Recommended Reading: Revelation 2:2-7
Recommended Listening: Only One by Harvest (It’ll wreck your life)
This is the first post in a blog series! I’m calling it “First Love.” To start things off, I’ll ask you a simple question:
What is your reason for seeking God?
I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately. Back when I first believed, I sought His presence just for the sake of being in His presence. I was in love with it. It strengthened me for the day; it was what allowed me to keep going. I leaned on it–I needed it.
I’m going to choose to be vulnerable with this post and admit that I’ve strayed from that.
Lately my motivations for seeking God have been different. I’m still seeking Him, so for awhile I was able to convince myself that everything was okay, but it’s not.
I’ve been seeking God lately because I feel obligated to, for the sake of my ministry.
Someday I want to be a youth pastor. I write a blog about Jesus (maybe you’ve heard of it).
I need knowledge to relay to my audience, and that has been my reason for seeking Jesus lately.
Those reasons might not seem that bad in writing, but in practice I can tell you firsthand that they are terrible reasons for seeking God if they are your only reasons. They don’t stem directly from the pure love of God.
Ministry should follow your love for God, not the other way around.
I have learned that the hard way over the last few weeks, and what a dark, dry couple of weeks it has been. You need to be filled before you can pour out. Before you can reap, you have to sow. We’re not in charge of a whole lot of the process, but we are in charge of sowing. And that step includes our own spiritual health.
This morning God is asking me to return to my first love, to seek Him just for the sake of seeking Him. He’s tired of the excuses I keep giving Him for my invulnerability, and when He’s tired of something it gets rooted out.
You can be doing all the right things.
God has some startling words for the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, an that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”
I realize this is the third week in a row that I’ve talked about Revelation. Also, I’m not sorry.
For the curious, here is some information on the Nicolaitans I found for you. For the rest of you, just know that they weren’t great.
The Ephesians were doing so many of the right things. To name a few, they…
- Toiled for the Gospel (Colossians 3:23)
- Patiently endured (James 1:12)
- Did not tolerate evildoers (Psalm 97:10)
- Used discernment to find out false apostles (Matthew 7:15-16)
- Did not grow weary (Galatians 6:9)
To me, this sounds like a great church. They seem like they work as hard, if not harder, for God than any church body I’ve ever seen. They did everything right, and God acknowledged that.
Unfortunately, there was a problem.
As we can see in verse 4, it was not out of the love they had for God.
Sometimes even mature believers need to be reminded of the Gospel: that everything we have is because of the love of God. Likewise, everything we do should stem out of the love of God. The Ephesians seem to have forgotten that; they have given up their love in exchange for works that look really good from the outside.
I am reminded of the latter half of 1 Samuel 16:7:
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
Quite a different context, I know, but God is unchanging. If He prioritized the heart above appearance in 1 Samuel, He still does that today. The Ephesians had a great appearance…but their heart was after other things. They had left their first love, and that is a sad thing to think about.
This phrase from verse 5 is consistently striking to me:
Remember then from what you have fallen.
Jesus is saying, “Don’t you remember the way things used to be? Don’t you want that again? I want that again.” How many of us have felt that way about a relationship here on Earth?
It’s too easy to become complacent in our faith, but we have to fight against that. We have to be willing to remember what our love for Jesus was like at first. It isn’t feelings-based, although out of His grace there is a good chance that He will choose to give you amazing feelings. It’s much deeper than that; it is a commitment full of expectation, hope, and satisfaction. Do you long for that again?
The works they were doing were not the same as the ones they did at first, and God asked them to repent.
Repentance seems like a heavy-handed commandment at first glance, but in my own life I have found it to be a beacon of hope. Think about it: only a God who is willing to forgive and give second chances would ask His church to repent. If He was not forgiving, if there was no hope, there would be no point in repentance.
Repentance is not a slap on the wrist. When we repent, we change our direction and come back to God, at which point He welcomes us home and Heaven rejoices!
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. – Luke 15:7
So now, you might be asking yourself the question I was asking when I first read this passage: What does God mean when He says He will remove their lampstand? David Guzik puts it this way in his commentary on Revelation 2:
He will remove their light and His presence. When their lampstand is removed, they may continue as an organization, but no longer as a true church of Jesus Christ. It will be the church of Ichabod, where the glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21).
God is serious about this. When you think of a church, I hope you think of a place full of the presence and glory of God, a light to the nations. God is willing to take all that away from the church of Ephesus because they lost their first love.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a scary thought to me. I don’t think I prioritize “the love I had at first” highly enough. It is God’s number one priority, even above showcasing His glory and spreading light to the world. It’s nothing if His people have no love.
That is enough to make me examine my own heart.
I’ll tell you something I’ve learned: that “first love” didn’t come from us the first time around, and we’re not going to get back to it by our own strength or our own efforts. We need to ask God to meet us where we are and give us that love again. It all comes from Him–we just need to open up our hearts so He can do His work. We need to be willing to notice when we love something above God (even if it’s our service to God) and repent for it.
In the next few weeks I’ll focus on what the phrase, “…do the works you did at first.” These are works motivated by your love for God and nothing else, and they are works that grow your love for God. I’ll talk about one each week.
For now, let’s do some heart examination and make sure we’re starting from a place of simple love for our Creator. If that isn’t something you can say, pray! God will help you through the process of repentance. It may also help to talk to another believer who can keep you accountable and periodically follow up with you and see how you’re doing.
Practical steps to come! Next week we’ll start out strong with the importance of spending time in the Word.
Until next time,