“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
Nevertheless I have this against you
Although Ephesus has many fine qualities as a church (2:2,3), yet they do have a fatal fault. There was something amiss in this church. Jesus now passes from commendation to condemnation. It is possible to both have distinction and disrepute at the same time. Jesus notes both their strengths and their weaknesses.
“I have” indicates that this charge is still outstanding against the Ephesian church. Nothing has changed it so far. They have done nothing about it. It may be that they spent so much time under combat conditions that they suffered combat fatigue spiritually. They took their eyes off the Lord. They became more task oriented than person oriented.
The church at Ephesus faced two problems, one from without and one from within. We found the problem of without in verse two, false teachers. Now we come to the problem within, loss of love for the Lord. He no longer had the pre-eminence in their lives any longer. They gave their lives to other priorities.
that you have left your first love
The word “left” means to leave, leave alone, forsake and neglect. The Ephesians distanced themselves from their first love. They no longer loved the Lord Jesus as they did when they first came to Christ.
The phrase “your first love” precedes the phrase “you have left” (in the Greek) making the first phrase very emphatic. They not only took their eyes off the Lord but they lost fellowship with Him. The principle is that regardless of how much the Bible you may know, regardless of how much you serve Him, regardless of past victories, we cannot walk with the Lord without loving Him.
What is our “first” love? It is the love that we knew for the Lord when we first became Christians. At that time, we had a great sense of gratitude for sins forgiven.
Forty years after the establishment of the church in Ephesus they still held to sound doctrine and worked ardently for the Lord, yet they did not love Him as much as at the beginning. This may be due to a second-generation problem. Most of the congregation was by now second generation.
The problem of the church at Ephesus was not their orthodoxy but their orthopraxy. They lost red-hot love for the Lord. This was so serious that He says in the next verse that He will remove the church from existence if they do not deal with it. This eventually happened when Islam invaded Turkey and wiped out Christianity in Ephesus.
Orthodoxy and service do not displace love for the Lord.
Today many churches stand in danger of becoming churches without influence and impact. They will exist as orthodox but inconsequential churches. Few, if any, people will come to Christ through these churches. The people will not experience the reality of walking with the Lord.
There is a tendency for our love for Christ to cool down if we take Him for granted. Has your heart grown cold toward the Lord? This has the same effect on the Lord as on your wife when your love grows cold toward her.
It is possible for our Christianity to become merely an orthodox routine. It is possible to walk with the Lord in many wonderful areas yet have one fatal flaw. The church may run smoothly. People may serve willingly. No scandals destroy the reputation of the church yet the inner dynamics imperceptibly run dry. Decline creeps in so gradually that we do not notice our heart growing cold.
The honeymoon of your Christian walk is long gone. Your love for the Lord has grown cold. You are orthodox. Your loyalty to truth is unquestionable but your love is cold. Your fellowship with the Lord dwindled to a low ebb. You no longer enjoy spiritual joy. Your Christian life is routine and apathetic. You are mechanical in your Christianity. You do not love other Christians as you once did.
We lose the ability to assess objectively our spiritual life when we do not acknowledge this creeping pattern. Instead of dealing with our sins, we justify ourselves. We judge others instead of judging ourselves. We become critical and censorious. We are no longer passionate about evangelism. Compassion diminishes into something very feeble.
In the next few verses, the Holy Spirit says to “remember” and “repent.” These actions are the solution to a cold heart. The church needs both work and worship. There is no tension between the two. Work grows out of worship. If work does not come out of worship, then our motive is not from love.