In Revelation 2:2-3, The Lord commends the messenger at Ephesus for his toil and perseverance and for his efforts to keep the church pure from evil men. No doubt he had fought a battle against worldliness to keep it from entering the church. Not only that, he had also striven to keep the church pure in doctrine. He had tested those who claimed to be apostles and had proved their claims to be false.
The messenger in the church at Ephesus had also “endured” for the sake of the Lord’s name without giving up (Rev 2:3). What a wonderful man this messenger was, according to the standards of most believers. And what a wonderful church the Ephesian church appeared to be – one that toiled, persevered, kept away evil men, kept out false doctrine and exposed deceivers – thus emphasising both purity of life and purity of doctrine. One would have thought that such a church had everything that the Lord wanted to find in a church. But alas it was not so. It lacked the main thing that the Lord looked for. It had left its first love – love for the Lord and love for one another (Rev 2: 4).
What the Lord said to them was essentially this: “In the midst of all your zeal and your activity, you have lost sight of ME. You have lost that fervent devotion that you once had for Me. You have kept yourself from evil and you have steered clear of doctrinal error. But remember how you loved Me fervently when you were first converted and how you did everything out of love for Me then. Now everything has degenerated into a dry routine. You’re still going to the meetings, reading your Bible and praying. But it has all become a ritual.” The church here had become like a wife who once served her husband joyfully out of love for him, but who now considers the same tasks a drudgery – because the fire of love has gone out of her marriage. In the olden days, she used to wait eagerly for her husband to come back from the office every evening. But not now. She is still faithful to him, but she has lost her first love.
What does a true husband desire from his wife first of all? Is it her love or her labours? Certainly, it is her love. It is the same with the Lord. He desires the love of our hearts first and foremost. When that is gone, everything that we do becomes dead works. Good works become dead works when love for God is not the motivating force behind them.
The believers here had also lost their fervent love for each other. They were no longer able to bear with each other’s weaknesses or to overlook each other’s sins. They had lost their first love for one another too. The messenger had lost his first love – and gradually the church too had become like its messenger.
This was not a small error. It was a great fall – for the Lord says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” We usually think of a believer as having fallen only when he falls into adultery or theft or smoking etc. When we become sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, however, we will recognise that even a slight loss of devotion to the Lord and a slight cooling off in love for others is also evidence of backsliding.
There was only one solution for this problem. “Repent and do the deeds you did at first”, says the Lord (Rev 2:5).