Do you remember your first love? It probably happened at different times and looked a little different for each of us… but you know it happened because it was that time when you first “felt something” for someone. A flutter in your stomach… or maybe you felt sick when you were around him. Maybe the sight of her made you stumble over your words, or trip over your own feet.
There was a man who experienced something like this. He fell in love with a woman, and they ended up getting married, started a family, and they were in the “happily ever after stage of life” He worked a job that provided nicely for his family, allowed them to go on a nice vacation every year and have the things they needed, and then some.
This wasn’t the kind of man who spent every waking moment he could at work. This guy did the right things. He helped around the house. He was faithful to his wife. He attended the kids games and concerts as much as he could. He looked like a pretty good husband and father.
But then one day, he got a letter from his wife… and this is what the letter said:
You have been such a good husband. I see how hard you work. You provide for our family and take care of our needs. I appreciate that you make it a priority to come home from work in time for dinner almost every night. I’ve never doubted your faithfulness to me. Even when I was going through treatment, and it was hard… you took on even more responsibility until I was well enough to get back to it. You make our kids a priority and you never complain. And I thank you for all that…
Things are looking pretty good so far… he thought about not finishing the letter because it started off so well, and maybe he should’ve stopped reading, because the rest of the letter shifted in tone as she continued…
But… there’s one thing that you are lacking that’s very important to me.. You don’t love me anymore. You’re doing your duty, but you lack the desire… you lack the heart. And I’m asking you to love me again.
You’re probably wondering what this woman was talking about, and Roy is wondering the same thing. The first thing that came to his mind was all the men he worked with who didn’t come home for dinner, who did travel for work all the time, who never made it home for the kids games and concerts, talked bad about their wives at work, were disrespectful to them at home, and were unwilling to help around the house.
He read through the first part of the letter again… he looked at the things he was doing… and he asked himself, what more does she want from me?
Is there anything I can do that would be enough for her?
Roy spent some time thinking about this and ended up calling a trusted friend to see if he could shed some light on the letter her received.
His friend asked him, “do you spend enough time at home?” He thought about it… added up the hours he was at work vs. at home, and determined there was no way that he could spend more time at home and still be employed.
Okay… well, his friend asked “do you tell her that you loves her?”… and he thought about the last week… and he remembered that every morning as he walked out the door to go to work, he told his wife that he loved her and he kissed her on the cheek. And when he got home from work, he kissed her on the cheek and told her that he loved her.
His friend then asked… “do you give her gifts?” And he thought about her birthday, and their anniversary, and valentines day, and all the gifts he gives her and determined that he was a fairly good gift giver.
His friend was stumped, and he said, “Roy, tell me about your whole relationship to see if something might stick out to me.”
And Roy started at the beginning… they had an economics class together in college… and during the first day of class, she sat diagonally in front of him… she sat in just the right spot that he could glance over at her without anyone noticing… and he glanced over… a lot.. he noticed her brown hair and fair skin… but the thing that he
loved the most were her eyes… the first time he saw Suzanne, he wanted to marry her.
But he knew he had to get her attention, and he knew it wouldn’t be with his eyes, skin, or hair. So he knew he had to chase her. He started by quitting his job in the mailroom where he made $9.75 an hour and took a job at a local gas station that paid minimum wage… because she worked there. He recalled that on his first day on the job, he was so excited to be with her, he bent over, picked a few flowers that reminded him of her, and left them on her windshield. No note. Just flowers.
One day, they discovered their mutual love for Chic-Fil-A, so they decided to get lunch together on their break, and after that “date”, Roy was so excited, he picked some flowers he saw growing and put them on her windshield.
When she had to call off work because she was sick, he made chicken noodle soup with crackers and ginger ale and delivered it to her house… and on the way he saw some beautiful flowers that reminded him of Suzanne, so he bent over, picked them and delivered them with the food…
That’s when Suzanne realized that he was the one who had been leaving her awkward bouquets of flowers.
When they finally started dating, Roy was ecstatic to be called the boyfriend of Suzanne. He was always looking for ways to honor her, to show her that he loved her, to make her feel special… and it never felt like an inconvenience to Roy because he was crazy about Suzanne. And every once in a while, he’d see flowers growing that reminded him of her… and he’d bend over, pick them, and leave them on her windshield.
And while Roy was describing all these things, his friend stopped him and said… are you still ecstatic to be Suzanne’s husband? Do you still know how lucky you are to married to a woman who cares so deeply for you? A woman who is a wonderful mother?
Roy took a step back… and began to stumble over his words… and before he could speak… his friend chimed again…
He said: when you realized how great she was…at first…you did things that seemed crazy because of your love… you stopped at nothing to express your love for her… you quit your job… you chased her…. And now, you’re doing good things, but have you forgotten how great she is?
Have you ever had this first love? Even if you’re single now, you probably had a time when you had this kind of love. Maybe it was when you were on the playground at school… or maybe it’s right now…
Most relationships start by realizing how great, wonderful, or beautiful someone is… Several years ago there was a sitcom on NBC called The Office, and we saw this first love play out between Pam and Jim. The pursuit. Jim did anything and everything he could to woo Pam, because he understood how good of a thing he had. He knew how lucky he would be to have her.
But Roy had forgotten how great Suzanne was. And Suzanne knew that while Roy was still good to her, his good deeds were routine, not rooted in love… and without love… the good things would not last. You can only go through the motions for so long before eventually you stop going through the motions. You need love.
There was a church in the town of Ephesus that the Apostle Paul visited and shared the gospel with. Paul knew he was up against a lot when he first entered this town because this was like New York for us. A lot of people passed through this city to get to other places… it was like a central hub… a lot of business took place here… and because of all this, there was a lot of religious diversity… there were shrines and idols made and sold for nearly any god you could dream up.. And so when Paul rolls in and told the people about Jesus, he was worried about their response.
He went into the city and he told the people about how God came as a man in the person of Jesus to bring the world back into right relationship with himself… and they were blown away. This was unlike any of the other gods that they had heard about. All the other gods would do good things for you if you would do good things for them… but not Jesus.
Paul told them that they didn’t have to earn God’s love or eternal salvation, but that it was freely given to them because Jesus already paid the penalty that they deserved.
When you think about it, this is really good news. You deserved death, but God gives you life. God took your death upon himself so that you wouldn’t have to die…
Think about it like this. Imagine that you fell off a boat and are stranded in the middle of the ocean, with no one in sight. Just as you’re about to give up because you can’t bear to swim anymore you see a man coming over the horizon… and he has a life vest. One life vest… and he’s wearing it. When he gets to you, he takes the life vest off himself and gives it to you… and by doing so, he saves your life. But this act of love results in his death.
That’s what Paul told the Ephesians Jesus did for them. And when they heard this, they were like Roy at the beginning of his relationship with Suzanne… they were ecstatic to be called sons and daughters of God. They realized how fortunate they were to be saved by grace. They knew how lucky they were to have God. And their lives reflected it, like Roy for Suzanne, or Jim for Pam.
Decades later, the church in Ephesus got a letter just like Roy’s. And here’s what it said…
To the Church in Ephesus:
I know your deeds,your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
Just like Roy, the church in Ephesus probably asked themselves, what is he talking about? Is there anything we can do that will be enough? They not only thought they were doing the right things, Jesus tells them that they ARE doing the right things! They have kept the teachings of Paul… they went through hard times because of their faith, but they persevered in it.
But just like Suzanne, Jesus says, “you’ve forgotten your first love.” You’re going through the motions… you’re doing the right things… but without love, you’ll eventually stop going through the motions… and you don’t love me.
Do you remember the first time you came to faith in Jesus Christ? You may have realized that you didn’t measure up to your own standards of good, let alone God’s perfect standard, and that you deserved death… but… in grace and love… God came and took your punishment on himself.
And at first, you maybe realized how desperately you needed God… at first, you realized how great God was…. How lucky you were to have him.
But it’s so easy for us to end up like the Ephesians… at first we were dependent on God… but then we see how good of a job we’re doing. I’m a pretty good person. I can do the right things… God should be thankful I’ve stuck around this long considering the stuff I’ve been through… And then we end up going through the motions of faith, but we forget our dependence on God and then we lose our first love for God.
But Jesus wanted the church in Ephesus to remember, and he wants us to remember today, how desperately we need him… without him is death, and with him his life. When we realize our need for him, when we realize how great he is… we’re drawn closer to him.
The hard part about this text in Revelation is that it’s not a call to do something, it’s a call to remember how great God is. And when we remember how great God is and how fortunate we are to be called his sons and daughters, we will awaken the first love we had.
I don’t know exactly what it looks like in your life to awaken the first love you had for God… but I can tell you how it played out in Roy’s life.
After he got done talking to his friend, and remembered how great his wife was… and how lucky he was to have her.. And ran home to tell her… and on his way… he saw some flowers that reminded him of her… and he bent over… picked them up… and he left them on her windshield.
For the past several months, 14 students from our church have been going through confirmation. They’ve been learning about who God is, what he’s done, and the life he calls us all to live. But students, this isn’t the end for you… this isn’t graduation… this is a pit stop along the way of the journey of faith. I hope that it has been a refresher of the things you’ve learned from the church and from your parents about the goodness of God. My hope is that it has instilled in you a first love for God.
And for the rest of us, this is a chance for us to do a self-check. Are we living out our faith without our first love, like the Ephesians? And if so, what will it look like for us to bend over… pick a few flowers growing and leave them on God’s windshield? Our God is a good God, and he is worthy of all the flowers we could ever pick.