Dear Friend in Christ:
John, the beloved friend and disciple of Jesus, had faithfully preached the Gospel for many years after Jesus ascended into heaven. He was finally exiled to the small Mediterranean island of Patmos. While John is there in prayer, the Lord Jesus appears to John in a vision. Jesus gives John a message to give to seven churches, one of which is in the city of Ephesus.
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:1-5).
The church at Ephesus was a large, vibrant, influential church. It had also become a very busy church. Jesus did not find fault with their good deeds; He did not find fault with their commitment to sound doctrine. But something had gone terribly wrong in Ephesus that could cause God to take His presence and favor away from them and remove His testimony from their midst.
Somewhere in the midst of their hard work for Him, they had forgotten about their relationship with Him. Their motivation for the work had shifted and was no longer flowing out of love for Him or for others. They loved His cause and they loved His name, but Jesus is saying, “You have forgotten how to love Me and those I sent you to reach.”
The phrase “first love” is interesting and it suggests three things to me:
Beginnings— He loved us first, even before we knew Who He is
Quality— How did we love Jesus at the beginning of our relationship withHim?
Others— How do we approach relationships with other people? If I may add a comma: “First, love.” When people outside the Church look at us, do they see the love of God? Do they sense that we love one another and love them? If you asked someone outside the Church what the mission of the Church is, what would they say? Would they say Christians practice selfless love or love their neighbors?
When I consider “first love,” this affects my priorities. Is our love for Him of utmost importance and top priority? Do we put Him first? Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). David wrote, “One thing I have desired of the Lord … that I may dwell in the house of the Lord” (Psalm 27). Do we love to be in His presence? God places a top priority on love. In fact, according to 1 John 4, God is love … love is Who God is! He loves us so much that He gave His only Son Jesus to die on the Cross for our sins, in our place; to ransom us from the imprisonment of sin and death (see John 3:16-7). According to Romans 5, He loved us while we were still sinners. When we had nothing to offer Him, He gave His all for us. John said, “He loved us first.”
HOW HE LOVES US
The beautiful passage from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 gives a picture of love: how God loves us and how we are to love one another.
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
Some of you know the word in the original Greek language of the New Testament for this kind of love is “agape.” It is a selfless, eternal, unshakable love. Agape is only found and can only be rooted in relationship with God, Who is love. We cannot enter into the fullness of agape with one another until we are walking in agape with God.
Too many marriage relationships are broken or breaking because one or both spouses have left their first love … not for one another, but for God. Too many churches are broken or breaking because too many members have left their first love in the Lord and are now losing their love for one another. Too many Christians refuse to share the love and message of Christ with un-believers because these Christians have lost love for Jesus and His message. Today, God is calling us back to Himself so that He might restore us to one another.
God is not only the Creator of the universe, but He is the sustainer of it, and He holds it all together. Nothing that attempts to pull away from God can endure because He Himself is the sustainer of life. Human relationships cannot fully flourish or be forever sustained apart from an agape relationship with God. We cannot have true peace among nations until nations have peace with God. Love is a creation principle. Knowing that God is love, and that He created us in His image to love Him and one another, we can see that love is a matter of life and death.
Therefore, the very first of the Ten Commandments is that we are to love the Lord our God.
And how do we love Him? According to Deuteronomy 6 …
All our heart (spirit)
All our soul (mind)
All our strength (body)
And we love, not because we are forced, but because we have His love in us. We are called to love Him, and one another, as He has loved us (John 15).
The prophet Jeremiah was sent by God to call Israel to remember God’s Word and ways, and to repent. In Jeremiah 2, the Lord says to Israel, “I remember your devotion and love to Me in your youth; I remember your love like a young bride.” But then God asks the sobering questions: “When was I ever unfaithful to you? What did I do to cause you to forget me and turn to idols?”
An idol is anything that comes in-between you and your relationship to God; a stronghold in the mind that seizes your attention, affection, time, and resources. It’s not just a stone statue or a wooden image or a golden calf. Sometimes it’s something that seems good. But if it is drawing you away from your walk with God, it is an idol. God hates idolatry … it’s not only an affront to Him, but it cuts us off from our life-source. Idolatry takes us off the path that leads to life and puts us on a path that leads to death.
Psalm 24 tells us that we cannot ascend the hill of the Lord and enjoy life with Him if we are also exalting idols in our lives. Anything that you are placing above God in your life will damage your relationship with Him and will cut off your life flow. It’s like having clogged arteries.
God also calls us to love Him with the same love we had in our youth. Young love is joyful, enthusiastic, spontaneous, fresh, and sincere. A child never tires of hearing that they are loved or expressing their love. Newlyweds in a healthy marriage don’t have to be forced to show kindness and affection for one another. But Jeremiah is speaking to Israel and by extension, to the Church, about how we have forsaken our first love.
When the dawn broke this morning, God was there in every ray of sunshine, telling you that He loves you. Have you told Him lately how much you love Him? Remember when we used to spontaneously sing praise to the Lord? Do we still?
May we never forget His love for us, and in remembering, may we be refreshed in it. May we repent (return to Him) and do the “first works” as Jesus told the Ephesians. What are the first works? What are the top priorities? What did we do at first when we knew how He loved us?
Love, trust, and obey
Feed on His Word (commune with the Author)
Be filled with His Spirit
Express thanksgiving and praise
Pray without ceasing
Let those who have received now freely give
Go and make disciples
Love one another as He loves us and relate together in spiritual family
Our good works flow out of His love for us and ours for Him. Walking with God is not drudgery or duty, but it is a joy! Performing rituals, religious duties, and good deeds apart from a relationship with Him, brings weariness, despair and death. It would be a tragedy to go through life being busy doing things for Jesus, but never knowing Him nor being known by Him.
THE RHYTHMS OF GRACE
We want to invite you to our annual CSM Gatlinburg Leadership Conference, May 9-11, 2023. Our theme this year is “The Rhythms of Grace,” which is taken from Matthew 11, where Jesus asks:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, THE MESSAGE).
We will have registration information coming to you soon! You can follow us at csmpublishing.org or via our Charles Simpson Ministries Facebook Page. You can also follow us on Twitter @CSMinPublishing and on our CSMPublishing YouTube Channel.
Please keep us in your prayers and in your giving this month. We continue to support mission work in the USA and around the world, as well as relief efforts in places like Ukraine. Please see the enclosed card. Your friendship and generosity are such essential parts of this ministry, and we are very grateful. We love you!
President Charles Simpson Ministries
STEPHEN SIMPSON is the Editor of One-to-One Magazine and the Director of CSM Publishing. In addition to publishing ministry, Stephen has served in leadership for churches and ministries in Costa Rica, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, and Michigan, as well as being the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Mobile (2004-2013). He continues to travel in ministry across North America and in other nations.