Monday, August 8, 2022

First Love and the Church in Ephesus

In spite of all the good things about the church in Ephesus, Jesus makes one charge against them in Revelation 2:4. Different English translations word it in various ways:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (NIV)

Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. (KJV)

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (NKJV)

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (ESV)

But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! (NLT)

Most people usually seem to interpret this loss or abandonment of the Ephesian church's first love as being about their love for Jesus. But notice how the New Living Translation includes the possibility that Jesus could be talking about the Ephesian believers' love for one another.

If the John who penned the Revelation is the same John who wrote the Gospel According to John and the three epistles bearing the name of John (there is some scholarly debate about this, which we don't get into here), then we're talking about the Apostle known as the "Apostle of Love."

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35, NIV)

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (1 John 3:11, NIV)

And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (1 John 11:23, NIV)

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, NIV)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12, NIV)

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:20-21, NIV)

And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. (2 John 1:5, NIV)

The first commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the second is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).

Perhaps the Ephesian church, in their zeal to not tolerate wicked people and to root out false apostles, had begun to become suspicious of one another, pointing fingers and leveling accusations of heresy over every disagreement about debatable points of doctrine. We see a lot of that today, with the proliferation of online "discernment ministries" who spend more time combing through the teachings of people they don't like -- just so they can point out where someone else deviates from their idea of orthodoxy -- than they spend actually positively proclaiming biblical truth. It is possible to have correct doctrine, and yet fail to have correct practice.

So which "first love" is Christ talking about here? Love for Jesus, or love for fellow Christians? 

Maybe the answer is "both," since the first and second greatest commandments deal with love: for God and for others.

Watch this video from Dr. Craig Keener for more on this passage.

And check out this song from one of my favorite Christian groups, Petra:

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