There is a great danger in becoming so consumed by doing good and important things that we forget the ultimate thing: to love God and others as ourselves.
As your group time begins, use this section to introduce the topic of discussion.
Spend a few minutes sharing stories about what your “first love” as a child was like, or what you have seen someone else experience with their first loves. How young were you? What do you remember most about that person and your “relationship”? Is that person in your life today?
How does your relationship with Christ now compare with what it was like when you first became a Christian? What are the key differences, and what are some of the reasons you can think of for those changes?
In the passage we will discuss today from Revelation 2, Jesus compliments the Ephesian Christians for their many good deeds but criticizes them because they no longer love Him or one another as they used to. From His criticism of this church, we will see the need to focus on the primary objective of love.
Have a volunteer Read Revelation 2:1-4.
“1 Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus: Thus says the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. 3 I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first.”
The simple phrase, “I know” carries much weight and is rich in meaning. John used the word “oida” instead of the typical “ginosko.” Oida emphasized absolute clarity in perceiving all happenings of life. In other words, Jesus doesn’t miss a detail. He knew intimately the goings on in the Ephesian church, not because He heard a report, but because He was with them. In Matthew 28:20, Jesus promised that He would be with His followers until the end of the age. Jesus was present among the Ephesian believers, and He is present among His redeemed today. He knows us intimately.
The letters to the seven churches in Revelation (not to mention the whole of Christian life) rests on the assumption that Jesus is our authority. These letters make no sense otherwise. Jesus’ authority over His disciples was established from the very beginning of His earthly ministry. Jesus is not only Savior, but also Lord. These letters to the churches are a pointed reminder that Jesus’ lordship over His followers didn’t end with His ascension. He continues to lead, correct, and mandate His followers.
The first element of the Ephesians’ obedience is usually translated “labor,” “toil,” or “hard work.”
Here, Jesus recognized that the Ephesian believers had become tired. Surely, the crisis and controversy with the false teachers took its toll on the church; but they patiently endured. They grew tired in their devotion to Jesus and the true gospel, but not tired of it. The Ephesian church marched forward in the faith, continuing to gather regularly for teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. The Ephesian church continued to do the right thing, but something had gone awry.
Jesus rebuked the Ephesians for waning in their sacrificial, selfless love (agape) because it is this love that should undergird all of Christian living. This love is the proof and fruit of new life in Christ. It is this love that sustains and compels those that follow Christ. The Ephesians had remained orthodox in their doctrine by rejecting the false teaching of the Nicolaitans; yet somewhere along the way of guarding the purity of their faith, the personal devotion and love for their Savior and their brothers and sisters had cooled. This same pitfall is possible today. Our fight for orthodoxy has to be accompanied by our fight for joy and love. If a pure gospel doesn’t translate into a warm, gracious, and loving life, then something has gone wrong.
Jesus told the Ephesians to remember, repent, and do the works that they did at first. They ought to remember from what they had been saved and the great rescue that was accomplished. They needed to recognize that their loss of love was a sin, and they needed to repent of it. Finally, they were to return to the works of love that they did at first. This is a pattern that we can follow today.