The first church that the Lord addresses the book of Revelation is the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was the capital city of the Roman province referred to as Asia; it was one of the largest cities in that part of the world. It was advantageously positioned at the confluence of several overland trade routes, two major rivers and the sea coast itself. An epicenter of commerce, Ephesus naturally became a large city.

Evangelizing the city of Ephesus was a challenge. The main temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was located there. Thousands of ardent followers made the city a center of idol worship. A very sensual, carnal kind of society grew up around this particular temple because of the sexual nature of the worship they engaged in.

But evangelize Ephesus they did! Church historians tell us the Ephesian church grew to over 10,000 members. For a church of those days, that was huge! More than that, it was viewed as being a spiritually mature church and very successful. It was one of the most notable works of the Lord in its day, and He commended them for their efforts.

For the most part, the churches in Asia were founded during Paul's second missionary journey, which began in A.D. 55. John wrote Revelation in A.D. 96, so at the time of the writing, the churches being addressed were about forty years old, or one generation.

The book of Ephesians, which Paul wrote to this church, demonstrates just how mature this body of believers really was. That particular epistle has to do with "in Christ" realities - truths which are not only for brand-new believers.

But in the intervening forty years much had happened to the Ephesian church, as we will see.

The Letter to Ephesus
To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, "These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.

"Nevertheless, I have this against you, 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. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

"To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God"
(Rev. 2:1-7).

Jesus has many good things to say about the church at Ephesus, and He brings correction only after He has acknowledged the right things they have done. That is a good lesson for us today. If you want to correct somebody, then in order to ensure their receiving that correction in the spirit in which it is intended, first tell them you recognize and appreciate the good things they are doing.

"I Know Your Works"
Jesus said in verse 2, "I know your works." These are the works that resulted from their decision to believe and receive the Word of God and base their lives upon it. By faith, they put that Word to work in their lives. These were not dead works, or works done without faith, because Jesus would not have commended them for dead works.

He said they had labored for His name's sake (v. 3). The word labor connotes consistent, diligent effort. Faith is not quitting your job and floating around on a little cloud, waiting for the Lord to miraculously provide for you. That is mere stupidity; you and your family will starve to death.

The Word says we must be diligent in what we do and labor in what is good so we will have something to give to the needy (Eph. 4:28). The church at Ephesus made consistent, diligent effort in doing those things that emanate from a heart motivated by love and acting in faith.

Jesus also said the Ephesians were patient. That means they were consistent under pressure. They did not buckle when the going got tough; they were consistent in their stand on the Word of God under adverse circumstances. They were also doctrinally correct. They could not bear those who were evil, and they tested those who claimed to be apostles. They did not blindly follow.

Verse 6 says, "You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." Notice they did not hate the Nicolaitans; they hated their deeds. This was a cult, a sect of Gnostics who taught that God was only concerned with the spiritual realm and, therefore, it did not matter what we did in this natural life. They taught that there should be a community of wives, and there was no such thing in the physical body as adultery or fornication; those were only spiritual concerns.

The Ephesian church recognized this teaching as wrong and hated it, as Jesus did; and He commended them for that.

They understood the biblical truth that you know the proof of someone's call by the fruit that person produces (Matt. 7:20) and not by supernatural manifestations. A common problem in that day was that they confused the spectacular with the genuinely supernatural.

That is why Jesus said: "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matt. 7:22-23).

Perhaps most significantly of all, Jesus commends them for not growing weary (Rev. 2:3).

Nevertheless ...
Jesus commended them for all the things which to us indicate a strong, spiritually mature church. But then He said, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Rev. 2:4).

The consequence for the church if they do not change their ways just chills me to the bone: "I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent" (v. 5).

All of the good things we do mean absolutely nothing if we leave our first love. So we have to learn what it really means to leave our first love, and then we must learn how to correct it.

Whatever we do - children's or youth ministry, evangelism, Christian schools, singing in the choir, preaching, praying or studying the Word - none of it makes any difference whatsoever, as far as God is concerned, if we have left our first love. And His opinion is the only one which should count to us.

According to verse 5, if you leave your first love, "the lampstand" of your life will be removed from God's presence. In other words, it will cost you the presence of God. Ultimately, it will bring utter destruction to your life. We get so locked into a works mentality that we often neglect the most important concern of all - our personal relationship with Jesus, our first love.

The sad part is that the Ephesian church did not heed this message; they did not repent. Today, the city of Ephesus is nothing but a pile of ruins overrun by tourists. The mighty Ephesian church doesn't even exist there. This was the largest, most prosperous, most mature church in its day; but their end was utter destruction because they left their first love and never found their way back again.

What Does It Mean?
What does "leaving your first love" mean? The Amplified Bible gives us a little more insight.

"But I have this [one charge to make] against you: that you have left (abandoned) the love that you had at first [you have deserted Me, your first love]" (Rev. 2:4 AMP).

Since the relationship between Christ and His church is like a human relationship, think about the person who is your first love.

The first love in your life is not just an object of adolescent infatuation. It is not a relationship born out of convenience or personal necessity. When you fall head over heels in love, something happens to you. It changes your personality; you get a little crazy. For the first time, perhaps, you place what another person thinks ahead of what you do. You want to please another person more than yourself.

Up to that point, most of us are pretty self-oriented. But all of a sudden, we begin to have an overwhelming desire to please someone else to the point of total self-sacrifice. You cannot think or talk about anything else, and you do not want to be anywhere except in that person's presence.

True Love
If you have never experienced that, you have never fallen in love. Before I began dating my wife, Lynne, I never used to look in the mirror much, except to shave or to run a comb through my hair. But once I was truly in love, I began spending some serious time there, making sure everything was as good as it could be.

I never used to like to talk on the telephone. I thought it was a waste of time - until there was a little distance between my first love and me. Then I burned up the phone lines and ran up huge long-distance bills.

Your first love is such an intense thing that it begins to alter the way you view reality and change your priorities. That person becomes the primary focus of your life, and you are overwhelmed with a desire to be a blessing to him or her and to see that person's needs met.

Within this framework, I want you to understand how we can measure whether or not our first love is still in place. No Christian - especially if he or she is into works - wants to acknowledge it if Jesus does not hold the place of priority He used to.

They will lie to themselves and to others. They will put on a facade so no one will know Jesus has dropped into second place behind their families, their business or even their golf game. There are two main indicators which let you know whether Jesus holds the place in your life He should.

The first indicator is passion - or lack of it. There should be a passion for Jesus similar to what you feel for your first human love. Are you still consumed with a desire to please Him, to have your life be a blessing to Him, to spend more time in His presence? How much of your thought life does He occupy? When your mind is free, does it go to Him or other places? Is it more fun to talk about your hobby, your business, your day at the office or your favorite team?

You might think to yourself, This fella is fanatical. No, I am not. This is descriptive of how we act if we are relating to Jesus in the manner He wants. This is the way it should be for us. This is the kind of intensity we have to maintain.

There are people who cannot identify with this at all. They have never had this kind of passion for the Lord. Not ever. Yet the Lord said that if we do not love Him more than father, mother, husband, wife, sister or brother, then we are not worthy of Him (Matt. 10:37). He has to be first if we are going to be what He wants us to be and if we are going to experience a blessed life.

The second indicator that you have left your first love is that you are no longer dependent upon Jesus as you once were. He is the Head of the church, the One to whom you should be submitted. He is entitled to be the Head of your life because He bought you with the price of His blood. Just as we are totally dependent on Him for salvation, so should we depend on Him in every single area of our lives.

Now, some of us are partially dependent. When we need healing, we depend on Him in that area.

We say, "I am doing fine with my finances, Lord; I am doing all right with my business, but my body needs healing. Heal me, Lord."

Or we say, "My relationship with my spouse is not very good; I need Your intervention there, God. But I don't need Your healing; I am handling my body just fine with diet, nutrition and exercise."

But when you are utterly dependent on Him, He can move; He can bring about His purpose with no interference. God does not need your ability, He desires only your availability!

Total and complete dependence on God for everything in our lives is necessary for His highest and best to be realized.

The problem in all of this is that, as He begins to use us because we are dependent upon Him, success and increase come; and because we have learned a few things, we start getting independent. We somehow imagine that we've gotten where we are because of something we've done.

The Word says that when we have been blessed by the Lord, we must take care not to forget that the Lord is the source of the blessing or we will eventually be destroyed (Deut. 8:11-19). That is the human tendency: We come to Him when there is a crisis, a time of need, and we depend on His goodness, grace and mercy. But as soon as He bails us out, we forget what He has done.

The Consequence
The Lord has to remove us from His presence when we do not keep Him as our first love. It has to be that way; we would abuse the anointing, twist the power and profane the glory that comes with His presence if we were not putting His will first.

Is the passion still there? Was it ever? Are you completely dependent upon Him? If the answer to any of these things after an honest self-examination is no, then the instruction to you is the same as it was to the church at Ephesus: Repent, or the lampstand of your life will be removed from the presence of God.

What happens then? You become a religious institution. You can raise your hands without raising your hands to God. You can pray without praying to God; many people do. You go through the motions, but your mind is somewhere else. It becomes a religious exercise to do the works without your heart being in them.

The Solution
So what do we do if the passion has subsided or if the dependence is no longer there? What do we do to get things going again?

On many occasions, we have heard a husband or wife say, "I do not love him (or her) anymore; the fire is gone. I am not sure I want to be in this relationship anymore."

The counsel I give such a person is the same as Jesus gave the church at Ephesus: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works" (Rev. 2:9). You have to do the first works if you are going to have the first love. In other words, start doing the works again that you did when you were first consumed with love, and it will rekindle the passion.

Many people make the mistake of waiting for the passion to come or expecting God to change them before they will do the works of love. That is backwards. When you do the works, it generates the passion.

Remember, Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4). According to The American Heritage Dictionary, the word delight means "to take your pleasure in, rejoice in, and focus your attention on."

Initially, your works of love may be by faith. But as you take these steps and do the first works, it will rekindle your passion for your spouse.

I have seen this in countless couples we have counseled. When people come to us with this kind of commentary, we tell them to start acting as they did when they were madly in love with each other.

Do it by faith, but do the same things. Start telling her 35 times a day that you love her more than anything else on earth. Start sending her flowers, write cards and notes, open the door, pull out her chair, tell her she is beautiful.

A wife should be telling her husband he is the next best thing to Jesus, that he is the best-looking hunk she ever saw, that he is her knight in shining armor, that she respects him, that she loves him, honors him, defers to him.

I guarantee you the flame will be rekindled. I guarantee you the passion will be ignited. The intensity will be reborn, and your marriage will become what you and God want it to be.

A properly functioning marriage relationship is one of the greatest assets we can have toward maintaining our first love, Jesus. Marriage is a type of the relationship between Christ and His church; if your marriage is not in order, the primary example for your relationship with Jesus is nonfunctional.

Since marriage is a type of the relationship between Jesus and the church, it is no wonder that He said, "Do the first works." Think about Him; talk about Him; do those things that would be pleasing to Him; look for opportunities to be with Him in your prayer closet. Look for those things. Hunger for those things. Make yourself rejoice in Him.

It will cause your passion for God to burn hot once again, and the works you do will be the result of your genuine desire to do them. You will want to raise your hands in worship, give, go to church and pray. The fire of your life in God will be rekindled.

Reward to the Overcomer
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Rev. 2:7).

Overcome what? The specific challenge facing this church was to overcome the natural tendency of their flesh to abandon their first love. We must overcome the distractions pulling us away from Him - even if they are good works - as important as they may be.

"And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:9).

If we overcome and maintain our first love, Jesus will give us to eat of the Tree of Life; in other words, we will partake of the divine nature. This is the same opportunity Adam and Eve had in the Garden, but they chose to disobey instead.

This is not just life eternal, but also the quality of life Jesus came to give you now - freedom from sickness, disease, poverty and lack. Jesus promises that you will partake of the Tree of Life, of the divine nature, if you overcome the tendency to move away from Him, your first love. You will experience not only the timelessness of eternity, but also the God-kind of life now. He guarantees it, if you keep Him as your first love.

Source: The Last Millennium by Mac Hammond
Excerpt permission granted by Harrison House Publishers