During this time of upheaval with a worldwide plague, national soul-searching, civil unrest and a contentious election season at home, the message to the church of Ephesus rings amazingly current: while the Ephesian church (Revelation 2:1-7) is battle-hardened and filled with discernment when it comes to protecting itself from untruths (Revelation 2:2-3), it is failing at the most basic level: the people have lost their first love (Revelation 2:4). Love as defined by God (the benchmark since He Himself is love, 1 John 4:8) takes on many definitions: Self-sacrifice, love of enemies, love of God’s commandments (aka, His Law, His Word, The Bible), love made manifest through helping one another. The opposite, hate, is also well-defined: it’s actually akin to murder; it’s neglecting to care for others, it’s abandoning love as defined by God (1 John 4:7-21). We are also told not to love the world: the desires of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Don’t fall for the greed for more money, sexual gratification outside of God’s boundaries, and the temptation of power and control over others (1 John 2:15-16). To love the things of this world won’t love you back and it’s all passing away along with its desires (1 John 2:17).
Let your light shine
So in many ways, to lose our first love is to love other things more than God. It’s simple but always so convicting since our hearts are so very prone to wander! But one temptation to lose our first love in the context of the book of Revelation is the loss of our Christian faithful witness in a pagan culture. With all the imposition of a culture at home that is increasingly pagan (the worship of sex, money and power are very old and pagan concepts), Jesus is calling us not to lose our witness to those around us. Jesus said it on the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:14-16):
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand [Note: “lampstand” in the Greek], and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[a] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Also in Matthew, Jesus warned that people’s love would grow cold (which was happening in Ephesus) and they would lose their faithful witness as a result (Matthew 24:12-14):
And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Reflections for the week:
In Revelation, Jesus commends His church and walks among us by His Spirit. But He also loves us enough to challenge the way we think and do things. During this election season and a time of soul-searching in the culture on matters of deep-rooted prejudice and racism, we too run the risk of losing our witness: do we hate people? (1 John 3:11-15; in fact the twenty-four verses of chapter 3 are a must-read). Do we despise those who vote differently from us? Do we despise those who look differently, think, speak, socialize, etc. differently from us? It seems the human heart is one big giant manufacturing plant of prejudice! If you don’t believe that, peruse social media. This is why we urgently need to return to our first love, the love that doesn’t despise others; the love that loves God and His Word; the love that knows the world and its desires will never ever satisfy us; the love that loves our enemies. We remember that while we were enemies of God, He gave His own life for us. We remember that the “greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). This is the love of God in Christ and we too will be measured by this standard. Of course the warning of judgement is very clear in Revelation 2:1-7: If we lose this witness, the natural consequence is we will lose the lampstand upon which our light hangs. We become ineffective in our witness to others. But if we persevere (a key word in Revelation), we see ourselves through, empowered by the Spirit, and are more than conquerors in Christ! This is our hope and prayer for our witness here where God has planted us in New England.