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Having Zeal But Lacking Love – Ephesus

February 16th, 2010 · No Comments · Bible, Christianity, Church, Church of Christ, New Testament, Religion, Revelation

Wouldn’t you love to hear Christ say,

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary…” (Revelation 2:2-3).

You probably wouldn’t find a more zealous group of Christians than those Ephesians. The Ephesian culture was awash in emperor worship and all sorts of pagan practices. The temple to Artemis in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world and emperor worship was in its prime there when Revelation was written. Standing up for the truth was no easy task for Ephesian Christians. It takes zeal to stand up for the truth, especially when it is an unpopular point of view. But what might be even more difficult is to have the discretion to balance zeal and love all at the same time. That is where they were lacking.

Christ continues…”Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4). Ben Witherington, in his commentary on Revelation, believes the this agape love they have forsaken is love for one another (Revelation, 96). In all their zeal for the truth and stamping out false teaching love was kicked to the curb.

The two extremes:
It is easy to go to either extreme. One one end of the spectrum you have a and undiscerning love that doesn’t care about the truth and is accepting of any and everything. That isn’t godly. Notice that Christ commends the Ephesian Christians for their discernment and discretion in their ability to weed out wickedness and false teaching. The truth is still important and love alone does not supplant our need to be zealous.

On the other end of the spectrum you have Christians who are so zealous for the truth that they have lost sight of love. Some Christians today suffer from apathy but I wonder how many suffer from a loveless zeal? In standing up for the truth we must always maintain our love for one another, never neglecting the two greatest commandments. So while we may disagree on some issues and be zealous for the truth it should never come at the expense of love.

What makes it so hard to lovingly disagree or be zealous and loving at the same time?


No Comments so far ↓

  • glasseyedave

    Who says Ben Witherington is right? I know he does, but who else? I thought our first love was to be Christ?

    (Mat 10:37-8 NIV) “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

    I would guess the same Jesus who said the above is the same Jesus who told the church of Ephesus, they had left their first love, Him.

    How can it be?

    • mattdabbs


      Who is to say he is wrong? 😉 A decent argument can be made for either. In Paul letter to the Ephesians there was a strong connection made between Christ and his church. In the Letters of John he talked about the connection between loving and serving others and whether or not we really love God. The two are very much intertwined. The phrase “first love” doesn’t show up anywhere else in scripture so we have to connect the dots as best we can. In this context it wouldn’t mean that we are to love the church more than we love Christ but it would mean that if we don’t love the church we cannot love God, something very Johanine.

      To sum up, to despise the church or those in the church is to do the same to Christ. So the two are inextricably connected. Just a few things to think about. Take them for what you will.

  • Tim Archer

    I believe that Jesus is referring to the love they had at first. It’s interesting to see how many times the Ephesian church was warned in the New Testament to watch out for false teachers. This letters shows that they heeded the warning, but seemed to have missed Paul’s words: “speaking the truth in love.”

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  • Keith Brenton

    Who is to say that their first love didn’t involve both love for Christ and for others?

    “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of one of these, you have done it unto me.”

    • mattdabbs


      I think that is exactly the point. What makes it even better is 1 John where loving God and loving others go so hand in hand that it is impossible to do one without the other.

  • glasseyedave

    This is ultimate love for our brothers, to love God. We can not love our brother if we do not obey God’s commands.

    (1 John 5:2-3 NIV) This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,

    We will never know the rub Jesus had with them, but for us we know love isn’t expresses outside of obeying His commands, as some liberal thinkers of our day would like to make the church.

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