OH HOW I LOVED JESUS
The late Francis Schaeffer once observed that “the meaning of the word Christian has been reduced to practically nothing.… Because the word Christian as a symbol has been made to mean so little, it has come to mean everything and nothing” (The Mark of the Christian [Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1970], 11). The term Christian in contemporary usage can mean anyone who is not Jewish, anyone who lives in a “Christian” nation (as opposed, for example, to a Buddhist or an Islamic one), or anyone who claims any kind of allegiance to Jesus Christ. The term evangelical is following the same trend toward imprecision.
But though the world may be confused about what a Christian is, the Bible is clear. Christians are those who are savingly united to God through Jesus Christ, those whom “God has chosen … from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13; cf. Luke 18:7; Rom. 8:33; Eph. 1:4; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4; 2 Tim. 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1–2; 2:10). As a result, they have exercised saving faith in the only Savior (Acts 4:12), the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:15–18, 36; 5:24; 6:47; Rom. 1:16; 4:5; 10:10; 1 John 5:1), and repented of their sins (Rom. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). God has forgiven their sins (Acts 10:43; Eph. 1:7; 1 John 1:7, 9; Rev. 1:5), made them His children (Rom. 8:16–17; Gal. 4:7; Eph. 1:5; 5:1, 8; Phil. 2:15; 1 John 3:2), and transformed them into new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17) indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:17; Rom. 8:4, 9, 11, 14; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Gal. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:14; 1 John 3:24).
Many things characterize Christians, including reverential fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 2:12; 1 Pet. 1:17), a desire to imitate Him (Eph. 5:1; 1 John 2:6), holiness (Matt. 5:48; 2 Cor. 7:1; Titus 2:11–12; Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 1:15–16; 2:24; 2 Pet. 3:11), and obedience (John 10:27; 14:21; 15:14; Rom. 1:5; 16:26; Heb. 5:9; 1 Pet. 1:2; 1 John 3:24). But the supreme characteristic of a Christian is love for his Lord and God. When challenged to name the single greatest commandment of the law, Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment” (Matt. 22:37–38). He challenged His disciples to make love for Him the highest priority of their lives: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37–38). In John 14:21, 23 He added, “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” True children of God, Jesus declared, will love Him (John 8:42; cf. 1 Pet. 1:8) and be known by Him (1 Cor. 8:3). To discern Peter’s spiritual condition, Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:15–17). Paul defined Christians as those controlled by “the love of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:14). Those who love Jesus Christ are blessed (Eph. 6:24); those who do not are cursed (1 Cor. 16:22). While love for the Lord Jesus Christ will always be present in true Christians, it can fluctuate in its intensity. Christians will not always love Jesus Christ with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to fail to do so is sin. There is no better illustration in Scripture of the seriousness of allowing love for Christ to wane than this letter to the church at Ephesus.
Christ walked in their midst.
Christ sends a word to his messenger.
Perhaps no church in history had as rich a heritage as the congregation at Ephesus. The gospel was introduced to that city by Paul’s close friends and partners in ministry, Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:18–19). They were soon joined by the eloquent preacher and powerful debater Apollos (Acts 18:24–26). Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos laid the groundwork for Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.
The apostle Paul stopped briefly in Ephesus near the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19–21), but his real ministry in that key city took place on his third missionary journey. Arriving in Ephesus, he first encountered a group of Old Testament saints, followers of John the Baptist (Acts 19:1–7). After preaching the gospel to them, he baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 19:5). That began Paul’s work of building the church at Ephesus—a work that would last for three years (Acts 20:31). Later, on his way to Jerusalem near the end of his third missionary journey, he taught the elders of the Ephesian church the essential principles of church leadership (Acts 20:17–38), the gist of which he later expanded in his pastoral epistles. Paul’s protégé Timothy served as pastor of the church at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:16, 18) and Tychicus (2 Tim 4:12), two more of Paul’s fellow laborers, also ministered at Ephesus. Finally, according to the testimony of the early church, the apostle John spent the last decades of his life at Ephesus, from which he likely wrote his three epistles in which he calls himself “the elder” (cf. 2 John 1; 3 John 1). He was no doubt leading the Ephesian church when he was arrested and exiled to Patmos.
The example of the Ephesian church warns that doctrinal orthodoxy and outward service cannot make up for a cold heart. Believers must carefully heed Solomon’s counsel: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). Those whose love for God has cooled would do well to heed the exhortation Hosea addressed to backsliding Israel:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity. Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity and receive us graciously, that we may present the fruit of our lips. Assyria will not save us, we will not ride on horses; nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’ to the work of our hands; for in You the orphan finds mercy.” (Hos. 14:1–3)
And to those who return to Him God promises, “I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely” (Hos. 14:4).