First Love in the Second Generation
Robert Wurtz II
“When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).
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).
I have chosen these two passages to illustrate the challenge of passing the faith to the next generation. The Old Testament Saints passed the faith to their children who, in turn, refused to love God, hate sin, and destroy the altars and groves that led to compromise and idolatry. They neglected to rid the land of every trace of the enemy.
The church at Ephesus passed the faith to the next generation and more. Those generations had no trouble hating certain sins and false doctrines. Nevertheless, they left their first love in the process. The fire of God no longer burned in them as it burned at Ephesus in the beginning. This means that the Holy Spirit was not energizing and leading the people as He desires to. The result was non-love for God and their fellow human beings.
A Common Challenge
The Old and New Testament examples have a common challenge; the new generations (if you will) didn’t pass through the experience of faith the same way as the generation before them. There were essentials elements left out that left them lacking in their faith and in need of going back to the beginning and retracing the history of what the generation before them had done who were on fire for God.
The generation following the life of Joshua was born on the other side of the river. They lacked the experience of crossing the Jordan and all that that experience implied—primarily death to themselves and their past. The Israelites were tasked with retrieving God’s property (the land of Israel) and evicting the squatters of pagan idol worshippers, giants, and demons that were there by the invitation of the idol worshippers.
God permitted no “competition” inside the perimeter of His land. This was the point of the first commandment. Literally, the commandment means, you will have no other gods before my face. The LXX renders the command as, “You shall not have other gods besides me” (Exodus 20:3 NETS). The second generation of Israelites failed miserably in this regard. They didn’t understand exclusivity. God wants people who are exclusively His and refuse to even flirt with other gods, much less worship them.
Missing the Message
The generation following the absence of Paul at Ephesus was one that apparently never followed the pattern of those who first believed. The church started with the message of repentance and baptism in water preached powerfully by Apollos. The people obeyed. When Paul arrived, he noticed something lacking in their experience and asked whether or not they had received the Holy Spirit. They had not (Acts 19:1f).
What made the saints at Ephesus mighty weapons in the hand of God was their willingness to act when God spoke to them. As one preacher put it, they would “turn on a dime” if God spoke to them. Paul, the mouthpiece of God, informed them that they needed re-baptized—because the Old Covenant was expired and John’s baptism of repentance, though commendable for them to follow through with it, was no longer effectual at that point in time. What did they do? They gladly received the word and were baptized again in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 19:5).
Is there any surprise that with such an open heart, they received the Holy Spirit easily and without all the fuss? The common theme in both of these examples is that genuine repentance and a willingness to hear the word of God is paramount if one intends to go forward with God. Far too many people resist the word of God and thereby resist the Holy Spirit. One can not resist the Spirit and receive Him at the same time. It is impossible.
Understand that the Holy Spirit and the word of God, agree. Why? Because the scriptures are God-breathed, by the very breath of the Holy Spirit. To resist the word is to resist the Spirit. The Israelites in the book of Judges refused to throw down the idols and altars of the land. This is an ancient attitude that says, “I know better than God knows, and I’m going to do things my way.” Again, they had no clue about faithfulness, loyalty, and exclusivity. They had no concept of the notion that they belonged to God alone and that He is a jealous God.
When we say jealous, we are saying that God is unwilling to share the love that belongs to Him alone with anyone or anything else. A cursory reading of the Old and New Testament clearly reveals this fact. Understand that the definition of unfaithfulness, whoredom, or harlotry (if you like) is to “take the love that belongs to one and give it to another.” God wouldn’t tolerate it—in the lesson of the book of Hosea— just like a husband or wife shouldn’t have to tolerate it from their spouse. God expects unadulterated faithfulness from His people.
Discovering the Truth
Finally, Jesus told the Ephesians in Revelation chapter 2 to go back and do their first works. What were they? It was easy enough to find out. All they needed was a copy of the second volume of Luke’s writings that we commonly call the book of Acts. Turn to chapter 19 (though they didn’t have chapter divisions at that time) and right there, written out in great detail, was the process of how the first generation of saints at Ephesus came to Christ and became powerful men and women of a God doing exploits for the kingdom. They were FULL of the Holy Spirit. This “first love experience” is what Jesus expected them to return to and walk-in.
No doubt the people who received John’s letter figured it out, and set about, in Old Testament style, “cleaning house” and getting back to the word of God. It was probably like a scene out of the book of 2 Kings when the High Priest found the book of the law. “Then Shaphan the scribe showed the king, saying, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read it before the king.” Josiah was vexed and tore his clothes having been horrified at their misdeeds (2 Kings 22:1f). No telling how many of the Ephesians did something similar when they read the book of Acts.
Undoubtedly, some of the Ephesians of the later generations never truly renounced and repented of their sins and yet were actively involved in the church. Some were entertaining various forms of compromise. You will recall that the Ephesians in Acts 19-20 burned a fortune in sinful, idolatrous, relics as they renounced all associations with false gods and demons. This was a true-life example of what God expected Israel to do as they possessed the land. Unlike the Israelites, the Ephesians got it right, and God rewarded their faithfulness.
A Personal Jordan
In modern times, I suggest that first, every generation needs their own personal “Jordan” experience. They need to make a clean break with the past and announce to men and angels that they are on the Lord’s side going forward. This is the primary purpose of water baptism. It is a declaration. It is a watery grave for your past and a new name under which we submit. This is why we baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are coming under the authority of the Godhead.
Second, every generation must go through their lives and tear down the altars, destroy the false gods, and cut down the groves (as it were). In practical terms, rid your life of items and practices that offend God. Rid your life of associations with the enemy such as demonic media or books and artifacts. These things are invitations to demon spirits whether you believe it or not. The Devil knows when he is being “flirted with” or “given an invite” to come into your life. Satan never rejects an invitation. Is your life in chaos? Go through your life with a fine-toothed comb in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 66:1-2 tells us what we must do in order to be a place of God’s rest. If we respond to Christ in faith—gladly receiving the word, then we, as did Ephesus, can know the fullness of the Spirit and obtain or regain (for those who have backslidden) our first love in Christ. We can restart our walk in the Holy Spirit, Led by the Holy Spirit, and yielding the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We can be motivated by the expulsive power of a new affection (as Wesley referred to it) as God works in us both to will and to do His perfect will (Philippians 2:13).