“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God. (NLT)
One of the great tragedies of this world is a love which has grown cold. No one simply wakes in the morning and deliberately decides to withhold love. Instead, love is one of those qualities which needs continual attention. Love must be cultivated and tended. Small decisions of procrastination in overlooking the growing weeds in love’s garden or wandering away and forgetting to wander back are the more common ways of a love which is withering.
It is probably inevitable that love will ebb and flow because love is one of those wondrous animations which never remains still. Love is always moving, either growing with life each day or becoming small. In either case, the critical element to love is the lover’s attention to its object of love because it takes time for love to both develop into something beautiful and, conversely, to devolve into a shell of its former self.
So, I have just presented an agrarian metaphor. After all, I spent my entire childhood on an Iowa farm. There are yet other metaphors and images of love we can use. The Apostle John’s received revelation mentions the churches as “lampstands,” imaging Christians as light. Like the use of an electrical dimmer switch, we can control how bright the light can shine to observe all that it in the room. Or, we can lower the illumination to suit the purpose. Whichever image we employ with love, it rarely stands still or remains the same. Love does wax and wane over time.
For love to endure it needs both duty and delight. Delight in love’s object without duty is mere sentiment. And duty without delight is maintaining the forms of love yet eviscerating it of all feeling and meaning. Couples and people grow apart when they cannot or will not hold both duty and delight together over a long period of time.
What is amazing to me about Revelation chapter two is that the risen and ascended Christ personally addresses the churches, his bride. I detect in the words of Jesus to the church at Ephesus a wound of the heart, a hurt in which duty has continued and delight has ebbed away. Jesus was looking for love, and he was finding his bride dutifully soldiering on with perseverance under suffering and yet drained of those little things that lovers do in the early days of their relationship – things which thoroughly express delight.
Oh, I really do get it. Being under continued hard circumstances can wear on us. In the effort to simply make it, we can retreat into the singular focus of getting necessary things done. And Jesus most certainly noticed and affirmed the Ephesian’s herculean effort of maintaining the hard work of faith in the middle of adversity. Since duty and delight need one another, Jesus knew it would not be long until the duty part of the equation would give way, unable to bear the weight of being out of balance.
What was at risk for the Ephesian church was both their love for Jesus and love for one another. In another pair of loves meant to be held together, Jesus and his people are inseparable. To love the one is to love the other, and vice versa. The answer to the inability of holding love’s duty and delight, and love’s objects of God and each other is to turn around and begin again to do the things you did at first when the relationship was fresh. Paying attention to the little things adds up to a wondrous pile of love.
One of the lessons here is that all of us who value a strong work ethic must be thoroughly and continually motivated by a compassionate and generous spirit, or our love grows cold and becomes worthless. We must pay attention or find that we lose ourselves. The Apostle Paul addressed the same sort of malformed love to the church at Corinth:
“I may speak in different languages, whether human or even of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am only a noisy bell or a ringing cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, I may understand all secrets and know everything there is to know, and I may have faith so great that I can move mountains. But even with all this, if I don’t have love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have to help others, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned. But I gain nothing by doing all this if I don’t have love…. So, these three things continue: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 13, ERV)
Receive today this blessing, my friends:
When you find your love has drifted and has fallen out of delight, may you pause, feel the strain, and open to Love’s possibilities once again.
When your words and your actions are mundanely parroted day in and day out, may you again hear the song of Love’s first music within you.
When you discover affection is unraveling, replaced with a staid duty, may your soul be kissed once again with Love’s tender touch.
Now is the time to take the chalice of Love and drink deeply of the divine, reawakening to the longing of Love which has lain dormant within.
For God is Love, and Love is God. With God, it is always Spring.