Over the next seven weeks I am going to write about the seven churches in the book of Revelations. As the first chapter of the book of Revelation explains, the apostle John was given a vision of end-time events leading up to the return of Jesus Christ.
Now we turn to the second chapter of Revelation and notice the seven churches in order. Beginning with verse 1, we read: “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write.”
Ephesus very appropriately symbolizes the condition of the church in its first state of purity in the days of the apostles of Christ. They received His doctrine and held it, and enjoyed the benefits and bless¬ings of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This prophecy must apply to the first century, or during the lifetime of the apostles. But the divine messenger declares that he has some¬thing against even that first period of the Christian church, because he says in verse 4 “you have left your first love.”
The first love which characterized the Ephesians was the zeal and ardor with which they embraced their salvation as they realized they loved Christ because He first loved them (1 John 4:19)
Jesus commends the Ephesians for their many good works and hard work. They tested teachers to see whether their professions were real; they endured hardship and persevered without growing weary. But they had lost their warmth and zeal for Christ, and when that happened, they began to “go through the motions” of good works, motivated not by the love of and for Christ, but by the works themselves. What was once a love relationship cooled into mere religion. Their passion for Him became little more than cold orthodoxy.
Surrounded by paganism and false teachers, the Ephesian church would have had ample opportunity to correct false doctrine and confront heretical teachers. If they did so for any reason other than love for Christ and a passion for His truth, however, they would have lost their way. Instead of pursuing Christ with the devotion they once showed, much like a bride who follows her groom “through the desert” (Jeremiah 2:2), the Ephesians were in danger of falling away from Christ completely. This is why He warns those who have “ears to hear” to prove the reality of their salvation by returning to Him and rekindling the love that had begun to cool.
We face the same challenges in the twenty-first century. There are few churches that aren’t subject to, and in danger of, a certain amount of false teaching. But Jesus calls us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and to not let the frustration of false teaching overpower the love of Christ in us (Ephesians 4:31-32). Our first love is the love Christ gives us for God and each other. We should be zealous for the truth, but that zeal should be tempered so that we are always “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).