Remembering Your First Love
By Rick Renner
— Revelation 2:5
As we walk with the Lord, there is always a danger that as each of us grows older in our spiritual walk and become more structured, polished, refined, and doctrinally developed, we will slowly start to forfeit the zeal and spiritual fire we once possessed. What we once held as precious has a tendency to seem routine over time, and as we become accustomed to God’s precious Spirit in our lives, too often we unintentionally begin to simply “traffic” in the things of God.
I don’t know a single mature Christian who hasn’t had to fight this temptation, as the reality of the lost condition he or she was delivered from gradually becomes a distant memory. It’s a subtle backsliding that occurs in the very act of serving God.
A good example of this is found in the story of the church of Ephesus, a renowned church in the Roman province of Asia (modern-day western Turkey) that was founded by Paul in the First Century AD. These early believers had come to Christ in a blaze of glory and, from the onset of their congregation, experienced profound demonstrations of God’s power. They witnessed people delivered from idol worship, liberated from evil spirits, and many healed in a myriad of truly miraculous ways. Zealous for Christ, they had burned all their occult books and magical incantations — which were worth a small fortune — thus demonstrating a deep and sincere repentance in their willingness to completely sever their new lives from their pagan past.
In its early years, the church of Ephesus burned like a spiritual inferno. The Ephesian believers’ vibrancy and excitement inspired the same passion in other churches and spiritual leaders throughout the Roman Empire. But as the years passed, the zeal the Ephesian church had once possessed for the things of God slowly ebbed away. Knowledge increased, but the believers’ fiery passion for Jesus seemed to diminish. Undoubtedly, as the church grew, so did its members’ schedules, routines, habits, customs, and traditions. The subtle backsliding that often occurs when Christians become involved in serving God seems to be precisely what happened to this great church. The Ephesian believers were so busy serving Jesus that they lost their intimacy with Him. It is also likely that they experienced a loss of joy in their service, since joy is impossible to maintain without a vital connection to the Savior.
Revelation 2:4 tells us that the Ephesian believers had lost their “first love.” In other words, they had lost the simplicity and passion once associated with their early love for Jesus Christ. This tells us how far they had unintentionally drifted from the fire and zeal that once characterized them. For this reason, Jesus urges them to stop everything they are doing to “remember” the simple but precious relationship they had with Christ before they became so spiritually sophisticated. He says, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:5).
The word “remember” comes from the Greek root mneia. In ancient literature, this word denoted a written record used to memorialize a person’s actions, a sepulcher, statue, monument, or tombstone. It is very significant that the word mneia can be translated a sepulcher. This suggests that the Ephesian believers’ early experiences with Christ had become buried by 30 years of activity. Jesus urged them to dig through all the clutter of their schedules, routines, and activities so they could “remember” their vibrant beginning. Like dirt on a grave, the busyness of ministry had buried what was once precious to them. By using the word “remember” — the Greek word mneia — Jesus implored them to unearth those early times when their faith was tender and new — to dig deep in order to recall and recover their powerful past. Once they remembered, they would be able to see how far they’ve drifted from the vibrancy that once marked their beginnings.
However, the word “remember” (mneia) also refers to a statue or a monument. This tells us that some memories should stand tall in our lives forever and never be forgotten. The purpose of a statue or monument is to put living people in remembrance of a significant historical event or person. That statue or monument is intended to memorialize a historical event or a deceased hero that future generations should never forget.
Statues, monuments, and tombstones are made of metal or stone; therefore, they endure many years without human effort. But memories must be deliberately maintained and cultivated if they are to remain vital in our hearts and minds. And if significant memories are not deliber- ately passed onto future generations, they become lost under the overgrowth of life, just like a neglected grave with no tombstone. It doesn’t take too long before the location of such a grave to be completely lost. People will walk across it and not even know that the remains of a precious person lay buried beneath their feet.
In the same way, important memories are easily forgotten. Adults forget their childhood; nations forget their heritage; and Christians forget their early beginnings with Jesus. In Revelation 2:5, we discover that churches can forget their past. Years of activity and Christian service can so consume a congregation’s energy and strength that they begin to forget the great work of grace God performed in their hearts. Weariness, busy schedules, and new programs to implement year after year all have the ability to wear down a body of believers — turning all their activity for God’s Kingdom into spiritual drudgery, slowly reducing what was once fresh and exciting into a monotonous, religious routine. Soon the early memories of coming to Christ are buried under an overgrowth of activity and spiritual weeds. Once-thankful people begin to forget how wonderful God’s grace was when it first touched their hearts.
The word translated “remember” is in the present active imperative, which means Jesus wanted the Ephesian believers to be continually mindful of their past. What God had done in their midst was a wonderful memory that needed to be memorialized among them for all generations. And if they took an honest look at themselves and compared their present to their past, they would see what Jesus knew about them — that they were fallen compared to the zeal and the spiritual passion that had once burned in their hearts.
The word “fallen” means a downfall from a high and lofty position. The Greek tense doesn’t describe the process of falling, but rather one who has already completely fallen and who is now living in an already completely fallen state. For the past 30 years, the church at Ephesus had hosted the world’s greatest Christian leaders, experienced the power of God, and become more advanced in spiritual knowledge than any other church of that time. The Christian world looked at this congregation as the ideal church. However, we must never forget that what can be carefully hidden from human eyes can never be concealed from Jesus’ eyes. Hebrews 4:13 tells us that “…all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Christ is often not impressed with the things that impress us. He often sees a different picture than others see. Others may have been impressed with the heritage of the Ephesian church and its roster of famous personalities who passed through its doors — but in Jesus’ eyes, it was “fallen.”
If this illustrious church with its list of remarkable accomplishments could be called “fallen,” it is clear that any church — regardless of its notable beginning or enduring fame — can also be “fallen.” This means one’s past is not a guarantee for the future. If an individual or a church is not completely devoted to doing whatever is necessary to retain spiritual passion, it is likely that over the course of the years, that passion will slowly dissipate, as was the case with the church in Ephesus.
Just as Christ spoke to the congregation at Ephesus, I believe He is compelling us to return to Him and rekindle the fire that once burned so brightly in our hearts. We need to unearth the precious memories of what our walk with Jesus was like at the beginning — and honestly see if we have retained that same passion, or if we’ve let it slip over the passing of time due to schedules, routines, or other reasons. Jesus is calling us. He cries out to everyone who has an ear to hear what He is saying.
Is it possible that Jesus is speaking to you today, asking you to reevaluate the condition of your own spiritual passion?
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, as I evaluate my own heart, I realize that I have allowed distractions and the cares of life to dull my passion for You. Somewhere along the way, I became more focused on working for You than walking with You. I repent and turn away from the prayerlessness and hardness of heart that led me to this state. Renew a steadfast spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation; lift me up from the place where I’ve fallen; and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Teach me afresh to reverence You and to truly love You by being a doer of Your Word and not merely a hearer only.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I give to the Lord the glory due His name. I am His and my heart is wholly devoted and undivided in its affections. I choose the better part of being with Him above all else — that I may know Christ and become increasingly transformed into His likeness.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- Can you think of a time when your spiritual passion burned more brightly than it is burning today? How were you different than you are today? Why not write two columns on a piece of paper, with the left column listing words and phrases that described what you were like earlier, and the right column to express words and phrases of what you are like in comparison today?
- Do you recall a time when you were like a spiritual burning inferno? How would you describe your spiritual fire today? High, medium, low, gone, consistent?
- Remembering the passion that once burned brightly inside you may take some time. Why don’t you schedule a quiet time when you can let your mind drift back to those early days and let your heart relish those precious memories that first set your heart on fire?