Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2013
Dear Friend in Christ:
This month, I am writing to you on behalf of my father, Charles Simpson. My heart is to give a brief word that I believe will be relevant and encouraging to you, and to share some important news. I want you to know how much we appreciate your friendship and encouragement to our family and to this ministry.
God often calls me to meditate on Revelation 2. Some background: John, the beloved friend and disciple of Jesus, had faithfully preached the Gospel for many years after Jesus ascended into heaven. Times were not often easy for John and his fellow disciples, and government officials strongly resisted their efforts; officials even persecuted and killed many followers of Jesus. John was finally exiled to the small Mediterranean island of Patmos.
While John was there in prayer, the Lord Jesus appeared to John in a vision. Jesus gave John a message to give to seven churches, one of which was in the large city of Ephesus (located in what is now Turkey). He told the believers in Ephesus that He had made them a great light – a “lampstand” – and that they had done many wonderful things: they were faithful to doctrine, they were diligent, hard workers and they were very patient.
But something was missing; something had gone awry in their lives. Despite their many good works, Jesus said, “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 2:4-5).
The church at Ephesus was a vibrant, influential church. But it had also become a very busy church. Jesus did not find fault with their good deeds or their commitment to sound doctrine. What was so wrong that could cause the Lord to take His presence and favor away from them? Somewhere in the midst of their hard work for Him, they had forgotten about their relationship with Him. What was no longer important to them was the most important thing to 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 my love for you and you have forgotten to love Me.” The phrase “first love” is interesting and it speaks a couple of truths to me. One truth has to do with beginnings: He loved you first, before you even knew Him. And then, when you first met Him, do you remember the quality and joy of that love? Another aspect of first love has to do with priorities: Is our love for Him of utmost importance and top priority? Do we put Him first in every thought and action?
God places a top priority on love. Just this morning, as I write this, I have come from visiting with the Second Grade class at Covenant Christian School in Mobile, which is something I enjoy doing every week. This morning, we talked about the importance of being kind and forgiving. One of the boys in class raised his hand and said, “I learned this verse when I was REALLY YOUNG, back in K-5!” And then he quoted from 1 John 4:8, which says, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” That young man had a good insight!
HE LOVED US FIRST
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, dying in our place and ransoming us from the imprisonment of sin and death. Paul tells us in Romans 5 that God loved us while we were still sinners. When we had nothing to offer Him, He gave His all for us. John says, “He loved us first.”
How does He love us? Because, surely, the quality and expression of His love for us must give us some model for the quality and expression of our love for others. When we look for a definition or picture of love, we often turn to 1 Corinthians 13. We read it often at weddings as a beautiful vision of what love can be between a man and wife. But we must first understand 1 Corinthians 13 as a picture of how God loves us: His love is patient and kind; His love is not insecure or prideful; God is not rude or selfish; there is no evil or shadow of darkness in Him. We read that His love rejoices in truth; never in lies or sin. The love of God endures all things.
The word in the original Greek language of the New Testament for this specific kind of divine love is “agape”…selfless, eternal, unshakable. It 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 sharing 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 therefore losing their love for one another. May I suggest that too many Christians refuse to share the love and message of Christ with unbelievers because these Christians have lost their love for Jesus and His message?
As God calls us back to Himself and restores our fellowship with Him, we will see restoration begin in our relationships with one another and with our mission. God is not only the Creator of the universe, but He is the sustainer of it, and He holds it all together (see Colossians 1). Nothing that attempts to pull away from God can endure, because He Himself is the sustainer of life. We cannot forever prop up human relationships apart from a relationship with God. We cannot have peace among nations until nations have peace with God.
Knowing that God is love, and that He created us in His image to love Him and one another, we can see that receiving and walking in love is a matter of life and death. This is why the very first of the Ten Commandments is that we love the Lord our God. And how do we love Him? According to Deuteronomy 6, we are to love with all our heart (spirit), all our soul (mind), and 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, in the same way that He has loved us (John 15)
Jeremiah the prophet was sent by God to call the people to remember and 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 says, “When was I ever unfaithful to you? What did I do to cause you to forget me and turn to idols?”
Idolatry is anything that comes in-between you and your relationship to God; anything that distracts you from His glorious presence and purpose for your life. It’s not just a stone statue or a wooden image or a golden calf. Sometimes, an idol to you can be something that seems innocent or good. But if it is drawing you away from Him, it is an idol. God hates idolatry … it’s not only an affront to Him, but it cuts us off from our life-source. It takes us off the path that leads to life and puts us on a path that leads to death.
The love of youth is a wonderful and dynamic force. A child never tires of hearing that they are loved or expressing love. Then, there is the love of a newly-married bride, mentioned by Jeremiah, which is joyful and enthusiastic. Most newlyweds don’t have to be forced to show affection for one another. It is a joy!
But Jeremiah is speaking to Israel – and also to the Church – about how we have forsaken our first love: our youthful, joyful, grateful love toward God Who first loved us; to the God Who has always loved us, Whose love never ceases, Whose mercies are new every morning! When the sun rose this morning, God was already there, telling you that He loved you. In every moment, creation is declaring the goodness, majesty, and mercy of God.
Have you ever lost your sense of wonder at the love of God? A favorite hymn of mine, “The Love of God”, was written nearly 100 years ago by Frederick Lehman (based on an ancient Jewish poem, “Haddamut”). The chorus says: “O love oh God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure the saints’ and angels’ song!”
Have you told Him lately how much you love Him? 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?
Remember how, when you first met Jesus, you couldn’t wait to express your love in words, in trust, and in simple acts of obedience? Don’t neglect to feed on His Word. When we read Scripture, we are not only learning, but we are enjoying communion with the author! Also, be filled with His Spirit (see Ephesians 5), which is not to be just a one-time experience or encounter, but the continual in-dwelling of His presence in our hearts. Another “first work” is to express thanksgiving and praise to God and pray without ceasing (see 1 Thessalonians 5). Then, let those who have received now freely give (see Romans 8; Matthew 10). Finally, go and make disciples (see Matthew 28; Mark 16).
Any truly good works we can do must 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 and religious duties and deeds, apart from a relationship with Him, brings weariness and despair. What a tragedy it would be to go through life being busy doing things for Jesus, but never knowing Him or being known by Him! Thank God, we can know Him and walk in the power of His love, extending it to a world that is desperate to know Him.
We want to invite you to our upcoming April 17-19 CSM Gatlinburg Conference. Our theme this year is “Why Do You Do What You Do?” and features Joseph Garlington, Charles Simpson, and other teachers. I hope you’ve already marked your calendar, and if you need any registration information, please call our office, toll-free, at (888) 811-2CSM, or visit us online at www.csmpublishing.org.
Please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving during February and throughout 2013. We have many opportunities, and the needs are great. Even as our global and national economies have slowed down, many more people are hungry for the Gospel and Jesus and the Good News of His Kingdom.
There is also a place where you can share your prayer requests with us. Thanks so much for your friendship to our family and to this ministry. May the love of God continually fill your heart and mind, and overflow from your life to all those around you!
Scripture Reference: Revelations, 1 John, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, John, Jeremiah, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, Romans, Matthew, Mark
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.