"Return to your first love" is a Christian cliche, applied to congregations by pastors; but I have never heard specifics given that were in context. So, what had the believers in Ephesus done up to Jesus's visit with John that they had forsaken? And did they repent?
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To me, the Ephesians would not have had to have been engaged in overtly non-Christian conduct or practices for Jesus to tell them to return. The way I interpret this would be that the Ephesians, while still Christians, were not as fervent in showing their love for God and for others as they had been when they were first converted. Perhaps they were lax or had grown unconcerned about attending corporate worship; or sharing the gospel with others; or contributing their personal time and resources to meet the physical needs of others; or performing other charitable acts; or generally exhibiting Christ's love in their words and actions. Although Christ still found things in them to commend (Revelation 2:2-3 and Revelation 2:6), He wanted them to be as zealous in their faith and in putting that faith into practice as they had been when they were new believers.
To your question & I hope this makes sense: The church in Ephesus was praised by Paul for their great faith and great love for all God's people, which is important because Ephesus was a very "worldly" culture with many idols, false religions & gods, and evil and sinful sexual practices; they were burdened with a lot of heresy as well (Acts 20, like the teaching that grace was license to sin Eph 5:6, Rom 6:1). In ch 4 and first part of 5, Paul warns the Ephesians to keep themselves from lustful pleasures and impure sexual practices and from deceit. In Rev 2:2 they are commended for persevering and testing contemporary teachings against the Truth of the Gospel; and in v6 commended for abhorring the practice of the Nicolaitans which had to do with adultery in the form of cult prostitution or in the form of idolatry of Balaam. Given the history of Paul's warning, it doesn't take much to extrapolate that in the 30 years between Paul and John's vision, the church at Ephesus had fallen into idolatry. The wording "return to your first love" is akin to old testament passages in which God accuses the Israelites of being adulterous because they repeatedly broke commandments #1 & 2-- they forgot their first love. V5 admonishes them to repent and turn back to Christ. A second theory could have nothing to do with idolatry but instead a lost fervor and passion for God. In Ephesians 4, they are reminded to use their Spiritual gifts for works to the glory of God; Christ also instructed 2 things- Love God. Love people. You cannot do the latter without the former. The Ephesians were not as passionate about God anymore and therefore, their love of others had waned as well (which is why Rev 2:4 criticizes them of not loving God OR each other). Doctrine and hard work are never enough...without love, we are but "resounding gongs; we are nothing; we gain nothing (1Cor 13: 1-3)." So the short and sweet version: It doesn't really matter what their "good works" had been, or what ours are. If they are done with only our own glorification in mind or to check off a box, God doesn't credit that to us...we gain nothing. Only when we repent (as the Ephesians are instructed to do) and give our hearts, minds, souls and strength over to God, will we be changed and our works born out of a great love for God and translate to a great love for people.
What does first love look like in daily life? I believe there are lots of examples in scripture. As you read the New Testament, make a note of the most radical, non-conventional and unworldly responses of people to encounters with Jesus and/or his church. This is a picture of "first love" which means putting Jesus and his mission on the throne of our heart and keeping him there. Here are a few examples that came to mind: Peter and Andrew (Matt 4:21-22) Come, follow me, Jesus said, and I will make you fishers of men. At once they left their nets and followed him. Peter (John 6:68) Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal lifre. Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5-9) Jesus said, Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.... Look Lord, here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount....Jesus said, today salvation has come to this house... Paul (2Tim 4:7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. [spoken at the end of his life] Paul (2Cor 11:24-30) Worked mush harder, in prose on more frequently, flogged more severely, exposed to death again and again, 5 times received 39 lashes, 3 times beaten with rods, 1 time pelted with stones, 3 times shipwrecked, day & night in open sea, constantly on the move in danger from - rivers, bandits, fellow Jews, Gentiles, city, country, sea, false believers. Gone without sleep, hungry and thirsty, cold and naked. If I must boast Paul says, he will boast of the things that show his weakness. Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus said " Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For Iveas hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.... they replied, when did we do these things for you? The King [Jesus] will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me." Jesus test of first love is putting our relationship with our Heavenly Father in the first place in our lives [bible study, prayer, praise, thanksgiving] and loving all his brothers and sisters [fellowsip, service].
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