John’s Book of Revelation begins with letters to seven churches. Those admonitions are often interpreted as representing various ages of church history, and the church at Ephesus is equated with the end of the Apostolic age. John’s letter to us describes one of the greatest dangers to the church at ANY time: the danger of losing your first love… “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” (Revelation 2:1; 3-4, NKJV)
When John wrote to the seven Churches in Asia Minor, he wrote to literal church locations. His book about the Apocalypse was carried by messenger and read aloud to each congregation, and his message was cosmic and stunning to say the least. I’m sure that the reading of John’s letters in the late first century drew crowds and created quite a buzz in the local churches!
He Quit Preaching and Went to Meddling
To each congregation he gave a compliment, a criticism, and a command that probably addressed actual contemporary events or persons in that particular church, so I’m sure that listeners had many questions about who was to blame, how things got to be that way, and what to do about it. So in some respects, it was just a normal letter, written to contemporary churches John knew about.
But many theologians also believe that the letters to the seven churches also have a historical application and that each church can be compared to an era in history that corresponds with John’s message. (For instance, the church at Ephesus symbolizes the cooling off of the Church’s first love, and the end of the Apostolic age; Smyrna represents the era of church oppression and martyrdom, Pergamos the church becoming connected to the world, and so on. It’s a stimulating study if you are interested.)
But the application that intrigues me most is the PERSONAL ONE. When you read the messages to the seven churches, what jumps out at YOU? Are there compliments you identify with? Are there criticisms that make you uncomfortable?
Remember that First Love?
As you read John’s words to Ephesus, for instance, does anything resonate in your heart of hearts? “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love…” Our Sunday school class once described the characteristics of new or first love from a romantic point of view, and here is a partial list: “You want to spend time together.” “You think about each other all the time.” “You love talking together. You love being together.”
Ever feel that way? Have you ever been caught up in the new stages of a romance that are so powerful that it commands your thoughts, your time, and your desires? Romance writers talk about it, and surely you can remember it from that time you first “fell in love”!
Now think about the things you felt when you first encountered God’s love, when you learned about Grace it became real to you… what happened on the day you realized that God loved you, that Christ died for you, and you decided to grab ahold of it and love Him back? Do you remember the joy? Do you recall the comfort, relief, happiness and gratitude you felt? I was FORGIVEN! I was LOVED!! I had HOPE! For me, it was like seeing the world through new eyes, and about finding a confidence that wasn’t held down by my own inadequacy or insecurity.
If you ever appropriated God’s love by faith, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a feeling of life-changing love and assurance so complete that it is both infinite and intimate. It’s a doorway to new possibilities that include spiritual awakening and eternal life! As I recall, it came with a bunch of new discoveries about life and the way the world works.
Bringing it Home
So here’s the question: do you still feel that way today? Are you walking around feeling loved, touched by grace, grateful that you can spend time with the Father? Have you left your first love? If you have, remember. Remember the early feelings you experienced when you stepped away from the deadly selfishness of the world to the selfless love of Jesus.
If you have wandered away from those emotions, reclaim them. Allow yourself to be courted by the Creator. Read some Psalms or the book of John. Go on a honeymoon with God. Serve someone else in His name, and see how you feel. It’s ok to feel romantic or smitten with God. He feels that way about you, and His first love is also His eternal one.
A Love Sonnet
Oh Lord, when there are times I, failing, doubt,
And do not seek to know Thy love and grace;
When I, in haste and worry, rush about,
And turn all inward seeking from Thy face;
When I forget that you were my first love,
And take for granted how I have been blessed;
When I, with thoughts below and not above
Am tempted, and I fail to pass the test –
When I am sore beset by worldly grief,
For having failed to put my trust in Thee,
While knowing that this trust would bring relief,
And that Thy face would never turn from me;
When our First Love’s romance, Oh Lord, I spurn,
Please call me back, and help me to return.
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