Revelation  2:1-7 is an account of Jesus’ message to the church  in Ephesus, the first of seven exhortations to various churches in the Roman  Empire. Ephesus had some unique challenges for a Christ-follower in that it was  home to the Emperor’s cult and the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis (Acts 19:23-40). Because of  these influences, the Ephesian believers had developed great discernment when it  came to false teachers and heresy. Christ commended them for this discernment,  but He faulted them for having lost their “first love.”

The first love  which characterized the Ephesians was the zeal and ardor with which they  embraced their salvation as they realized they loved Christ because He first  loved them (1 John 4:19)  and that it was in fact His love for them that had made them “alive together  with Christ.” So overwhelmed were they by the joy that came from understanding  their former state—dead in trespasses and sins—and their new life in Christ,  that they exhibited the fruit of that joy (Ephesians  2:1-5). Because of God’s great love for the Ephesians, they were “made alive  in Christ” and that new life was exhibited in the passion of gratitude. That  passion for the Savior spilled over onto one another and out to those in the  culture they inhabited, corrupt as it was.

Jesus commends the Ephesians  for their many good works and hard work. They tested teachers to see whether  their professions were real; they endured hardship and persevered without  growing weary. But they had lost their warmth and zeal for Christ, and when that  happens, they began to “go through the motions” of good works, motivated not by  the love of and for Christ, but by the works themselves. What was once a love  relationship cooled into mere religion. Their passion for Him became little more  than cold orthodoxy.

Surrounded by paganism and false teachers, the  Ephesian church would have had ample opportunity to correct false doctrine and  confront heretical teachers. If they did so for any reason other than love for  Christ and a passion for His truth, however, they would have lost their way.  Instead of pursuing Christ with the devotion they once showed, much like a bride  who follows her groom “through the desert” (Jeremiah  2:2), the Ephesians were in danger of falling away from Christ completely.  This is why He warns those who have “ears to hear” to prove the reality of their  salvation by returning to Him and rekindling the love that had begun to cool. No  doubt there were among the Ephesians those whose profession was false and whose  hearing had become dulled. He warns the rest not to follow them, but to repent  and return to Him with the passion they once had for Him.

We face the  same challenges in the twenty-first century. There are few churches that aren’t  subject to, and in danger of, a certain amount of false teaching. But Jesus  calls us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians  4:15), and to not let the frustration of false teaching overpower the love  of Christ in us (Ephesians  4:31-32). Our first love is the love Christ gives us for God and each other.  We should be zealous for the truth, but that zeal should be tempered so that we  are always “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him  who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians  4:15).