“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and 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.” (Ephesians 2:2-4 NKJV)
The Ephesian Church had some pretty strong leaders. Both Paul and John were shepherds of the Ephesian Church. John had been serving there when he was exiled to Patmos, and the tradition is that John returned to Ephesus after exile when he wrote the gospel. They knew their stuff. They knew what Christians were supposed to believe and do and they didn’t put up with people who believed or behaved contrary to the teachings they had received. As Jesus spoke, while He acknowledged their quest for purity, He also recognized that they had a major problem: they had lost their first love – their love for Jesus. They had turned a beautiful relationship with God into a stifling orthodoxy.
We see that stifling orthodoxy today whenever people make words and deeds more important than our relationship with Christ. We may preach about how important it is that people have a relationship with Christ, but then look down on them for their sin. It’s bad enough when we deal with people in the church like that, but too often, we excuse the behavior of brothers and sisters who should know better while attacking the same behaviors in people who don’t know Jesus. We sanctify that error by saying that we’re hating the sin, but loving the sinner. Guess what people who don’t know Jesus hear: hate. Let’s get rid of that saying and just say that we love everyone. We don’t even need to use the word “sinner” because we know that description fits everyone. If our first love is Jesus, then we should love others like Jesus did. Are beliefs and actions important? Of course, but the truth is, we can’t fix the beliefs and actions of others by being judgmental; when we show others the love of Jesus, our first love, we let God work on what He thinks needs fixing. I trust Him to deal with things like that better than I do myself.
Lord, we all want to be right. We want to be right on facts, beliefs, and deeds. Somehow, in our desire to be right, we forget to love You and to love others. Remind me as I deal with people that You called me to love God and love my neighbor.