“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.”Revelation 2:2-5
God’s law forbids us to covet the blessings he has given to our neighbors. In forbidding us to covet, he commands us to delight in the blessings and mercies he has shown to our neighbors. He commands us to rejoice in and be thankful for the blessings he gives to us.
In addition, he calls us to desire the right things in the right way. This is what I want to point out from Revelation chapter two. Please note that the letters to the churches in Revelation are applicable to the church as a whole throughout redemptive history. You know this from the historical markers mentioned in the letters, such as Balaam (Rev. 2:14), the Nicolaitans (2:6, 15), and Jezebel (2:20). That means that you and I, and our churches, should learn from the letters of Christ to his churches in the book of Revelation.
Now, The Lord Christ commends the church of Ephesus. He says, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance.” This is a three-fold reference to the labors of the church. This grammatical construction is called a hendiatris. A hendiatris is a literary technique in which three items are joined together to point to and emphasize one idea. Paul used a hendiatris in Ephesians 5:19. “Psalms, hymns, and songs” are three items that refer to one thing, namely, the word of God. (See also Col. 3:16) Another example of this is John 14:6. There, Jesus says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” Three things are bound together in reference to and descriptive of One person, namely, Jesus.
In Revelation, Jesus uses a three-fold reference that describes the labors of the church at Ephesus. The work of the church is not always easy. Sometimes it is toilsome. It may be a labor of love, but sometimes it is absolutely challenging. We are called to persevere (Gal. 6:9; 2 Thess. 3:13). This is true personally as well as corporately. But let me bring us back to the point. We are to desire the right things in the right way. The church in Ephesus was laboring for her King. They were zealous in their labor. They were persistent and persevered. However, Jesus says he has something against the church at Ephesus. “You have left your first love.” They were desirous of the right things but they were desiring them unlawfully. It is no small thing that Jesus, who is the First and the Last, reproves his church for forgetting her First Love. From individuals to families, from families to churches, and from churches to communities and cities and states (did you see that hendiatris?), God’s people are called to be diligent in holding tight to the doctrines of Christ so as to be able to identify false teachings and false teachers. But we must be careful that we do not pursue one good thing to the exclusion of other good and necessary things. To give a personal example, I must be zealous to pursue being a faithful preacher and pastor. I must never do this to the exclusion and detriment of my family. I must be a good father. I may not be a good father to the detriment of being a godly husband. I must not pursue anything to the detriment of being a testimony for Jesus Christ. I must do all as a Christian.
I may covet the idea of being loving. However, I may not pursue love in a way that is out of accord with the teachings (doctrines) of Jesus Christ. Such love is unlikely to be true, lasting, biblical love. Likewise, I may strongly desire to be theologically accurate and doctrinally faithful. I may not pursue this apart from the love, mercy, and forgiveness that God demonstrated to me in giving his Son. (There was another one of those hendiatris things there. Did you see it?) We must be zealous for the whole counsel of God. We must be zealous to counsel one another with the whole counsel of God. We must do all these things by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria.