Jesus Christ’s letter to the first-century church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1–7) expresses a concern our Lord might share with any number of churches today: “I have this against you,” He writes, “that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4–5, NKJV).
Jesus calls the Ephesian Christians to repent because they have stopped loving as they had initially. They are still very busy, observes Jesus: “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting” (Revelation 2:2–3, NLT). Despite all their labor and patient suffering, Jesus recognizes that they have lost their initial zeal and abandoned their first love.
Some scholars believe “first love” refers to the fresh passion and devotion believers have for Christ when they are newly saved. Set in the context of Revelation 2, “first love” seems also to speak of their love for one another, which Jesus said would “prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35, NLT). The “first works” mentioned in Revelation 2:5 correspond directly with their “first love.” Their “hard work” and “patient endurance” are commendable. But as time passed, they had become more motivated by a sense of duty than passionate love for God as demonstrated in compassionate service to others.
Most of us have experienced the uninhibited enthusiasm that accompanies new love. In the initial stages of romance, we will do almost anything for our beloved without batting an eyelash. The honeymoon period of a new job is similar. We will work tirelessly and serve unselfishly. The Ephesians stopped performing “first works” because they had lost their “first love.” The Lord had a similar case against His people in Jeremiah’s day: “I remember the unfailing loyalty of your youth, the love you had for me as a bride. I remember how you followed me into the desert, into a land that couldn’t be farmed” (Jeremiah 2:1–2, GW).
Like many of us today, the Ephesian believers were busy keeping themselves set apart from evil people and identifying false apostles while neglecting heartfelt devotion. To stay the course in “first works,” we must remain fervent in undying “first love” for Christ (see Ephesians 6:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:3). Our love for Him is the fuel that fires our compassion and service to others.
Jesus told the Ephesians how to keep their first love alive. First, He said we must remember, which literally means “to remember and respond” in the original Greek language. We ought to continually call to mind the things we have lost, abandoned, or neglected (Psalm 119:55; Psalm 42:5–6; Jeremiah 51:50; Matthew 16:9–10; Acts 20:35; Galatians 2:10; Hebrews 13:2–3; 1 Corinthians 11:24–28). Next, we repent. We respond to our memories by changing our minds about sin, confessing our sins to the Lord, and returning to Him, our First Love (Revelation 3:3; 1 John 1:9). Third, we return; we do the first works. For believers, the “first works” are to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
We regain the lost ground “from where we have fallen” by stoking the fire of our devotion and nurturing our relationship with the Lord. We spend time in God’s presence, worshiping, praying, and letting His Word go deep into our hearts. Wisdom instructs, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3). As we abide in Jesus Christ, we will bear the fruit of obedient service (John 15:4–8). With His love burning bright in us, we naturally demonstrate compassionate love for our brothers and sisters (1 John 4:10–12; Ephesians 5:1–2). Only through His power and grace working in us can we continue to do the first works “which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10; see also Philippians 2:13).