By Joseph Horton

If you and I were to load up in the first century and take a visit to the church in Ephesus, I think we’d be impressed. The congregation was planted by Paul (Acts 19), had Timothy as their preacher for a time (1 Timothy 1:3), and they were praised for their faith (Ephesians 1:15). Christ himself bragged on their works and their patience in the faith and their intolerance of sin and evil (Revelation 2:2-3).

However, before we take a trip there, we need to be aware of one big problem they faced. This is a problem so big that it undermined and invalidated all of their strengths. Christ tells them what it is: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). The problem?

Their love for Christ had grown weak.

Maybe they had failed to recall God’s love for them. John tells us that “we love [God] because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When we lose an awareness of God’s staggering love for us, our love for Him can be diminished. Regardless, Christ lays out the consequences for the Ephesian Christians for “abandoning the love.”

He says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5).

In other words, if they don’t recover their love for Christ they possessed at first, their status as a church of Christ would be revoked. I told you this was a big problem for them.

This account raises a sobering question: How do we know when our love for Christ has grown weak? There are probably several warning
signs, but here are three:

First, our love for Christ has grown weak when our love for others wanes.

It’s difficult to love others, and that’s putting it lightly. We can relate to the little girl who prayed, “Dear God, I bet it is very hard for you to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family and I can never do it.” Yet, the New Testament inextricably links loving God and loving others. Responding to a question from a Pharisee, Jesus teaches that the two most important commandments from the old law are to “love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

The Apostle John seems to build on his Lord’s teaching when he writes, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21). So a shortage of love for others reveals we are not loving Christ as we should. Conversely, when we love others well, we are demonstrating our love for Christ.

Second, our love for Christ has grown weak when our trust in Christ wanes.

The Proverbs writer says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). This is a timely message for Christians living in 2022 in the USA, the most prosperous nation to ever exist.

We live with several layers of safety and security that protect us from calamity. We trust in God, but also in our savings accounts, our retirement funds, and our insurance policies. Sometimes I wonder, do I even know what it is to trust Christ with all my heart? True trust is when every earthly comfort is stripped away and we can still say with the apostle Paul, “On Him we have set our hope that He will deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10). And wholehearted trust reveals truehearted love for Christ.

Finally, our love for Christ has grown weak when our obedience wanes.

As the old song says, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” Jesus makes clear that the way we show our love for Him is by obeying Him. He says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Some may say, “Spiritual maturity comes through greater understanding of deep truths.” But I think developing spiritual maturity is more about greater obedience to simple commands. As I heard someone say recently, we’ve all been educated beyond our current level of obedience. If we want to love Christ more, we should ask, “Are we doing what we know Christ has told us to do?” Growing in obedience to Christ is growing in love for Christ.

Our Lord Jesus told the Ephesian Christians they needed to repent and renew the love they had at first (Revelation 2:5). They had lost their love, and desperately needed to recover it. If we find that our love for Christ has grown weak, we need to repent too. And then we need to demonstrate our love for the One who loved us first by loving others, and by trusting in and obeying Him.

This article appears in the April 2022 issue of Think Magazine. For subscription information, click here.