The Revelation to John contains seven letters to the seven churches from Jesus, each with it’s own series of commendations and rebukes. The letter to the Ephesian church reads as follows:
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned l 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. Yet this you have: you hate the works of o the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” (Rev. 2:2-7, emphasis mine).
In Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church, Alexander Strauch addresses both the theological and the practical implications of the abandonment of “the love [we] had at first” (Rev. 2:4), instructing his readers in both the problem of lost love and how to cultivate love within the church.
Regarding the problem, it’s not so much that the Ephesian church had stopped loving Jesus, it was that their love had become stale, mundane. “They still loved the Lord, but not like they did at first. They still loved one another, but not like before,” writes Strauch (p. 9). Their service was out of obligation, rather than joyful worship. Their study was, perhaps, merely academic, and not transformational. They lacked joy, spontaneity, energy, and creativity. When God’s people abandon their first love, they abandon their ability to love each other. Strauch rightly says that Jesus declares these two are inseparable companions.
But when our love for Christ is diminished, what happens? We tend to drift toward trusting “in external religious rituals, traditions, denominational distinctions, doctrinal correctness, and moralistic rules, while we overlook the essential, foundational elements of love for God and neighbor” (p. 19). We become like the Pharisees who “tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42), Strauch warns. We must, therefore, remember “from where [we] have fallen; repent, and do the works [we] did at first” (Rev. 2:5). We must learn to rekindle our love for Christ and for people.
The second half of Love or Die focuses on how we can rekindle our love. Through the study of love, we gain a better understanding of what the Bible really says about this important issue of the Christian life. Strauch even helpfully provides an appendix containing 50 key texts on love for readers to study and meditate on. By praying “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” (Eph. 3:19), we gain not only an intellectual understanding of His love, but an experiential and ultimately life-changing knowledge of it. By praying that God would grow our love for others, it will grow and overflow. “The more we see how inherently and perversely selfish we are, the more we recognize our need to ask God to help us to love,” says Strauch (p. 39). By teaching love, in our corporate gatherings, homes and small groups, we nurture love. “If you want your local church to be a loving, caring, Christlike church, then you must plan to teach the full spectrum of God’s principles of love… Teach the truth of God’s Word and give people principles of love to follow” (p. 49). We further nurture love in our church and our relationships as we model love, encouraging love in others through our example. Scripture provides several examples of men and women worthy of imitation in this regard, as so the biographies of departed saints such as R.C. Chapman and C.H. Spurgeon. Ultimately though, modelling of Christlike love falls to our church leaders and to Christian parents, says Strauch.
“Church leaders set the tone for the church community. If church leaders love, the people will love. If they are thoughtful, kind and caring, the people will be [also]… If leaders create an environment of love and hold themselves and others accountable to love, the people will flourish spiritually and many will imitate their example” (p. 55). Parents, likewise, who love, serve and reach out to people will, usually, produce children who do likewise.
We must guard love, by guarding ourselves against the temptation to love something else more than we love Christ. As there are many contenders for our love for Christ, we must always be vigilant, guarding our love for Christ against everything, even the cares of “this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). “When you sense your love falling to sleep, take corrective action immediately,” says Strauch. “The longer you wait, the harder it will be to awaken the spirit of love” (p. 62). Ultimately, we must be practitioners of love, not students. An academic knowledge of love is of no benefit if it does not transform our lives. Strauch rightly admonishes us that we must practice love and exhort others to do the same, just as the apostles did over and over again in their epistles. “Obedience to Christ’s commands to love leads to real growth in love” (p. 66). And as our love grows, so to will our joy.
I found this book to be incredibly helpful. Being both an introvert and an intellectually bent person, I was thoroughly convicted by Strauch’s loving and humble admonishment. The truth is, I struggle to love other people. I really (really!) like being alone. But if I’m not cultivating relationships with others and investing in them, encouraging my friends in their faith, I don’t really love them, do I? And if I only cultivate an intellectual knowledge of love, to the neglect of experiential knowledge of love, I don’t really know what love is, do I? I’m spending the next few days going through the study guide, spending time in the Scriptures and praying that God would grow my ability to love Him and others.
One who truly loves is not afraid to say something difficult. Alexander Strauch truly loves Jesus and truly loves the church. Read Love or Die; use the study guide. Study the Word and be transformed.
Title: Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church
Author: Alexander Strauch
Publisher: Lewis & Roth (2008)