Ephesus was once a famous and flourishing Greek city. The apostle Paul founded the church in Ephesus and spent three years discipling the first believers there. He later wrote them the letter we know as the book of Ephesians and established Timothy as their pastor. Many believe that John became their pastor after Timothy, and that he was probably living in Ephesus when he was taken captive and exiled to Patmos.
In Revelation 2, John recorded the first of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Roman Asia Minor, and he began with a message to the church in Ephesus.
Jesus reminded the Ephesians that He “walks among the seven golden lamp stands”—in other words, He was always with them, and He had the power to supply all their needs (2:1). But His presence also meant He was aware of their shortcomings.
Before He dealt with their faults, Christ praised the Ephesian church for what they were doing right. He commended them for their “deeds” and “hard work” (2:2).
Christians today often de-emphasize the importance of works because we don’t want to diminish the priority of grace in salvation. But wherever a clear message of grace is preached, you’ll find an active, dynamic church, like the church in Ephesus.
In addition, this body of believers was a disciplined and discerning church. They didn’t “tolerate wicked people,” ignoring willful sin or excusing evil behavior (2:2). They fought hard to remain pure in doctrine as well. They “tested those who claim to be apostles but are not” and “found them false” (2:2).
Ephesus was also a persevering, enduring, determined church. They refused to give up, even as they suffered for the sake of the gospel.
So, what could Jesus possibly have had against them?
In all their hard work and busyness on His behalf, they had let their hearts grow cold. The believers in Ephesus had forsaken their first love for Jesus (2:4). They’d forgotten the fervent, personal love they once felt toward Him.
As new believers, most of us are pretty passionate and uninhibited in our expression of love toward Christ and our fellow Christians, as well as in our loving concern for the lost. However, our passion can fade over time—and good works can become a substitute for a real relationship with Christ. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves simply going through the motions, acting out of duty, obligation or even habit, instead of devotion.
We may suppose that as long as—ultimately—we’re doing all the right things, the attitude of our hearts doesn’t really matter. But in those times, Jesus says to us what He said to the Ephesians:
“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent” (2:5).
In the book of Revelation, Jesus makes it clear that He won’t settle for a loveless relationship with us. He has no interest in disciples who are only all duty and obligation.
More than anything else, He wants our hearts. He desires our wholehearted love and devotion (Matthew 22:37).
Jesus gave the church in Ephesus—and all believers who have forsaken their first love—three steps, or exhortations, that would bring them restoration and renewal.
Restoration begins with remembering (2:4). We remember why we gave our hearts to Christ in the first place and what our relationship with Him was like when we were first saved. How excited, enthusiastic and grateful we felt!
We recall how we used to delight in reading His Word, worshipping Him, fellowshipping with other believers and being His witnesses. We reflect on what it was like when we learned to trust Him with both the simplest and greatest of our needs.
To repent means to change our minds and go in the opposite direction (2:5). If we find that we have forsaken our first love, then we make the deliberate choice to change direction and turn back toward Him. We turn our hearts and our minds—and anything else that needs turning or reorienting—back to Him.
It’s a conscious decision, an act of the will.
We do again the things we did at first (2:5). We practice again and again the faithful steps of discipleship that we once took eagerly and voluntarily as new believers. We make a point of reconnecting with Him, rebuilding the relationship the same way lovers and friends do.
We engage in those activities that used to bring us close to Christ and bring us joy. We spend time alone in His presence; we talk openly and honestly with Him; we listen to Him.
If we will make a point of consistently nurturing our relationship with Christ, we can trust that the feelings will return. Our love for Him will be renewed and restored.
In fact, it’ll come back stronger, richer, and deeper than ever before.
Lord Jesus, I offer You my heart once more today. Help me remember the joy of my salvation and repent of the ways I’ve grown increasingly distracted and disconnected from You. Forgive me, Jesus. Remind me of the things I did at first and empower me to do them eagerly once more, as I return to You, the One who first loved me and gave Himself for me.
Taken from When Christ Appears © 2017 Dr. David Jeremiah, Used with permission by Worthy Books, an imprint of Worthy Publishing Group, a division of Worthy Media Inc., All Rights Reserved.