Friday, April 26, 2013


In the photograph to the left Mary and I are standing in the ruins of the old city of Ephesus located in biblical Asia Minor, now modern day Turkey. There we and our group shared together the Revelation 2:1-7 passage addressing the Ephesian Church specifically. As you know, the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John from the Island of Patmos where he had been exiled for his faith. Seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 were written to the pastors of the seven churches of Asia Minor beginning with the Church at Ephesus and concluding with Laodocia.

We were on a journey that would eventually take us to those seven historical locations. The first one, where we are standing in the picture, was the ruins of the city of Ephesus,  John, while complimenting most of those seven churches for something good, also challenged them over something that was a failure in their lives and needing correcting and to the church at Ephesus the problem he addressed was one of "forsaking their first love."

"Forsaking their first Love." What does that mean?  Let me tell you what I think it means.

Generally, it is taken to mean that they had grown kind of cold in their love for Jesus so their service to him was lacking. That idea is presented in sermons by those who hold to the concept of "love" being equated with "works." In other words, the Ephesian Christians had somehow gotten somewhat complacent in their service and were not doing spiritual things with the regularity they once had. They just didn't love Jesus like they used to.

I suppose that was proven by their church attendance falling off because they were more excited about doing other things than they were going to church on Sunday. Or maybe they were not witnessing to the lost as much as they used to. Worse yet, they may not have been giving their tithe the past several months because of their busyness doing other things that had taken them away from church attendance.

You get the picture. 

When this is taught in the pulpits today what follows is a warning that if the hearers do not repent and rekindle their passion [love] for doing spiritual things instead of secular things they are in danger of the lamp-stand being removed. That is, the Holy Spirit will be on the outside of the church and there will be no power to do all the right things that need to get done by the church.

In that condition the church cannot function with the effectiveness it needs. Workers can't be found for the organization, new members aren't being added to the rolls, and money will be tight and programs have to be downsized as a result. The church is simply in a bad way because it's members have "Lost their first love."

After hearing the preaching of this message some Christians often get under conviction with a "guilty as charged" mentality and rededicate their lives to doing better. They, then, do do better, for a while. But inevitably, laziness about spiritual things overtakes them again. Never fear however, a time of rededication will arise in the next church meeting because another passionate message will be heard with the same results. Conviction to do better. 

The problem with this view isn't true. It isn't biblical. It isn't even what the passage meant. From my perspective at least. I think that view completely loses the message John wrote to the church at Ephesus and Christianity is reduced to an organization that is trying to work hard at getting certain things done but is never able to do them because it's members are not being faithful at the task. So what John REALLY said is totally missed by many preachers like ships passing in the night.

To get the message John was really giving to that Ephesian Church, which they WOULD NOT have missed, you have to understand another passage Peter's friend and fellow Apostle, Paul, HAD ALREADY WRITTEN TO THEM while he was in prison in Rome, around 60 AD. His message to them was called Ephesians. Paul said this in that letter..."I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. Yes, may you come to know his love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God." (Ephesians 3:17-20 GNB)  

This Ephesians 3 passage is Paul simply telling the Ephesians to never forget how deeply and wonderfully they are loved by Christ. His love is broader, longer, higher and deeper than we could ever imagine and HE IS OUR LIFE, and don't ever forget that. They would remember THAT when John wrote and told them to return to their first love in his Revelation letter to them which was written some 7 or 8 years later.   

Why is this important? 

Paul had a profound and deeply held belief that he passed along to the Ephesians. It is that the knowledge of the love of Christ FOR US is our motivation for all of life and not our love FOR CHRIST. That belief was first stated by Paul in 11 Corinthians 5:14 where he said it this way, "The love of Christ constrains me..." This was in a letter Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians around 55 AD [That's maybe 12 years before Revelation] where he used the word  συνέχει, (sunechei) which in English is the word "constrained." 

This word can be and has been translated "to hold fast or to hem in" in some translations. But a better translation, I think, is found in the NIV which translates συνέχει  as, "To urge, to impel, to excite one to press on."  Paul is saying that Christ's powerful love for us is the driving inner force for the living a life of grace and love. In other words, knowing "How much we are loved by Christ" is our motivation for the doing of anything because then it will simply be our responding to His love. Paul had passed this idea along to those in Ephesus as well. It was obviously a real conviction with him. 

So, I think it's safe to say that those Ephesians had not stopped working at all. John had already said this to them in Rev. 2:2-3, "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know how you can't tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary." That's REAL church work. 

So they hadn't stopped working at all. But what they had done, tragically, was to forget how much they were loved by the Lord and the fact that His life of love is our life as well. I think they were a church that had simply become a NON-LOVING congregation. But it isn't their love in view, but His.  

So the real problem with the Ephesians was that their busy works were based on them trying hard to love God.  Sound familiar! But that won't be corrected except by remembering how much He loves them and how their Christian life is Him BEING life to them.

They needed to "repent" of that [change their way of thinking] and "return" to their original heart of responding to God's grace and love. [Loving Him and others BECAUSE He loves them.]

They started out in grace and love but they are now trying to attain their goal by human effort and had lost their love for people. Our FIRST WORK as believers is to love as we're loved and to forgive as we've been forgiven. But we'll never do our first work without remembering HIS LOVE FOR US. How much we do in terms of church work will never replace the loss of the knowledge of His grace and love for us.

The "protos agape"  [first love]  for ALL BELIEVERS is not our love for Him, but His for us.

Paul B.


Aussie John said...


"They started out in grace and love but they are now trying to attain their goal by human effort and had lost their love for people."

You are referring to the the Ephesians believers, but the truth of the matter is that your words apply to almost every church of my acquaintance.

Personally, they describe my own early journey as I winced as the blows of performance expectations which were vented from the pulpit.

I learned "guilt tripping" in my early years in "church"; and later, in college, becoming an adept practitioner, as most of my peers did, during my early years of ministry.

Thankfully, light dawned: DISCIPLES CANNOT BE MADE THIS WAY!

I am yet to see a more effective smoke screen to hide the fact, of which Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20, than torturers in the pulpit, flagellating their captives.

It's spiritual fratricide!

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

Strong comment. And accurate as well.

Johnny D. said...

Good stuff, Paul! :-)

Victorious said...

We love because He first loved us...

Thank you, Paul!

Paul Burleson said...


Thank YOU for stopping by and commenting.