“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.” Revelations 2:2-3
In the passage below, Jesus is speaking to the church of Ephesus. First He describes all the good things that He sees in this church. At first glance, this sounds like a pretty good church, as we can see below:
These are the commendable things Jesus uses to describe the state of this church:
- They were labouring hard for Him
- They were patient
- They did not tolerate those who were evil – so they had a passion for holiness
- They tested the workers of God, did not blindly trust those who claimed to serve Christ, they had a love for the truth
- They persevered through trials and temptations, through difficult circumstances and had patience in those trials
- Again He mentioned their hard labor for His Name’s sake
- He appreciated that in all that they did, they did not become weary
If you look at this list, there are many commendable things about this church. It looks like a very strong church, mature, zealous for good works, for holiness, for the truth and matured through trials, yet not weakened by them – a strong church.
Very important to observe here is that Jesus always looks at our works as one of the gauges of where we are at with God. In each of His messages to the seven churches He always starts with: ‘I know your works’. Interesting that He doesn’t say: ‘I know your belief, your faith’ or ‘I know your heart’ – in fact, He considers the state of our heart as part of the works.
Jesus weighs us on His scales of evaluation based on the fruit He sees in our works. The Ephesus church looked pretty good from that perspective. But sometimes works can become religious routine, when the heart is no longer where it should be. Let’s see what Jesus says to them:
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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.” Revelation 2:4-5
Jesus changes the tone here from praise to rebuke and He says some pretty strong things.
Firstly, He starts with: ‘I have this against you’. What a shattering statement, put yourself in the place of the members of the Ephesus church – God just declared that He has a problem with us, He is not happy with us in one particular area. Try to digest this: God has an issue with us – that sounds pretty unsettling and downright dangerous for the state of our soul and it is something that should wake us from our state and move us to action.
What is it that He has against the people in this church? He makes it very plain and clear: ‘you have LEFT your first love’. For some reason, until today, I always misread this statement to mean: ‘you have LOST your first love’. That is because I thought that’s what happened. I had it once and then through life circumstances I somehow lost it among the many things that competed for my attention.
The word in greek for ‘left’ your first love means:
aphíēmi (from 575 /apó, “away from” and hiēmi, “send”) – to send away; leave alone, to abandon, to let it go, to permit to depart, to release (discharge).
Therefore, Jesus is saying: You have left, abandoned, sent away your first love, you have let it go from you..
Somehow, when you say: I have lost something, it is not as bad as if you say I have sent away or left, abandoned something. The implication of losing something is that you were not aware of what you were doing and it just happened without your knowledge.
When we say: You have sent away, left and abandoned something, it carries more personal responsibility with it. It involves that you were aware of what you were doing and you made a choice to send it away, to abandon it, to leave it.
We usually start on fire for Jesus and over time – we say – circumstances and life gets in the way and we loose the fire. But Jesus has another opinion. He says, we left it, not lost it, we sent it away, we made a choice to not have it anymore, we abandoned it. We tend to blame life and circumstances for our loss of fire, but Jesus says it’s our fault.
We allowed the circumstances to push us around and abandon that passion for Jesus and give priority to other things, we chose to leave the prayer place, we abandoned the study of the Word, we allowed distractions in our life instead of abiding in Jesus. Let’s say it plainly – we chose to sin against God.
It is also important to notice what the Greek says about the term ‘first’ in ‘your first love’. We tend to understand it to mean: the love you had at the beginning of your faith, when you first begin your walk with Jesus and some translations even translate it like the love you had at first, but the actual Greek word has a different meaning:
/prṓtos ( which means “first, foremost”) is the superlative form of /pró (“before”) meaning “what comes first” (is “number one”). It means ‘most important, that which should be number one’
Therefore Jesus is not saying – you have left the love you had at first when you came to Christ, but He says:
You have left the love that should be most important and number one priority in your life!
Do you see that this correct understanding gives the verse a different meaning? It definitely connects with what Jesus said it’s the most important commandment:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength” Mark 12:30
He is basically saying: You are doing many commendable things, but you have stopped doing what I told you it’s most important: to love Me as your number one priority, as the most important thing in your life. This one thing should be put first before all ministry work you do for Me.
He tells them in the next verse that leaving your first love means you have fallen – not fallen from grace, but fallen from the place God expects us to be in our relationship with Him. We know this because He says: Remember where you have FALLEN from. So, abandoning our most important thing in our relationship with God – our love relationship with Him – it is a falling away in the eyes of God.
Jesus, as usual, does not just convict us, He shows us the way out of our sin. He gives us the solution:
‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works.
So, the recovery from this fallen state is a three step process:
First, remember. Remember what?
Jesus tells us what to remember: remember from where you have fallen. In other words, He says, you were once really in love with Me, go back in your mind to that time and think about:
How did that look like?
How did you live then that is different from now?
What habits did you have that you no longer have?
What things you were doing that kept the love flame alive?
How did you maintain that love connection on a day to day basis?
I actually did just that some years back when I felt I was not where I should be with God. I took a notepad and a pen and asked God to bring those things to my remembrance that defined and fueled Me being in love with God.
Soon, I had a list of things that I realized I stopped doing. Things I did then that I have abandoned along the way in time. I needed to repent.
I got tricked by the devil and allowed circumstances and life, the cares of this world, the desire for other things to choke that love I once had for God. I sinned by not being as regular in my times with God, in the study of the Word, worship music was no longer playing in my house regularly and I was not feeding my soul with Christian books, videos, etc.
I became very natural in my approach to life, I was pecking down with the chickens when I could fly with the eagles. I have fallen from the most important thing – having a love relationship with God. Yes, I still served Him and His church, did a lot of things for Him, loved people and even suffered for Him and you could say I looked pretty good on the outside as a Christian. Yet God weighs our hearts and when He does that, the number one thing He wants to find is a continual love relationship with Him before any service for Him.
So, please take the time to ask God to show you the things you used to do when you were in love with Him, when you were at the height of your relationship with Him and then stopped doing. Write them down diligently.
Second step in the recovery process is REPENT. To repent means to realize you are walking in the wrong direction, to make a decision to change that and then do a U turn and start walking in the right direction. It doesn’t just mean a mental assent that you are wrong and God is right. It involves taking an action to remedy the situation and return to the initial place you had in God. In other words, it involves some action after you have decided to change direction.
That’s where step 3 comes into play – Jesus says: Remember … repent … and do the first works. In other words, implement your repentance, do works befitting of your repentance, that is repentance completed.
Next, ask the Lord, in the present situation you find yourself in, how to implement your repentance in your daily life.
What would that look like?
How could you fit it in your schedule?
What would have to go from your schedule?
Most of us say we are very busy, so to add some things to do to our already full 24 hours involves changes in our schedule – it involved giving up something you are already doing that is less important.
I would usually go for slashing the things I do in order to get comfort, to escape reality or things that keep me busy but are not that important, things that I might be using as a distraction from the real emptiness in my heart.
Anything I used to fill myself to replace the lack of God must be on the cut off list. Those are the things that take the place of God in our life. If we are truly sincere, and by asking God, we will know what activities fit in that category for us.
They could be different for everyone and usually they are good things in an off themselves, but turned bad because we use them for the wrong reason, to fill our lack of God in our life.
It could be an escape through shopping, sport, computer games, watching TV, all those apps on your phone, too much focus on fitness, too much time spent with friends killing time, too much time on social media, etc.
Remove the things you used to fill your empty heart that should have been filled with God. You might not be able to deal with all of them at once, but ask God for a strategy and He will give you wisdom in how to plan the implementation of your repentance.
- DO THE FIRST WORKS
The usual trick of the devil when it comes to implementing change is to always convince you to do it later, because you are too busy right now and you can’t. In my experience, when God speaks to your heart about something, it is in your best interest to act straight away, at least start the process. That is because the rhema word of repentance when it comes to us from God is also filled with grace to will and to do it. This is so because God works in us both to will and to do His good pleasure and His word is alive and contains the power to be fulfilled.
If we start delaying it, the word starts to loose its impact on our hearts, we might even forget about it. There is an anointing on the rhema word WHEN it is given. The more we postpone to apply it, the less of that grace is with it, and our hearts lose interest in the word or even forget it. That’s because so many voices speak to us every day, our own, from others, the noise of the world and it is easy for a word from God to be crowded out if not treated carefully.
Jesus said in His word:
“Take heed therefore HOW you hear: for whosoever has, to him shall be given; and whosoever has not, from him shall be taken even that which he seems to have.” Luke 8:18
It is important HOW we hear when God speaks. In Proverbs, God tells to INCLINE OUR EAR – in other words, be intentional and hear well, focus well on it, give your total attention
Do we pay attention carefully?
Do we hear with a ready attitude to obey it?
Do we give value it for the weight it has by coming from the God of the universe to us?
When we hear well and we let it have the desired effect on us that was intended by God – meaning to bring us to repentance and do works befitting repentance in our case – then God says: Now you’ve got it! It’s yours! It’s become part of you. Now you ‘have’.
We can see this in the Scripture above which says:
“for whosoever HAS, to him shall be given; and whosoever HAS NOT, from him shall be taken even that which he seems to have.”
Therefore HOW you hear will determine if you get anything or not. God promises to the faithful who hear well and apply His words to give them more, but warns those who take His words for granted that they will start to lose even what they have.
You can’t be stagnant with God. If you don’t move forward today, you are really actually backsliding by doing nothing. In reality you are not doing nothing, you are refusing to implement the word that God spoke to you or you have fallen for the devil’s trick to postpone it.
Thanks be to God that He is patient and gives us time to repent. If you want best results in implementing the changes God is asking, best to ask Him for a strategy, take one point at the time from your list and ask Him how to implement it. He will usually give you a very reasonable and achievable plan on how to insert it in your day to day. I am not saying it will be comfortable, but it will be achievable. It won’t lead to stress and panic.
One last important thing about this passage that sets it aside from other situations in the Bible is this. Jesus says:
“or else I will come to you QUICKLY and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” Revelation 2:5
Usually Jesus is very patient with us and gives us a good amount of time to repent, in His mercy. But in this particular request – returning to having a love relationship with Him, because it is the most important thing He wants from us, He shows His feelings towards us remaining in a state of religious routine without proper connection with Him.
He finds it so grievous to be disconnected from us that He feels He can’t tolerate this state for long. It hits too much to the heart of what He desires and what He actually died for – to be reconciled and united with us in a love relationship. Therefore He warns the church at Ephesus – and through the Word us as well – that if they do not repent, He will act QUICKLY with consequences. He won’t delay. This state of disconnection from God is so grievous to Him and so serious in His eyes that He can’t just sit and let it be forever. He has to act, His own zeal for us drives Him to act, He is jealous for our affection.
He commends our service, but will not rest till He has all of our heart and affection. He wants and expects nothing less than a love relationship with us as our top priority.
Let’s give Him the satisfaction of gaining the reward of His suffering, our love.
Time to get to work with God. No time to waste.
Please comment below if this message spoke to your heart and you have applied it.
Any questions welcomed.
God bless you,