Devotion 2: “First Love”

March  17th – 21st,  2018

Dr. Allen Roberts, Pastor
Euclid Avenue Baptist Church
Bristol, Virginia

“First love.”  This is a phrase that, in all likelihood, is not comprehended at all beyond the parameters of the Christian faith.  Unfortunately, though, there seems to be a noticeable lack of understanding of the meaning of this phrase among many professing Christians today as well.

So, where did this phrase— “first love”— originate?  And to what does it, exactly, refer?  From the perspective of the New Testament, the phrase was used by the Lord Jesus Himself as He revealed His diagnosis of the spiritual condition of the church in Ephesus (cf. Revelation 2:4).  The use of “first love” within the context of Christianity speaks to “a devoted, passionate, purposeful, even joyful obedience to God on the part of a follower of Jesus Christ as an expression of living life under His sovereign, yet loving, authority and Lordship.”  I am convinced that this is the essence of what Jesus meant in His description of the first part of the Great Commandment, when He said:  “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  This is the first commandment” 

(Mark 12:30).

In Revelation 2 and 3, we discover what Jesus really thought about seven churches that were in existence at the time of the Apostle John’s writing of the book of the Revelation.  The first church which Jesus addressed was Ephesus (cf. 2:1 – 7), and there were a good number of commendable qualities those believers possessed.  However, Jesus was quick to let them know that He knew them intimately, even parts of themselves they did not, and could not, recognize.

Jesus let them know that while they had done many good things, they were guilty of having left, or neglected, their “first love.”  Their “first love” was to be Christ Himself; but, they had abandoned their love for Jesus.  How does something like this happen in the life of a believer?  In the life of a local New Testament church?  How does a church family neglect their priority of a “first love” for the Son of God while continuing to do ministry?!  I am certain of at least one thing; such a spiritual condition did not happen overnight.

The Ephesian church had an amazing spiritual heritage.  Paul, Timothy, and John had each been used by the Holy Spirit of God to shape and influence this church.  This church witnessed many people coming to faith in Christ.  They grew in number.  They withstood the oppressive struggles carried out against them by Jewish leaders, and the persecution of the Roman Empire.  But, over time, they had begun to be satisfied with the way things had been.

The Ephesian believers had continued to do ministry, but somewhere along the way, the work of the Lord had become nothing more than a routine for them.  Ministry had become a mere duty to perform.  It no longer was something they felt compelled to do because of the love of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14 – 15).  Instead, ministry had become nothing more than a spiritual obligation that had to be carried out.

The “first love” of the Ephesian church for Christ had faded as they had forgotten the real reason they even existed as a body of believers.  It was a gradual process for this whole-hearted passion for Christ to be replaced by the busyness of life and ministry.  They eventually came to the place where they did not love the Lord Jesus the way that they once had.  They perhaps came to love what Jesus could do for them more than they actually just loved Him.

What happened spiritually within the church at Ephesus can also happen to each one of us as individual Christians, and corporately as a church fellowship.  When we, like those second generation believers in Ephesus, neglect our “first love” for Jesus, we can grow tired of church life.  Doing ministry— doing “good things” for the sake of meeting the needs of other people— can become nothing more than a duty, a chore, an expectation to be checked off our “to do” list.

Does the church in Ephesus, as Jesus described it, look like the church here at Euclid Avenue?  Does your own life mirror that of the Ephesian Christians?  If so, what is the remedy for you?  for me?  How do we change things from the way they are to what they should be?  How can we love Christ like we once did?  Thankfully, Jesus did not leave the church at Ephesus in the dark, and neither has He left us without clear direction.  Jesus has declared that if our “first love” has grown cold toward Him we must do three specific things:  we must remember, repent, and return (cf. Revelation 2:5).

First, we must remember “from where you have fallen.”  We have to remember what our lives were like when Christ was our first priority in every arena of life.  We have to remember the price He chose to pay in order to redeem us from our sin and Satan’s chains of dominion over us.  We have to remember the steps of disobedience and neglect we have taken that have gotten us to where we are spiritually even today.

Second, we also have to repent of our sinful indifference towards the Lord Jesus.  We must repent of the reason(s) for leaving Jesus as our “first love.”  The Apostle Paul asked a question of the church in Galatia that we would do well to apply to our lives as well.  He asked them, “You ran well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7).  Another way to say what Paul did to the Galatians might be this:  “You once were known for your passion and fervor for the Lord Jesus.  Why do you now not love Him as much as you once did?”

We must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the reason(s) for our sinful neglect and indifference towards our Savior and Redeemer.  We must then allow Him to fulfill His work of conviction within our hearts, our minds and our souls, one which is designed to lead us into the fullness of repentance.  We must fully turn away from everyone, and everything, that is hindering us from experiencing a close intimacy with our Lord.

Then, third, Jesus also says that we must return to doing “the first works.”  What He meant is that if our repentance is genuine, we will return to doing the things we did when we first experienced the grace and mercies of the Lord Jesus.  The most basic sense of this, I believe, revolves around the simplicity of sharing our personal testimonies of faith, and the passionate attitude we once possessed in telling someone else about the life-changing power of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.  Remember that the Christians in Ephesus had continued to do ministry, but there was no heart or soul in what they were doing because their love for Jesus was so neglected and diminished.  They possessed a form of godliness, but they denied the power of the Gospel (cf. 2 Timothy 3:5).  God forbid that we would choose to continue to grieve the heart of our Lord Jesus by attempting to follow Him, serve in His name, and worship Him with a lukewarm love (cf. Revelation 3:14 – 16).

If the church at Ephesus as described by Jesus in Revelation 2:1 – 7 aptly depicts the body here at Euclid Avenue, we must do what He instructed that ancient church to do.  We, too, must remember, repent, and return, or we will find that very little will happen within, and through, this church family that will manifest the life-changing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Apart from such obedience, we will remain spiritually sick and inept, desperately lacking the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

What is the Holy Spirit revealing to you, and convicting you of, even now that needs to change in your own life today?  And how will you choose to respond to Him in light of His call to a life of devoted, passionate, purposeful and joyful obedience to the authority of Jesus’ Lordship?  May each of us choose to pursue, and fulfill, the “first love” that will fully please the heart of the Son of God— our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord, our very Life; the One whose name is Jesus.

Scripture passages for reading and meditation:

  • Revelation 2:1 – 7
  • Jeremiah 3:6 – 4:4
  • Mark 12:28 – 34
  • Psalm 42:1 – 2
  • Joshua 24:14 – 28
  • John 21:1 – 19
  • Philippians 3:7 – 14

“Knowing You (All I Once Held Dear)”

Graham Kendrick

All I once held dear, built my life upon,

All this world reveres and wars to own;

All I once thought gain I have counted loss;

Spent and worthless now compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You;

There is no greater thing.

You’re my all, You’re the best,

You’re my joy, my righteousness,

And I love You, Lord.

Now my heart’s desire is to know You more,

To be found in You and known as Yours;

To possess by faith what I could not earn,

All surpassing gift of righteousness.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You;

There is no greater thing.

You’re my all, You’re the best,

You’re my joy, my righteousness,

And I love You, Lord.

Oh, to know the power of Your risen life,

And to know You in Your sufferings;

To become like You in Your death, my Lord;

So with You to live and never die.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You;

There is no greater thing.

You’re my all, You’re the best,

You’re my joy, my righteousness,

And I love You, Lord;

I love You, Lord.

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