Lets face it. Following Jesus has always led people into trouble. Oh sure, there have been seasons and places where being a nominal Christian was politically beneficial, but even then if anyone dared to be a radical disciple they were quickly and severely persecuted. In fact, the only group of people that really love real disciples are other real disciples. So if the great commission (Mt 28:18-20) is to go forward as Jesus commanded, His church must take care of those who end up suffering for their faith. If churches stop doing this it wont be long until few people will be willing to join them.
Jesus tells the church in Ephesus that the sin which has put them in danger of losing the presence of the Holy Spirit is leaving their first love. He doesnt specifically define these words, so its not certain who or what they stopped loving, but since He has just commended them (v 2) for working hard for God, enduring in faith, remaining doctrinally sound and resisting false teachers; and since the repentance He seeks from them involves doing the deeds you did at first
, it appears they have ceased loving each other. If so, the deeds they are no longer doing are the deeds of caring for those among them who are in need. As a young church they aggressively cared for suffering believers (Eph 1:15). But with the passing of time that first love had grown cold.
This type of practical love often called koinonia was a very high value for Jesus and the early church. Repeatedly it is said that believers who fail to love each other in practical ways prove they dont really love God.
1) Matthew 25:34-40: hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, in prison
2) Acts 2:44-47; 4:32-37
3) 1 Timothy 5:10; 6:8
4) Hebrews 10:32-34; 13:1-3, 16
5) James 2:14-17
6) 1 John 3:17, 18; 4:20, 21
The Ephesian church
Though the Ephesian church had worked hard to evangelize and had not yielded to immorality or heresy, they had grown weary of caring for the needy among them. A brief look at their history will help us understand why.
1) When Paul came to Ephesus (Ac 19:1-40), a remarkable awakening swept the city and many boldly stood for Jesus.
An initial core baptized in the Holy Spirit (19:6)
Miracles (19:11, 12)
Renouncing magic (19:17)
Books burned (19:19)
Conflict with silversmiths (19:24)
Trial in the amphitheater (19:29)
2) When Paul met with their leaders for the last time he warned them that false prophets would split them into factions (Ac 20:28-31, savage wolves).
(v 35): You must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
3) Timothy was appointed as the senior pastor and he worked hard to hold things together, but Pauls letters to him reveal a church being divided (1Ti 1:3-7, 18-20; 2:8; 4:1-3; 6:3-5, 20, 21; 2Ti 3:1-9; 4:3-5)
4) John later became their pastor, so this prophesy is directed to his own congregation. And we know persecution was taking place because John himself is on Patmos because of his preaching (Rev 1:9).
Putting this all together, we can see there were at least two influences that cooled their love for one another:
1) The first is strife. Even when we are completely right in the things we are fighting for, strife with others leaves us loveless and feeling distant from God.
2) The second is the natural weariness that comes when we care for needy people for a long time. Some are easy to serve, but there is always a percentage who seem to exploit us.
Both these influences can leave us feeling defensive, critical, isolated and afraid of being hurt again. Things like this can happen:
We discover we were being deceived
We are robbed by people we invited into our home
We have someone who takes and takes from us then thanklessly moves on
We watch people who once were close to us grow hard and drift away following after some strange teaching
We opened up and loved someone like family only to have them abandon us when they dont need us anymore.
And the church in Ephesus had been inundated with needy people and false teachers from its earliest days. They had coped with these problems for decades. People kept losing jobs, being thrown out of their families, losing their marriages, being stripped of their legal rights and due process of law
because they were following Jesus. Yes, mixed in among them were sadly dysfunctional people, but many had take up their cross to follow Him (Lk 9:23). They were in trouble because of Jesus.
It takes a lot of courage to be a Christian, but God doesnt ask us to walk that tightrope without a safety net, and that safety net is the family of God.
1) Jesus warned us: Luke 12:49-53; 14:26-33; Matthew 10:24-38
2) But He also promised us: Mark 10:22-27, 28-31
In effect He said, Even if you lose everything there is a family that will take care of you. I wont leave you and My people will love you. So even if we lose our earthly family wed be given a spiritual family.
What about my first love?
First, if we have lost our first love we too need to repent and let God deal with our hearts.
1) Stop feeling sorry for myself
2) Recognize that suffering is a part of loving
3) Ask God to show me who I can help
4) Determine that serving others will always be a part of my life
5) Learn to set proper boundaries
6) Join a healthy spiritual family (wholl pray for me, encourage me, admonish me and minister beside me)
Second, ask God what He wants me to do. There are many needs and many ways of serving those needs but Ill only be able to keep loving people for a long time if I know Gods asked me to do this.
How do we live this out?
God b rings people into His family who have a wide variety of needs. There are practical needs such as food, clothing and rent. There are those wounded inside. They are brokenhearted, lonely, spiritually tormented or doctrinally confused. There are those who are sick or injured or old. So there is a wide variety of ways to give this kind of love.
Loving people hurts and that wont change till we get to heaven. We dont do it because its fulfilling (though it certainly is at times). We do it because we love Jesus and He loves people and our greatest joy is to delight His heart. And because when Jesus invites people to come to Him He promises to give them Himself
1) Have you ever gotten burned trying to love people? Did that experience change you in any way?
2) Hows your first love?
3) How does God use you to care for His wounded believers?