Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
— Revelation 2:4
On April 24, I wrote a Sparkling Gem called “Remembering Your First Love.” Today I’d like to take that Gem a step further to really develop what Jesus had to say in Revelation 2:4 when He spoke to His precious church in the city of Ephesus.
In Revelation 2:4, Jesus told the church of Ephesus, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” The word “nevertheless” is a translation of the Greek word alla, which essentially means “BUT…”
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Despite all the outstanding commendations Christ had just given to this church, there was one point that was not commendable. Jesus was so dismayed and disconcerted by this one serious defect that He told the Ephesian believers, “…I have somewhat against thee.”
The words “I have” are a translation of the Greek word echo, which means I have or I hold. In spite of all the remarkable features that made the Ephesian church so outstanding, there was one area where these believers had failed, and it was so bothersome to Christ that He personally held it against them. The phrase “against thee” is very personal, informing us that Christ was deeply disturbed by something He knew about this church.
Jesus then declared to the Ephesian believers, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Revelation 2:4).
The word “love” in this verse is the Greek word agape, which we have studied before. This word agape is so filled with deep emotion and meaning that it is one of the most difficult words to translate in the New Testament. The task of adequately explaining this word has baffled translators for centuries; nevertheless, an attempt will be made here to clarify the meaning of agape and then to apply it to the context of Revelation 2:4.
As I have stated before in previous Gems, agape occurs when an individual sees, recognizes, understands, and appreciates the value of an object or a person, causing him to behold this object or person in great esteem, awe, admiration, wonder, and sincere appreciation. Such great respect is awakened in the heart of the observer for the object or person he is beholding, that he is compelled to love. In fact, his love for that person or object is so strong that it is irresistible. This kind of love knows no limits or boundaries in how far, wide, high, and deep it will go to show love to its recipient. If necessary, agape love will even sacrifice itself for the sake of that object or person it so deeply cherishes. Agape is therefore the highest, finest, most noble, and most fervent form of love.
In addition, the Greek sentence structure of this verse is very different from the King James Version previously quoted. The original Greek literally states, “…because your love, the first one, you have left.” The phrase “the first one” is a clarification of what type of love Jesus was describing. This phrase comes from the Greek words ten proten, which modifies agape to mean first love or early love. Jesus used this phrase here to remind the church in Ephesus of the esteem, awe, admiration, wonder, and appreciation that was first awakened in their hearts for Him when they received Him as their Savior many years earlier.
Like young people who fall in love, the Ephesians fell hard when they first came to Christ. Their hearts were captivated with their love for Jesus. There were no limits to what they would surrender to Him, no boundaries to their obedience. They were willing to sacrifice and leave behind anything to follow Him.
Acts 19:18,19 described the Ephesian believers’ early act of public repentance, when they burned their occult fetishes and attempted to amputate every connection to the past that would hinder their new lives in Christ. The repentance of these new believers was so deeply rooted in their hearts that it produced a radical, far-reaching, profound transformation that completely altered their way of living. They were fervently in love with Jesus and completely sold out to Him — with no sorrows, regrets, or reservations.
But by the time the apostle John saw the exalted Christ on the island of Patmos, decades had passed since the Ephesian believers first repented — and in the vision, Christ issued them this stern warning: “Your love, the first one, you have left.” The phrase “you have left” is from the Greek word aphiemi, which denotes the voluntary release of something once held dear or to neglect, to ignore, or to leave something or someone behind. Although the Ephesian believers were still committed to Christ, doing everything “for his name’s sake,” they no longer had the deep passion and fervency for Him that had once consumed their hearts. Over the years, as they became more doctrinally sophisticated and astute, their simple but profound first love for Jesus had somehow dissipated and slipped away from them, even though they never stopped faithfully serving Him.
It seems that after fighting spiritual battles year after year — testing false apostles, training leaders, starting new churches, overseeing entire groups of churches, and dealing with spiritual wolves who were constantly trying to ravage their ministry base — the Ephesian congregation became so focused on protecting their church that they were no longer able to enjoy their relationship with Jesus as they had many years earlier. This was still a remarkable church, but the spiritual fervency that had characterized this body of believers in the past was now missing. It was for this reason that Jesus was so deeply disturbed. The blazing fire that once characterized the Ephesian believers had gradually waned until it became little more than a smoldering flame.
It often happens that the first generation of Christians, during a move of God, experiences dramatic salvations as that segment of the Church is born in the power of the Spirit. However, the second generation, raised in a Christian environment, often doesn’t experience the same radical deliverance their parents did. Of course, it should be the goal of all believing parents to raise their children in a godly environment; however, they can never stop working diligently to keep the fires of spiritual passion burning.
As each successive generation becomes more accustomed to a Christian environment — learning to speak the language of the church, sing the songs of the church, and act the way “church” people should act — it becomes easy for the younger generations to slip into a mindset of familiarity. Too often this can produce apathy in people’s hearts, ultimately leading them to take the redemptive work of Christ for granted. Therefore, the potential for spiritual fires to die down and become a pile of smoldering embers increases dangerously with each new generation. The only way for each local body and its members to avoid that process is to become unrelenting in their commitment to retain their spiritual passion for Christ.
There is no clearer example of this vital principle than the illustrious church of Ephesus, which was perhaps the finest congregation that existed in the First Century. Although only a few decades had passed since the birth of this church, the fervency that once gripped these believers’ hearts had waned. The spiritual fire that once blazed in their midst was gradually diminishing into a flickering flame, replaced instead by orthodoxy, creeds, and dogmas — a form of religion that lacked the power known by the earlier generation (see 2 Timothy 3:5).
If this could happen to the church of Ephesus, it must be taken as a warning for the Church in every generation. We must regularly allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and reveal whether or not we are still on fire for the Lord as we once were. It may be a painful revelation to realize that we have become doctrinally sophisticated yet powerless. However, if we are willing to remember from whence we have fallen and then to repent, we can be spared the tragedy of becoming irrelevant to our generation.
As I conclude today, my own heart is stirred. Oh, let each of us examine our own heart to see if we have let anything slip in our fervent pursuit of Jesus. And if we discover that we have left our first love in any way, let’s take every step necessary to fan the fire within until it blazes hot and high for Him the way it did when we first came to know Jesus Christ!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, as I read how the church at Ephesus subtly shifted its focus from walking with You to working for You, I’m struck by the realization of how easily our attention can fasten on what we do for You instead of on You for who You are. Lord, I repent for how I’ve allowed the cares of life and my concern for other things to harden my heart and dull the fervency of my passion for You. When I compare how I am today to how I was when I first came to Jesus, I must admit that I’ve become doctrinally sophisticated yet spiritually powerless. I confess my sin of idolatry because I’ve allowed other things to become enthroned in my heart. Holy Spirit, I humbly ask You to work in me, to ignite within me a white-hot fervor for Jesus like I’ve never known. Bring me to a place where my chief desire is to know Him, to love Him, to walk with Him, to serve Him, and to please Him in the pure power of holiness.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I declare that I am in love with Jesus Christ. He is the center of my life. My love for Him consumes me and motivates every part of my life. I started out in the fire of God, and I will end in the fire of God. I allow the Holy Spirit to search my heart regularly to reveal my true spiritual state. I refuse to become doctrinally sophisticated yet powerless and irrelevant. I confess that I am overwhelmed with the love of Jesus. My heart is increasingly captivated by Him. Every day, every week, and every year that passes, I grow more deeply in love with Him. Soon I’ll meet Him face to face. Each morning I awaken with greater determination to live my life for that moment when I look into His loving eyes. Oh, what a day that will be — but until then, I want to be consumed with His fire!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- If the church of Ephesus could lose its first love, then Jesus’ message to them in Revelation 2:4 must be taken as a warning for the Church in every generation? Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and reveal whether or not you are still on fire for the Lord as you once were.
- Have you ever had the painful realization that you had become doctrinally sophisticated yet spiritually powerless? If you are willing to remember your first love and repent, you can be spared the tragedy of becoming irrelevant to your generation.
- Why don’t you take a moment to examine your heart and see if you have let anything slip? If you discover that you have left your first love in any way, take every step necessary to return to the flaming fire of passion you had in your heart when you first came to know Jesus Christ!