“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil […]. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:2, 4).
The church at Ephesus is one of the most famous in the Bible. Its impressive list of pastors included Paul, Timothy, and John. Paul wrote the book of Ephesians to them, and they are often praised as a church that is doing its mission well. But by the time John received his impressive revelation from God concerning the end times, the Ephesian church had begun to dwindle. They still did good things and resisted evil, but they had lost something. Somewhere along the way, they had let go of their love for God.
This is a sobering statement. The Ephesians were good people. Jesus Himself praised them for their hard work and their endurance, for their constant testing of teachings to weed out false teachers. They worked steadily for the cause of Christ, not giving up in their efforts to serve Him. But Jesus also knew their hearts, and He knew that they did all this out of a sense of duty, not because they truly loved Him. He called them to repentance, urging them to return to the passionate love they had once held for Him. For if they did not, if they continued to serve Him with hearts grown cold, their church would soon cease to exist. Jesus would come and take them away, its light gone forever.
God has never wanted our good works. He saved us so that we could do good works, yes (Ephesians 2:10), but He has never wanted our sacrifices given from an empty heart. He created us in His own image because He desired a relationship with us. He wants us to serve Him because the overflow of our love for Him cannot keep from expressing itself in service. We can be good, godly people who hate evil and always do what’s right, and still we can be out of favor with our Lord because we do not love Him. The greatest commandment is this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’” (Matthew 22:37).