on the unloving ways that have crept into your life.

3) “Do the things you did at first” As you reflect on those first heady days of faith remember what you did, how you conducted your life and go back to those first principles and practices. A good place to start is to look at the church in Acts 2:42-47 where we see believers devoting themselves to the apostle’s teaching, fellowshipping and breaking bread. What needs to be re-established in your life to bring back, or strengthen that first love?

It is vital to hate those things that God hates, to reject evil and false teaching, but all that we say and do in the service of truth becomes empty and worthless unless it issues from love. Of course, love for good necessarily includes hatred for evil but a church without love ceases to be a church. Otherwise where will the repentant go when they see and flee from the error of their ways? If we are wise to remember our first love, then they will come into the arms of a loving church.

Previous Posts in this Series:

A Message of Hope

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