Recently, my daily bible reading schedule brought me to Revelation 2, where Jesus is speaking to the church in Ephesus. He commends them for their perseverance, intolerance of sin, and their testing of false teachers. Then in verse 4, He tells them what He has against them—that they have “left [their] first love.” I recall, some years ago, a sharp debate over this statement in Sunday school over whether their “first love” was love for Christ, or love for one another. What am I to make of this? The text itself implies that the Ephesian church would plainly know what Christ was referring to.
Is this an important issue? I believe it is, as it was enough for Christ to hold them accountable. He tells them that, unless they repent, He will “remove [their] lampstand out of its place.” In other words, the church in Ephesus will cease to exist in Christ’s eyes.
How do I answer this apparent dilemma? I think I’ll let Scripture speak for itself. Remember John’s words in the 4th chapter of his first epistle.
We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also,” (1 John 4:19–21, NASB95).
This statement makes my love for God and love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, inseparable. I cannot love God without loving my brother. This leads me to another question. Is love what I do, or is it both what I do and feel. Scripture clearly tells us love is primarily something I choose to do, not always something I feel. In other words, it’s possible to love those I don’t necessarily, at a given time, feel affection for. That being said, my failure to love others demonstrates that my love for God is not real—remember, to love is a choice.
When asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5.
Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29–30, NASB95)
He then followed that up with the 2nd most important, quoting Leviticus 19:18.
“The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31, NASB95)
How, then, do I love God, whom I have not seen?
- With my heart – a deep and heart felt affection for God, my Father.
- With my soul – in response to the testimony of the Holy Spirit on my spirit that I am His child, (Romans 8:16).
- With my mind – my thoughts, my meditations, my prayers will reflect a regard for God that is worthy of Him.
- With my strength – the energy I expend, and what I choose to do, will demonstrate my love for God.
So then, how do I love my neighbor as myself? By applying the same effort in meeting the needs of my neighbor that I apply to meeting my own. In the 10th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus was asked “Who is my neighbor?”. Jesus responded with the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan. If I strive to love others in the same way as this Samaritan, that love will testify to a deep love for God.
The unfortunate reality is that all this is easier said than done. Why? The apostle Paul says it best…
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want, (Romans 7:18–19, NASB95).
So, we continue the struggle to be the people we are called to be. I am encouraged know that Paul, this great man of God also tangled with his own failures. Here’s his answer to the struggle.
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin, (Romans 7:24–25, NASB95).
He followed that up with this wonderful statement…
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death, (Romans 8:1–2, NASB95).
So, be encouraged. God will finish the work begun!