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Despite its great qualities, there was a problem with the early church at Ephesus. It was a problem so subtle that most people wouldn’t even see it. But Jesus, who walks in the midst of the church, saw it and told them the truth. They no longer loved him as they once did. They had left their first love.
You don’t lose your first love; you leave it. If you lose something, you don’t know where it is. Hence, it is lost. I lose stuff all the time. I lose stuff in my car and can’t find it. Then, when I clean it, there is that burrito from two months ago. That is losing something.
But leaving is different. If I leave something, I know where it is. Hence I can come back to it. Jesus told the church at Ephesus, “You have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4 NKJV). Or as another version puts it, “You walked away from your first love” (The Message).
Their devotion had turned to duty. They had motion, but they had lost the emotion. They had substituted labor for love and work for worship and perspiration for inspiration. These Ephesians believers had been so busy maintaining their separation, they were neglecting their adoration.
Now you might say, “But Greg, really? Is it that big of a deal to leave your first love? It is not as though they did something really bad such as murdering or stealing or committing adultery.”
Yes, but it still is a big deal, because the breakdown here leads to other things later. If you have a breakdown in one area of your life, you might eventually find yourself going in the wrong direction.
For example, you can be in the best shape outwardly, but if you have heart disease, you have a problem. Years ago, I knew a guy who was really strong. He loved to boast about his strength and would flex his bicep and ask you to feel it. He would get on my case about getting an annual checkup like he did. But sadly, one day I got the news that he had died of a heart attack. Although he was in peak shape outwardly, his heart was diseased.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, we can do all of the right things outwardly, yet have a heart issue. And if there is a breakdown in your heart, then it will affect every area of your life.
Notice that Jesus told the church it had fallen. He said, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen. …” Fallen. When you start to drift from this, you are in the process of losing ground spiritually. Maybe it is in a slow-motion, but it is a backward progression nonetheless.
We find a perfect example from the Old Testament in David, the king of Israel. When we are first introduced to him, he is a young man out in the fields with his sheep, composing beautiful worship songs to God. Many of these are recorded in the book of Psalms. It was David who wrote Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters …” (NKJV). We read these beautiful songs and see that he had a heart toward God. That is why the Bible describes him as the sweet psalmist of Israel and the man after God’s own heart.
In scene 2, we find David facing off with a 9-foot-6-inch Philistine named Goliath. He brings him down with a stone in his sling and becomes the hero of Israel.
In scene 3, David is the rightful king, but the paranoid King Saul doesn’t want to give up his throne, so he hunts down David as though he were a wild animal. David never responds in kind. David never retaliates. David never kills Saul, although he was given the opportunity on more than one occasion.
Next, in scene 4, Saul is gone, David finally ascends the throne, and all is right. He rules over the land and is beloved by his people – the greatest king ever, righteous, worshipper of the Lord, a poet, a musician, a warrior, a king.
When we come to scene 5, David is on his rooftop, kicking back. Meanwhile, his troops are in battle, and he should be leading them. But he is taking a little time off, not only from the battle, but apparently from God as well. He sees a beautiful woman (ironically named Bathsheba) bathing herself. David has her brought up into his chambers, has sex with her, and she gets pregnant. Instead of confessing his sin before God, David tries to cover it up and brings her husband, Uriah, in from the battle. But Uriah doesn’t go and sleep with his wife. So David ultimately has Uriah put to death and marries Bathsheba, mistakenly thinking he had effectively covered up his sin.
How do you go from worshipping God in the wilderness to murdering a man and taking his wife? David left his first love, that’s how. When David was in the palace, things were going well. The conflict had ceased, so he started to put things into a spiritual neutral. We don’t read of his worshipping the Lord. We don’t read of his singing to the Lord as he did before King Saul. And when there is that kind of breakdown, it is only a matter of time until there will be other problems that follow.
Have you left your first love? If you are honest enough to say that you have, then here is the good news. Jesus has given the three Rs of returning: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works …” (Revelation 2:5 NLT). In other words, remember, repent, and repeat.
Remember from where you have fallen. Was there a time when you were closer to God than you are today? Repent – change your direction. And repeat – get back to doing the things you did before you left your first love.
You cannot leave your first love and be an effective Christian. So remember, repent, and repeat.