Rekindle That First Love!
1. To which congregation is Jesus’ first message directed, and of what does he remind the overseers?
JESUS’ first message is to the congregation in Ephesus, at that time a thriving coastal city of Asia Minor close to the isle of Patmos. He commands John: “To the angel of the congregation in Ephesus write: These are the things that he says who holds the seven stars in his right hand, he who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” (Revelation 2:1) As in the other six messages, Jesus here draws attention to a feature denoting his authoritative position. He reminds the overseers in Ephesus that all elders are under his own protective oversight and that he is inspecting all the congregations. Down into our own time, he has continued to exercise this loving headship, watching over the elders and kindly shepherding all associated with the congregation. From time to time, he adjusts congregational arrangements so that the light can shine more brightly. Yes, Jesus is the Chief Shepherd over the flock of God.—Matthew 11:28-30; 1 Peter 5:2-4.
2. (a) For what fine things did Jesus commend the Ephesian congregation? (b) What counsel of the apostle Paul had the Ephesian elders evidently obeyed?
2 Jesus then sets a pattern for all but two of his seven messages by opening with warm words of commendation. For the Ephesians, he has this message: “I know your deeds, and your labor and endurance, and that you cannot bear bad men, and that you put those to the test who say they are apostles, but they are not, and you found them liars. You are also showing endurance, and you have borne up for my name’s sake and have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:2, 3) Years before, the apostle Paul had warned the Ephesian elders about “oppressive wolves,” apostate disturbers of the flock, and had told those elders to “keep awake,” following his own tireless example. (Acts 20:29, 31) Since Jesus now commends them for their labor and endurance and for not growing weary, they must have applied that counsel.
3. (a) How have “false apostles” sought to deceive faithful ones in our days? (b) What warning about apostates did Peter give?
3 During the Lord’s day, too, there have appeared “false apostles” who “speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (2 Corinthians 11:13; Acts 20:30; Revelation 1:10) They see good in all the conflicting sectarian religions, claim that God does not have an organization, and deny that Jesus received Kingdom power in 1914. They fulfill the prophecy at 2 Peter 3:3, 4: “In the last days there will come ridiculers with their ridicule, proceeding according to their own desires and saying: ‘Where is this promised presence of his? Why, from the day our forefathers fell asleep in death, all things are continuing exactly as from creation’s beginning.’”
4. (a) How is the pride and rebelliousness of ridiculers manifested? (b) Christians today show that they are like the Ephesians by taking what action against lying opposers?
4 These ridiculers rebel at the thought of making public declaration of their faith. (Romans 10:10) They have enlisted the support of Christendom’s clergy and the aid of news journals and TV stations to spread lying reports about their former associates. Faithful ones soon find that the speech and conduct of these deceivers do not ring true. Like the Ephesians, Christians today “cannot bear bad men,” so they disfellowship them from their congregations.*
5. (a) What weakness did Jesus say the Ephesians had? (b) What words should the Ephesians have remembered?
5 Now, however, as he does with five of the seven congregations, Jesus singles out a serious problem. He says to the Ephesians: “Nevertheless, I hold this against you, that you have left the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4) They should not have failed in this respect, for Paul had written them 35 years earlier referring to God’s “great love with which he loved us,” and he had urged them: “Become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love, just as the Christ also loved you.” (Ephesians 2:4; 5:1, 2) Further, Jesus’ words should have been inscribed indelibly on their hearts: “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah, and you must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind and with your whole strength.” (Mark 12:29-31) The Ephesians had lost that first love.
6. (a) Whether we are old-timers or new associates in the congregation, against what danger and tendencies must we guard? (b) What should our love for God impel us to do?
6 Whether we are old-timers or new associates in the congregation, we must guard against losing our first love for Jehovah. How can this loss come about? We could allow attachment to our secular work, the desire to make a lot of money, or the pursuit of pleasure to become the big thing in our lives. Thus we could become fleshly minded rather than spiritually minded. (Romans 8:5-8; 1 Timothy 4:8; 6:9, 10) Our love for Jehovah should impel us to correct any such tendencies and to ‘keep on seeking first God’s kingdom and his righteousness,’ so as to ‘store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.’—Matthew 6:19-21, 31-33.
7. (a) By what should our service to Jehovah be motivated? (b) What did John say in regard to love?
7 Let our service to Jehovah be motivated always by a deep-seated love for him. Let us have a fervent appreciation for all that Jehovah and Christ have done for us. As John himself wrote later: “The love is in this respect, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.” John goes on to tell us: “God is love, and he that remains in love remains in union with God and God remains in union with him.” May we never let fade our love for Jehovah, for the Lord Jesus Christ, and for the living Word of God! This love we can express not only in zealous service to God but also by obedience to “this commandment we have from him, that the one who loves God should be loving his brother also.”—1 John 4:10, 16, 21; Hebrews 4:12; see also 1 Peter 4:8; Colossians 3:10-14; Ephesians 4:15.
“Do the Former Deeds”
8. How did Jesus say the Ephesians should act?
8 Those Ephesians must rekindle the love they once had if they do not want to lose out. “Therefore,” Jesus tells them, “remember from what you have fallen, and repent and do the former deeds. If you do not, I am coming to you, and I will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5) How did the Christians in the Ephesian congregation receive those words? We do not know. We hope that they repented and succeeded in reawakening their love for Jehovah. If they did not, then their lamp would be extinguished and their lampstand removed. They would lose their privilege of beaming forth the truth.
9. (a) What encouraging word did Jesus have for the Ephesians? (b) How did the congregations after John’s day fail to heed Jesus’ counsel to the Ephesians?
9 Nevertheless, Jesus has this encouraging word for the Ephesians: “Still, you do have this, that you hate the deeds of the sect of Nicolaus, which I also hate.” (Revelation 2:6) At least they hated sectarian division, just as the Lord Jesus Christ hates it. As the years went by, however, many congregations failed to heed those words of Jesus. Lack of love for Jehovah, for the truth, and for one another resulted in their drifting into spiritual darkness. They became fragmented into numerous quarreling sects. “Christian” copyists who had no love for Jehovah removed God’s very name from Greek manuscripts of the Bible. Lack of love also allowed room for teaching Babylonish and Grecian doctrines, such as hellfire, purgatory, and the Trinity, in the name of Christianity. Having no love for God and for the truth, most of those who claimed to be Christian ceased to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom. They came to be dominated by a selfish clergy class that made its own kingdom here on earth.—Compare 1 Corinthians 4:8.
10. What was the religious situation in Christendom in 1918?
10 When judgment started with the house of God in 1918, the sectarian clergy of Christendom were giving open support to World War I, urging Catholics and Protestants on both sides to slaughter one another. (1 Peter 4:17) Unlike the Ephesian congregation that hated what the sect of Nicolaus was doing, Christendom’s religions had long been riddled with conflicting, anti-God doctrines, and their clergy had thrown their lot in with the world, of which Jesus said his disciples must be no part. (John 15:17-19) Their congregations, ignorant of the Bible’s theme, God’s Kingdom, were not lampstands beaming forth Scriptural truth, nor were their members part of the spiritual temple of Jehovah. Their leading men (and women) were not stars but were revealed to be members of “the man of lawlessness.”—2 Thessalonians 2:3; Malachi 3:1-3.
11. (a) What Christian group on the world scene in 1918 put into practice Jesus’ words to the Ephesians? (b) What did the John class do from 1919 onward?
11 The John class, however, emerged from the tumultuous days of the first world war with a love for Jehovah and for the truth that impelled them to serve him with flaming zeal. They resisted those who tried to introduce sectarianism through practically idolizing the first president of the Watch Tower Society, Charles T. Russell, following his death in 1916. Disciplined by persecutions and adversities, this Christian group clearly received a judgment of “well done” from their Master and an invitation to enter into his joy. (Matthew 25:21, 23) They recognized in the course of world events, and in their own experiences, the fulfillment of the sign that Jesus had given to mark his invisible presence in Kingdom power. From 1919 onward, they moved forward to share in the further fulfillment of Jesus’ great prophecy: “And this good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 6:9, 10; 24:3-14) If their love for Jehovah had been in some way lacking, it was fanned into a flame from that time onward.
12. (a) At a historic convention in 1922, what call went forth? (b) What name did true Christians embrace in 1931, and of what did they repent?
12 At a historic convention, attended by 18,000 of these Christians, at Cedar Point, Ohio, U.S.A., September 5-13, 1922, the call went out: “Back to the field, O ye sons of the most high God! . . . The world must know that Jehovah is God and that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. . . . Therefore advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom.” Jehovah’s precious name was being made more prominent. In 1931 these Christians, assembled in convention at Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A., rejoiced to embrace and take the name indicated by God in Isaiah’s prophecy—Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Isaiah 43:10, 12) With its issue of March 1, 1939, the name of the organization’s principal journal was changed to The Watchtower Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom, thus giving primary honor to our Creator and his royal government. Jehovah’s Witnesses, with renewed love for Jehovah, have repented of any possible previous failure to honor and magnify his illustrious name and Kingdom.—Psalm 106:6, 47, 48.
“To Him That Conquers”
13. (a) What blessing awaited the Ephesians if they ‘conquered’? (b) How would Ephesian Christians ‘conquer’?
13 Finally, as he does also in his other messages, Jesus calls attention to God’s spirit as making known through Jesus the rewards for faithfulness. To the Ephesians he says: “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations: To him that conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7) Those with hearing ears would be eager to heed that vital message, knowing that it did not come on Jesus’ initiative but that it flowed from the Sovereign Lord Jehovah himself through His holy spirit, or active force. How would they ‘conquer’? By following closely in the steps of Jesus, who kept integrity to the death and so could say: “Take courage! I have conquered the world.”—John 8:28; 16:33; see also 1 John 5:4.
14. To what must “the paradise of God” mentioned by Jesus refer?
14 Since they have no prospect of living in an earthly paradise, how is it that anointed Christians, such as those Ephesians, are rewarded with eating “of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”? This could not be the restored Paradise on earth, since the 144,000 anointed Christians, including those of the congregation at Ephesus, are bought from among mankind to rule with the Lamb, Christ Jesus, on the heavenly Mount Zion as spirit sons. (Ephesians 1:5-12; Revelation 14:1, 4) Hence, the reference here must be to the heavenly gardenlike realm inherited by these conquerors. There, “in the paradise of God,” yes, in the very presence of Jehovah himself, these overcomers who have been granted immortality will continue to live eternally, as symbolized here by their eating of the tree of life.
15. Why is Jesus’ encouragement to conquer of vital interest to the great crowd today?
15 What, then, of the loyal earthly supporters of the 144,000 anointed ones? A great crowd of these companion Witnesses are also conquering. But their hope rests on entering an earthly paradise, where they will drink from “a river of water of life” and find healing from “the leaves of the trees” planted alongside that river. (Revelation 7:4, 9, 17; 22:1, 2) If you are one of this group, may you too express your warm love for Jehovah and win out in the conquest of faith. Thus you may attain to the happiness of everlasting life in the Paradise earth.—Compare 1 John 2:13, 14.
For historical details on the appearing of false apostles, see pages 37-44 of the handbook Reasoning From the Scriptures, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Box on page 36]
Loving Praise to Jehovah and His Son
In the songbook produced by Jehovah’s people in 1905, there were twice as many songs praising Jesus as there were songs praising Jehovah God. In their 1928 songbook, the number of songs extolling Jesus was about the same as the number extolling Jehovah. But in the latest songbook of 1984, Jehovah is honored by four times as many songs as is Jesus. This is in harmony with Jesus’ own words: “The Father is greater than I am.” (John 14:28) Love for Jehovah must be preeminent, accompanied by deep love for Jesus and appreciation of his precious sacrifice and office as God’s High Priest and King.
[Chart on page 34]
Jesus’ Pattern of Counsel
(citing chapters and verses of Revelation)
Message to Authority Introductory Problem Correction Resultant
congrega- for commendation clearly and/or blessings
tion rendering identified encouragement