Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place
Revelations 2.4-5 has been used to condemn and beat Christians up. A lot of verses are! The carnal nature of man is always looking for hooks of fear and guilt to control other people. And because we read any information or text through the lens of our mind, we can find whatever we want in the Scripture. This verse is traditionally used to say: the Ephesian church had a problem, it stopped loving God. It didn’t love God enough. It didn’t love Jesus enough. Therefore, it has fallen, and needs to repent of this lack of love for God and if it doesn’t repent it will lose it’s lampstand.
Then the application is made: you don’t love God enough. You don’t love God enough. You need to change and love God more. If you don’t God is going to kill you – curse you – stop you – hurt you. And the only way to avoid God ripping apart your lampstand is to love Him more.
There are a lot of problems with the traditional understanding of these verses, and we need to unpack each of them one after the other to create a new lens to see this verse properly.
You see the most common way this verse is used is “get back to loving Jesus the way you did when you first met Him”. Normally, this is used as an emotional thing: have the same feelings as you did back then. I can’t disagree more with this understanding of the verse. I have been married 17 years now, and I love my wife more than I ever have. When we first met, I was so nervous around her because I fancied her so much, I could barely speak. That’s great – but you can’t do 17 years of marriage like that! In the last 17 years, we have had 4 babies, faced the death of loved ones, planted 3 churches, fought false accusations, struggled with different issues and problems. In all of that our love has matured and grown beyond all measure. To give that up for an immature, teenage love again would not be a step forward it would be a massive step back!
It’s the same with Jesus. I love Him more now than 20 years ago when we first met. Together, we have faced adversities, seen the sick healed, and I have found out more about His grace and goodness than I ever had. I love Him more now than ever. It may not be the full rush emotional feeling I had back then, but that’s a sign of maturing not backsliding! Growing up means realizing that romantic love is more than an orgasm, friendship love is more than going out and getting smashed together, and love for God is more than just a rush.
Last week, Dave Duell was with us at the Tree of Life Network. He did a men’s breakfast for us. A guy was prayed for who none of us knew and he started yelling and screaming how much he loved God. It was loud, it was shocking. I have nothing against that – but it was not a sign of maturity, it was a sign of starving. If there is someone who is eating regularly, and I buy them a bacon roll, they will say thanks. If I buy someone who is starving and who hasn’t eaten for weeks a bacon roll, then they will make a lot of fuss and noise as they eat it and be over the top in their thanksgiving. It’s not maturity that makes them like that, it’s starvation. I am not against loud and not against expressiveness, and not against any of that – but there’s more to love than just an emotional experience. True love is about commitment, loyalty, humility and service; not screaming, shouting and blood rushes. The guys in that room who are in church every week, in living church every week, serving the church, giving to the church – they weren’t shouting and hollering – their love is grown and mature.
So if that’s what Jesus meant when he said return to your first love, he would be telling us to be more immature. That doesn’t make sense.
So to find out what forsaken first love means, let’s broaden the search and see what hte Bible says about love. In Ephesians 3.18 Paul does not pray that the Ephesians would love God more, but that they would know more about God’s love for them. God doesn’t love us because we love Him – but rather we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4.19).
So if we only love in response to Him… what then is the FIRST LOVE? It’s not our love for Him, that comes second. The first love is His love for us. The Ephesians were working hard (read Rev. 2.1-7), they were serving God, but they were not serving out of a revelation of His love for them. That sums up a lot of churches today – doing a lot, but it is not rooted and grounded in His love for us.
And there is only one way to forget and forsake the first love – to mix some law in with the grace. To pollute the blood of Jesus with the blood of animals. To stop preaching the good news of the unconditional love of Christ and mix in some rules and regulations with it. To stop proclaiming His complete work, and start addressing that people need to complete the work with some of their good works. That is forsaking the first love: that is rejecting the love of God.
That is what the Ephesians needed to repent of. They didn’t need to get on their faces and try and work up some immature rush of love. They didn’t need to weep and wail and try and force themselves to love God. They needed to change their thinking about Christ and Him crucified, and realize that His work is complete because His love is perfect.
You see without that you can do good works, but they are not the works of Christ. Putting a bandage on a sick person is a good work, healing them is a work of Christ. Feeding a homeless man is a good work, praying for him and seeing a supernatural job and house appear is a work of Christ. Counselling is a good work, transformation through the preaching of the Word and seeing people released from addictions and depressions is the work of Christ. Leadership training is a good work, bearing fruit is the work of Christ.
You can only do the works of Christ with a revelation of the love of God and an understanding of the complete work. You have to repent from thinking you can or need to add to the complete work of Christ. You need to return to your first love: His love for you!
If not then the lampstand will be taken! That’s not a personal verse, it’s a verse to the whole church. The lampstand was the light in the church. You see if a whole church forgets the love of God, it will lose it’s light. Not because God wants to punish a church like that, but because you cannot put new wine in old wineskins. It doesn’t work… the skin will rip. You cannot put the new wine of the love of God into the old wineskins of the law and performance.