Revelation 2:4-5 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
This is a justly famous warning. The Ephesian church was, by human standards, very successful and good. Christ Himself praised them in the verses before this. However, they had developed a potentially fatal flaw, and Christ pointed it out: they had left their first love. Like them, we too tend to focus on programs and numbers and doctrinal purity, but like Jesus asked Peter after the resurrection, the Lord says to us, “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-17) As Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 13, even the finest of pious “good works” are meaningless without love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3) The tricky thing about it all is that it’s a question of why we do things. Even here, Christ tells them to “do the things you did at first,” but if they just go through the motions without the love, it does them no good. I really think the biggest cause of our “leaving our first love” is our tendency to think we deserve God’s love. It is when we realize that everything God does for us is grace, and we really haven’t earned a bit of it, that our love becomes most intense. It’s amazing how we can get so used to luxury and think that’s how things should be. When that happens, we lose our sense of gratitude, and Christ is telling us that can be fatal. We need to step back and realize how incredibly blessed we are, regardless of our circumstances, and so love God in response to His love for us.
The current stir with the virus has been very educational in this area. I’ve had school classes and weddings canceled, which has impacted my income, but our bank account isn’t flat yet, and I still have Social Security and my Japanese pension coming in. The biggest irritation is in having to wear masks, and in being told by the school where I teach that I can’t leave the prefecture, which means I can’t go shopping at Costco. It’s not been that many years ago that we didn’t even have Costco in Japan! I’m spoiled! I look around me and see so many people who live miserable lives out of a simple lack of gratitude. Anyone in Japan or America today, even the homeless, has many things that a few hundred years ago would have been unimaginable luxuries. We think of the devil as attacking us with lies, which he certainly does, but often he doesn’t even need to do that; he just distracts us. Distracted from our focus on God, we are then prey to all sorts of other lies and temptations. I’m realizing that there is great depth to one of the most familiar verses in the whole Bible: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) “These things” means everything we need in the physical realm. When our focus is correct, we will indeed have the gratitude and love we need to keep us on track.
Father, thank You for this reminder. I’m so prone to complain, at least internally, about so many things! Help me recognize more and more of Your amazing grace that You have already poured out on me, and so love You more and more as You totally deserve to be loved, for my blessing and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!