You Have Left Your First Love

In the book of Revelation, Jesus takes the opportunity to address seven churches and talk about their good and bad characteristics. Recently, something happened that made me think of one of these letters, the letter to church at Ephesus.

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: ‘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; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. … But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”

Revelation 2:1-3, 6-7 NKJV

This part of what Jesus had to say to the church at Ephesus seems very positive and encouraging. The Ephesians had not fallen prey to false doctrine. This would be particularly encouraging considering Paul’s warning and admonition to the elders in Ephesus on his third preaching journey (Acts 20:28-32). He also says they had labored without “becoming weary.” How many of us would be thrilled to receive such commendations directly from Jesus?

Yet, in one of the verses that was not included above, Jesus threatened, “Or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place…” (Revelation 2:5 NKJV) Considering the other positive statements about this church, what could they have done that jeopardized their relationship with Christ? Jesus accuses, ” I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4 NKJV) The indication, then, is that while they had maintained certain outward attributes of their relationship with Christ, their love for Him had, in fact, faded.

How is a “faded love” displayed. This is often reflected in a reduced level of zeal and excitement for the object of one’s love. How might this be reflected in our relationship with Christ?

  • To help us understand, I want to present another example of a fading of a certain kind of love. Consider a relationship between a man and a woman:
    • When they first meet, there is generally a lot of excitement to be together. They don’t want to spend time apart.
    • Additionally, in most cases, whenever they are going to be together there is a high level of willingness to be at their best when when they are together. This includes physical appearance, how they conduct themselves, how they spend every moment together talking to each other and being close to each other.
    • Then they get married. And, at first, during the “honeymoon phase,” they continue to try to please one another and spend time together.
    • Unfortunately, in most cases, in time there becomes a sense of “we have the relationship, we don’t really have to work on it.” Work, children, hobbies, and other activities began to take away their time together and erode the emotions of love between the couple. There is no longer the strong desire to spend every available moment together.
    • This relationship may not in an affair or a divorce, but they are together while not necessarily “in love” any more. It’s just not the same relationship it once was.
  • Compare this with what happens with many Christians:
    • Many new Christians are full of zeal and enthusiasm.
    • They are in love with Christ and His word. They spend time studying and growing in the knowledge of His word.
    • Maybe their enthusiasm and love for Christ is exhibited in talking to others about Christ.
    • They may strive to increase their ability to serve: Men wanting to lead in worship; Women wanting to learn to teach.
    • But then, time passes. The relationship becomes stale. Family, children, work, hobbies began to take their time away from Christ and His Word.
    • Maybe they never “fall away” in the sense of stopping assembling with the saints. Maybe they never accept false doctrine.
    • But, they no longer have the zeal to study the word of God. They may feel that they no longer need to serve because the have “served enough.” They believe they have a relationship with Christ, but they no longer have a love for the relationship.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that something happened to me recently that sparked these thoughts. I was cleaning out an old file cabinet trying to get everything to fit in a smaller storage unit. I came across some old notes I had made when studying 1 Corinthians when I was a younger man. What I saw made me ashamed of recent attempts to study God’s word. I saw detailed notes and in depth research trying to understand the meaning of God’s word. I saw study that took time and effort. I saw study that reflected a deep love for God and His word. And, I realized that I haven’t studied the Bible that way in a long time. I have a lot of “reasons” why I haven’t studied like that in long time, but I believe the underlying root cause is failure to love Christ and His word like I should.

So, how do we correct a loss of our “first love?” Jesus tells the Ephesians the answer: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first work.” (Revelation 2:5 NKJV) The answer is two-fold:

  • Repent: Change your heart. This love for Christ and His work is not optional to be Christian. Christ requires not just our rote service, but our heart.
  • Do the first work: Apply that love to our lives. It will change how we act. It’s not possible to love Christ as we should and not behave differently.

What motivates us to this love? One motivation is provided in this text: “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7 NKJV)

Dan Fontenot

(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

Unless Your Righteousness Exceeds…

“For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds [the righteousness] of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. {Matthew 5:20 NKJV}

What is Jesus talking about when He says that the righteousness of a citizen of the kingdom must exceed the righteousness of scribes and Pharisees?

True righteousness is not only about how you act, but how you think. It is about a heart of righteousness and not just righteous acts:

  • “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” {Matthew 5:21-22 NKJV}
  • “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” {Matthew 5:27-28 NKJV}
  • “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all…But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” {Matthew 5:33-34, 37 NKJV}
  • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” {Matthew 5:43-44 NKJV}

Another aspect of true righteousness is being righteous for the sake of serving and pleasing God, not being seen by men:

  • “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” {Matthew 6:1-2 NKJV}
  • “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” {Matthew 6:5-6 NKJV}
  • “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” {Matthew 6:17-18 NKJV}
  • “But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.'” {Matthew 23:5-7 NKJV}

Another aspect of true righteousness is applying the same standard of judgment to yourself that you apply others:

  • “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank [is] in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” {Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV}
  • “Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, [that] observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay [them] on men’s shoulders; but they [themselves] will not move them with one of their fingers.” {Matthew 23:3-4 NKJV}

Does your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?

Dan Fontenot
(Note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)

The Few, The Righteous

One of Jesus’ more famous statements is found in Matthew 7:13-14:

13 Enter by the narrow gate; for wide [is] the gate and broad [is] the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow [is] the gate and difficult [is] the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. [Matthew 7:13-14 NKJV]

When examined in the light of Biblical history, “the few” becomes quite an interesting statement. Standing in a small crowd is not new for those who try to live righteous lives and follow God. Consider some of the following examples:

  • When God chose to bring judgment on the world in the form of the flood, only eight people (1 Peter 3:20 NKJV), Noah and his household, had enough faith to board the ark. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how many people inhabited the earth at the time of the flood, but considering people were living to be well over 900 years old, it seems reasonable to conclude that it was quite a large number. And, Noah had 100 years (Gen. 5:32Gen. 7:6) to preach to the people of his day (2 Peter 2:5). Can you imagine the scorn and ridicule that Noah faced as he built this huge boat when the world had never seen anything like the flood before (Hebrews 11:7)? And yet, he pressed on because of his faith in God.
  • What about Lot in the cities of Sodom and Gommorah? God would have spared those cities for the sake of only 10 righteous people (Genesis 18:20-33). But, Lot only left the city with his wife and two daughters (Genesis 19:16). His wife didn’t make it very far (vs. 26) and his daughters certainly were not righteous, causing their father to get drunk so they could bear children by him (vs. 31-38). How few were the righteous!
  • Then there was Caleb and Joshua. When the Israelites had an opportunity to take the land that God had promised them, they were the only two of twelve spies that believed they could take the land (Numbers 13:27-14:10). But, more significantly they were only 2 of over 600,000 soldiers (Numbers 2:32) who believed they could take the land God had given them. But, like Noah and his family, they were the only ones of their generation to reap the blessing of their faith. When the people were numbered again at the end of the wanderings in the wilderness, the numbers were similar (Numbers 26:51). However, Joshua and Caleb were the only two people still alive the second time the people were numbered (Numbers 26:64-65).
  • While other examples could be supplied (Elijah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, etc.), the greatest example of standing alone is Jesus Christ, our Lord. When the time came for Him to face death the crowds of 5,000+ that once surrounded Him were gone. Even His closest followers had fled (Matthew 26:56), just as Jesus had predicted they would (Matthew 26:31). Peter went so far as to deny Him three times (Matthew 26:69-75). Jesus knew all this would happen, yet had clearly told his disciples He would not turn back from what He came to to do (John 12:27). As Jesus stood before the Jewish council, Herod, and Pilate, He stood completely alone. Aren’t we thankful that his willingness to sacrifice Himself for us was not dependent on whether or not others were willing to stand beside Him?!

Stop and think for a few minutes about times when being counted amongst a very few can tempt us to turn from that which is right. This is not a comprehensive list, but designed to give us pause before we give up our principles because we are among the few:

  • Being part of congregation that is small in number because they stand for truth and are unwilling to compromise the truths of God’s word.
  • Being amongst a small group in school willing to keep yourself pure until you are married. Or, refusing to fill your mind with porn and the filth of dirty jokes and movies.
  • Being one of few unwilling to wear immodest clothing or go to places where large groups of people dress immodestly (public swimming pools, water parks, the beach, etc.).
  • Being unwilling to engage in activities that encourage lust and lead to immoral behavior (cheerleaders, dance teams, dances, etc.)
  • Being unwilling to drink to and socialize in ways that are ungodly and lead immoral relationships (bars, dance halls, frat parties, make-out parties, being alone in tempting locations, etc.)

Dan Fontenot

(editor’s note: Verse references are clickable links that will open the verses in context in BlueLetterBible.org)