Monday, January 30, 2012

Have You Forgotten Your First Love?

Are you cold, dead, kind of out of sorts? Do you feel as if God is a million miles away, not interested in you?

I guarantee, God is not the problem:

"Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." (Hebrews 13:5)

If not He, then it must be me! Jesus the glorified Son of God addressed the problem, the core issue for the church at Ephesus:

"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

"And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." (Revelations 2: 2-4)

The Church at Ephesus received one of the greatest exhortations from Paul, to whom he had shared the direct revelation that they sit in high places with Christ (cf Ephesians 2: 6), that they just needed to open the eyes of their understanding to know the unsearchable riches of Christ in them (cf Ephesians 1: 17-18)

In Revelation, Jesus did not upbraid the Ephesians for doing the wrong the things. He recognized "their works, labour, and patience" (v. 2). They did not sin, they did not defame the name of the Lord, they had labored for His name, they had not grown tired.

In reality, though, their work had become more important than the Lord. When Jesus says "thy labor", the original text reads:

"κόπος, kopos: laborious toil, which also means, Short Definition: trouble, toil, involving extreme weariness and deep fatigue.

Jesus never meant for His people to labor like this!

"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

Here, "labour" renders the verb form kopiaó κοπιάω, derived from the same noun form κόπος, kopos. Jesus appeals to all who are burdened, working to exhaustive extremes, burdened -- and He offers to rest you!

The Ephesians had forgotten their first love, not merely because He was not their primary focus, but more importantly because they were not living in His strength.

What does Jesus mean by "first love"? We can find the answer in John's first epistle:

"Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4: 10)


"We love [him], because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

They were trying to do all their good works from their own strength; instead of relyin on the Finished work of Christ's Cross, they were attempting to be and do good on their own -- no wonder they were tired!

The fifth verse of Revelation 2 supplies more evidence that it was not their disobedience per se, but that a works-oriented righteousness had percolated into the church:

"Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works." (Revelation 2:5)

Where have we read about "thou art fallen before?

"For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

"Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace." (Galatians 5: 3-4)

The Ephesians were plainly told that they sit in high places with Christ (cf Ephesians 2:6) Sadly, they had fallen from this grace by trying to serve God in their own strength instead of receiving and releasing His power. Yes, they did good things, but we have been redeemed from the curse of the law so that we did not live out dead works, but rather in the life of the Spirit.

Christians become tired, they become weary, to the extent that they begin believing and acting as if they have to earn God's favor or produced obedience on their own, through their own efforts.

In order to be obedient, we are called to be faithful, to trust in Him. That is the work which Jesus has called us to:

"Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." (John 6: 29)

By believing on Him, receiving the gift of righteousness (cf Romans 5:17), we then produce fruit of righteousness:

"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;

"That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;

"Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God." (Philippians 1: 9-11)


"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

"Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

"And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." (Galatians 5: 22-24)

It's the fruit of the Holy Spirit, not of ourselves! He produces it, we believe it and receive it and release it to the world!

Even James slams the false notion that we must produce the works of righteousness of ourselves:

"Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

"Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

"And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." (James 2: 21-24)

Now, many have misconstrued this passage to suggest that James is preaching works-righteousness. On the contrary, he points out clearly that Abraham's faith brought forth obedience. Faith cannot exist along -- it produces obedience. Only if a man claims to have faith, but does not produce works of righteousness, then one can question whether the man has faith to begin with. Even when James writes that Abraham, "by works was faith made perfect." Here, "perfect" renders the word "τελειόω
teleioó, or complete, accomplished," the same word that Jesus cried out on the Cross before He breathed His last (cf John 19:30). The faith was already there, justifying Abraham, but it was produced to its completion when he offered Isaac on the altar to the Lord. The work itself did not save him, but was a result of his saving faith in the Lord (cf Genesis 15:6).

The Ephesians during the writing of Revelation had replaced right believing with attempting to live right first. Yet Paul counsels the Philippians to "abound in all knowledge and judgment", lit. discernment, or understanding. The more that we know the Finished Work of the Lord, who He is, what He did for us, and He continues to work for us, in us, and through us, then we produced fruit of righteousness!

Yet if we try to be obedient on our own, acting as if we can do it ourselves, attempting to make something of ourselves by our own efforts, we will fall, we will fail, and we will flag out.

Jesus even declared that we could do nothing without Him:

"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5)

So, if we find ourselves working for God instead of God working in and through us, we will lose our "first love", neglecting that we do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13), that He is supply all our need (cf Philippians 4:19). The proof of His neverending goodness is in the Cross:

"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?

"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8: 31-32)

So, what do we do if we find ourselves tired, worn out, having forgotten our first love? Jesus tells us in John 15:

"Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. "(John 15:2)

Here "taketh away" renders the word
αἴρω airó, which means "to raise, take up, lift"

In ancient Israel, a vintner would not heedlessly discard a vine which was not bearing fruit. Instead, the farmer would place a rock underneath the vine, so that the plant would heal, gain strength, and then bear fruit.

Rest in Him, or rather, let Him rest you! (cf Matthew 11: 28-30), for the tendency among many believers is to strive harder, do more, work more if they feel far from God. Instead, believe on Him. Grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, you will be further vetted in the infinite greatest of your First Love, the One who loved you first, and His grace will supply and provide for you to will and to do for His good pleasure!

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