Keeping Your First Love
When you think about Revelation, what comes to mind is prophecy, and battles, and the end of the world. Everyone tries to predict the future, and many people get confused, they can't see how the book offers practical advice for today's life. But near the beginning of the book, there are two chapters devoted to seven churches in seven different cities during that time, near the turn of the first century AD. They were Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodecia. Each church was given and exhortation, along with encouragement, or warning, or command. As you look at each church the message could just as easily been for us, today, in our modern day churches here in America, here in EBCC.
Today we focus on the first one - Ephesus
When I was thinking about this sermon I had a hard time coming up with a topic until recently. I feel very strongly about this topic because I was learning about Ephesus in Acts, reading on my own, and last week Frank spoke to us about Ephesians 4.
Rev 2:1-7 –"first love"
What is our first love anyways? Revelation does have many difficult interpretations, and even though this passage offers a lot of practical advice, the exact meaning may be misconstrued. For me I immediately think about my first love, in terms of a romantic relationship. Think back to your first love (of anything–story of childhood love)
You quickly realize the passage is not talking about their former relationships with men and women. As Christians, our first love should be the LORD Jesus Christ.
To better understand the exhortation given here to the church at Ephesus, it is good to examine the context and the background information about that place-to get a better idea of the surroundings.
ACTS–the beginnings of the church, Paul visited them, Paul loved the church there, he was very close to them, while he moved around a lot from city to city typically during his various missionary journeys, he stayed in Ephesus for two years. Many pagan religions were practiced there, and there was a lot of commotion whenever Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Rioting, arguments, and true conversions too) (Acts 19:10,18,28-29)
They were very sad when he left, he wanted to give them a lot of encouragement and instruction. (20:36-37) Paul cared a lot about that church. Later an entire Epistle is devoted to that church, we know it as the book of Ephesians
Eph 1:15-23–Paul encouraging the church at Ephesus to press on. Shows how much Paul cared for the people there.
But according to Revelation, they have forgotten their first love, they have reverted back to their old ways.
Paul would have been very upset!
What does it mean to forsake the "FIRST" love?
This is another source of confusion sometimes with readers. First in terms of sequential order, first in time
Eph 4:17 –5:21
If you think of "first" in terms of order in time, for the Ephesians, it doesn't make sense to encourage them to regain their first love because that would refer to their lives before the church. Before they knew Jesus, they were very different.
If we think about the word "first" in terms of chronological order, the Ephesians definitely did not love Jesus first. Many of them worshipped pagan gods, Ancient Greek gods, and practiced magic and occult things.
Their old ways and old self were worldly, ungodly, evil.
Verse 22 tells them to put off their old self, which was corrupted by deceitful desires.
These evil things came first in their lives, that it what they desired at first, but now they were supposed to be walking in the light, and they have a new mission in life, after meeting Jesus–their first love (in terms of importance and priority). So here the meaning of "first" is: most important, it should take priority.
In the Gospel of Matthew, when it says seek "first" the kingdom of God. Or that the first commandment is Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind.
One major problem was the loss of sensitivity (verse 19) ®C it was probably a gradual process, slowly becoming desensitized, it is part of life, human nature, and we need to guard against it ®C some examples in everyday life:
Story about playing guitar and getting tough skin on the fingers. Using an electric toothbrush and not being affected by the vibrations anymore. My students who miss one HW, some feel guilty and catch themselves right away, others think it's no big deal and then end up missing everything and failing the year. Losing sensitivity is not just a physical thing concerning your body, it can affect any aspect of life, mentally, socially, morally, spiritually. How have we lost sensitivity as a church? How have you lost sensitivity personally? Keep this concept in mind as I continue.
Many Ephesians slowly went back to their old ways. Probably not all at once, didn't make any sudden drastic changes, but slowly and gradually. Paul warns against this as he points them out – I think we can all identify with at least one of the following items: lying (4:25) stealing (4:28), unwholesome talk (4:29), rage and anger (4:31), sexual immorality (5:3), obscenity (5:4), drunkenness (5:18). Instead Paul reminds them of what they should cling on to as they pursue their first love of Christ: speaking truthfully (4:25), sharing with those in need (4:28), being compassionate and forgiving each other (4:32), singing and making music giving thanks to the Lord (5:19,20).
So the Ephesians were commanded to go back to their first love–Christ Jesus, not first in time, but first in importance.
Many of you may be thinking that you did not ever serve any other gods, never loved any other religions–you were never pagan like these Ephesians. Maybe Christ was really your first love (in terms of time – you can't remember a time before you were a Christian). For you, then I DO want you to think about "first" in terms of time. Think back to how you felt about your relationship with Christ when you first accepted Him. Were you energetic? Enthusiastic? Excited? Passionate? In some ways you are like children, with an innocence, with a childlike abandonment and faithfulness. Jesus in the Gospels says that we should be like the little children as we seek his kingdom.
Why did you become a Christian in the first place? What made you do it? Think about it / write it down.
(what was so appealing that drew you to this "first love?" – story of brother here at church and how he was touched by the love shown to him by church members when he was first living here, brought him food, etc.) He was motivated and inspired by that love, he wanted that in his own life too. Maybe you became a Christian because of a similar experience, something that really changed your life and your mindset.
But now, many years later, after being a Christian for a while, the energy is gone, the passion is gone.
Maybe you are in a routine where you are doing the same thing every day. You may still pray once in a while, and read the Bible, but you feel that it is nothing special, nothing meaningful.
(story about my bicycle, and how I lost interest in it over time, put it away, forgot about it, but when I ride it I still love it)
What is making us stray away from this first love?
Examples of people who ran after other things (idols) – kings in the Old Testament, but what about going after worldly things that don't seem so bad?
Example of Charles, who started to take over the family business when he graduated college. He became a Christian in college and became very interested, started to learn more and more, but once schooling ended, he had to go into the work world with very long hours. He still tried to go to church and stay connected with a fellowship°™soon afterward he was married, and a few years later he started a family with new baby.
All these are good things, work, marriage, family, children–but through it all he lost sight of God and his relationship with Christ suffered. He definitely is not as enthusiastic about Christ as he was when he first accepted Him, and he definitely is not treating Christ as his first priority either (both definitions of the word "first" are being applied here). Deep down he may want to return to his college days, when he was discovery the glories of Jesus, but will that only happen when he settles down? If he is waiting for that, it may be years and years, if anything, now, his life is speeding up, and getting more complicated, it may take him years, or some great change to reclaim his "first love"
The Ephesians were somewhat like this also – they were not doing poorly. They were not all becoming evil people again. In fact, the passage in Rev.2 says that they have persevered patiently and have rejected evil. They were still "good" people, but they were not doing the works they did at first. They lost their fervor and passion, and they are command to repent, to turn around and go back to their original ways, back to their childlike innocence and faithfulness.
If you have known Christ for a long time, what can you do to revamp and recharge your relationship with him. Think back to what it was like when you first became a Christian – what has changed since then? Like my bike example, I rode to new places (out in Wanaque, mountain biking in Ringwood, Acadia National Park) I biked with new bikers, new people, those who were passionate, rekindled my love for it–I saw others who loved it too, Billy and his friend Jason to NYC, Christina and her new bike.
Try something new in your spiritual life – read new unfamiliar passages in the Bible – share your faith with new people, help guide those new Christians who are confused, but excited. Put away anything that may be causing you to lose your sensitivity. Maybe you used to pray before going to sleep, but now you watch TV instead. Maybe the first thing you did in the morning was open the Bible, but now you turn on the computer and the internet.
The warning is stern – God will come and remove the lampstand (our blessings)
But the reward is equally as precious "I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God."
If you have never known Christ, and never accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, you have that opportunity now also. To experience what it is like to meet Christ for the very first time and get to know him. To make Christ your most important priority, your first love.