The first epistle the Lord sent to the seven churches in Rev. 2-3 was to Ephesus, and He had only one thing against them, that they left their first love; therefore, they had to repent and do the first works – if not, He would come to them and remove their lampstand out of its place, unless they repent (see Rev. 2:1-7).
Ephesus was a major city in the ancient days, and there was a church there – which most likely was a leading church. The apostle Paul visited this city and spent quite a long time there – even three years (see Acts 20). He admonished the saints, was loved by the saints, and shepherded them according to God, not holding back God’s council from them.
Later, from the prison, he wrote the epistle to the church in Ephesus; the epistle the Ephesians contains the highest revelation concerning the church, and every chapter touches the matter of love. He reminded the brothers concerning God’s love; the building of God is in love, they are rooted and grounded in love, and the last verse says, the grace of the Lord be with all those who love Him in incorruptibility.
Paul detected something in Ephesus; he unveiled God’s economy to them, but at the same time he reminded them concerning the matter of love.
Later, Paul exhorted Timothy to remain in Ephesus and charge some not to teach certain things other than God’s economy, which is in faith (1 Tim. 1:9). God’s economy always leads us and charges us to love the Lord; all other teachings had to be stopped, and the believers need to return to God’s economy, with the goal of love.
In his last epistle, Paul revealed that all those in Asia have turned away from him – this included the church in Ephesus; turning away from the apostle meant that they turned away from his ministry, from the apostles’ teaching.
Twenty years or so later, the Lord Jesus wrote an epistle to the church in Ephesus; this church was chosen to be the first out of the seven to receive the epistle. The believers loving the Lord is related to continuing in God’s New Testament economy; the believers in Ephesus didn’t continue in this, so their first love for the Lord was lost.
The Lord knew their works, their labor, and their endurance; the church in Ephesus was a productive and active church, they endured for the Lord, they didn’t bear evil men but were sanctified, and they discerned the false apostles.
The church in Ephesus was a productive church, spiritually mature, faithful to the Lord, and doing many things for the Lord’s name, even suffering for Him. However, the Lord had one thing against them: that they have left their first love.
Never Leaving our First Love for the Lord but Giving Him the First Place in all Things
The church in Ephesus had many good works, attained a certain level of maturity, suffered for the Lord’s sake, was faithful to Him, and did many things in the Lord’s name, but the Lord had one thing against her: she left her first love for Him.
This “first love” doesn’t refer only to the love that we loved the Lord with when we were saved, but it refers to the best love (same word for “best” is in Luke 15, the “best robe”). The love the Lord wants from us, even after many years of being saved, should be more pure – a better love, even the best love, the love which is God Himself.
The leaving of the first love is the source of and main reason for the failure of the church throughout the ages; this is why the Lord spoke of it in the very first epistle He sent to the churches.
Why do we so easily depart from the first love for the Lord? It is because it doesn’t have roots and ground; our roots and ground is to allow Christ to make His home in our heart, so that we may be rooted and grounded in love (Eph. 3:16-17).
We should not assume that Christ is in our heart, so He’s at home in us; we need to allow Him to take possession of our entire being, and we need to give Him the first place in all things.
I must testify that I love the Lord….Whenever I mention His name, I am happy. When we wake up in the morning, the first thing we should do is say, “O Lord Jesus. O Lord Jesus.”…We should say, “O Lord Jesus, I love You. O Lord Jesus, I love You.” How intimate, how sweet, and how affectionate this is! Our God, our Christ, our Lord, is not only loving but also very affectionate….God has “fallen in love” with us, His chosen and redeemed people. If you say, “O Lord Jesus, I love You,” right away you will fall in love with Him. Quite often I would not do some things, not merely because they are not right or because I fear God but because I love Him. (The Overcomers, pp. 30-31, by W. Lee)
Amen, Lord Jesus, we love You! In Colossians we see that Christ must have the first place in all things; He must have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). We need to allow Him to be the owner of our heart in all our thoughts and decisions and feelings; we need to give Him the preeminence.
If we look at ourselves, do we love the Lord with the best love? Do we allow Him to make Himself at home in all our heart? Do we give Him the preeminence in all things? Do we think of Christ first, or do we think of ourselves – or our service to Him – first?
We need to never leave our first love for the Lord but give Him the first place in all things. To recover the first love for the Lord is to consider the Lord Jesus as the first in everything; if we make Christ everything in our life, this means that we have overcome the loss of the first love (see Psa. 73:25).
When we are about to do something, when we are deciding something, or when we are about to say something, we need to first come to the Lord, contact Him, and tell Him how much we love Him. We shouldn’t just go to the Lord with our needs, burdens, and situations; we should simply go to Him and contact Him all the time to enjoy Him and love Him.
We need to repent for the loss of the first love for the Lord, and we need to care only for the Lord, give Him the first place, and just touch Him in spirit.
Even when we do things for the Lord such as meeting with the saints, helping in the church life, preaching the gospel, and taking care of the new ones, we should first contact the Lord, love Him, give Him the first place, and do all things in oneness with Him.
Lord Jesus, we repent for losing our first love toward You. Rekindle our love for You. We want to give You the first place in all things, and consider You as the first in everything. Lord, You are everything to us: we have nothing in heaven but You, and there’s no one we desire on earth but You! Lord Jesus, we care only for You. We give You the preeminence in our being. Amen, Lord, recover our first love – our best love – for You, so that we may do the first works and be a church that pleases You!
Overcoming the Loss of the First Love by being Constrained by His Love to Live to the Lord
Christ died for us: He loved us to the uttermost, and He gave Himself up for us; when we see His dying love, we are constrained by Him to love Him and live no longer to ourselves but to Him who died and has been raised (2 Cor. 5:9, 14-15).
To overcome the loss of the first love is to be constrained by the love of Christ not merely to live for the Lord but to live to the Lord. What is the difference between living for the Lord and living to the Lord?
For example, a wife may love her husband and may live for her husband; she may cook the best meal she wants to – for her husband, and may do many things for him; but does she live to her husband? Does she listen to his heart’s desire, spend time with him, love him for who he is, and do what he wants her to do?
The Lord doesn’t want us to merely live “for Him” and thus do many things (like Martha) for Him; He wants us to love Him (as Mary did), spend time with Him, listen to His word, be infused with His intention, and live to Him!
To live to the Lord means that we are determined to gain the honor of being well pleasing to Him by being absolutely under His control, direction, and governing; it means that we care uniquely for His aims and goals, and we seek to be fully pleasing to Him.
To live to the Lord means that we are under His direction and control, and we fulfill His requirements, satisfy His desires, and complete what He intends. To live to the Lord is to take Him as our person; we don’t just do things because the Bible tells us so or because they are good things to do – we take Christ as our person, we live to Him, and we check with Him about everything.
The failure of the people of Israel, as seen in Jer. 2:13, is that they forsook God as the fountain of living waters, and they sought other sources besides Him. The degradation of the church is the leaving of the first love; actually, to leave the first love is to just leave Christ, not taking Him as the first in everything.
It is evil in God’s eyes when we as believers in Christ forsake Him as the fountain, the source of living water; when we don’t depend on Him and are not one with Him, He considers whatever we do as evil.
The first love must be to have God, Christ, the Lord, our Master, as the first One in everything – in great things and small things, in important decisions and small decisions, and in all our relationships. We need to ask the Lord to forgive us for all the things in which we do not give Him the preeminence.
When we were regenerated, we had a pure heart and single eyes only for Him; but as time went by, we got more complicated, and now we may not have a single heart for the Lord. We need to return to the best love for Him, return to what was in the beginning.
We need to repent for leaving the first love, and go back to the Lord.
Lord Jesus, forgive us for all the things in which we did not give You the preeminence. We repent before You, and we want to return to You to love You, live to You, and do the first works. Save us from falling into degradation and being apart from You by leaving our first love. Oh Lord, we repent and come back to You, the fountain of living waters, the source of life! We give You the preeminence in everything – in great things as well as in small things. Lord Jesus, we just love You!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by brother James L. for this week, and, The Overcomers, pp. 30-33 (by Witness Lee), as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, Returning to the Orthodoxy of the Church (2016 fall ITERO), msg. 1 (week 1), The Church in Ephesus.
- Hymns on this topic:
# Jesus Lord, You’re our first love; / You’re the One we love the best. / When our heart is loving You, / How we’re filled with Your sweet rest! / Lord, we love You for Yourself, / Not for what You give or do. / Nothing else could e’er compare / With the joy of loving You. (Song on loving the Lord)
# To Ephesus, the word is clear: / “To your first love you’re not so near; / You’ve left to work so far away; / Repent, return to Him today.” / Thus, we must all turn back to Him, / Leave other loves, for these are sin. / Oh, let us hearken to His call— / If we miss this, we’ve missed it all! (Hymns #1274)
# I repent and now return, / Grant my heart for You to burn. / Flame in me this zeal. / Lord, be in me so real! / Jesus, my first Love! Oh Jesus, my best Love, / I now return to You. (Song on Loving Jesus)
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