TEXT: Revelation 2:1-7
Edmund Burke said that very seldom does a man take one giant step from a life of virtue & goodness into a life of vice & corruption. Usually, he begins his journey into evil by taking little steps into the shaded areas, areas tinted & colored just a bit, almost unnoticed by those around him. Until one day, hardly aware that he has made the journey, he finds himself firmly entangled in a life of vice & corruption.
We see that same kind of journey pictured again & again in scripture.
In the book of Judges we read about Samson. Almost everybody knows his story. Samson was a man of God. From birth to manhood, his life was dedicated to God. He started the morning with God. He spent the day with God. He ended his day with God…But then gradually, Samson started flirting with evil. And little by little, evil came into his life. And then, in Judges 16:20 we read one of the most startling verses in all the Bible. It says that the Lord had departed from Samson, & Samson didn’t realize it. Isn’t that sad? Samson had become so deeply enmeshed in sin that God couldn’t stand to stay around any more. So God left him. And Samson, once a great man of God, was so insensitive to the presence of God, that when God left, Samson didn’t even realize it.
That was true of King Saul, too. The sun comes up on his life & we see a cloudless sky, a beautiful beginning for Saul. He is a man whom God loves, & who loves God. But gradually, he turns his back on God, & the storm clouds begin to collect. Finally, he can’t see the sun anymore because God has left him. And the Bible says that Saul ended up slinking off to the witch of Endor, seeking help from the powers of evil because those were the forces that were now controlling his life.
It isn’t the giant step from virtue into corruption that we need to fear. It’s the little steps that ultimately lead us away from God. It must have happened that way in the church in Ephesus. In Rev. 2:1-5, as Jesus looked at that church, He saw many positive things. Listen as I read the first 3 verses:
“These are the words of Him who holds the 7 stars in his right hand & walks among the 7 golden lampstands: `I know your deeds, your hard work & your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, & have found them false. You have persevered & have endured hardships for my name, & have not grown weary.’”
Isn’t that a great description of a church? We’d be proud to have Jesus say something like that about us, wouldn’t we? But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on in vs. 4, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.”
I don’t imagine that their forsaking their first love happened in one giant step. It wasn’t that just one day they decided not to love God any more. It was a gradual thing. For a while their love for God was so great & so infectious that people were drawn into their fellowship. Great sermons were preached, & wonderful things were happening. And they were known far & wide for their steadfast faithfulness, even in the face of persecution.
But then, people who used to pray a lot gradually stopped praying. People who may have been giving a lot gradually stopped giving. People who used to witness to the lost gradually stopped witnessing. Until finally, when Jesus looks at this church, He says, “This I have against you. You have forsaken your first love.”
Now, I have 3 questions that I want us to consider this morning.
I. WHAT IS FIRST LOVE?
The first question is, “What is first love?” I listened to someone reminiscing about his first love. He recalled tree-lined streets, & long summer evenings when he & his girl friend walked down the street holding hands & dreaming of their future together. They envisioned themselves living in a little cottage built for two in their blue heaven somewhere. When practical questions arose concerning money, they answered it in what seemed to them a most logical way. They said, “We’ll live on love.”
That’s the way first love is, isn’t it? It loves the object of its affection without reservation. It is being totally head over heels in love.
Now what is “first love” in God’s eyes? It is the love that first brought you to God. It is the love that you experienced when you saw the cross as it really was. It was when you realized that the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for your sin & you were overwhelmed with His amazing love. So you became a child of God, & you experienced His forgiveness. That’s first love.
First love looks at mountains of troubles & sees them as hills to conquer. First love looks at rivers of grief & worry that may arise in life & says, “That’s nothing. God & I together can swim through that.”
First love looks at stumbling blocks & sees them as stepping stones that prove the power of God. First love cries out, “Just give us a mountain to climb. Give us a river to swim. Give us something to do to prove the greatness of God’s love & how powerful He really is.” That’s first love.
But first love is vulnerable. It needs to be protected. It needs to be reinforced. Because love, you see, when it really loves, stretches out its arms & rolls up its sleeves to help the hurting multitudes. It isn’t selfish. It gives itself totally & completely.
2. HOW DO YOU LOSE SOMETHING AS WONDERFUL AS FIRST LOVE?
Now, how do you lose something as exciting & as wonderful as first love? I would think that we would take very good care of it, & never take a chance on losing it. But we can lose it. Sometimes it just disappears, vanishes, goes away. But how does that happen? Let me offer some suggestions.
In the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is talking about the end of time, & here is what He says in vs. 12, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
Did you hear that? That is the way sin works. Not by taking giant steps from virtue to corruption, just little steps. And as wickedness increases, this once wonderful, warm, unselfish, vibrant love in your life begins to grow cold like an ember that is all alone, no longer a part of the fire. And soon it will die.
Scripture often uses the marriage relationship as an illustration, & I want to do that too.
Two people meet & fall in love. So they spend precious time with each other, talking to one another, sharing their hopes & dreams. And when they’re apart, they’re thinking about each other, wishing they were together again.
Their love just seems to grow & mushroom. Then one day they become husband & wife. They build a cocoon of love about themselves & they say, “We will always be together. And life will be so wonderful.”
But there are jobs to go to, & appointments to be kept, & stresses to be dealt with, & arguments & problems & family feuds & fusses. And all of these things pull on us, until soon the demands become so overwhelming that the love relationship begins to suffer.
Then one day you look across the table at each other & you think, “That’s not the person I married. You’re a stranger. I don’t know you anymore.” And what’s happened is that your love has been starved. It didn’t receive the daily nourishment it needed to grow healthy & strong.
A modern song writer sings, “Doesn’t anybody stay together anymore?”
That’s kind of the way it was in Ephesus, wasn’t it? So many good things & yet they had forsaken their first love.
III. HOW DO YOU FIND A LOVE THAT IS LOST?
Now, how do you find again a love that is lost? Well, in Rev. 2:5 Jesus gives us a prescription that is very simple & very direct. “Here is what you need to do,” Jesus says, “Remember the height from which you have fallen!”
Do you know where something is that you lose? It is always wherever you left it. You lose your car keys or your glasses. Guess where they are. They are where you left them. Wherever you had them last, if you can remember where that was, you’ll find them there.
And it is that way with your love for God, too. If you have lost it, guess where it is. It is wherever you left it.
That is what Jesus is saying. He is saying that if you have lost it then remember where you had it last, go back & find it again. Was it in a church service? Was it in a moment of dealing with temptation that you felt His overwhelming power & you were able to resist & gain the victory?
Where was the last time that you were touched by the wondrous love of God? Wherever it was, if you’ve lost it, it is still there. God hasn’t moved, & He is waiting for you to come back, to become reacquainted with Him.
Secondly, Jesus tells us how to do it. He said, “Repent and do the things you did at first.” And that word, “repent,” is a greatly neglected Biblical word.
When John the Baptist started to preach, the first word out of his mouth was the word “repent.” When Jesus sent the 70 out 2 by 2, the first word out of their mouths was to be “repent.”
Go back & read the prophets. Every time they stood before the rebellious nation of Israel, they spoke with the authority of God & they commanded the people to repent.
It’s a strong word, & it has lots of implications. When you repent you look at your sin & you see how ugly & horrible it is. And you don’t try to deny it. You don’t blame it on someone or something else. It is your burden. You made it, & you face the reality of it.
Finally, you come with no pretense before God & say, “God, I can’t carry it. It’s too heavy for me.” And God says, “Welcome home, my child.” And He reaches down & lifts the burden & begins to carry it for you. That’s when healing takes place & that’s when love is restored.
There is something about a ghost town that captures the imagination. As you walk the streets you can almost hear the echoes of the past. But the buildings stand empty as mute reminders of life that is gone.
With every passing season more buildings collapse, more weeds grow up, more animals take over the ruins where a thriving town once stood. A ghost town is nature’s testimony that once something has been emptied, destruction & death follow, unless the void is filled.
In the parable of the empty house, Jesus tells us that it is not enough for a man to be freed from the power of Satan. His life must be filled with the Spirit of God or Satan will get hold of him again. Like the ghost town, if a person is not filled with a life in Christ, he will be filled with something else, & the end result is death & decay.
That is why we thrill at the words of Jesus when He said, “I am come that you might have life, & that more abundantly.” That’s God’s invitation. We offer it in His name & we pray you will respond to it as we stand & sing Jesus Lover of My Soul.