The condition that existed in the churches in Ephesus has always existed in local churches. Ephesus sets before us the issue of fundamentalism, which is the appearance of a bustling church outwardly sound, but lacking in love for Christ. The Ephesian church could have possibly been an affluent church in need of nothing, and also perhaps had a number of intellectuals and influential people in the community. Ephesus had the busy, structurally sound and active church standing up to its task. We can also imagine that there were all kinds of meetings for all kinds of people in the church, much like our churches have today. Corporately and individually they were fully occupied. However, while there was plenty of activity, there was no blessing. The church of Ephesus had works, labor, and patience, but it had lost the faith, the hope and His love. By contrast, Paul commended the thriving church in Thessalonica for their work of faith, their labor of love and their patience of hope. (See 1 Thessalonians 1:3)
In Revelation 2:2 John reports, “Thou canst not hear them which are evil.” Ephesus had been standing for the truth. The conduct of some believers in Corinth at that time would never have been tolerated in Ephesus. No man impure in conversations, living immorally, or convicted of lying would have continued in fellowship. They would have been judged and, if necessary, put out of the fellowship of believers, because high standards of discipline would be maintained.
In Revelation 2:3, John says, “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for my name’s sake and have not become weary.” The Ephesian church was also standing the test. It was not easy to do this in Ephesus, because opposition and persecution were a reality, but they kept persevering year after year despite the lack of fruit and poor results. They may not have been fruitful, but they were certainly faithful. They had struggled on and God had commended them for it. When Paul had written to the Ephesians he remembered that they were made alive with Christ, raised with Christ, and seated in the heavenlies with Christ. (See Ephesians 2:5-6)
In Revelation 2:4-5, John says, “Thou art fallen” and “You have left your first love.” How sorrowful might this knowledge have been to the Ephesian church, that the one who commended them saying, “I know and appreciate your works, labor and perseverance,” also looked behind the extraneous and external trappings of their church and said “I have something against you. You have left your first love.” The one who walked in their midst and who held the messenger of the church in his hand was disappointed. While we should note that here it does not say “lost,” rather “left,” the Lord still indeed saw and felt the absence of the fresh, fervent and foremost love they once had. God was the enthusiasm, excitement, exuberance and energy of their first love. There is no doubt that they had been fond of the Lord. They loved him with a phileo love. But the fervor, order, and passion of their former agape love had gone. The Ephesians had become more occupied with their service than with their Savior, and were so busy working for the Lord that they had no time for loving the Lord. This meant that there was a lack of fruit bearing in their church. Any service or worship for God that is not born of a devoted passion for the Lord Jesus is therefore worthless and has no fruit bearing potential.
Let us look back at the use of the phrase “Thou art fallen” in Revelation 2:5. Remember that this fallen state is the case for all of humanity, as we learn from the Fall in the Garden of Eden. (See Genesis 3) In this one terse statement in Revelation, the Lord sums up the problem of the world and all humanity! As an example, note the story of when Rehoboam became king of Israel in 1 Kings 12. He acted as a fool by ignoring the advice of his father’s trusted advisors, seeking the advice of inexperienced younger friends. To humble him, God allowed the Egyptians to invade Judea and carry away the golden shields that Solomon had provided for the temple guard. Rehoboam took the loss in stride. He made shields of brass instead. They would do - they looked like gold! The shields would shine in the sun just the same. (See 1 Kings 14:25-28) This is similar to what had happened at Ephesus and what has happened in many fundamental churches and assemblies. The enemy had thieved away the gold of their first love and substituted the brass of service. In 1 Corinthians 13:1 Paul describes duty devoid of love as a “sounding brass and clanging cymbal.”
Here in Revelations 2:5-7, John issues quite a solemn warning to the Ephesians: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.” Except where there is repentance, then, there can be only one result: the testimony of the gospel will be extinguished, and their lamp of light to the darkness will be allowed to go out. So we can see from this passage that agape love for Christ is paramount, predominant, and preeminent for fruitful service for Him. The church’s existence depends upon this love, and to try and function without it is worse than useless!