Recovering our first love

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I’ve been writing over the past week or two about how we encourage reform that affects church culture so that what we believe about grace affects how we live.  We’ve seen that central to that is seeing the importance of love as central to the mission of the church. Today, I want to talk a little bit more about how we encourage a culture of grace and love.

You may recall that a few weeks ago, we had a look at the book of Ephesians and saw that one of Paul’s primary concerns there was that the church should know and experience the love of Christ. I argued that this would happen through their knowledge and experience of the Gospel as God’s love was poured out into their lives and through their concern for each other as they submitted to one another.  This perhaps gives us some helpful background context to the very sad words that John was asked to write to them perhaps a couple of decades down the line.  Jesus appears to John and asks him to write the following to the Ephesians:

“4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. “[1]

Now, what makes those words particularly shocking is that this was written to a church that seems to have much of its doctrine and its ethics right.  They don’t tolerate false teachers, particularly those coming in and encouraging sinful behaviour. However, they are at risk of being shut down, of losing their candlestick and the only way to avoid this is heartfelt repentance. Loss of love is deeply serious.

Why is it serious?  Well, the implication has to be this, that the first love described is love of Christ himself.  There are I would suggest two dynamics at work here. The first is that love of Christ will mean adoration of him that arises out of deep gratitude for the Gospel. We love Christ because he first loved us, we love him because of his sacrificial death for us.  This should lead to awe, wonder and praise.

I think it is worth pausing to ask whether or not there is a sense coming through in our corporate worship that we love Jesus.  If our services become too functional whether because we are so desperate to be seeker sensitive or because we have become rather intellectual in our engagement with God’s Word, then that might be a warning sign that things are not as they should be.

Secondly, as we saw when looking at Ephesians that the church is the body of Christ so hat love for him will encompass love and care for the body.  How we treat and care for one another tells us something about our love for him and therefore it highlights whether or not we really have grasped the wonder and beauty of the Gospel. Why did Paul have such a big problem with the divisions over table fellowship in Galatians? It was because you could not claim to have grasped fully the reconciling work of the cross between God and man if it wasn’t having a reconciling affect between Jew and Gentile. You see, if as the Galatians and the Corinthians did, we treat some people as not being fully part of the family, then we are saying that you need something extra other than Christ and the Cross for salvation.

So, this is why it is so important that we keep looking and considering the evidence in front of us. Can we see evidence that our church is truly a place where love is shown, freely and willingly.

[1] Revelation 3:2-4.

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