I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
I find it interesting that when John left the Island of Patmos, many historians agree that he pastored the church of Ephesus. Most scholars agree that John wrote the book of 1 John in Ephesus after he wrote the Revelation on Patmos Island. This intrigues me for a couple of reasons. After seeing the apocalypse, instead of writing about secret societies and conspiracies, John’s writings become saturated in love. It makes me wonder if the book of 1 John was an attempt to help the church of Ephesus find its first love again? As John looked at the church in the last days was that his concern as well? The very first sentence in the first volume of The Conflict of the Ages series by Ellen White, starts with “God is love.” The very last sentence of the last volume of the series, is “God is love.” When John beheld the conflict of the ages in his visions, was he more impressed by love than he was beasts and dragons? Do John and the Spirit of prophecy agree that the conflict of the ages is actually all about love?
The letter to Ephesus is for anyone who has ears to hear.
But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Revelation 2:4 NLT
After the descent of the Holy Spirit, when the disciples went forth to proclaim a living Saviour, their one desire was the salvation of souls. They rejoiced in the sweetness of communion with saints. They were tender, thoughtful, self-denying, willing to make any sacrifice for the truth’s sake. In their daily association with one another, they revealed the love that Christ had enjoined upon them. By unselfish words and deeds they strove to kindle this love in other hearts…..
But gradually a change came. The believers began to look for defects in others. Dwelling upon mistakes, giving place to unkind criticism, they lost sight of the Saviour and His love. They became more strict in regard to outward ceremonies, more particular about the theory than the practice of the faith. In their zeal to condemn others, they overlooked their own errors. They lost the brotherly love that Christ had enjoined, and, saddest of all, they were unconscious of their loss. They did not realize that happiness and joy were going out of their lives and that, having shut the love of God out of their hearts, they would soon walk in darkness. –Ellen White, Acts of The Apostles, Pages 547-548
In his gospel, John writes about a conversation Jesus had with a Samaritan woman. She tried to engage Jesus into a theological debate when He told her,
But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. John 4:23 NLT
Some churches have the truth but they don’t have the Spirit. When James and John offered to call fire down on the Samaritans, they may have had the truth, but they didn’t have Christ’s Spirit. Apparently there were those in Ephesus who knew better than to believe the false doctrines of the Nicolations. They had the truth, they just didn’t have the Spirit of Christ. They lost their first love. I encourage you to read the entire book of 1 John to see how John encourages Ephesus along with us to regain our first love. For now, lets take a look at a few passage in particular,
Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8 NLT
Theology is the study of God. God is love. I don’t care if your church keeps the Sabbath, knows what happens when you die, and everyone eats veggie links, while talking about who the anti christ is, if your church does not practice love it is theologically incorrect. Maybe this is why John wrote about love all the time?
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:20-21 NLT
John is talking about Agape. Agape is the love God has for bad people. Since God is not bad He does not need agape, so John wants us to show our agape by loving our brother who is bad. When we realize God has given us agape we will share it with others. When we find it hard to forgive and love bad people, it is often because we don’t understand how much God loves and forgives us when we are bad. Once we believe God agapes us we will find it easy to agape our neighbor. I imagine the church of Ephesus lost its first love when it took its eyes off of the crucified Savior and started looking at the faults of others. I imagine we get our first love back when we return to the cross and consider the awesome sacrifice that was made there.
It is blasphemy for me to think Jesus gave His life for the sinner lying in the gutter, but I am too good to give my time or life to save such scum. What? Am I better than Jesus? Is my life more precious than His? If Jesus gave His life to save sinners shouldn’t I give mine as well?
I heard Wintley Phipps say, “We love God no more than the sinner we love the least.” I believe that resonates with the gospel according to John. I believe it resonates with the book of Revelation and the conflict of the ages. In Matthew 25:40 regarding last day events, Jesus says how we treat the least of these is how we treat Him. I think that is why the same John who wrote so much deep theology in Revelation also wrote about love so much.
You can study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.