Rekindling Our First Love (Part 1)
By bro Joel Lee
Relationships are filled with highs and lows, and perhaps the same goes for our relationship with God. When one first becomes a Christian, there is a passion and fervour for God, a desire to work for the Lord borne out of one’s love for God, and the appreciation of Jesus’ death on the cross. I still remember when I was a young Christian, fresh off one of my first few church camps. Being around Christians 24/7 and studying God’s word intensively for a few days inspired in me a love and zeal for God’s work. Yet over time, I must admit, this passion has waned. As I grew older and with more and more commitments and obligations in life, I found it challenging to maintain the same fire that was in me when I first became a Christian. Thankfully, I was relieved to find out I was not alone. Revelations 2:1-5 showed how the church at Ephesus faced the same problem.
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
On the whole, the church of Ephesus appears to be faithful and loyal—they were commended for their works; they were doctrinally sound, and they exercised church discipline appropriately. Yet despite all that, they were faulted by the apostle John for having left their first love. What did he mean?
First and foremost, we need to understand and establish – what did John mean by "first love"? The word "first" comes from the Greek word proten and Strong’s dictionary defines this as "chief, principal, most important" and the word "love" is derived from the Greek word agape which we all know and understand to be the ultimate form of love—a sacrificial and selfless love which God has demonstrated towards mankind in the form of sending his only begotten son to die for our sins. Hence, the most literal and straightforward interpretation of this verse would refer to the initial love the church at Ephesus had for God—the first love in the temporal sense. What do we know about this original love the Ephesian Church possessed? We read in Eph 1:15-16 about how Paul commended them for their faith and their love for the saints, a clear indication of their devotion and dedication to the Lord.
15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers:
Fast forward to Revelations 2 and the situation has changed drastically. While the Ephesian church was still able to maintain its doctrinal integrity, they were criticized for no longer possessing the same love for God as they once had. They appeared to have lost their warmth and zeal for Christ, "going through the motions" of good works, motivated not by the love of Christ but by the works themselves. Their love for God and desire to do His will had devolved into a loveless fulfillment of obligations. This brings to mind something the prophet Jeremiah said in Jer 2:2.
2 “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown.
Jeremiah was a prophet in the times of the divided kingdom and he referenced a time when Israel was in its infancy as a nation as they fled from the Egyptians in Exodus and how the people then trusted God enough to go through the wilderness and settle in a land unknown to them (v2b) Interestingly, Jeremiah uses two analogies to portray the initial love of the Israelites – that of youth and that of marriage. Indeed, just like in a boy-girl relationship, our love for God may have burned the brightest and the strongest when we were first converted and slowly waned and lessened over time. Unfortunately, these analogies weren’t enough for the Israelites to heed the warnings, and they completely left their first love, being conquered by Babylon as a result. What about us today? Have we lost our first love?