The Example and The Departure
Robert Wurtz II
Adapted from the introduction to the book, “The Love You had at First.”
The church at Ephesus had the greatest teaching available in the New Testament and especially on the subject of love. Both Paul the Apostle and John the Apostle worked diligently with this church. Paul in the book of Ephesians writes that we should be holy and without blame for Him in love (1:4) and commends the church for their love for the saints.(1:15) In 2:4 he reminds the people of the great love wherewith God loved us to quicken us with Christ while we were dead in sins. In 3:17 Paul tells us that we should be rooted and grounded in love and verse 19 we read these words… And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. In 4:2 we are admonished to “bear with” one another in love and to speak the truth in love (v15) until the body is built and edified in love(v16). Perhaps 5:1,2 are the most telling… Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. Three times Paul tells the husbands to love their wives as themselves, even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it (5:25, 28, 33). Paul under inspiration of the Holy Spirit made two final pleas of love when he closed his writing… Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. (6:23, 24) It can be noted that 1 Corinthians was written by Paul from Ephesus which contains the great love chapter- 1 Corinthians 13. (see 1 Corinthians 16:8) We know by tradition that John the Apostle spent much time at Ephesus, even bringing Mary the mother of Jesus here to live out the final years of her life. John is believed to have written the Gospel of John from Ephesus. From Ephesus he penned the words “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son…” Ephesus was inundated with the teaching of love, both in word and in example.
John the Revelator writing from the isle of Patmos saw visions of the great majesty and glory of God. As one of the first orders of business Christ our Great High Priest gives a report on the condition of the seven churches of Asia. He begins with Ephesus. The Living Bible captures the great essence of what is happening: “I know how many good things you are doing. I have watched your hard work and your patience; I know you don’t tolerate sin among your members, and you have carefully examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but aren’t. You have found out how they lie. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. “Yet there is one thing wrong; you don’t love me as at first! Think about those times of your first love (how different now!) and turn back to me again and work as you did before; or else I will come and remove your candlestick from its place among the churches.” (TLB)
What horror John must have felt. They seemed to be doing everything right, but their motivation was all wrong. Their love was gone. They had left it. They had become as a sounding brass and a clanging symbol and all these things profited them nothing. Their hearts were hardened. The Holy fire of love had gone out. They hated sin, but did not balance it with love for the sinner. This was no different from the Pharisees that Jesus chastised in the years he walked the earth.
The Ephesian church had abandoned the love that should have been chief and foremost (GK. protos) on their hearts and minds. It begins when we take the love that belongs to Christ and give it some something or someone else. This is a good definition of harlotry; to take the love that belongs to the one and give it to another. If there was no real love for Christ we need not look for a love for the saints, their neighbor, their enemies, etc. (1 John 3, 4) After all the teaching on love and all of the tremendous example of what love was… they forsook the great love that they once had for Christ and the people. They would likely have been moved by contention, strife, fear, envy, resentment, jealousy, guilt or vain glory, but not by love to do Christ’s work. (See Philippians 1:16) They would have condemned the guilty without considering their own sins. (Galatians 6:1) They are a million miles from Paul when he wrote, for I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh. They had it at the first, so where did their love go?
Tracing their Footsteps
In this book we will trace the footsteps of the church at Ephesus as it sprang forth as a root out of a dry ground to become a premier church in all of Asia, if not in all of the body of Christ. We will do this with a view to understanding God’s purposes in genuine salvation individually and revival corporately. God is love and He intends that man be in His image. The city was utterly pagan with a history of idolatry dating back centuries. We all come to Christ having turned to God from idols to serve the Living God. (1 Thess. 1:9) An idol is anything we have loved before God or somehow made Him subservient to. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was preached with great power and authority leading to a genuine example of New Testament church life in Ephesus. They repented, brought for fruit worthy of repentance, believed, were baptized and then received the Spirit. The love of God was poured out in their hearts by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5) As did the other churches they had ‘begun’ in the Spirit. (Galatians 3:3) But something happened. We get the diagnosis from Jesus, but in order to understand what they needed to do to repent and do the first works we need to know what they had done in the beginning. We know by tradition that Ephesus continued to thrive as a church for many years after our Lord’s letter of correction. Apparently they did it right and went back to the love the had at first. May it be an example in our own lives as to how we likewise can find a place of repentance and reestablish Jesus Christ as our first love, that we might love one another as Christ also loved us.