The implication from Revelation 2:2, 7 is that the works of which Christ is concerned are the works of overcoming—overcoming human nature or, as in I John 2:15-17, overcoming "the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes, and the pride of life." In addition, we must work to overcome the persecutions, deceits, and persuasions of Satan and the influences of the world.
Using God's love is hard work because there is a constant downward pull in these three areas: the self, the world, and Satan. The influence to go that way is always there. It is constant.
It was no accident, no coincidence, that Christ places the message to Ephesus first in order, and that its subject is love in context with overcoming. Christ says in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." It takes the love of God to keep the commandments in the spirit—in their intent—and it is love working and active when they are kept. I John 5:3 says, "This is the love of God, that you keep His commandments." So, when we keep His commandments, we are expressing love. It is working, in action.
If a person's love for Christ—keeping the commandments—diminishes, what happens? If the love for Christ diminishes, does that not imply the keeping the commandments will be less frequent? Doing the right works will begin to diminish. Here is the connection between love and right works. If the love is present, the right works will be produced.
If a person loses his love for Christ altogether, he is in bad trouble—"Goodbye, Christianity! Sayonara!" That is the end.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Loving Christ and Revelation 2:1-7
Understand that these people had not "lost" their first love. They had the Spirit of God; the love was there! But they had left their first love. They were not using it. They had become weary with all of the stresses that had affected their lives and all of the pressures upon their minds. So they were leaving the love, but the Spirit of God was there, the Spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7). These people needed to get turned around. They had become apathetic regarding spiritual things, becoming without feeling, because of these stresses.
The book of Hebrews amplifies, provides reasons for, and advises on how to recapture the zeal for what they had formerly loved with a great deal of emotion and enthusiasm. It does this by reminding us of the immense value of the awesome gifts that God has given us. And, of course, it instructs us in what we should do with them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
After identifying Himself to the Ephesians, Jesus begins His letter by informing the church that He knew their works, both collectively and individually (Revelation 2:2-3). He knew their attitudes, thoughts, desires, goals - everything about them! He knew their hearts better than they did, just as He knows ours today.
He tells them He was aware of everything they had gone through - how they had endured much persecution, suffering, and agony because of apostasy and intolerance. He knew of their fortitude in standing for the truth and what a labor it was to persevere, though they never gave in to weariness.
He then mentions how they had rejected false leaders and their subversions. They would not listen to those who tried to pervert the truth and change doctrine, and they stood fast in opposing them once they found such to be liars. He knew how hard they tried to keep the laws and principles of the truth the true apostles had taught them.
In this description, as well as from the history of the first-century church from the book of Acts and the epistles of the apostles, we see a church that had fallen apart despite the strenuous efforts of some members to hang on to the truth. It was a church that had let something vital slip out of its grasp amidst the mounting trials and persecutions of the times.
Christ brings to their attention that they had lost their first love, the ardent desire to please God (verse 4). Their focus had shifted from where it should have been to the problems and the events happening around them. The strife generated by angry words, bad attitudes, friends and family leaving their fellowship, and teachings being changed took its toll on everyone. The byproducts that such turmoil produced were mistrust and suspicion.
As Matthew 24:12 says prophetically, "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold."
Humanly, we might think that God would consider the Ephesians' efforts to hang on to the truth against the apostasy as sufficient, but it is obvious that He does not. For our eternal good, He expects more of us. However, He does not leave us without guidance about how to recapture what we have lost.
Why is first love so important to God? First love is the purest kind of spiritual love we as humans can demonstrate. It is a love that truly shows one's heart is completely given to God. What does first love produce? Paul answers in II Thessalonians 1:3:
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is fitting, because your faith grows exceedingly, and the love of every one of you all abounds toward each other.
He also writes in Hebrews 6:10,
For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.
True love of God always promotes love of the brethren and love toward fellow man.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Recapture Your First Love!
Any saint who has sorted right from wrong doctrine, discerned good from evil leadership, and patiently continued to labor in Christ's name can identify with Ephesus! Identifying today's false apostles was not initially easy either, but many have seen how church leaders have turned true grace into lawlessness and voided God's law from their lives (Jude 4; Psalm 119:126; Romans 3:31). If we have continued in patience and good works, we can be encouraged by Christ's initial words to Ephesus, for they apply to us in principle, if not directly.
The Seven Churches: Ephesus
With Ephesus, we are looking at a people who had not so much drifted from the doctrines but had changed in the way that they respected and applied them. The book of Hebrews was written to the Hebrew people in the first century who were drifting. The Ephesus letter applies directly to them.
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip away. (Hebrews 2:1)
The letter to Ephesus shows that they had let them slip or were in the process of doing so.
For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him. (Hebrews 2:2-3)
The Ephesians had become neglectful losing their devotion to this way of life. This is a very stern warning: "I will remove your candlestick." He advises them, "Repent. Go back."
One cannot go back to something that he did not previously have. This is a key to our separation from God. It will be a major key in re-unifying us-going back to what we had before: repenting, turning, going back. We must never forget that we are involved in a relationship with a real live Being, and He is not just any being but the One that we are to marry.
Would we want to marry someone who could take us or leave us? That is what happened to these people: They had lost their devotion to the relationship. They still had the doctrines, but their devotion was gone. They did not cherish Him anymore. They did not cherish the relationship, even though they had not walked away from the doctrines. So He says, "Turn. Go back."
It is good to recognize a hopeful sign-that it does not say that they had "lost" their first love but that they had "left" it. The power to love was still residing in them, but they would have to stir themselves up and use it. Love is what one does out of consideration for making the relationship better than it had ever been before. They needed to stir up the Spirit within them and return to the same zeal and devotion that they had shown at the beginning of their conversion.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Four)
To each church in the letters in Revelation 2 and 3, Christ says, "I know your works." People with an incomplete knowledge of Christianity will argue almost endlessly and quite vociferously that no works are needed for salvation. These people are simply, if energetically and zealously, confused.
Salvation is indeed a free gift; it cannot be earned by anyone's works. But that does not mean Christianity has no works. Why would Christ say, "I know your works," if He did not expect people to have them as part of their way of life, as part of Christianity, and if He was not, in most cases, disappointed at the way that the people were working? Christianity does have works as a major part of its makeup.
Herbert Armstrong used to explain salvation and grace and works in an understandable and accurate way. He said, "If I freely offered to give to you one million dollars, but you have to meet the condition of walking across the room to get it, you haven't earned the money by simply walking across the room. You worked during the walk, you met a condition, but the money was still a gift. If the gift had not been offered in the first place, no amount of walking across the room would have earned it. You could have walked from here to Tokyo if you wanted to, and it still would not have earned you that gift. The gift had to be freely offered first."
Think of this in terms of eternal life. No amount of work, no degree of quality of work, can earn that gift for us. We do not have immortality inherent in us, for immortality is something that must be given as a gift. This is what God offers us. He offers us the opportunity to be born again into the Kingdom of God, thus receiving the gift of eternal life. It must be given and received as a gift. However, it is given on the conditions of faith, repentance, and remaining loyal to Him and to His way.
It is in the area of loyalty that works play a major role. We show our loyalty by the way we talk, what we talk about, who we fellowship with, and what we do with our time, our knowledge, and energy. In short, we show our loyalty by our works—that is, by our conduct—and what we produce with what we have been given.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love and Works
Consider that this is Christ's message to His church just before the end, and this is what is most important for His people as we approach the end. Doctrine is mentioned seven times. Is that interesting in light of the times in which we live? We are seeing a major part of the church going haywire on doctrine! Is there something in the letter to Thyatira that mentions things that are happening in that group?
The letters contain at least eleven warnings to these seven churches but also at least twelve promises. Christ mentions faith, patience, conduct, and doctrine. But the two greatest, related concerns for His church at the end are works (Revelation 2:2,9,13,19; 3:1,8, 15) and overcoming (Revelation 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21).
Today, an awful lot of people are interested in church government at this time. It is not even mentioned by Christ! There are people who are interested in rituals, sacraments, and ceremonies, of which would be things like baptism or the Passover. But nothing in the seven letters alludes to these things. Nor is there anything in them about preaching the gospel around the world. These things have their place, but what we see is Christ's concern with doctrine, conduct, warnings to repent, and promises of reward.
Now these things that are not mentioned are less important than faith, repentance, and holiness, all of which directly impact on doctrine, conduct, and receiving the promises. All of these are bracketed between His statements about works and overcoming.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 2:2:
2 Thessalonians 3:10-13
2 Timothy 4:3-4