When Doctrine Isn’t Enough

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. (Revelation 2:4-5)

What we see in the church at Ephesus was how their desire for orthodoxy and the exclusion of error had created a climate of suspicion and mistrust in which brotherly love could no longer flourish. Their eager pursuit of truth had to some degree soured their affections one for another. It’s one thing not to “bear with those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2), but it’s another thing altogether when that intolerance carries over to your relationship with other Christ-loving Christians!

Our Lord does not leave the Ephesians and their problem without a solution. Note the three terse commands of verse 5. Before doing so, however, observe what he does not recommend: he does not suggest that they become theologically lax, tolerant of error, or indifferent toward truth! In other words, don’t try to cure one problem in a way that will create another.

So, then, here’s his counsel. First, “remember . . . from where you have fallen” (v. 5a). Here their love is pictured as a height from which they had descended. To remember is to reflect and meditate on the peak of brotherly affection they once enjoyed. Recall the former fervor and let the memory of its joys and satisfaction stir you again to mutual devotion. Second, “repent” (v. 5b). Simply put, stop . . . then start. Stop the coldhearted disregard for one another—and for Jesus—and start cultivating that affection you formerly had. Third, “do.” In particular, do “the works you did at first” (cf. Heb. 6:10).

How important is it that the Ephesians strive by God’s grace to cultivate and sustain a passionate affection for both Christ and Christian? I’ll let Jesus answer that question. If you don’t repent, he solemnly warns, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:5).

What this means is that failure to comply will lead to the imminent termination of their influence or public witness (cf. 11:3–7, 10; see also Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16) as a body of believers. The “coming” of Jesus in verse 5 is not the second advent at the end of history but a “coming” in preliminary judgment and discipline of this church (cf. 2:16); the second advent, however, is probably in view in 2:25 and 3:11. It may even be that Jesus is threatening the end of this congregation’s historical existence. I trust that such is enough to convince us all how important “love” is in the body of Christ!

Doctrinal precision is absolutely necessary. But it isn’t enough. May God grant us grace to love others with no less fervor than we love the truth.

 Adapted from Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, Kindle Edition

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