Zeal versus Love (Rev. 2:1-7)
Quivering in his sandals, John is looking at a magnificent Jesus: not the fatigued Jesus who rested in a fishing boat during a storm to make up for sleepless nights praying; not the brutally scourged and crucified Jesus releasing his Spirit to satisfy God’s righteous wrath; and not the early-risen Jesus, mistaken for a gardener in the burial grounds of Gethsemane. There is no mistaking this magnificent Jesus. He is literally glowing, and he has a message for the church, the body of believers meeting in the Asian city of Ephesus. He has chosen John to take notes.
Jesus starts with the good news: the Ephesian Christians have been focused. They have persistently, doggedly routed evil from infiltrating their ranks. No trespassing! has been their mantra. Perhaps the list of ‘do nots’ has grown in the time since Jesus returned to the Father, “but wasn’t that a necessary defense to grow a church in the midst of the evils of idolatrous Ephesus?” John can almost hear the Ephesians argue. Every ounce of energy was going into building an edifice that would keep evil out.
We do that too, don’t we? We have our pet peeves of worldliness we have a zeal to resist: immodest fashion, violent movies, inhumane slaughtering of animals, reckless abuse of the environment, the infanticide of the aborted. We could list many more. Each represents an aspect of the earth’s fallen condition we feel the need to resist. Perhaps it is Jesus’ Spirit of justice in us that urges us to persevere in these causes against evil. But lest we begin patting ourselves on the back too enthusiastically, Jesus has a word to add. It’s the bad news.
“You have forsaken your first love”, he challenges.
“What?” we gulp, blinking in surprise. We look over our shoulder and around to see if He is meaning someone else. But His eyes are looking directly at ours. We know who He means by our first love. He means Himself. But have we forsaken Him? Haven’t we been on our bandwagon for Him?
Then slowly, we hear Jesus calling us to think back to what drew us to Him in the first place. Remember those early days? It was about love. With God, it’s always about love; God’s love, in and through Jesus, toward us – magnificent, thorough, engulfing, forgiving, hopeful love. And our response was to love Him in return – tentative, trusting, growing, accepting love. It was the kind of love that overflowed to others around us, like a fountain flooding its tile walls and seeping out in all directions. That is what Jesus means when He speaks of the Ephesians’ first love. And that is what the Ephesians and we have gradually allowed to fade in the fervor of our zeal to avoid evil. Maybe, just maybe, we can relate, if we are honest. Would others looking at our lives say we are driven by love? Is the object of our acts of devotion a cause or a person? The former will gradually harden our hearts to the Spirit of Love; the consequences of that aren’t pretty – Jesus urges us to correct our heading before we become shipwrecked.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
Jesus prescribes a solution if we have ears to hear and a will to do it: we must reopen the shutters of our soul to let Christ’s Spirit of Love blow through us again. We must come to Him in repentance, hungry to love like He does, asking Him to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Our first love, the transforming love of Jesus, must always take precedence. We are, first and foremost, children of God’s love. This must define us. From this source flows authentic love for others.
Jesus, first love, fill me today with your love. Let it overflow to those around me in authentic love for them. Amen.