Jesus — The Church’s First LoveNovember 5, 2018
This month, people will be gathering for a special day of Thanksgiving in the United States. My family and I have lived in the former Soviet Union for 27 years, so we have missed Thanksgiving with our extended family for almost three decades! Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated as a holiday in Russia, we gather on that day as a family in our home in Moscow. But it’s not the same as being with our relatives each year at this time.
I encourage you to cherish the special moments you have with your family and loved ones. Even if you have issues that make it difficult to be together, try to put them all aside for a few hours and allow yourself to appreciate the fact that you still have family. It is a precious gift — one that you should enjoy. So let your Thanksgiving Day be an enjoyable one!
It’s no secret that the best, most fulfilling relationships take effort. And although Jesus paid the ultimate price to restore mankind’s relationship with God, our walk with the Lord as believers must continually be maintained. In my communication with partners this month, I have felt led to speak about Jesus’ heartfelt message to His precious Church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7. However, I want to especially emphasize Revelation 2:4, which says, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”
Please read this letter to the end, because I believe God will use it to speak to your heart today.
CAN THE CHURCH BACKSLIDE?
In Revelation 2:4, the word “nevertheless” is a translation of the Greek word alla, which essentially means, “BUT….” It means that despite all the outstanding commendations Christ had given to this church in the previous verses, there was one point that was not commendable.
In spite of all the remarkable features that made the Ephesian church so outstanding, there was one area in which these believers had failed, and it was so bothersome to Christ that He personally held it against them. The phrase “against thee” in Greek is very personal. It informs us that the Lord was deeply disturbed by something He knew about this church.
Jesus declared to the Ephesian believers, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Revelation 2:4).
The Greek sentence structure of this verse is very different from the King James Version I just 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 that they had left. This phrase actually means early love.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHAT YOU
WERE LIKE WHEN YOU FIRST CAME TO CHRIST?
Jesus used these words to remind the Church in Ephesus of the “wonder” 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 or leave behind anything to follow Him.
In Acts 19:18 and 19, the Bible tells us that when they came to Christ, they burned their occult items and amputated every connection to the past that would hinder their new lives in Him. Their repentance 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 later, Christ had to say to them: “Your love, the first one, you have left.”
HOW DOES A PERSON “LEAVE” HIS FIRST LOVE?
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.
Those Ephesian believers were still committed to Christ, but they no longer had the deep passion and fervency for Him that had once consumed their hearts. Over the years, they had become more doctrinally sophisticated and astute, but their simple and profound first love for Jesus had somehow dissipated and slipped away from them, even though they never stopped faithfully serving Him.
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 — it seems that the believers in Ephesus no longer enjoyed their relationship with Jesus as they had many years earlier. This was still a remarkable church, but the spiritual fervency that characterized this body of believers in the past was now missing. The blazing fire that once characterized these believers’ lives had waned until it became little more than a smoldering flame.
THE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL APATHY
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, it does increase the need to work diligently to retain spiritual passion.
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 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 grow dimmer increases dangerously with each new generation — unless each church and its members become unrelenting in their commitment to retain their passion for Christ.
There is no clearer example of this vital principle than the illustrious church of Ephesus. The spiritual fire that once blazed in their midst was slowly flickering away. If this could happen to the Church of Ephesus, it must be taken as a warning for the Church at large in every generation. We must allow the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and reveal whether we are still on fire for the Lord as we once were. It may be a painful revelation to realize that we have lost our fire and zeal. But if we are willing to self-correct, we can be spared the tragedy of becoming spiritually irrelevant to our generation, which is ultimately what happens to any believer who loses his passion. That also includes any church that loses its fervor for Christ.
IS IT TIME FOR SELF-EXAMINATION?
In light of the vital information contained in this letter, I feel the need to ask you:
- Do you still feel passion for Christ as you used to in the early years?
- Do you still feel the wonder of it when you think about the work of the Holy Spirit?
- Do you long for being at Church and experiencing the power of God as you used to experience when you were fresh to this new life?
If your answer was “yes” to these questions, it is wonderful that you are still on track. But if you answered “no” to these questions, it is time for you to take action. God doesn’t want this to take a long time. He just wants you to truthfully acknowledge your spiritual dilemma, ask for forgiveness, repent, and get back on track. I assure you that He is willing to stir the fire in your heart if you are willing for Him to put His hand deep into your heart to get the fire moving! Remember, He is for you, not against you!
That is the message I had on my heart for my partners this month. Let’s stay on track with our relationship with the Lord — and never forget that there is nothing more important than this!
In closing, Denise and I would like to offer to pray with you. We are always here for you when it comes to the issue of prayer. The truth is, we’re praying for you anyway. But when we hear from you, it helps us know how to pray more effectively. If you’ll let us know what’s on your heart, we will become your prayer partners for the needs you’re facing now. Along with our team, we’ll hold those things up before the Lord, believing for a quick and powerful answer to move in your direction!
We love you and thank God for you!
We are your brother and sister, friends, and partners in Jesus Christ,
Rick and Denise Renner
along with Paul, Philip, and Joel and their families