When my wife and I first started dating, we were insufferable. People had us pegged to be married within a week. We did a lot of handholding, talking incessantly until late at night, we would find ways to surprise each other with gifts or notes. A few times the Resident Assistant’s desk was the location where flowers were delivered to the oohs and aahs of the other girls in the dorm. When she was in New York City as a summer missionary, she wrote the cutest thing knowing that she would have a chance to meet my whole family who was in Connecticut to celebrate my grandmother’s 80th birthday: “When you come, the whole city of New York can turn out the lights, because the glow on my face will be so bright.” The party was on July 16, 1977. The New York City blackout was July 13-14. We picked her up a day early because of the blackout. (Yes, this actually did happen.) We’ve been married a long time now. I don’t send flowers anymore – allergies. We don’t talk as much, sometimes sitting together in silence.
Still, our love is stronger than ever. There are some people who might look at us and wonder about our love. Sometimes, as love changes, people seem to think that they’re no long in love and troubles start. They worry about who their spouse is talking to. They lose trust and faith. They want to control their spouse. I think that’s what happened to the church at Ephesus. Their relationship began as a love relationship with Jesus and Paul spent a lot of time with them. Then, and this is my speculation, things started changing. Paul reminded them to remain united. He had to remind them that they came to Christ through grace. By the time John wrote this Revelation, the church in Ephesus had a real problem. “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:3-4)
It’s obviously speculation, since none of us were around during this time in Ephesus, but I think what happened is that when they first heard the gospel, they fell in love. They fell in love with Christ and with each other. They did all they could to support others. They grew in Christ and, as the Holy Spirit worked in them, their lifestyles changed. They left their old sins behind. As new people came to Christ, they forgot how much God had worked in them and expected new Christians to live at the same level they did. Perhaps it began with petty sniping among the “mature” Christians, but before long, they became judgmental. They had persevered and endured the initial hardships of following Christ. They had come to the point that they could not tolerate wicked people and tested false apostles. What they missed as they became more legalistic was their love of Christ and of His people. In their desire to walk the straight and narrow, they became legalistic and soon had no tolerance for Christians who were still growing.
I had forgotten my first love for Jesus for a while. Rather than continuing to grow in my relationship with Christ through that love, I thought it was important to show my devotion through my actions. Don’t misunderstand me, our love for Jesus will produce a changed life. It’s that a changed doesn’t necessarily show love for Jesus. Instead of reveling in my love for God, I became judgmental and legalistic. Only recently have I taken the message of Jesus to the church at Ephesus to heart and sought out my first love. There is such a joy in returning to that attitude of loving God first. There is such a joy in leaving judgment to God and sharing the love of Jesus with others. Yes, I believe God’s standards exist. Yes, I believe some things are wrong. We aren’t called to change people though. We’re called to introduce them to Jesus. Once they establish that relationship with God, He’s responsible to change them.
Lord, remind me every day of the love I had for You at first. Help me to share that love with others.