Did you know that a church can be doctrinally sound and yet be without love? That’s not an idea I find easy to entertain, because I care so much about doctrine. But that is what Jesus said to the Ephesians:
To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”’ (Rev 2:1-7).
The Ephesians had been baptized with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues (see Acts 19:5-6), they witnessed amazing miracles (Acts 19:11-12), and they had been discipled by Paul for two years (Acts 19:10). Afterwards, Paul wrote to them one of his most important letters. In other words, the Ephesians had every spiritual advantage a church could have. And yet, by the time of Revelation, they required a rebuke from the Lord Jesus.
The problem wasn’t their doctrine—the Ephesians were doctrinally sound. Jesus praised them for testing and refuting lying apostles and for correctly hating the false teachings of the Nicolaitans (whatever those were).
Nor were they lazy. Jesus said, “I know your works, your labor…you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” They were busy doing things for the Lord. And yet, they lacked something vital:
Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
Did you know that a doctrinally sound church can be loveless? And since the church is made up of individuals like you, did you know that you can believe all the right doctrines and hate all the erroneous ones and be able to skillfully pick apart false apostles, and yet be loveless?
Jesus says that a doctrinally sound yet loveless church is a fallen church:
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
Lovelessness requires repentance; otherwise, a church risks incurring God’s temporal judgment. In this case, He threatened to remove their lampstand. What does that mean? In Rev 1:20, you read that the lampstands represent the churches. So Jesus warned the “angel/messenger” in Ephesus that He would remove the church itself if they didn’t repent. Perhaps that means the church would be destroyed, or it might slowly fade away until it no longer existed.
But what could be done to avoid that bad end?
Jesus called them to remember and to do their first works. They needed to remember what they were once like, back when their labor didn’t spring from religious busyness, but from a genuine love for God and neighbor.
Have you, or has your church, fallen into lovelessness? Have you focused so much on getting your theology right (which is praiseworthy!), that you forgot to love the people around you and forgot to love God? If a visitor came to your church, would he recognize the warmth of your fellowship, or would he get the cold shoulder? If he met you, would he know that you love him?
According to Jesus’ warning to the Ephesians, doctrine without love is a path to removal, not approval!