Returning to Our First Love

Revelation 2:1-7

February 4, 2024

Lead Pastor Dr. Timothy Melton

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Rachel Emma Silverman of the Wall Street Journal reports that academic studies have found that office workers go off-task—either because someone distracts them or they distract themselves—about every three minutes.  .  . That includes, phone calls, emails, Facebook, TickTock, coffee break, coworkers talking to each other, etc. 

In 2023 TeamStage, an online project management company, published their “Workplace Distractions Statistics.” In their research they found that getting back on track once one has been distracted takes about 23 minutes and 15 seconds. Taking this into consideration that would mean that during an 8-hour day approximately 55 minutes of work actually takes place.

Whether true or not, that is almost comical. Why is it so hard to stay focused? It doesn’t just happen in the workplace. It happens in many areas of our lives. It is so easy to get distracted and forget why we do what we do. Our job helps us provide for our family and serves as a place for us to be on mission with God. This is a grand purpose, but many times we lose focus and work becomes a chore that we despise. We have children and seek to raise them in a way that will honor God and allow them to be and to do everything God created them to be and to do. But then we get caught up in the sleepless nights or the difficult teenage years and turn to angry out bursts and complaining instead of parenting the children we have been given. We go to school to prepare for the future that God has planned for us but then we get bogged down in the homework, the tests and the papers. We grow apathetic and forget why we even go to school. In all of these examples we see a loss of focus.

We find this same losing focus in the Bible. In today’s lesson in Revelation 2:1-7 we will read of a church in Ephesus that had lost focus and needed the words of Christ to turn their hearts back towards Him.

We will now turn our attention to the city of Ephesus to whom Christ’s first message was directed.


The name Ephesus meant “desirable” and the city seemed to live up to the name. The city had the biggest harbor in all of Asia. It was the crossroads between continents. All the roads from as far of as the Euphrates and Mesopotamia reached the Mediterranean at Ephesus, where their goods would then be taken to Europe and northern Africa. The city was very multicultural and given to pleasure and superficiality. 

Commerce had made Ephesus strong, but also religion. In Ephesus was the magnificent temple of Artemis or as the Romans referred to her as the goddess Diana. The temple held over 24,000 people and was known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. At night worship would take place with the burning of incense, the playing of flutes and with temple prostitutes. The temple also was a haven for criminals since they were given asylum if they could reach it. Ephesus also had other temples to Roman emperors and other pagan gods. 

This was the environment in which the church of Ephesus lived. It is told of how Christians were taken from Ephesus to Rome to be thrown to the lions. So much so that Ignatius called Ephesus “the Highway of the Martyrs.”

William Barclay tells of “Heraclitus, one of the most famous of ancient philosophers, who was known as "the weeping philosopher." His explanation of his tears was that no one could live in Ephesus without weeping at its immorality.”

It is quite surprising that a church could survive in Ephesus at all, but in all reality the church in Ephesus had not just survived, it had thrived.


The church was started on the apostle Paul’s second missionary journey. The year would have been around A.D 52. We see it described in Acts 18:19. Paul arrived in Ephesus, taught in the synagogue. He then left Aquila and Priscilla there to nurture the new believers and promised to come back if God permitted. 

In Acts 19:8-10 we find the next snapshot of the life of the church in Ephesus that occurred in A.D 52-54 during Paul’s third missionary journey.  

8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9 But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So, Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

During these two years Paul helped these new believers walk away from false doctrine and pagan practices. Scripture describes what happened in these words, 

11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured, and the evil spirits left them.

13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

God was moving mightily in the church of Ephesus, and it was only 3-4 years old. God moved in such a powerful way that Acts 19:10 tell us that, “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

The name of Jesus was now becoming known throughout the city of Ephesus and this church in Ephesus was now the mission center for much of what is now modern-day Turkey. It is interesting to remember that in Acts 16:6 the Holy Spirit kept Paul and his companions from preaching the word in the province of Asia.

At that time, it must have not made sense to Paul, but now Paul could see how God had had a greater plan in mind. Paul preaching to certain cities would have reached some, but now God, through Paul’s teaching ministry to the new believers in Ephesus, had reached many more cities than Paul could have ever done on his own. 

The movement of God was great but there was also persecution in the midst of it. Acts 19:23-40 then tells of a riot in Ephesus against the Christians. The church was now equipped to persevere and be a tool in God’s hand. 

The next picture we have of the church in Ephesus is found in Acts 20. Paul stops at a port city called Miletus and requests that the church elders from nearby Ephesus come and see him. It will be their final time that they will ever see the apostle Paul. Here are a few verses of Paul’s longer instructions to them.

 “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. . . 36 When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.”

It seems to have been a precious time between teacher and disciples. The church was now strong and established. They had a great spiritual history and were built on a strong foundation. Paul was now fully passing on the baton to these elders of the church in Ephesus. 

The next picture on this timeline of the church in Ephesus takes place around A.D. 62 and is found in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians when he is in prison in Rome. Paul commends their faith and love. They were doing well. In Paul’s writings he commends their sincerity and their continued nurturing and equipping of the church. The church was now well-established and bearing fruit. 

Our next and final picture of the church in Ephesus comes in today’s text, Revelation 2:1-7. It has now been about 30 years since those earlier events. The apostle Paul had been martyred several years after he had seen them last. 

We do not know what had happened during those intervening years, but now Jesus is coming to address the church in Ephesus and is doing it through a vision to John.


Before we go on let’s remember what is happening in the beginning of the book of Revelation. The year was 96 A.D. Christ had died, been resurrected and had ascended to heaven more than 60 years before. The Christians of this time were suffering greatly because of persecution. In the midst of their difficulties most of these churches were not overcoming. Instead, they were being overcome . . . by sin, heresy, and fear. The whole situation was grim. 

In Revelation chapter one we see that Jesus appeared to John, who had been one of Jesus’ closest followers. John was now approximately 90 years old and was one of the remaining few who had actually known and walked with Jesus. Because of his faith, John had been exiled to the small barren Island of Patmos off the coast of Asia minor, or modern-day Turkey. 

On the Lord’s Day John was worshipping and Jesus appeared to him and gave him a message to give to seven churches in Asia Minor. Christ commanded John to share these words with the churches so that they could overcome.  

Revelation 2 begins with these words. 

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”

As we seek to understand this verse, we must remember that scripture is oftentimes the best commentator of scripture. That means that when we encounter verses that we don’t understand we first look to other scriptures that refer to the same topics, doctrines or words to help us get God’s perspective on the issue. We often incorrectly first turn to dictionaries or other human commentators to read about their opinions, but the first place to start is how might other scriptures help us understand this scripture. 

Revelation 1:20 is a helpful verse when trying to understand Revelation 2:1. Revelation 1:20 says this, 

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

Let’s start out with the clearer definitions. The seven lampstands represent the seven churches that Jesus addresses in Revelation 2-3. 

It is encouraging that we read how Jesus walks amongst the churches. He does not stand at a distance, or turn a blind eye, but He draws near and “walks amongst them.” That would be the source of their ability to overcome. 

The previous line is a little more puzzling. “The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches.”  

Some would take that to mean that each church must have a “guardian angel.” That might be the easiest way to read it, but there is very little scripture to confirm that. At times in Daniel we do see angels that had been working in certain countries and in Ephesians 6 we also read of spiritual realities we know very little about, but it is difficult to speak authoritatively about this. Maybe John is writing to inform both angels and men, but if so that view seems not to be very common in scripture.

From another perspective, John is instructed in the first part of the verse to write to “the angel of the church of Ephesus.” Why would Paul need to write this message to an angel? It is helpful to note that the Greek word translated “angels” can also be translated “messengers.” The Hebrew word for “angel” also means “messenger.”

This understanding would mean that John is instructed to write to the angel, or really messenger or even elders of the churches, who would be responsible to share these words with their congregations. Regardless of the exact meaning it is encouraging to note that these representatives of the church have not been left alone during these trying times, but were being held in Christ’s almighty right hand.

In the vision, Jesus is holding in His right hand, these seven stars. It is not the idea of holding like holding hands, being merely connected. The Greek word is the idea of holding that has complete control over something, such as a father holding a child as they run from the rain and the thunder. It would be similar to John 10:28 where we read, "They shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand." 

Jesus’ words then continue in Revelation 2:2-3

2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.”

Jesus is commenting on all the good that they have done. This church had now been in existence for 40 years. They had seen glorious movements of God and persevered through difficult times. They had spread the gospel and done the work of the ministry. The word “toil” in verse two literally meant “worked to the point of exhaustion.” The words for patient endurance is not a patience that tolerates and complains, but it is a patience of courageous honor which takes on suffering and hardship and transforms it into grace and glory. We might say “they had been really good church members for a long time.” They had worked hard, endured difficulties, stood against evil, defended the truth, and not grown weary. With all this in mind Jesus then had the following words for this enduring church in Revelation 2:4,

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 

In the midst of all their hard work and commitment something had happened. They had lost their first love. They had forgotten the “why.” Other things were ruling their hearts and their desires. They no longer had the fervent, passionate faith that they had in the beginning. 

They were still busy in ministry but somehow they had drifted. Other loves had crept into their lives. Perhaps they were so focused on staying separated from the sinful world around them that they had become legalistic and judgmental.  Originally the first generation of the church had been bound together by persecution and the moving of God, but now they had slipped into doing lifeless good deeds. 

It is like a couple who has ceased to nurture their love for one another and now live distant lives in the same house and sleeping as mere acquaintance in the same bed.

It is like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day who had begun passionately seeking after righteousness, but somewhere in the process they drifted into legalism, and self-righteousness. Now they were nothing more than religious hypocrites.

It is like the story of Jesus’ good friends, Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus and the disciples had come to visit. Martha was busy in the kitchen being a hostess while Mary was in the living room sitting at Jesus’ feet learning all she can with the others.

Martha got distracted by all the preparations that had to be done. She marched in and complained to Jesus in front of everyone. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

She had lost focus. She probably had started with a servant’s heart wanting to be a good hostess, but somewhere in the process pride and self-pity crept in, to the point that she was now commanding the Creator of the Universe to order her sister back to the kitchen.

In response Jesus said, 41 “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” In His own way Jesus was calling her from empty labor back to love. 

This was a similar call to the Ephesians. They were focused more on doing than being, more on religion than relationship. Outwardly they were doing good works, but they were no longer being compelled by the love of Christ. They were no longer abiding in Christ and allowing His Spirit to flow through them. 

They most likely had not nurtured the Spirit within them, and now had drifted into apathy, legalism, and empty good deeds that looked good to others, but were worth nothing more than filthy rags to our all-knowing Savior. 

In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me obey my commandments.” Actions and obedience were to be part of love. But in Matthew 10:37 Jesus said, “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” This shows us that a love for Jesus also has to do with desires and affections. It was not saying that we were not to love our families, but in comparison our devotion Christ was to be even more.  

Good Christian living should have a foundation of correct doctrine and good works, but there should also be a measure of delight and devotion in God. Their affections and desires were supposed to be birthed out of their love for Christ and then be accompanied by good works.

The Ephesians had drifted from this life-giving spring of love and now were just producing good works without power.

Jesus then continued in Revelation 2:5.

5 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. 

Jesus had called them back to a “first love.” He now gave them instructions and consequence. 

Now that the Ephesians had heard Jesus’ stern words what were they supposed to do about it? The first part of this verse provides a solution and can be summed up in three words. Remember, repent and return. Remember the faith, the intimacy, the devotion that you once had. 

Remember the days in your past when your relationship with God was sweet, the fruit of the Spirit was evident, and your love for Christ was your main delight.

Repent, change your direction back towards Christ. Turn from all that draws you away and nurture your devotion to Christ.

Return to the love-filled works that you did at first. When Christ is your first love there are still good works to be done, but they now are an overflow of the love of Christ that is now flourishing inside of you.

Listen to the words of 1 Thessalonians 1:3.

We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

In this verse you still see work, labor and endurance. The Thessalonians had work produced by faith, labor prompted by love and endurance inspired by hope. That is what Christ was asking for. If the Ephesians did not remember, repent and return, Christ would put their light out and the lampstand would be no more. 

Jesus then commended the Ephesians for their opposition to the Nicolaitans who were abusing the doctrines of grace so they could justify their immoral living. This danger was not coming from outside the Church but from inside. It was not Christ expecting non-believers to act like believers. It was the sinfulness with the supposed holy people of God that brought the problem and judgment. 

Jesus then ended this word to the Ephesians with Revelation 2:7,

7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Those who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit. John 16:13 tell us that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. That was Christ’s confidence. For those who were truly in Christ, they would hear His words and be led by the Spirit to return to Christ as their first love. Through Christ those would overcome and would be given eternal life. 

Those who didn’t have an ear to hear what Christ was saying to the churches were not in Christ and would not have eternal life. Their good works would eventually be shown to be worth nothing and all would be lost.

This was Christ’s call. Some would return to the sweet embrace of Christ and others would show themselves to not be part of God’s family at all. 

Those were difficult days but Christ had come to walk amongst His people and overcome. 

He does the same today. May remember the intimacy with Christ that we once had. May we repent and turn back to Him as our first love and may we return to the acts of love that we did at first.