In chapters two and three of Revelation, John records for us seven personal letters from Christ to seven specific churches in Asia Minor. The format of the letters is very similar. They each start with an address and an identification of Christ, followed by Christ’s assessment of the condition of the church, a warning, an exhortation, and a promise.
Ephesus is the first church that Christ addresses. Ephesus was a strategic port-city and the capital of the Roman province in Asia Minor. Paul, recognizing its strategic importance, spent three years there preaching the word. He then appointed Timothy to look after the church; and according to early tradition, the apostle John replaced Timothy toward the end of the first century as the church leader.
Christ begins by commending the church for these three things: 1) their toils for the kingdom, 2) their patient endurance under trials, and 3) their exercising discernment in exposing false teachers. These are qualities that ought to be the mark of every true church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He continues his assessment of the church with this complaint: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” This is very sobering. A church can be busy for the Lord, have sound doctrine, and persevere under trials and yet miss the heart that is needed as a motivation for all of that.
Love for Christ is to be the driving force behind all that we do, both as individual believers and as a church. We see the seriousness of this offense from the warning that Christ gives them if they don’t repent: “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” In other words, they will cease to be a church of Jesus Christ. They may still have a building and lots of activities, but they will not have Christ in their midst. Our knowledge of doctrine without love will merely puff us up; similarly, our toil for the kingdom will become drudgery if it is not motivated by love.
Christ then gives them this command: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” Remember that love that captured your heart when you first came to faith in Christ and continue in it. It is crucial for us to maintain fervent love for Christ by daily communion with Him and frequent meditation on His love for us.
He concludes the letter with this promise: “To the one who conquered, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” The reward for love to Christ is to live eternally in the presence of the One who is perfect love. May the love of Christ be the motivating factor in all that we do for Him.