“The Love You Had at First”
“I hold this against you, that you have left the love you had at first. Therefore remember from what you have fallen, and repent.”—REVELATION 2:4, 5.
1, 2. (a) What words of counsel did Jesus direct to the Ephesian congregation? (b) What may these words have caused?
ARE you a witness of Jehovah with many years of faithful service behind you? If so, how would you feel if somebody you respected very much spoke to you in the foregoing way? Would you resent it? Or would you think he had made a mistake and was speaking to the wrong person?
2 Well, nearly 1,900 years ago the congregation, or ecclesia, at Ephesus in Asia Minor had those words addressed to it in a message directed to it by none other than the resurrected Jesus Christ. His words must have been a shock to them. Those Christians in Ephesus had endured in Jesus’ name and had resisted the influence of apostates for over 40 years. (Acts 18:18, 19; Ephesians 1:1, 2) “I know your deeds,” Jesus said, “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.” (Revelation 2:2) They were still “in the truth,” as we say. So what was the problem?
3. What was the problem of the Ephesian Christians?
3 They had lost ‘the love they once had.’ They no longer served with the same fervor of Christian love for Jehovah as at the first. As a result, they had slowed down. Hence, Jesus warned them: “Remember from what you have fallen, and repent and do the former deeds.”—Revelation 2:5.
4. What warning can we take from the Ephesians’ experience?
4 There is a warning here for Jehovah’s servants today. It is evidently possible even for those with long experience as active Christians to cool off. On the outside they may still seem strong, but inside they may have lost the deep love they once had for Jehovah. In a letter to the Corinthians, Paul warned: “Let him that thinks he is standing beware that he does not fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12) To help us in this regard, let us see how the Ephesians got their love and how they were helped to maintain it.
Christianity in Ephesus
5, 6. How and when did the good news come to be preached in Ephesus?
5 In the first century of our Common Era, the city of Ephesus was a wealthy, bustling metropolis and the center of a thriving cult of the pagan goddess Artemis (or, Diana). The teaching about Jesus as the Messiah of Jehovah was first heard there at the latest in 52 C.E. when Paul arrived from Corinth along with the married couple Aquila and Priscilla. Paul himself could not stay, but Aquila and Priscilla did. When an outstanding speaker, Apollos, started to teach there “with correctness” about Jesus, this Christian couple helped to clear up the misunderstandings he had about baptism. Apollos went on to become an ardent worker in the first-century congregation.—Acts 18:24-28.
6 Some months later, Paul returned to Ephesus and found a group of about 12 disciples who had been baptized with John’s baptism. Responding to Paul’s words, they were rebaptized. Then, for three months he preached in the synagogue. But when most of the Jews were unresponsive, Paul and the new disciples moved to the school auditorium of Tyrannus where he began to give daily lectures.—Acts 19:8-10.
7, 8. What notable events marked the early growth of the congregation in Ephesus?
7 Now began an exhilarating period in Ephesus. Jehovah performed powerful works of healing through Paul. People who merely touched his clothing were cured, and word of his preaching spread through the whole region. (Acts 19:11-17) In a letter he wrote at the time, Paul told the congregation in Corinth, on the other side of the Aegean Sea: “I am remaining in Ephesus until the festival of Pentecost; for a large door that leads to activity has been opened to me, but there are many opposers.”—1 Corinthians 16:8, 9.
8 Paul stayed in Ephesus longer than two years. Many learned of the extraordinary love that Jehovah had shown in sending his only-begotten Son so that those exercising faith might have everlasting life. They accepted the truth, and the love they expressed for Jehovah and his Son was strong. Former practicers of magical arts “brought their books together and burned them up before everybody. And they calculated together the prices of them and found them worth fifty thousand pieces of silver. Thus in a mighty way the word of Jehovah kept growing and prevailing.” (Acts 19:19, 20) Imagine what a tremendous witness that was!
9. How was the intensity of the new congregation’s love tested?
9 Soon, the intensity of the Ephesians’ love was tested. In Ephesus, many silversmiths made a good living making silver shrines of Artemis. Viewing the young Christian congregation as a threat to their livelihood, one of them, Demetrius, harangued his fellow silversmiths and fomented a riot. The lives of the Christians were in danger until the city recorder calmed the mob. (Acts 19:23-41) There may have been similar tests not recorded in the Bible, since Paul alluded to ‘fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus.’ (1 Corinthians 15:32) Nevertheless, the fervent love the Ephesians had for Jehovah helped them to endure.
10. How did Paul next try to encourage the Ephesian elders?
10 Eventually, Paul left Ephesus. But in 56 C.E., while on his way to Jerusalem, he found himself in Miletus, just 30 miles (48 km) away. So he called a meeting of the Ephesian elders and exhorted them to follow his own example and shepherd the flock of God that was under their care. He especially warned them against “oppressive wolves” who would appear from among them and would mislead the disciples. He also revealed that he would likely never see them face to face again. Thus “quite a bit of weeping broke out among them all, and they fell upon Paul’s neck and tenderly kissed him.”—Acts 20:17-38.
11. What did Paul hear about the Ephesians when he was in Rome?
11 When Paul got to Jerusalem he was arrested and eventually sent to Rome as a prisoner. There, his thoughts turned again to his Ephesian brothers, and he wrote the letter that appears in the Bible under the title “To the Ephesians.” Love for Jehovah and his Son on the part of the Christians at Ephesus was still strong at this point, since Paul said to them: “I also, since I have heard of the faith you have in the Lord Jesus and toward all the holy ones, do not cease giving thanks for you.”—Ephesians 1:15-17.
12. What counsel did Paul write from Rome that would have helped the Ephesians to preserve ‘the love they had at first’?
12 In his letter, Paul gave fine counsel designed to help them keep their love alive. He reminded them that they were living during wicked days and, hence, should ‘buy out the opportune time,’ not letting other matters crowd out the doing of God’s will. (Ephesians 5:15-17) Paul also reminded the Ephesians that their real enemies were not the humans who tried to oppose them. Rather, he said, “We have a wrestling . . . against the wicked spirit forces in the heavenly places.” Hence, he strongly encouraged them to put on spiritual armor and keep in close contact with God by prayer.—Ephesians 6:11-18.
13. How was Timothy able to help the Ephesians?
13 Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians about 60 or 61 of our Common Era. (Ephesians 1:1) Not long afterward Timothy visited Ephesus and, while there, received a letter from Paul that we call First Timothy. In it Paul encouraged this younger man to stay on in Ephesus to “command certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies, which end up in nothing.” (1 Timothy 1:3, 4) Doubtless Timothy’s presence in the city helped most Ephesian Christians to preserve their zealous love for Jehovah in spite of the bad influence round about them.
14. (a) How had Jehovah strengthened the Ephesians? (b) In spite of this, what happened to them?
14 About 65 C.E., Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy. In it he mentioned that he had sent another emissary, Tychicus, to Ephesus. (2 Timothy 4:12) That is the last we read of Ephesus until Jesus sent his message recorded in the book of Revelation. The Christians at Ephesus were the fruits of the apostle Paul’s preaching. They had benefited from later visits by such outstanding Christians as Timothy, had received counsel through a letter inspired by holy spirit and were part of the “one body.” (Ephesians 4:4) Yet they lost the ‘love they had at first.’
Firm Counsel Needed
15, 16. (a) Why may some feel that it was to be expected that the Ephesians would lose some of the fervor of the love they had at first? (b) Did Jesus feel that way about it?
15 Some may view a certain amount of cooling off of the fervor of the Ephesians’ love as understandable. After all, there had been a congregation in Ephesus for more than 40 years when Jesus sent his message through John. Many, doubtless, did not personally remember the fine example of Aquila and Priscilla or the exciting preaching of Apollos. The apostle Paul had been dead for 30 years. Jerusalem had been destroyed two and a half decades earlier. So it might be expected that the Ephesian Christians would settle down, would lose their sense of urgency and zeal.
16 However, Jesus did not excuse such a trend. Others who had been Christians as long as the Ephesians or longer had not lost their ‘first love.’ The apostle John, who wrote down Jesus’ message to the Ephesians, had already been a follower of Christ for more than 20 years when Paul brought the good news to Ephesus. Moreover, those of the congregation in Philadelphia gave strong evidence that they had not lost the ‘love they had at first.’—Revelation 3:7-11.
17. What was Jesus’ counsel to the Ephesian Christians?
17 Therefore, Jesus was not unreasonable when he firmly told those Ephesians that if they were not repentant and did not rekindle their love, they would likely lose out. He said: “I will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5) This was not so much a threat as it was a loving warning to those Christians, urging them to act wisely and thus not lose their privileges.
Why the ‘First Love’ Is Lost
18, 19. (a) What zeal did the Israelites have when liberated from Egypt? (b) Why did they lose that zeal?
18 Why do people lose their initial love for Jehovah and zeal for doing his will? The Bible does not tell us what happened to the Ephesians. But there are other examples in the Bible of something similar happening. Remember the Israelites who were led out of Egypt by Moses. Having witnessed Jehovah’s powerful works climaxed by the destruction of Pharaoh and his armies in the Red Sea, God’s delivered people were highly enthusiastic. “Who among the gods is like you, O Jehovah?” they sang ecstatically. (Exodus 15:11; Psalm 136:1, 15) Later, when Jehovah made a covenant with them, they unanimously declared: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do and be obedient.”—Exodus 24:7.
19 Yet the mood of the Israelites quickly changed. A temporary lack of water, a lack of variety in their diet, a fear of the Canaanites and other problems made them forget Jehovah’s mighty acts and the covenant he had made with them. Why, from a safe distance even Egypt, the land of their slavery, began to look attractive! They forgot the harsh cruelty of the Egyptians and could think only of ‘the fish, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic’ that they once ate there.—Numbers 11:5.
20, 21. (a) What exciting news did the Jews in Cyrus’ day hear, and what effect did it have? (b) What caused their enthusiasm to wane?
20 Remember, too, the Jews who came back from Babylonian captivity in 537 B.C.E. Imagine their excitement when they heard Cyrus’ proclamation: “Jehovah . . . has commissioned me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God prove to be with him. So let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of Jehovah the God of Israel.” (Ezra 1:2, 3) Tens of thousands responded, and there was great joy when the foundation of the new temple was finally laid.—Ezra 2:64; 3:10-13.
21 However, that enthusiasm quickly waned. Neighboring enemies objected and maneuvered an official order to halt the temple-building work. (Ezra, chapter 4) The Jews started to build fine houses for themselves. (Haggai 1:4) Of course, they still thought of themselves as practicers of the Jewish religion. They had not abandoned their faith. But they had lost the fervent love they earlier had for Jehovah and the interests of true worship. Doubtless, they thought they were being balanced or reasonable in what they were doing. But Jehovah did not agree. He sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir up their zeal and encourage them to finish building Jehovah’s house.—Ezra 5:1, 2.
22, 23. (a) What may cause Christians today to lose the love they had at first? (b) What questions remain for our consideration?
22 Something similar can happen to Christians in our time. The day-to-day problems of living in a non-Christian world can dim their joy. With the passing of time, the truth may cease to be fresh and exciting. It may even occur that, as time erases the memory of what it was like to be in the world, a Christian may look longingly at the so-called freedom, the lack of responsibility, that worldly people have. (Ephesians 2:11, 12) Or Christians may become worn down by the attitude of the people around them. They may develop the idea that it is more reasonable to take it a little easier in God’s service, to slow down somewhat.—Jeremiah 17:9.
23 Something like this must have happened to the Ephesian Christians, but Jesus clearly felt that they could recover. In fact, through the apostle Paul they had already received much counsel which, if applied, would help to restore ‘the love they had at first.’ What was this valuable counsel? And will it help us to maintain our ‘first love’ today? We will discuss this in the following article.
Can You Recall—
□ What problem existed in the Ephesian congregation?
□ What help Jehovah had given them?
□ Why the Israelites in Moses’ day lost their zeal?
□ What caused the Israelites of Ezra’s time to lose their enthusiasm?
□ What may lead us to lose ‘the love we had at first’?
[Picture on page 13]
Perhaps for materialistic reasons, members of the Ephesus congregation left the love they had at first
[Picture on page 16]
Haggai asked the Jews: ‘Is it time to dwell in your paneled houses, while God’s house is waste?’