The haunting words of the title of this post are taken from Revelation 2:4 in the middle of Jesus’ message to the Church in Ephesus. The full verse says,
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.Revelation 2:4 (NASB)
The message to this church starts off so well. I can visualize the faces of the Ephesians as they first heard the message. I see the barely suppressed smiles as they heard their toil and perseverance praised by their Lord. Image the sense of satisfaction as their diligence in keeping the teaching pure was highlighted along with their willingness and ability to combat error.
There was much good that was going on in this church. But then their satisfaction turned to horror as they heard, “But I have this against you . . .”
They had lost their first love.
How could this happen? How could they be so on track theologically and be so wrong relationally? It is not just an academic question. This is a question that church leaders should be asking in every culture and in every generation because we are prone to repeat this error.
We all have an inner Pharisee that can reshape our thinking and behavior and cause us to repeat the Ephesians’ error. We need to be vigilant to monitor what we do and also be vigilant to know when our motives for doing the right thing become wrong.
There is another danger for us. We are also prone to over correcting and swinging too far the other way. We can be so relational that we don’t offer the confrontation that is necessary to keep the church grounded in a solid understanding of “what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (WSC Question 3).
I have been in churches that were so focused on being loving that they allowed error to propagate within the members and did little or nothing to correct it. Lives were damaged as a result of the leaders’ negligence.
Those who overcorrect in this way, while claiming love as their motivation have also lost their first love because that love should be focused on the one who is the Truth (John 14:6). Jesus was able to speak the truth at all times and to every person with whom he had contact. He also had the ability to make them feel loved as he did it.
By allowing either extreme to flourish in our churches, we are demonstrating that we have lost our first Love. If we love the one who gives the perfect example of unapologetically standing for the truth of Scripture while at the same time demonstrating love for those he encountered, then we will constantly seek to follow his example and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
I feel led to point out that the “sinners” were the ones that loved Jesus and were permanently changed by that love. The truth was both relational and confrontational.