Let me describe a church for you. This church was planted by a pre-eminent missionary and theologian. His own conversion had shaken a nation and his consequent ministry set the standard for generations. He is still the measure that many look to and his methods have been copied ever since his groundbreaking ministry.
This church thrived, but early on there were warning signs of future troubles. The original church planter eventually sent one of the young men he had mentored to go there and try to set things in order.
In time, another very prominent church leader became the pastor and most likely stemmed the tide of decline for many years.
Eventually, even though from the outside the church was likely the envy of many congregations and pastors, they received the condemnation of having left their first love, Jesus Christ.
The church, of course, was at Ephesus. Despite a start and early life which would cause many to be jealous, it eventually received a sad report from Jesus Christ Himself. In Revelation 2 Jesus commends them for their work, labour and patience, yet those words are soon followed by the condemnation that they had left their first love.
At Ephesus, they were busy with “ministry”, they worked hard. The word “labour” indicates that their works came at a cost. They served sacrificially, perhaps they gave without thought for themselves. They displayed patience, they continued with their works even though it caused them loss. At Ephesus, they were morally upstanding which was revealed by their intolerance for anyone who was evil. At Ephesus, they were doctrinally sound, which was demonstrated by their rejection of false apostles, false teachings and false teachers.
And yet despite all that, Jesus says they had left their first love. They had not lost it, but they had left it. All the good they did was undermined and perhaps much was undone because of a lack of love.
Compare the commendation of Ephesus with Paul’s commendation of the church at Thessalonica. At Thessalonica they were doing the same things, working, labouring and doing so with patience. But in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 we read,
“Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;”
Where Ephesus had works, Thessalonica had a work of faith.
Where Ephesus had labour, Thessalonica had a labour of love.
Where Ephesus had patience, Thessalonica had a patience of hope.
The difference is striking, and should cause believers in any congregation to reflect on our own fellowship.
Is our work about love for God and others, or is it purely duty and doing what we do because that’s what we do. Are we trying to supplement the true power of God with busyness.?
Is our labour, our loss due to the work, doing lovingly, or do we boast of our sacrifice? Have we allowed sacrifice to cultivate pride rather than realise any sacrifice is simply our reasonable service and that we could never truly sacrifice anything in our service to the King of kings.
Is our patience simply stubbornness? Is it for others to see and praise us for?
Do we embrace righteousness with humility, or do we arrogantly judge those we deem sinners? Does our separation from sin reflect righteousness and point to Christ, or does it cause resentment and drive people further into darkness? One old preacher says that “There is an anger against impurity which is impurity itself.”
Does our doctrinal purity stem from love, or is it another point for pride and dry orthodoxy?
G. Campbell Morgan sums up Christ’s instruction for Ephesus. They were to remember their first love, repent of their sins and return (do the first works) to their original love for their Lord and Saviour.