I have this against you!
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” – Vs 4 NASB
The first church addressed by our Lord in this vision to John was the church in Ephesus. Christ reveals that He knows their deeds. He praises their zeal, perseverance, and determination to protect the gospel from falsehood. But in the midst of all that, He indicts them for having left their first love. The New Living Translation paraphrases His comment this way: “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!” In his commentary on the book of Revelation, Matthew Henry explains the real issue:
“The sin Christ charged this church with, is, not the having left and forsaken the object of love, but having lost the fervent degree of it that at first appeared. Christ is displeased with his people, when he sees them grow remiss and cold toward him. Surely this mention in Scripture, of Christians forsaking their first love, reproves those who speak of it with carelessness, and thus try to excuse indifference and sloth in themselves and others; our Saviour considers this indifference as sinful. They must repent: they must be grieved and ashamed for their sinful declining, and humbly confess it in the sight of God. They must endeavour to recover their first zeal, tenderness, and seriousness, and must pray as earnestly, and watch as diligently, as when they first set out in the ways of God.” – Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
These people were busy doing spiritual things and patiently enduring hardship for the cause of Christ, but at the same time, their lives exhibited a loss of love for Christ Himself. Their efforts had replaced the affection. Their obsession with performance had replaced their passion for the Savior. If you go back to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, you read where he commended them. “That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the Christians, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you – every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks” (Ephesians 1:15-15 MSG). Their faith and love for Christ had resulted in love for one another. But now Christ was accusing them of having left or abandoned their first love.
The word translated “left” here is so much more powerful and impactful in the Greek language. It is a term that was used when referring to a man divorcing his wife. It carries the idea of abandonment. It paints a picture of unfaithfulness. It can literally be translated, “to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned.” That is what Christ is indicting the church at Ephesus for and, by extension, the church of today. We too, can end up abandoning our first love, all the while appearing as if all is well in our relationship with Christ. It is much like a man or woman who emotionally walks out on their marriage partner, but remains in the same home, giving all appearances that their marriage is intact and in good health. But the reality is that the love has long gone. They are simply going through the motions.
Christ commended this church for their diligence in duty and for their patience in suffering. But He also points out what is missing. Or what has gone missing. They had abandoned their first love or that which was of first rank or importance. Our efforts for Christ must never replace our affection for Him. What we do for Him must be motivated by our love for Him. Christ tells the Ephesians to remember and repent. They must call to mind the way things began in their relationship with Him. They must consciously determine where they started and where they have ended up. Then their awareness must lead to confession and repentance. This doesn’t come naturally. We can so easily become blind to our spiritual condition. We can convince ourselves that all is well because we do so much so well. But if we stop and take stock, we will see that we have really replaced our love for Christ with a love for something else. Like them, I can be busy serving Him, but fall in love with serving more than the Savior Himself. I can end up doing a lot for Christ, but not out of love for Him. I can replace affection with effort. But He wants my love, not my duty.
Father, forgive me for falling in love with the trappings of spirituality and religion and losing my affection for Your Son. He must always remain my primary love. He must be where I focus my affection. Nothing and no one else can ever replace Him, even though I consistently try to find love and satisfaction elsewhere. Bring us back to our first love, as a church, and as the people of God. May Your church return to where we first began. So that the world may see Him in us and be drawn to the love He reveals for us and through us. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men