We’ve all had at least one item we used to cherish that now lies forgotten at the bottom of a closet:
A pair of running shoes from back when you loved to run.
A box full of half-finished craft projects.
A guitar that hasn’t been tuned in years.
Losing our enthusiasm for a hobby isn’t bad, but it’s a whole different matter when we are talking about relationships. Marriages & friendships may start out strong & be bonded with love, but if we’re not careful, other things can get in the way. We can get so busy with life that our loved ones get crowded out. We may wake up one day & discover our hearts have strayed. We’ve lost our love.
But what if we’re not talking about a spouse or a friend, but Christ? In Revelation 2 we get a glimpse of a church that had been busy doing many things for God yet ultimately lost its first love for Jesus.
< Revelation 2:1-4 >
In the Book of Revelation, God granted the disciple John a vision about people & events yet to come. Jesus instructed the apostle to write letters to 7 churches in Asia Minor, starting with the church at Ephesus. While it appeared Jesus was pleased with everything this church was doing, he had one simple, yet stinging, critique.
But first, let’s look at the positive things Jesus pointed out:
They worked hard for the Lord, had patient endurance, & did not tolerate evil.
They rooted out false prophets.
They endured much for Jesus’ name without growing weary.
We may look at this list & think, “This must be a pretty awesome church.” However, the church at Ephesus is a perfect example of the statement, “Good things are the enemy of the best thing.” The horrifying statement Jesus made to the church at Ephesus was that, even though they were currently doing many good things, they had abandoned the best thing – their full-hearted love for God.
According to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, & with all your mind. Our love for Jesus is the most important thing about us. We must hold on to it as tightly as possible.
If you’re married, you know “honeymoon love” is like nothing else. When you first get married, the newness & intensity of your love turns everything in your life upside down. But something seems to change over the years. Over time, a spouse may ask, “Why don’t you love me like you used to love me?”
This is what Jesus is saying to the church at Ephesus: “I forgave your sin. I changed your life, but your love for me is not what it used to be. Why don’t you love me like you used to love me?”
But here is an even tougher question: Is Jesus saying the same to you?
DA Carson has said, “People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, & delight in the Lord.”
< Revelation 2:5-7 >
The church at Ephesus may have lost its first love, but Jesus offered them a clear solution. Twice in verse 5 he used the word “repent.” On a practical level, to repent means we change the way we are living & adopt a new way. Thinking specifically about salvation, we repent when we surrender our lives to Jesus.
Unfortunately, many Christians don’t understand that the word “repent” goes far beyond a one-time experience of confession before God. To be a healthy follower of Jesus, we must be continually turning our backs to our sin & choosing to live for him instead. Repentance is a daily discipline.
For the church at Ephesus to repent – to turn back – meant they would do the things they did at first. Jesus called them to do whatever it was in the beginning of their spiritual walks that led to such a strong relationship with him.
What’s more, Jesus laid out a consequence in verse 5. If the church refused to repent, he would come & remove their lampstand from its place. When you blow a candle out, the candle loses its ability to give light – to have influence over the darkness. If the church at Ephesus did not repent & return to a love for Jesus, he would remove their influence.
Verse 7 is essential to the entire process of returning to your love for Jesus. Jesus has given us the key to the entire process, & it may not be what we typically think. Here’s the key: “Listen.”
The whole process of repentance & renewal cannot begin to happen if you don’t listen. Jesus said: If you can hear, listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. In other words: Everybody, listen up!
What did the Spirit say to the church at Ephesus - & to us? Listen & hear these 3 words:
Remember. Think about the healthiest & most productive seasons in your spiritual life. If you find yourself at a place where your love for Jesus has waned, return to the things that were present when you were walking closely to God.
Repent. Anything or anyone, no matter how good, that keeps you from your love for Jesus is sin. Surrender these things before Jesus & watch him begin to move in your life once more.
Return. At the heart of Jesus’ message is a loving call: “Return to me.” As we turn from sin, we turn toward Jesus. We simply must return to Jesus.
How do we get love & passion for Jesus back to where it needs to be in our church? We must return to Jesus. When we return to Jesus, we will regain a love that truly does permeate everything we do.
It’s a simple formula, really. When our love for Jesus is wrong, nothing is right. But when our love for Jesus is right, he makes everything else right! And another simple formula is this: when we return to our first love, then our church returns to its first love. And when Shiloh returns to its first love, then our community is changed for the better.
How do we return to our first love – that love that should come first in our lives? Our Scripture gives the instructions as you follow Christ in the days to come:
Remember. Write down the top 3 things that describe your Christian walk at its most healthy.
Repent. Spend time identifying any habits or patterns in your life that are detrimental to your love for Jesus. Repent right now before God. Turn from those sins today.
Return. Write down a plan for drawing closer to God. This may be a renewed commitment to daily Bible reading, prayer, sharing your faith, or attending a study group.
Regardless of when you came to love Jesus (& to know Jesus’ love), whether it was 60 years ago or 60 minutes ago, the only way to be a faithful & fruitful follower is to keep Jesus as the #1 love in your life. That means putting Him above ALL others – yes, even children & parents, job & spouse! It’s hard; it might even seem impossible, but it can & must be done. Truth is, it can only be done if we surrender to the Holy Spirit’s help.
The wonderful thing about the grace of Jesus is that it doesn’t matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done – his grace is greater than all our sin. Throw yourself into the loving arms of Jesus & watch him bring back your first love for him!