Recapturing Our First Love
By Crawford Loritts
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2008 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina U.S.A.
Before we talk together about recapturing our first love, I want to share a bit concerning my oldest son and his wife, something that moved me deeply. They have three boys, ages six, five and three. Before they go to bed, they have a family devotion and Bible stories. After my son reads the Bible story, the boys gather around him and they repeat the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5).
Jesus captured that again when confronted by the arrogant, legalistic Pharisees who were so pompous about all their rules and regulations. They had put a stranglehold on the freedom that is found in a relationship with God, and Jesus reminded them of the Shema (Matt. 22:37-38; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). Love is the dominant motivation throughout the Bible for a relationship with God. Love is never to be eclipsed by rules and regulations. Love is the dominant motivation for living the Christian life, so much so that when Jesus gathered His disciples together in the upper room He told them, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34). In John 14:15, He reminds them again, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." The inference in the text is not to elevate obedience above love; the inference in the text is "If you love Me" it will drive you to obedience. By the way, that is the grand protector against legalism: "If you love Me," you will obey Me.
Love will cause us to do amazing things. All of us would love our spouses and children and grandchildren above our lives. For those to whom you are close, you would lay your own life down. Why? It is because you are passionate about that person.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome in Romans 12:1: "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice…." The key is the word "therefore." "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God…" Look back and see how you were condemned and lost and separated from God, and how Jesus Christ stepped into human history, died in your place and for your sin. He has freed you from condemnation. He has given you His precious Holy Spirit as told in Romans 8. He has grafted you into His program (Romans, chapters 9, 10, 11). "I urge you therefore…by the mercies of God" – to now make the sacrifice. It is not the duty; it is the response to the extreme love of God.
Paul said the same thing about himself in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. He said, "For the love of Christ controls us…." I like the King James Version as it is closer to the Greek text: "For the love of Christ constraineth us…." It causes us to be singularly focused. "He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf." Again, love precedes sacrifice. Love precedes obedience. Love is a driving force for all things. If it is love upon which our Christianity is built, we will be protected from legalism.
Love Must Be Intentional
However, love must be intentional. Chuck Swindoll made the observation that great marriages are not based upon feelings of love, but they are based upon a commitment to love, and that is right. You who have been married longer than three months understand it takes more than feelings. It is the intention to love, the discipline to love, the will to love, forcing yourself to love. Just as a marriage can fall apart, so also can your walk and relationship with Jesus Christ fall apart.
Marriages typically go through a fourfold deterioration process, and yours will go through this process if you don’t pay attention. Marriages begin with passion. You are in love. If you are not careful, you go from passion to the next phase. It starts as a little bit of neglect, little unresolved issues. You don’t mean to, but it just happens and it spreads. If you don’t address this neglect, you go from passion to neglect to the next phase, which is boredom. There is an accumulation of issues, unresolved problems, hassles, etc. All of a sudden you wake up and you see the other person as the problem. You don’t feel like you are in love anymore. You go from passion to neglect to boredom, and unless there is some major intervention and decisions, you reach the fourth phase: departure. It was all because love was not intentional.
I am convinced Jesus had that in mind when He told John to write this letter to the church at Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7). Jesus dictated seven letters. Six of the seven letters follow this same pattern. The exception is the letter to the church at Philadelphia, but six of the letters follow the same basic pattern: He commends them for something, He condemns them for something, and then He corrects them. Pay very close attention to the letter Jesus dictates for John to write to the church in Ephesus as recorded in Revelation 2: "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven golden lamp stands…’" (v. 1).
Here is the commendation: "‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary’" (vv. 1-3).
He is commending them for two wonderful things. He is commending them for right behavior. He says that they haven’t grown weary; they have endured. The inference is there is no protracted sin; nobody is living in flagrant immorality. In other words He tells them they are behaving right, and He doesn’t want them to stop. They are doing the right things.
The second thing He commends them for is right beliefs. Jesus speaks to them as putting to the test "those who call themselves apostles, but are not…." The inference is that they have a right understanding of theology; their doctrine is straight; there is no false teaching or error. They have a standard and can discern what is right and what is wrong. Nothing appears to be wrong with this church. It appears to be a great place. Jesus commends them.
Friends, here is something aside I want to say to you: the biggest problem that we have is the subtleties of our rightness. We have to watch that. When you are right, you are always close to being wrong. There is a subtle undertow of pride and arrogance. Paul says, "Knowledge puffs up" (1 Cor. 8:1). You must be very careful when you know that you are right. You have to be very careful with your analysis of the sinfulness of the Church. The biggest problem some of us have when we have preached a revival message is that we know our analysis is right, but we can be equally as arrogant in our denunciation. Our posturing can be wrong. We can come across as if we are the fourth member of the Trinity.
Returning to the church at Ephesus, Jesus applauds them. He doesn’t want them to stop behaving right and believing right. Maybe this sounds like our church, and we think we aren’t so bad. We have right behavior and right beliefs.
But then come these next six words: "But I [the Lord of history] have this against you…" (v. 4). Jesus says He has an issue with them. He wants them to keep behaving right and believing right. He wants them to keep having devotions and keep making sure that they are not tripping into sin. They are to guard the faith and to keep their hearts right, but He has a problem with them.
Notice how He states the problem. "…you have left your first love" (v. 4). I have heard many messages that have said you have lost your first love. There is a huge difference between losing something and leaving something. The inference in this is that you were so busy focusing on your right behavior and your right beliefs, that you made your right behavior and your right beliefs the core of your Christianity. You made the process the destination. You made the outcomes the essence. You are thinking that because you don’t behave like they do and you don’t believe like they do that means that you are more spiritual than they are. Orthodoxy and practice have become your substitute for sanctification. Those of us who are Bible believing people think that because we do right, that equals vibrant Christianity. Doing the right things will never bring revival. Saying the right things will never bring revival. Jesus says, "…you have left your first love."
Some years ago, I had one of those busy days. I was scheduled to speak at a stadium event that evening, and earlier in the day (this was when I was on staff at Campus Crusade) I was in charge of a television outreach that we were putting together. It was an exciting project, and some men from across the country were flying in to meet with me at my office. I was eager about that meeting and I was going to leave from there to go to the airport to go to this other city. I got my day started a little late, so I was hustling around the house, grabbing my stuff for the trip – suitcases and briefcases and computer and cell phone, all these things. I ran out to my car, and I got half way to my office and I wondered, "What am I forgetting? I forgot something." I was going through my checklist: "I’ve got that, I’ve got that…." Suddenly I remembered. "Oh, I left my wallet on the dresser!" I didn’t intend to leave my wallet on the dresser. I wasn’t planning on doing anything evil or wrong that day. In fact with everything on my agenda, I had a great time with the Lord that morning. Everything I had planned to do that day was to advance the cause of Christ. But in my enthusiasm to do right things, I left something very important, something very significant behind. I was driving without identification. May I say, too many Christians are living the Christian life without identification – without something significant, something very important that brings power to your life.
Jesus said, "You have left your…" and notice the words "first love." That word "first" as I see it was not meant to be taken as a sequential term, or the priority in this way – you do this, then this, then this, top priority, middle priority, low priority. I believe the context of what He is saying here is that it is the essence expression for what determines what is important to you.
Jesus says in effect, "I am glad you are acting right; I am glad you are believing right; but where am I in the midst of all this?" Why do you do ministry? Some of us love our ministries more than we love Jesus. We love our Bible studies more than we love Jesus. We love to preach more, we love conferences and our fellowship more than we love Him. We make our families idols. I am committed to families, but we have seen a shift in recent years that bothers me, where the family has become an idol. So Jesus is saying something like: "Where am I in your affections? You have an alignment issue here. I’m not at the core of all of this."
Then notice: "You have left your first love." He uses the Greek word "agape" here. I believe that He is probably referring to the whole concept of God’s amazing unconditional love, but what He is talking about here probably goes back to when Paul was standing outside of the pagan temples there in Ephesus. Ephesus was a sinful place. The people who made up the church at Ephesus were former temple prostitutes, homosexuals, idol worshipers and the like. Paul stayed at Ephesus longer planting that church than in any other city. Acts 19 tells us that there were more miracles done in Ephesus because of the incredible spiritual warfare that went on.
What is Jesus saying to them in this letter that He dictates to John for them? He seems to be reminding them of how they used to worship in the idol temples. They were bound in sinful practices. They didn’t know how they could be set free. They saw this man Paul preaching in the agora or marketplace and he was talking about Jesus. He told how Jesus died for them and could set them free. They responded and got deliverance – not by right behavior, not by their power to act right, not by right beliefs, for they didn’t know anything. But they were set free by a person, by Jesus!
Now, at the time He was writing to them, they could look at themselves as understanding a lot about God. They were not living in sin as before but were living decent and respectable lives. In fact, they were somewhat looking down on people who were doing what they used to do. Now they were clean and decent – but impotent. They were a shell of righteousness, a billboard of truth. But their heart – where was their heart? What did they really love?
Jesus doesn’t want them to stop doing what they were doing. But He cautioned them to be careful. They now knew how to do certain things right. They could put messages together and make a presentation of the Gospel. They looked pretty good. But they were in a dangerous place.
So Jesus corrected them. What is it He wanted them to do? He said as recorded in verse 5: "Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works [deeds] you did at first." Basically He was telling them to not stop doing the other things they were doing right. He thanked them for behaving right. He didn’t want them to go out and get into sin again. They should not adopt some weird theology. But He wanted them to do three things. He wanted them to remember, to repent and to redo.
Remember! The word remember is an interesting Greek word which means both to recall as well as to rehearse. It is almost as if Jesus was saying, "Stop. Pull back. Wait. Go all the way back in your mind."
Part of the problem is the way we do Christianity; we are always here and in the future. We need to sometimes go back and savor the goodness of God in our life. From where has He brought you? What has He made of you? Where would you be without Him? Remember and rehearse. Keep what Jesus has done fresh in your mind. Jesus told the disciples when He gave them the broken bread at the meal before He was betrayed, "…do this in remembrance of Me" (Luke 22:19). Keep what Jesus did ever fresh.
Repent! Then He says that He wants them to repent (Rev. 2:5). The broader doctrine of repentance involves remorse, change of life, making things right. That is what our doctrine of repentance is. But I would think from the context here that maybe what He intends is to take the word as meaning "change of mind." Maybe what He is saying is something like this: "I want you to change your mind about how you ‘do’ Christianity. You have all of the right living. The problem is that it is not flowing out of a relationship core. You have made the assumption that your behavior and your beliefs are the core. I, Jesus Myself, am the core. I want you to change how you think about how you do Christianity."
Redo! Then Jesus says this: "Do the deeds you did at first." That line bothered me a number of years ago when I first studied the text because I was trying to figure out objectively what He was talking about. So I did some study in the book of Ephesians and in Acts chapter 19 to get a clue there. Then it dawned on me that there are some lines and some texts in the Bible that are meant to be interpreted with your heart. I think what He literally meant there was an emotional statement. I don’t think the deeds there are so much what you can go back to and see. What deeds did they do then? I think He is talking about the tender, intimate, wonderful moments of worship and conversation they had with Jesus then, things of the heart that cannot be seen with the eyes.
I was a teenager when I gave my heart to Jesus. I remember not wanting to go to sleep at night because I just wanted to think about Jesus. I would lie there when I was thirteen, fourteen or fifteen years old, and I would tell Jesus how much I loved Him, and I would ask Him to help me understand His Word. I would just love Him, and those were some powerful moments. You have had them, too. But when was the last time you just spent time with Jesus? You didn’t ask Him for anything, but just took your Bible and your writing pad and just thought about His love and goodness. You just said "Thank You!" You let Him warm your heart.
Apart from our love for Jesus, we are nothing more than hypocrites. He is our life! What do we have without Him? What hope do we have without Him?
"Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deut. 6:4-5). "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).
I sense some of you are like me and have times in which you need to do business with God. The issue in the life of some of you is the same as what I struggle with. You are addicted to performance and productivity, and you think that your spiritual value is equal to the amount of things that you can accomplish. We need to stop it. We are never going to be able to do enough.
Some of you are struggling with spiritual pride. You think that because you are better informed that somehow or another you are spiritually better than those less informed. You need to surrender to the power of the Sovereign Love and Lord of history.
Some of you may be struggling with sin – in your thoughts, your actions. His love wants to drive you to repentance – deep repentance. Respond to God in what you need to do.
"Remember then from what you have fallen, repent, and do the works you did at first" (Rev. 2:5).