In Revelation John wrote to the church at Ephesus as follows: “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance [steadfastness], and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:2-5).
At first glance the church at Ephesus had everything going for it. They toiled for the Lord with great perseverance and steadfastness. The churches of Christ were, at that time, under great persecution by the Roman Empire and by orthodox Jewish sects. It took great strength and perseverance just to exist as a body of believers, let alone engage in the monumental task of spreading the word of God. God recognized and commended them for that quality.
Further, the church had apparently been infiltrated by false prophets and some who called themselves Apostles. At thattime the church was under assault by various groups and men who advocated doctrines other than the true gospel of Christ. Among them were the Gnostics who were a false sect who taught a doctrine of “secret knowledge” as a means to salvation. They denied that Jesus was the Christ and battled Paul throughout his ministry. Also present were the aesthetic Jews who wanted to mix Christianity with elements of the Jewish Law, and legalism which pervaded Israel during the time of Christ. Other groups preached mystical doctrines that conditioned righteousness of what men ate drank or how they conducted themselves in various rituals such as washings, fastings, and other natural observances such as new moon festivals etc. Others taught angel worship (See the Books of Colossians and Galatians, wherein Paul opposed these types of intruding religions). The Ephesian church had the perception to weed out these evil influences from their midst and adhere to the true gospel taught them by John.
Further they had endured, even while being under the greatest persecution the early church had faced during that time from many fronts. One of Satan’s greatest tactics of spiritual warfare was and is to “wear down” those pursuing Christ, as noted by Daniel in 7:25: “He [Satan] will speak words against the Most High and wear down the saints [holy ones] of the Highest One” Yet God commends the Ephesian church for enduring and not becoming weary; they refused to be worn down by the continual assault of the enemy.
Therefore at first glance it appeared the Ephesian church had done everything right. What could God possibly have against such a faithful, victorious church? I am sure the church through they were doing very well themselves. However, as one reads on in the scripture, God had something against them that was so important that it could lead to their very destruction if left uncorrected. They had left their first love. They were so focused on doing works, enduring, weeding out evil and being steadfast that they had forgotten why they were doing it all in the first place.
First and foremost God requires that we love Him first, before all other things. An Israelite lawyer, one who knew and practiced the Law of Moses, asked Christ the following question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost [first] commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38).
Certainly this world, in all its various pursuits, has completely lost touch with God completely. The human intellect and man’s soulish pursuits of pleasure have erased God from any consideration in the hearts of men. But here God is not speaking to humanity in general—He is speaking to a faithful, steadfast, perceptive Christian church that despite all their good works will lose out with God unless He becomes their only priority.
The Kingdom of God is all about having a personal relationship with God. It is about love—loving Him first before anything else. He is a jealous God. When one of His chosen focuses on something other than Him He becomes enraged and reacts violently. This is all too evident in the way He treated the nation of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament. When Israel would begin to focus on other things, like the gods of the surrounding nations, God would judge them severely. He would react as would any jealous lover when he/she is betrayed. Jealous rages account for a majority of murders in society. God judged His chosen nation of Israel many times for their apostasy.
Over and over in the scriptures God likens Israel, His chosen nation, to whoredom (see the Book of Hosea for example). That is not to say that He likened the Ephesian church to whoredom but the principle is the same. Anything that rivals God for His affections is something that displeases Him no matter how good the intentions. No one can argue that the Ephesian church had good intentions in doing everything they knew to please God. Yet in all their doing, somehow they lost their bearings and forgot for whom they were doing all these good things.
Many Christian churches of today are involved in many kinds of good works they intend to please God. Missionary movements spread good will throughout the earth. Churches engage in political activist movements intended to influence legislation to reflect what they think God wants. Many churches are so involved in doing what they think is the will of God that they forget that all He wants is for them to love Him. The works come, if at all, out of that love relationship. Without manifestation of the pure, unadulterated spiritual love of God, works designed to please Him are worthless—they are called “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1, 9:14).
Revelation speaks of the seven lampstands surrounding the throne of God which some say are represented by the seven churches spoken to by John (Revelation chapters 2-3), including the Ephesian church (Revelation 1:12-13). The Ephesians were doing so well that, according to the scripture, they already had a lampstand in place surrounding the throne of Christ. However, despite all the good works being done by the Ephesian church, God threatened to remove their lampstand from among the seven unless they repented and returned to love Him first. As harsh as this may seem to the human mind, it is sadly symbolic of the nature of God who wants to be put first in everything. He seems to say that if all we do is love Him, with all our hearts, that that one act is in and of itself, sufficient to please Him. Only out of that love comes our love for our neighbor and all of the wonderful works He intends to accomplish on the earth, the foremost work being the establishing of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:10).
We don’t take this word with any condemnation that we have somehow failed Him by not loving Him first. We know that loving Him with all our hearts is only made possible by His gift of grace. We simply accept the gift. We love you first, Lord. We love you first because you first loved us (1 John 4:19). This is impossible for us but with God all things are possible (Mark 9:23, 10:27; Matthew 19:26).