The Christian’s First Love and Works

by Mike Ratliff

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. (Jeremiah 2:1-2 ESV)

As I think back on that startling, abrupt, life-changing time immediately following God graciously brining me into knowing Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, justifying me and placing me on that narrow road of sanctification, I remember my deep devotion to all things related to my faith. Some of those things were obviously part of the trappings of religiosity, but, primarily, I remember not being able to get enough of God’s Word and that is still the case. He has since that time chiseled and burned away much of the dross and worthless stuff from me that hindered me in my pilgrimage. It should be no surprise though that much of what was taken away were things, ministries, and people that I clung to desperately thinking they were vital parts of what made up “my walk.” In my case, my “first love,” which at times had diminished as I served religious things and worked at my religion with much vigor, has actually grown much deeper as the focus has been removed from all that to simply loving and obeying my Lord.

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Revelation 2:1-7 ESV)

This is a remarkable passage. The following is from The MacArthur Bible Commentary on this passage, page 1995.

2:1 angel. The elder or pastor from the church…Ephesus. It was the inland city three miles from the sea, but the broad mouth of the Cayster River allowed access and provided the greatest harbor in Asia Minor. Four great trade roads went through Ephesus; therefore, it became know as the gateway to Asia. It was the center of the worship of Artemis (Greek), or Diana (Roman), whose temple was one of the seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Paul ministered there for three years (Acts 20:31), and later met with the Ephesian elders on his way to Jerusalem (Acts 20). Timothy, Tychicus, and the apostle John all served this church. John was in Ephesus when he was arrested by Domitian and exiled fifty miles southwest to Patmos.

From our Lord’s own words in this passage we know that the believers in this church had remained faithful to the Word and the Lord since its founding even through difficulty and persecution. They had the right motive because their first love was right, Christ and His reputation alone. However in v4 our Lord tells us that there is a problem. Here is that verse from the ESV and the Greek New Testament:

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:4 ESV)

ἀλλ᾿ ἔχω κατὰ σοῦ, ὅτι τὴν ἀγάπην σου τὴν πρώτην ἀφῆκας.

But I have against you, that the love of you the foremost you sent off. (word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)

If you read all of Revelation 2:1-7 then you know that this was a good looking church on the outside. They did a lot of good things. They had people working hard doing the right things, believing the right things, but there was a huge problem. I think this is the very thing the Lord cleansed me of over the years and the same thing He has done with many of you as well. We get our focus on our religion, on our works, on all those good things, but we neglect the foremost, the first and most important thing. To be a Christian is to love the Lord Jesus Christ foremost (John 14:21, 23; 1 Corinthians 16:22). Christians can easily find their passion and fervor for Christ growing cold when the focus becomes religion instead of the Saviour Himself. When this happens, the result is a cold, mechanical orthodoxy. Yes, the doctrine can be right, and even the zeal for the truth can be right and the pastor can still preach doctrinally right sermons, but that does not mean there is any internal fire of the first love of Christ burning there. Is this a serious thing?

In v5, our Lord commands the Ephesians to remember, repent and do the works done at first or He will remove their lampstand. That means that they will be part of the visible church at the most, but will cease being part of the real church. They could simply cease to exist altogether. Do you suppose the former is what has happened to a large part of Evangelicalism in our time my brethren?

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “The Christian’s First Love and Works

  1. This is a sobering passage of scripture. Like you said, this church was doing very good things, yet it was not enough. It tells us to do 3 things: Remember, repent and return. Remember how it was when we first knew His love and desired to know more of Him more than anything else. How captivated we were with His word and prayer.
    Repent of our complacency and our going through the motions. Repent of our failure to stay at the foot of the cross in awe and gratitude and our taking Him for granted. Return to His word constantly. Pray to have the Holy Spirit fill us with the knowledge of His love.

    God bless you and thanks for this wonderful message.


  2. Amen!
    May the Lord Jesus Christ continually, perpetually remove all traces or hints of “religion” from my heart and soul.
    Praise God for the refiner’s fire, burning all the impurities so that one day (SOON) I shall come forth as gold.
    Praise the name of Jesus!!


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