It is something that can only be activated by choice. When dealing with others, love is something we must determine to give. Love is not a feeling – love feelings are infatuation. Someone governed by feelings hasn’t matured as a believer. A mature believer is not a kite in the wind of their feelings, but, they choose, even despite their emotions, to love another. Biblical love therefore is not something that overwhelms you, it is what you choose to overwhelm someone else with.
#3: Love (v4, 5)
We have seen the the Ephesian’s Lampstand, their Labor, and now we look at the Ephesian’s Love. Actually, we will have a hard time looking at it because according to Jesus it is missing. Notice what the Lord says in verse 4, “Yet this I hold against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
I actually don’t think Jesus was saying they had lost all their love. He wasn’t saying that they no longer loved at all and that they had a cold, rigid, loveless attitude. Rather, it is that their first place love now became 2nd place in their life. Or 3rd place. They still loved but competing loves developed in their hearts and displaced their first love. They did not keep their first love, first. Perhaps this is a violation of the first commandment: You shall have no other gods before Me.
This is interesting when you go back 30 years and see that this church had a reputation for their love. In Ephesians 1:15 Paul said, “For this reason ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord and your love for all the saints I have not stopped giving thanks for you…” They were known all around for their great love and Paul had heard about them while travelling.
There was a love that was full of zealous devotion to the LORD – a love that was pouring out all over the place in their fellowship with each other. But something had changed. It probably was not something that happened overnight, but, it was probably a slow and gradual decline. As a doctrinally-conscious church perhaps the study of truth led to a certain self-righteousness. Or in defending the truth against falsehoods perhaps an adversarial attitude grew and it became harder to keep a tender heart. Or, perhaps their love eroded in increments as they fell into a kind of routine of doing church with each passing year.
Let us draw an application here: love is a fire in which we must keep adding more wood. Neglected and it will go out. I’m not talking about romantic love I’m talking about fellowship love towards God and towards others.
Let’s look at 3 aspects of this love from the passage.
First, our Love is Most Important to the LORD. Notice that Jesus doesn’t criticize them for anything else. He criticizes their love. He addresses their missing good deeds, yes, but, the missing deeds are the indication of something deeper – something missing in their hearts: love.
When asked what the greatest command was Jesus said, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind. And the second greatest command is to love your neighbor as yourself.” Love is most important. Paul told the Corinthians that spiritual gifts take a back seat to love when he said in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “Now I will show you a more excellent way – the way of love”. In Romans 13 we are told that there is no obligation we have except the obligation to love. Thirty years earlier the apostle Paul said to the Ephesians, “Live a life of love”. Love is most important in the Christian life.
Second, Love is a Decision. How do we see that here? Simple. Jesus tells them to repent. Notice verse 5, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. It is something that can only be activated by choice. When dealing with others, love is something we must determine to give. Love is not a feeling – love feelings are infatuation. Someone governed by feelings hasn’t matured as a believer. A mature believer is not a kite in the wind of their feelings, but, they choose, even despite their emotions, to love another. Biblical love therefore is not something that overwhelms you, it is what you choose to overwhelm someone else with. Biblical love is activated by a determination we make to show someone else we love them – regardless of how we feel. We may be head over heels for this person or we may be angry, frustrated or resentful of them. Regardless, showing the kind of love Jesus commands and expects of us requires our determination to love them.
Application #1: Are our feelings getting in the way of loving someone?
Application #2: We talk about “blind spots” in our lives, but, often our personal flaws aren’t really blind spots to us. Notice Jesus says “Remember”. They knew something was missing. They were aware they weren’t the same as before. If we are honest, we are aware of our faults, but, we typically don’t want to do anything about them. We want to minimize them, excuse them, justify them, overlook them, etc. But, if we have a fault, we need to commit it to prayer, search God’s word for what is taught about our fault and then repent. Repentance starts with a humble change of mind and carries through to a change in behavior.
Did you notice how Jesus describes them as having fallen from the heights they were at before? He is talking about the high opinion God had of them before. Here is a very important point: If you want God to have a high opinion of you then keep your first love first. It’s a lot like faith in the sense that someone with a lot of faith who lives by faith is going to impress God. Faith and love together are twins that will make God think very highly of you.
Third, Love is expressed in Actions. He says in verse 5, “Repent and do the things you did at first.” Jesus wants them to change their hearts and show it by going back to doing the things they used to do. In other words, put love for God back in first place and let that be evident by your life. Paul said in Acts 26:20, “I preached that the Gentiles should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”
It’s like that old Righteous Brothers song, “You’ve lost that loving feeling”. If you listen to the verses he talks about how his woman doesn’t do things she used to do when she had that loving feeling. She doesn’t close her eyes when they kiss anymore, there is no tenderness in her fingertips, she doesn’t have a welcome look in her eyes when he reaches for her, she criticizes all the little things he does. In other words, somehow her first love was gone and little things she used to do she doesn’t do anymore. She probably still did lots of things for him but a change was noticeable.
That’s how it was with the Ephesians. That’s what Jesus is saying. “You’ve let your heart lose hold of that first love and now you don’t do things you used to do.” That’s what He says in verse 5 when He says to them, “Repent and do the things you did at first”. Compare the Ephesian church on this point to the church of Thyatira. In verse 19 Jesus says to Thyatira, “I know that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Thyatira was slower out of the gates with love, but, over time their love blossomed. Ephesus had seen their love wither and diminish. And Jesus’ rebuke is that their outward labor was diminishing because the inward love was diminishing.
To Jesus the inner person was as important if not more important than the outward person. Of course Jesus knows that if the person is changed inwardly it will result in a change outwardly. Matthew 12 Jesus says that the overflow of a man’s heart will come out of his mouth. Proverbs 20:11 says that even a child is known by his actions. The inner man will affect the outward man. Which is why He goes to the heart of the matter – their hearts. They had forsaken their first love in their hearts.
But do not mistake Him – He doesn’t want a change in behavior without a change in heart. There is the possibility that our outward service can mask our lack of love. There is the possibility that service can be an attempt to even makeup for a lack of love. But Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 that without love anything we do amounts to nothing, even being damaging. Turn and read with me verses 1-7.
Question: Are our good deeds done from a love for others or a love for self? I’m going to probe deep here so stay with me. Doing good deeds for myself means I do them because of the benefit I get from doing those deeds – psychologically, emotionally, etc. Am I motivated to do good deeds because actually I want to be seen as a good person? Or I want to feel like a good person? Or because I want to feel like I’m better than others? Is my service meant to soothe my conscience when it is pained by the guilt of some sin elsewhere in my life? Good deeds can mask a love for self. The fact that the other person benefits from my good deeds is a good thing, but, it is incidental. My core motivation is my own psychological and emotional gain in doing the deed, not the other person’s well-being.
Jesus wanted their deeds to be driven by their sincere love for one another. In 1 John 3:18 it says, “Dear children let us not love with words or tongue but with action and truth.” Love is to be the driving force of deeds. This is where Christianity gets hard: it means giving serious attention to the condition of our hearts. Jesus doesn’t let us get lazy with the inner person. To live the Christian life is to live it from the heart outward. Anything less is hollow outward religious activity. And believe me that does not please the Lord. Just read the OT prophets or Jesus’ scathing rebuke of the Pharisees in Mark 7 or Matthew 23.
Which is why He warns them that if they don’t repent He will come and take their lampstand away. What does that mean? It means that He will be the one who comes and snuffs out their light. In other words, He will cause the doors of their church to close permanently. He wanted them to know that it is by His power and authority that they would continue to be a church, and by His power and authority He would remove their church.
That makes me think of 3 applications.
First, Jesus does not love me just as I am. We often say that Jesus loves me just as I am. And in a sense that is true, but, it implies that He loves me how I am and it isn’t really a big deal if I grow. I can just stay how I am and it doesn’t matter to Him one way or the other. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It is better to say “He loves me so much He won’t let me stay as I am.” In Revelation 3:19 Jesus says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. In other words, He loves me so He will do what He needs to do to cause me to grow further into His image. I am a sinner who is still very far from the holy perfection He desires for me. That’s why He is very involved in my growth.
The 2nd Application is this: Solutions should always accompany criticism. Notice that Jesus does not rail against them for their faults and then walk away because He got it off His chest. Rather, wounds from a friend can be trusted Proverbs tell us, and no greater friend have we than Jesus. He brings it to their attention, but, He gives them the solution: remember, repent, and renew.
How do we criticize? Do we do it just to give vent to our anger without any care for making a situation better? Is our goal just to release our displeasure with something? Or, when we criticize do we do it with love and a suggestion for how something might be improved in someone’s life? It brings up our responsibility to each other to be willing to constructively confront someone and do it with love. It also implies we need to be willing to respond with humble, prayerful reflection – and if necessary repentance – when our faults are addressed.
The third application is for us as a church: Our continued existence as EFC depends entirely on our continued faithfulness to Jesus Christ. More attenders, bigger offerings, more dazzling programs, cool websites, bigger and more attractive buildings, more inspirational music programs, more “fun” kids programs and exciting youth ministries won’t secure a future for EFC. Those aren’t bad things, but, we mustn’t think for one moment that Jesus will allow us to replace our faithfulness to Him with our programs. He is the the light of our lampstand, and, He will remove our lampstand if we depart from Him.
#4: Tree of Life (v7)
Let’s close with the promise. We’ve seen the Lampstand, the Labor, the Love, and now the Tree of Life. Jesus makes a promise in verse 7, [Read]. The Bible opens at the very beginning with the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, but, then it doesn’t show up again until the very end of the Bible at the end of the book of Revelation. In the beginning we see God expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden before they are able to eat from the tree of life. At the end we learn much more about this tree. It will be in the paradise of God (2:7), in the new heavens and new earth (22:2). In this new heaven and earth there will be a river flowing from the throne of God down the main street and on both sides of that river will be growing the tree of life (22:2). Every month it will yield 12 crops of fruit (22:2) and the leaves of the tree of life will bring healing to the nations (22:2). Take note that distinct nations will continue for eternity.
The tree of life has to do with immortality. It is not a right for everyone, but, it is only for those who have turned to Jesus. Jesus told the Ephesians, “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life…” In other words, the right to eat from the tree of life is given to you by Jesus. That is the promise for those who overcome. Who are the overcomers? First John 5:5 tells us, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Do you have eternal life? The message of the Bible is that eternal life is a reality and a possibility. It is not possible through hard work, religion and being spiritual. It is only a possibility for those who come to Jesus Christ. The same John who wrote this book of Revelation wrote the most famous verse in the whole Bible, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” Jesus is the the One who gives eternal life and you must come to Him. God gave Him over to death so that He could pay for your sins on the cross. Believe in His Name and you will receive forgiveness and everlasting life.