It was the wedding of the century. They were the very definition of romance. The epitome of love, courtship, and marriage.
With 750 million viewers watching around the globe via satellite, the world’s most eligible bachelor—Prince Charles, Duke of Windsor—exchanged wedding vows with a British aristocrat—the beautiful Lady Diana Spencer.
They were so much in love. So full of life. So full of hope.
But that was then.
And something tragic happened.
Somewhere along the way their lives grew apart. Their love grew strangely cold. Stale. Mechanical. Routine. Facades were erected. Pleasantries were exchanged. Public appearances were made. But it was all for show. Their passion was now ancient history.
Tabloid reports were confirmed when on December 9, 1992, British Prime Minister John Major cleared his throat and broke the disheartening news to the House of Commons. There would be a royal separation. Not a divorce, mind you. Just a mutual coexistence. A truce.
The Royal Highnesses would remain legally married and keep their royal positions. But they would now live in separate houses, lead separate lives, and go their separate ways.
Far greater than the much-publicized romance between Prince Charles and Lady Di is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Ours is the greatest love story ever known. The King of kings courted us, lowly peasants that we were, and pursued us to become His royal bride. At first, our love showed that we were the definition of romance. The epitome of love, courtship, and marriage.
Bible study was so life-changing. Prayer was so heart-lifting. Worship was so earthshaking. We savored every moment in His presence. But, as in any relationship, our love for Christ is subject to fluctuation. Sometimes there is a serious waning of our intensity. Sometimes our passion for the Lord grows stale. Mechanical. Routine. And we begin to take Him for granted.
Sure, we are still the bride of Jesus Christ. And, legally, we are still married. But we are merely coexisting. We share the same heart, but the relationship has grown cold. Distant.
Sadly, such a separation happened to some believers in the first century.
An Extraordinary Church
Ephesus was one extraordinary church! We are not surprised that Jesus begins this letter by commending the believers there.
I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure 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. —Rev. 2:2-3, NASB
Christianity was no spectator sport here. They didn’t come to church to be entertained. They were actively involved in the work of ministry. Serving. Doing. Toiling. Giving. Going.
Toil and Perseverance. Jesus said, “I know all about your toil and perseverance.” The Greek word for “toil” means that they served Christ to the point of exhaustion. “Perseverance” means they ministered under much stress and pressure. When they took on a task, they stuck with it until the job was finished.
Strict and Sound. Second, this church would not “endure evil men.” They set a high moral standard and chose not to tolerate sin in the camp.
If one of their members slipped into sin, they would approach that person, lovingly confront him, and call him to repentance. If that person wouldn’t repent, the church wouldn’t allow this leaven to spread to the whole lump.
Likewise, Jesus commended them, “You put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false.” When traveling teachers came to Ephesus, their doctrine was put to the test before they could get into the pulpit. The Ephesians had been well grounded in sound doctrine and were theologically discriminating. Doctrinal error would not be tolerated here.
Steadfast and Strong. Jesus said, “You have perseverance and have endured for my name’s sake, and have not grown weary” (v. 3). Despite growing opposition to Christ, this church wouldn’t waver from their mission. While living in the hub of paganism, they held tenaciously to their witness for Christ. Even their motives were right. They endured for Christ’s name’s sake, not their own. They served for His glory, not their own reputation.
What could possibly be wrong with a church like this? Plenty. They had everything but the main thing.
The Fatal Flaw
Abruptly, Jesus changes the tone of this letter. The Master puts His finger on the one glaring deficiency in this church that threatened to ruin everything else. He must address a fatal flaw—a deadly sin—so serious that it endangered the church’s very existence. “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4, NASB).
Something was missing. This church had left its first love. Amid the Ephesians’ many ministries and their tenacious stand for the truth, their love for Christ had grown cold. The more busy they became, the further they drifted away from simple devotion to Christ.
First love is the fervent, passionate, red-hot love of a newly wedded couple. It pictures the romantic love that a couple feels when they first start dating. A chemistry happens. A mystical attraction occurs. Two hearts heat up. A romance inflames. Two lives fall in love, get married, and become one
But something happens along the way. Somewhere in the daily routine of marriage, the honeymoon ceases. The children come. The career takes off. The business expands. The activities increase. The stresses multiply. And suddenly two people wake up complete strangers.
This slow leak is what left Ephesus flat. Their devoted love for Christ had cooled off. Their ministry had become mechanical. Their relationship had become routine. Doxology slipped back into cold orthodoxy. They were still coming to church. They were still serving. And they were still believing rightly. But their hearts were no longer in it. They had full heads, busy feet, but empty hearts.
Wives, imagine that your husband came home and said, “I don’t love you anymore. But nothing will change. I’ll still earn a living and pay the bills. We’ll still sit together and sleep together. I’ll still father our children. I just don’t love you anymore.” Would that be good enough for you?
No way. You would be devastated. Yet, we say that to the Lord. “Jesus, I don’t love You like I once did. But I’ll still come to church. I’ll still serve You. I’ll still witness for You. I just don’t love You.”
That’s not good enough for Jesus either! He wants a relationship, not a performance. Jesus says, “Your heart has grown cold toward Me. You have left your first love.”
Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God (Mt. 22:37-39). We must love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love for Christ must fill every inch of our being. Without love for Him, we are just “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1, NASB). Our hearts must pulsate with a blazing, passionate, vibrant love for Christ or we are nothing.
If we fail to love Him, we disobey the greatest commandment. It doesn’t matter what else we obey, if we fail to keep the highest commandment. Leaving our first love is the greatest sin.
If our love for Christ is cold, it doesn’t matter how faithfully we serve Him. Or how rightly we believe. Or how strongly we stand. If you miss first base, it doesn’t matter how far you hit the ball, nor how many bases you touch. If you miss first base, you’re out. O-U-T! If you leave your first love, you’re out of His favor.
In the anonymity of the crowd, it’s easy to play the church game. To attend the right Bible study. To use the right lingo. To run with the right group. You can fake it. Even cover it up. But the more you do, the emptier you feel. There’s a gnawing feeling deep inside. You have drifted further away from the Lord. And you know it!
So, what are we to do?
How can we recapture our first love?
Falling in Love Again
With a yearning heart, Jesus now pleads with the Ephesian church. With arms wide open, He prescribes the steps that lead back to the honeymoon stage. Here is how we again draw close to Him! Here’s how to fall back in love with Christ. Jesus said:
Remember therefore 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. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.—Rev. 2:5-6, NASB
Step One: Remember. First, Jesus says, “Remember from where you have fallen.” In other words, remember when you first came to faith in Christ. Replay that initial excitement.
Can you remember when you first fell in love with Christ? I can. After I graduated from college, I attended a dynamic church in Memphis, Tennessee. Every time they opened the church’s doors, I was sitting in the middle of the front row. Everything the preacher had to say was for me. I shed tears when the choir sang. The Holy Spirit tugged on my heart when people were saved.
For some of us, such a time was only three months ago. For others, it was three years ago. For others, 10 years ago
The road back to Christ begins by, first, remembering. Remember the joy that was yours with Him. Get a good look at when you were on fire for Him. Can you remember the pit from which you were dug?
That’s where revival begins—remember!
Step Two: Repent. Second, Jesus says, “Repent.” After you remember, repent! Repentance means to change the direction of your life. It is a change of heart. A change of mind. A change of will. It means to head back to the way things once were. It is a turning around and coming back to Christ.
The fact is, something or someone has replaced your first love. It’s not that you don’t have a first love anymore. It’s that you have a new first love. It’s no longer Christ.
Anything that you love more than you love Christ is your new first love. It may be your job. It could be a relationship. Or your education. Or your house. Or your family. Whatever. It’s anything or anyone that you are more excited about than you are about Christ.
Repent! Get on your knees and confess your spiritual apathy. Turn your cold heart back to Christ. As a decisive act of your will, choose to change your heart.
Say, “God, my heart has been distant from You. I’ve been far away from You. Lord, I want to change. Jesus, I’m turning my life around right now. Right now, I’m rededicating my life afresh to You. God, I want the passion for You back in my life.”
Step Three: Repeat. Third, Jesus says, “do the deeds you did at first.” In other words, “Get back to the basics.” What are these first deeds?
Simply put, these first deeds are what the early believers did when they were first saved and added to the church. After Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 souls were converted, baptized, and enfolded into the church. Immediately, these new believers were “continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42, NASB).
These are the first deeds to which these early Christians devoted themselves—teaching, fellowship, worship, and prayer.
They studied the apostles’ teaching. Biblical truth is essential to the health of every believer. It is the Word of God that stimulates our hearts to love Christ. The early disciples remarked, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was … explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Lk. 24:32, NASB).
They maintained close fellowship. They were continually sharing and encouraging one another. Bearing one another’s burdens. Comforting one another’s hearts.
They came together to break bread. The early church worshiped Christ by regularly taking the Lord’s Supper together. Communion with the living Christ kept their hearts aflame. The Lord’s Table cultivated reverence, gratitude, purity, and the anticipation of Christ’s return.
They devoted themselves to prayer. These early disciples spent much time on their knees. Kneeling in God’s presence was as necessary as breathing. Daily, they enjoyed intimate fellowship with Him. Prayer transforms God’s truth into personal devotion to Christ. It keeps us fervent for our first love.
If you have left your first love, get back to the basics. Get back to Bible study. Get back into the fellowship. Get back to worship. Get back on your knees in prayer. In Scripture, we hear from Christ. In fellowship, we share Christ. At the Lord’s Table, we commune with Christ. In prayer, we talk to Christ. These spiritual basics always bring us back to Christ.
Step Four: Remain. Fourth, Jesus says, “Yet, this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (v. 6). Jesus concludes by telling the Ephesians to remain in the battle against sin. They are to remain true to the faith and resist false teaching.
Note how sensitive Jesus’ heart is toward this church. He guards against deflating them by concluding with a note of praise: “You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” In essence, Jesus is saying, “We’re on the same team. We are a lot alike. We both hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Keep at it!”
What are “the deeds of the Nicolaitans”? In a nutshell, these men were itinerant teachers who taught antinomian (no law) sin—a dangerous heresy that encouraged moral license. They taught that a Christian can live however he or she pleases. Grace covers everything. There are no consequences to sin.
Do you see the four critical steps? Each leads back to Christ. Remember … repent … repeat … remain! Each step rekindles our first love for Christ.
A Radical Step
Recently, I must confess, I had become so busy serving the church and so preoccupied with our kids that I was neglecting my wife, Anne. I would rise early, sprint to the office, study for sermons, return phone calls, dash home, play with our kids, eat dinner, help with homework, do baths, put children to bed, then collapse. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month.
I felt too exhausted to talk to my wife. Even when I tried to talk to her, I couldn’t. The phone would ring. The kids would cry. The church would call. Or I was too tired.
I had to do something. So, taking a radical step, I bought two train tickets for just the two of us to travel to Dallas. Alone. My plan was to board the train and then, for seven uninterrupted hours, just be alone and talk. Just the two of us. No interruptions.
When we boarded the train, we had the entire passenger car to ourselves! As the train pulled out of the station, we were alone at last. Back on track with our relationship.
At first, we hardly knew what to say. We just stared at each other. Then out the window. Then back at each other.
But small talk soon became intimate talk. Here was the woman I married. It had been so long since we had had a quiet moment like this—much less a few quiet hours.
This was just what our relationship needed. Time alone. A second honeymoon. Just the two of us.
Do you need to do the same with the Lord?
Do you need to take decisive steps to be alone with Him? Has your relationship with Christ become too busy? Are you too hurried to spend time with Him? Are you too active? Too distant? Too cold? Too impersonal?
Then take decisive steps right now. Remember how it was when you first met Christ. Repent of your cold-heartedness. Repeat the basics—Bible study, fellowship, worship, and prayer. Remain on track in your fight against sin. Determine to be alone with Christ.
Have you left your first love?
He’s waiting to be alone with you.
This article was adapted from Final Call, by Steven J. Lawson, © 1994, pp. 73-90. Used by permission of Good News Publishers, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 60187.