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Leaving Our First Love

Christ's Message to Those Who Dwell at Ephesus

by David A. DePra

     In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus speaks to seven churches. He
tells John to write to the "angels" of these seven churches. For
each of the seven, Jesus has a unique message.
     Who are these seven churches? As is the case with almost
every verse in the book of Revelation, there have always been
a variety of opinions. Some think the seven churches represent
seven church ages. They interpret chapters 2 and 3 historically.
But Revelation is not primarily a historical vision. It is a prophetic
vision -- but prophetic, not in the sense of foretelling the future. It
is prophetic in the sense of showing things how they ARE. It is a
revelation of REALITY in Christ Jesus. God gave John a vision
which embodies His redemptive plan in His Son. Everything in
the book of Revelation is unto that end.
     Isn't there any historical significance to the message to these
seven churches?  Sure there is. And we will allude to this as we
go on. But the historical is always but a type or foreshadow. It
is but a tool or vehicle for the real spiritual revelation. It is never
an end unto itself.
     So when we read of the seven churches of Revelation, we are
reading about something spiritual. John is being given a spiritual
vision. He sees the seven candlesticks -- the seven churches --
with Jesus Christ in the midst of them. What does this picture?
     Envision what John saw in the physical sense: Jesus in
the middle, with seven golden candlesticks around Him. This is
quite picturesque. The churches stand for seven different spiritual
conditions, or perspectives, of the SAME Jesus. Just as each
of us would have a different perspective visually of someone
standing in our midst, so is there room for Christians to differ as to
to their vision of Christ. This is good, and right, and really part of
the way God has constructed the Body to function.
     Note that the seven churches do not each have a DIFFERENT
Jesus. No. There are seven churches, but ONE Jesus. They
each have a unique perspective of Him -- the one, true Lord.
No one has all the Truth. There is no time or capacity for that in
this age. But each of us do have a unique vision of Jesus Christ.
We see Him from a slightly different angle than the next person.
Yet it is still the SAME Christ. Each Christian comprises their part
of the Body of Christ by contributing their knowledge of the Truth.
     This vision of Jesus Christ, in light and Truth, is also clearly
represented by the fact that Jesus is "in the midst." In other words,
Jesus Christ is the center. He is the focus. The seven churches do
not focus on each other. They are not all tied up in "Body life," or
in church administration. The candlesticks do not focus upon
themselves or each other. Jesus is in the middle. He is what
matters -- when things are properly adjusted.

The Message to Ephesus

     It is in this spiritual atmosphere in Revelation of 2 and 3 that
Jesus gives a message for each of the churches. He is writing to
US. He is taking us right where we are, in our particular stage of
spiritual growth, and is both commending and correcting us. He
is telling us about the dangers of our unique perspective, and
giving us edification as to how we might continue to grow. The
first "church" to which Jesus gives instruction is "the church at
     In verses 2:1 through 2:3 Jesus commends "those at Ephesus."
He says, "I know thy works, and thy labor, 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." He then goes on in His praise of them: "And hast
borne and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast labored,
and hast not fainted."
     These are strong words of approval from Jesus. He is
commending those at Ephesus for refusing to compromise with
error. He commends them for "trying" those who say they are
apostles. He applauds them for standing fast in their desire for
what is right. Evidently, these Christians have great zeal for the
Truth. They want nothing but the Truth. And Jesus tells them that
them that this is good.
     But then He says, "Nevertheless, I have somewhat against
you because thou has left thy FIRST LOVE."
     The "first love" of a Christian is Jesus Christ. At least He is the
"first love" of those who have embraced genuine salvation. When
a person is saved, solely by the grace of God in Christ, they are
focused and occupied with Jesus. This can be spiritually
compared to being newly married. Jesus Christ is all the person
cares about. He is all they can think about.
     Again, we see that this is Jesus in the MIDST of the churches,
or candlesticks. Jesus is the first love; the center. There is no
other love substituting for Him if things are working according to
the will of God.
     This condition doesn't mandate that we know everything about
Jesus Christ. Neither does it mean that we will alway "feel"
loving towards Jesus in the sense of an emotional experience.
But it is talking about our focus and motivation for living. Our
relationship with Christ should mature and grow. It should be one
of love. It should never regress. And we should never "leave
our First Love" for another love.
     Ephesus has a particular revelation of Truth, and a unique
vision of the Christ. Yet despite being in this wonderful position,
they have somehow left their first love. They are pictured as
being in the early stages of leaving this circle! Indeed, Jesus will
later tell them to repent, or He will move their candlestick out of it's
place. Therefore, this is no small matter. To "leave your first
love" is a serious issue, and can ruin your relationship with the
living Christ.
     Think about it. If Jesus Christ is my "first love," and I have "left
my first love," then where does that leave me? It leaves me with
something other than Jesus!

What is this Condition?

     Jesus tells this church at Ephesus that they "have left their first
love." But what is this condition? And why did such a thing
     It would be easy to assume that "to leave your first love" means
to stop being a Christian. Surely, we might assume, this is equal
to renouncing Jesus Christ. Well, yes, renouncing Jesus Christ
would be to "leave my first love" in the ultimate sense. But this
is not the context in which the term is used in Revelation 2. Jesus
is not there talking to those who have turned their back on Jesus.
Indeed, at first, quite the opposite seems to be the case.
     Notice in verse one of Revelation 2. Jesus is not talking to
those who have deserted Him. He is talking to a group of people
called "the CHURCH at Ephesus." These are His people. These
are Christians. And His first words to them are not critical. As we
have seen, Jesus actually begins by commending them.
     Yet it is right here that we must notice something which opens
the meaning of the passage to us: The very point on which Jesus
commends those at Ephesus is also their downfall. Get that.
Jesus says, "I know your desire for Truth, and I know how you
have stood for it in many ways --- BUT --- I have this against you
in your zeal: You have left your First Love.
     Note: The very zeal and desire for Truth which Ephesus
possessed became their downfall. Why? Because in their
zeal they did not personally surrender to Christ! As a result,
what began in the Spirit came under the power of religious flesh.
Any desire for Truth which is not followed by a surrender to
Truth will result in spiritual pride and arrogance. It will result in
the self-exaltation which comes from possessing knowledge
without character. It will result in leaving my First Love.
     This is not only a possibility in each one of us, but it has really
been THE story of the church for two thousand years. God gives
a revelation or experience which He intends for our edification.
But instead of allowing the Truth to adjust us and guide us, indeed,
SLAY us, we take it in hand and try to keep it going under the
power of relgious flesh. Or we use it to exalt ourselves in pride.
     If I have a great desire for the Truth, this is a good thing. But
Truth is not "facts" or "information." It is revelation. It is reality.
And in order to possess it, I must come under it's power. I must
allow it to possess me. This means that I must allow the Truth
to come in and slay me; adjust me to Christ. Then, I can say I
have started to possess it.
     When God gives Truth, I will always do one of two things: I
will either allow it to adjust me to Christ, or I will adjust it to suit
myself. There is no middle ground. And if I do the latter, I will, at
first, seem to possess quite a list of wonderful teachings. But in
the end, I will stand aloof of Christ. I'll leave Him as my first love.
And in time, even the teachings I cherish will become corrupted.

Leaving Our First Love

     There are many subtle ways in which a desire for Truth can
end up under the power of religious flesh. For instance, there are
many of us who are so focused upon the "right doctrine" that we
forget WHO the doctrine is talking about. Our doctrines and
principles -- GOOD Bible ones too -- have become our real
love. Our walk in no longer with Jesus Christ. It consists of a list
of rules and principles to follow.
     Again, it is not a matter of whether the rules and principles are
good, Biblical, or right. It is a matter of whether I have exalted
them to things I must do to be right with God. Or whether I have
exalted them to the place of defining my Christianity. If rules
and principles are Christianity to me, then I have lost my first
love. Rules and principles are NOT Christianity! Jesus Christ
is Christianity. It is with Him that I must walk.
     Another subtle way to leave my first love is to replace Christ
with the church itself. Or with my particular group. The group,
the church, or a list of teachings can begin to replace Jesus as
my first love.
     Notice that all of these things which replace Christ are initially
good things. They aren't wicked or evil. The problem isn't in
them. The sin is in ME. I have taken these things and used them
for purposes not intended by God. I have forsaken my First Love
and been carried away by something much less.

The Apostolic Church

     The seven churches in the book of Revelation are typical
of any one of us at any time. They are representative of the
spiritual conditions possible in any Christian. The "church at
Ephesus" are those who have a tremendous zeal for the Truth.
They are willing to do anything to stand for it. But something has
gone wrong in their hearts. They have left Jesus Christ in favor
of doctrines, teachings, and traditions about Him.
     Actually, the "church at Ephesus" in Revelation is quite
symbolic of the apostolic church of the first century, and the
later church of the second century. The first century church had
a living relationship with the living Christ. HE was their first love.
They did not desert Him. But it was only a matter of time before
false teachers began to invade the Body of Christ. This was
already starting to happen in the life of the apostle Paul. And
this made it necessary to formulate doctrine. It made it
necessary to put the Truth down on paper in a way which could
be understood by the common people.
     It was actually a good thing that God allowed false teachers
and heresies to attack the church. Why? Because it forced the
church to turn to God for answers. If the church was unclear about
this or that point, they might have never had motivation to find out
the Truth about it unless God had allowed someone to begin
teaching heresy on the subject.
     Don't misunderstand this. God's use of heresy is, of course,
not because He approves of heresy. It 's just that He'll use even
the wrath of the enemy to praise Him. (Ps. 76:10) And in allowing
heresy, God intended that that which was genuine and true would
be made manifest. (see I Cor. 11:19)
     As heresy and false teaching attacked the church, it became
necessary to formulate doctrine. Yet it was exactly here, at this
point, that things began to get off the track. The church got so
focused on establishing the "right doctrines" that they began to
leave Jesus Christ!
     Why? Because individuals refused to surrender to Christ.
They would not lose their lives to find HIM. Instead, they focused
on establishing right doctrine ABOUT Him. And then they
labeled this "Christianity." Christianity became a list of doctrines
to believe in, and a list of principles to follow.
     "But," we might ask, "Can't we have both? Can't we have both
sound doctrine and a personal relationship with Christ?"
Absolutely. That is exactly what God wants us to have. So why
didn't "those at Ephesus" have both? Why couldn't the early
church have both? And why can't we have both?
     We can have both. They could have had both. So why do
some NOT have both? Because they want the Truth without
having to surrender to it. We cannot walk with Christ unless we
are willing to walk with Him where He walked: To Calvary. If we
won't walk with Him there, we will have to part ways with Him
somewhere along the line. We'll have to leave our First Love.

Paul's Thorn in the Flesh

     There are many examples in the Bible which illustrate how
Truth works in the life of the individual. One of the best ones is
found in II Corinthians 12. It is Paul's account of his being caught
up to the third heaven. There he hears "unspeakable words."
He sees some things which were so far beyond this realm that
there is no vehicle by which he can share them. There is, Paul
said, "no law or method of this realm by which I can convey to you
what I heard and saw." (Greek)
     Paul had evidently seen some things in his experience which
went far beyond any human ability to express. This was obvious
a unique experience which God granted him, and a wonderful
blessing. But with it came a downside. Paul said that there was,
because of his experience, a danger: Pride. So, Paul explains,
"LEST I should be exalted above measure through the
abundance of revelation, there was given to me a thorn in the
flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, LEST I should be
exalted above measure." (II Cor. 12:7)
     Notice what happened here. Paul had been given an
abundance of revelation. A tremendous abundance. He saw
and heard things -- was given a personal knowledge of things --
which few have ever imagined. But this did not eliminate the
possibility that this knowledge would "puff him up." In fact, Paul
tells us that it WOULD have puffed him up -- if God hadn't given
him the thorn in the flesh. God gave Paul the thorn LEST he
exalt himself because of this experience.
     You see, "knowledge puffs up." (I Cor. 8:1) It doesn't say that
"maybe knowledge puffs up." No. It puffs up. Always. All the
time. We don't have to think about it, or make it happen on
purpose. It is going to happen because we are born in Adam.
It's the way we function.
     Paul knew this. He wrote the words, "Knowledge puffs up." So
if all there was to solving the problem was for Paul to decide that
he wouldn't let this happen, then he would have done so. And
God wouldn't have had to give him the thorn. But no. God HAD
to give him the thorn. It was the only way in which the knowledge
and revelation given to Paul would not do him eventual harm. It
was the only way in which this revelation could have it's real work
in Paul.
     With revelation will always come a thorn. It may not be as
dramatic or noteable as Paul's thorn, but it will come. That's
because all revelation brings which it the absolute responsibility
of being adjusted to God. If God reveals something to me, it
not so I can tell everyone I'm special. It's not so I can add to the
things I know. It's because He is going to use the Word He has
given to SLAY me and adjust me to Himself.
     God gave Paul a terrific revelation and then said, "Paul, if I
simply leave you with this knowledge, it will eventually corrupt you.
You will have knowledge, but no character to do anything with it.
Knowledge puffs up. But love builds up. So I'm going to give you
a thorn WITH this knowledge which will cause you to BECOME
adjusted to this knowledge. Then, you will be built up, not puffed
     Paul, of course, submitted himself to God in this terrific trial.
He allowed the thorn to do it's work. But this was not a sure thing.
Paul COULD have refused God's work. He could have side-
stepped his personal Cross. The result would have been a
Paul which would have still possessed knowledge of certain
things. But he would have been "exalted through the abundance
of revelation." He would have become a prideful, spiritually
arrogant teacher. And we would have never heard of him, for
God would not have used him to write what he wrote.

Where the Church Got -- and Gets -- Off

     God's method with Paul is His method. God gives revelation,
and with it come a great cost. It is the cost of a dead creation.
Actually worth nothing. But to us, it seems like a great cost. We
don't understand that God is giving us everything in Christ free
of charge. All we have to do is let go of the worthless.
     Some won't. Most won't. Many in the early church would not.
Consequently, even though they had been given Truth from Christ
Himself, they would not allow it to have personal access to THEM.
They were content to simply formulate it into doctrines and
teachings -- true doctrines and teachings. But THEY had left their
first love. They had left Jesus Christ.
     Things only got worse after that. Indeed, once the personal
Christ had been left behind, even the doctrines began to drift into
error. As a result, the church which emerged in the third and fourth
century possessed almost no correct doctrine. It became
the antithesis of what Christ intended for His Body.
     This sort of thing is continuing today. Some churches teach a
body of doctrine which is Biblical. Most of the basics are there.
But in many places, they are just a bunch of TRUE doctrines "to
believe in." Or a bunch of TRUE rules "to follow." There is no
resurrection life in any of it. There is no Jesus in it. There is no
impact of life-altering Truth. Christianity has become, to
thousands, a list of Biblical doctrines to believe in, and a list of
Biblical rules to follow.
     This has happened for the same reason it has always
happened. It is the EASY way. It requires no trip to Calvary. It
costs me nothing of myself. I can simply say, "I believe that," and
close the Bible. Or I can congratulate myself for being able to
understand a teaching. Or for obeying a principle. Or for
teaching them to others. I don't have to actually come under the
power of the things of God. I can simply talk about them and
intellectualize them. I can hang them up on a wall plaque.
     The power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Truth of God
is not a religion. It is not a list of teachings. It MAY be
communicated that way, but if we leave in on that level, we will, in
time, both individually and corporately, begin to forsake the
REALITY behind it. We will, in time, even adopt FALSE teaching.
     If there is one maxim which we must remember in regard to this,
it is this: If we do not allow God to adjust us to fit His Truth, we
WILL adjust the Truth to fit ourselves, and our agenda. And what
will emerge is teaching which exalts man, and his organized
religious efforts.

The Place of Doctrine

     We must return to our first love. This does not mean we
should throw away Biblical doctrine. No, no, a thousand times
no. But the object of our faith should be the living Christ, not
merely the doctrines which speak of Him and His plan.
     What is doctrine? Doctrine is a formal "on-paper summary"
of our faith. It is our "list of beliefs" about God and His eternal
purposes, as revealed in the Bible. Our doctrines stand for
something we believe exists as a spiritual reality.
     Doctrine is an important part of our Christian life. Each
Christian should be able to state what he believes and why he
believes it, and should be able to do so on the authority of the
     Imagine NOT being able to state what I believe. That would
mean I have no clue as to what Jesus Christ did for me, or why I
received Him. It would mean that I don't even know why I trust
God. Such a condition is a practical impossibility for a Christian.
How could we walk with Jesus Christ? We couldn't. All
Christians need Biblical doctrine. It defines our faith and brings
articulate meaning to it.

Doctrine vs. Reality

     As important as doctrine is, we must not leave our First Love
for it. To the contrary, we should use doctrine to explain our
first love. It should be a reflection of Him. Doctrine is NOT
reality. It is only an explanation of it.
     We must see this. It is entirely possible to have a mental
understanding of the Truth of the Bible, and to understand it well,
but to have never been touched by the reality of which it speaks.
It is possible to KNOW many things out of the Bible, but to hold
oneself aloof from them, never allowing God access to me
     The most simplistic example of this has to do with the Cross.
Everyone who calls themself a Christian believes Jesus died for
them on the Cross. But what about the Cross in my life? Does
God have access to me with the Cross of Christ? Here we see
the difference between faith in a teaching, and faith in Christ.
     Faith is NOT an intellectual assent to Truth. Faith is never an
intellectual or emotional issue. Faith is a MORAL issue. It is of
the heart. The mind and intellect are only vehicles whereby we
can articulate, somewhat inadequately, what we embrace by
     James tells us that even the demons "believe" the Truth. But
they don't EMBRACE it. Indeed, they reject it. In fact, if you think
about it, you must "believe" the Truth in the sense of
understanding it, in order to reject it. You could plead ignorance
otherwise. But this is not the condition of the demons. They are
evil precisely because they know and understand, yet reject
the Truth.
     Things have strayed so far during the last two-thousand
years that even this simple fact about salvation might seem
strange. Most of us have been taught that all we have to do is
believe the doctrine of salvation and we'll be saved. But that is
NOT the way it works. Jesus saves us, not the doctrine which
represents the fact that He does. And our faith must touch reality
in HIM -- the actual Person -- not just a doctrine about Him.
And clearly, for that to happen, God must take the initiative to
find us. We cannot initiate any of this ourselves.
     Substituting "faith in doctrine," in place of faith in Christ, is yet
another way in which man trys to reach up to God in his own
strength. Can we see that? If I, with my mind or intellect, can be
saved by simply understanding a doctrine or teaching, then I
don't need God to take the initiative. I'll already have all the tools
I need to find God. Nothing will depend on Him. And everything
will depend on me. That's not salvation by grace through faith.
It's salvation by brains.
     God has not left us in that position. Our salvation, and all else
about our relationship wtih God, is based on God taking the
initiative by grace, and then upon our believing and obeying it.
     Thus, we once again see the real place of doctrine. It is
nothing more than a formal statement of our faith, based on the
authority of the Bible. It describes what we believe and why we
believe it. But it is NOT reality. It merely points to reality. If my
doctrine is the Truth then it points to the Truth Himself, Jesus
     Doctrine is the letter. Reality is the Spirit. Doctrine is a
signpost. Reality is the destination. If we embrace doctrine too
tightly we will "leave our First Love." We'll lose, or water-down,
our living relationship with God.

How About Experience?

     There is an opposite extreme to putting too much emphasis
upon doctrine: Putting too much emphasis upon experience.
Today Christians by the thousands are abandoning Biblical
doctrine in favor of spiritual experiences. They have forgotten
that all experience which is of God will agree completely with the
     "Experience," for a Christian, is never supposed to define
Truth. Why? Because there can be many causes behind any
experience. The most miraculous, enlightening, freeing
experience imaginable, might be from the enemy. How do we
know this is possible? Because the Bible tells us so. It says that
the enemy comes as "an angel of light." "An angel of light"
appears to illuminate things; make them clear. It feels good. It
seems good. And for awhile, it may even appear to bear the fruit
one expects of the Holy Spirit. But "fruit inspection" can be quite
subjective. My experience could still be outside of the Holy
Spirit. Or worse, a deception of the enemy.
     This is possible even if everyone around me is agreeing that
my experience is of God. Don't ever think that what can deceive
an individual cannot deceive a group as well. Indeed, group
deception is worse. In group deception, everyone in the group
continues to verify the deception to each other. They all agree,
and reinforce in each other, that what is false is true, and what is
true is false. Contrary to some of the modern "accountability
teachings" and "shepherding movements," there is NO safety in
numbers when it comes to discernment. History should prove
this to us. The greatest deceptions have always been on the
group or church level.
     So how can we know whether an experience is of God or not?
Actually, this isn't the real question. The real question is: Why
am I debating the point? Why must I know whether my
experience is of God? The answer is always: Because I look to
experiences. Rather, I should look to God Himself.
God can and does give His children many spiritual
experiences. But these should never take our focus off of Christ
Himself, any more than doctrine should hinder our focus upon
Him. Experiences should be taken for what they are: A signpost
to Christ. And then, if they are of God, they should be kept as a
valued part of our history with Him. And if they are not of God,
they should be kept as a valued part of our testing and proving.
And if we don't know if our experience is of God, then put it to
rest and wait until God makes His point through it all. But under
no circumstances should we base our choices in life on an
     Christians are to walk in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We
will know the will of God if we are WILLING (an issue of the heart)
to know and obey it. Not because some experience came upon
us and changed our point of view. Even if God uses some grand
experience for the purpose of clarifying or correcting us, the
experience itself is NOT the thing! It is merely a vehicle for
getting our focus back to Jesus Christ.
     All experience, if it is of God, will agree with the Bible. But it
will not be "made to agree" because we agonize to find a Bible
verse that fits. When the Holy Spirit is working, things are always
pure, peaceful, and clear. They are never noisy, fearful, or left
hanging. THAT is never the time to draw conclusions and make
choices. I must wait for God to cut through all of that and bring
the Truth in the way the Bible says He will bring it.
     The key, then, is to refuse to focus on spiritual experiences.
Don't get reliant upon them as "proof" God is with you. Don't
park on them as being anything more than a vehicle God is using
for the time being. And above all, don't take them and draw
concrete conclusions from them which are not fully verified in the

True Christianity

     All of us are "in" one of these seven churches of Revelation.
Indeed, it is possible for us to pass in and out of several of them
during the course of our life. Yet we remain focused upon the
SAME Jesus, the real Jesus. He is to be our "first love."
      There is, however, Jesus' warning to those who dwell at
Ephesus. He tells them what will happen if they don't "return to
their first love." He says, "...or else I will come unto thee quickly
and remove thy candlestick out of it's place, except thou repent."
(Rev. 2:5) In other words, if they don't repent of their pride, and
their refusal of the Cross, they are going to get to the place where
they aren't even in the circle anymore. Their knowledge of
Christ will become so totally polluted that it won't be about the real
Jesus anymore. They will follow a different Jesus. Their
candlestick, or presence, will be removed from the circle of the
real Jesus, presumably into the circle of a false one.
     It isn't harsh for Jesus to do such a thing. We are talking about
Christians who started, not in ignorance, but with a knowledge
and vision of Christ. They started in the circle which had Jesus in
their midst. But they traded it away for something else, rooted
in spiritual pride. They sought to save their lives religiously, and
as a result, forfeited their place. It was their choice to do so.
     This warning is not only for "churches." It is for individuals, for
churches only do what they do because of the individuals which
make them up. Jesus is saying, "Focus on ME, and your
doctrines and teachings will be good and right. But if you focus
on your doctrines and teachings, you will lose your place in Me."
     This, again, is because focusing on doctrines and teachings
is ultimately not a product of ignorance. In the final analysis, it
comes down to spiritual pride, and a refusal of the Cross.
     True Christianity did not grow out of doctrines. Jesus did not
come to give us a new religion to follow. He did not hand us a list
of teachings and say, "Here, if you follow these, and believe
these, you will be a Christian." No. Doctrine grew out of
Christianity -- out of a relationship with our First Love, Jesus Christ. *

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