Summary: There are times when a church, however successful, must review the basics: do we love those whom we serve, are we able to love those with whom we disagree, and can we feel sheer, passionate love for Christ Himself?
Where I come from, the real religion is basketball. Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics all take a distant back seat, because the real religion in the Commonwealth of Kentucky is basketball. No spring day goes by without every schoolboy finding his way to the hoops to do lay-ups and to dream about playing in Rupp Arena, wearing the blue and white of the University of Kentucky Wildcats.
And so this boy, at the age of ten, idolized the Fabulous Five. That’s THE Fabulous Five, the 1948 Kentucky club. Your school may have had a fabulous five, but it wasn’t this fabulous five. These were the originals. Bill Spivey, whom they always announced as standing 7 feet, one and one-quarter inches. Not sure why if you are already that far into the stratosphere that last quarter inch needs to be mentioned, but it was. Ralph Beard, the fastest thing on two feet. Cliff Hagan, every mother’s dream, with his dashing good looks and his deacon’s demeanor. These guys had a winning streak of twenty-five games, and I was obsessed with listening to them on my scratchy old radio. If the Lord had called me home to heaven that year, I would have asked that my mansion be built in Lexington behind the scorer’s table. It was a great season.
Now Kentucky plays in the Southeastern Conference. Incidentally, in case you missed it, they just this week won that conference title again, for the 37th time! The Southeastern Conference includes some fine teams, but it has its share of also-rans, the really bad clubs. And the baddest of the bad that year was Georgia Tech. Everybody beat Georgia Tech. Where Kentucky had won twenty-five games, Tech had lost twenty-five games. And now they were to play each other twice, home and home, first in Atlanta and then in Lexington.
Everybody knew how those games would come out. It was no contest. Georgia Tech was so bad, in fact, that Kentucky didn’t even put its Fabulous Five out to start the game. They were very confident.
But Georgia Tech pulled out a slowdown strategy against Kentucky’s patented fast break, and I remember sagging limply into my chair when the game was over and lowly Tech had beaten mighty Kentucky. I think the score was something like 58-55. Unbelievable, humiliating!
But never mind, we’ll get ’em next week, especially in Lexington. Nobody beats Kentucky in Lexington. Wrong! The very same thing happened. The worst of the worst beat the best of the best. Incredible! Everybody waited to see what Coach Adolph Rupp would do about this.
The very next morning he had the Wildcats out in the gym. And what do you think he had them doing? Learning some fancy new strategy? Developing some sophisticated new defense? Not at all. He had them dribbling the ball; shooting free throws; practicing passing; rehearsing defense. He had them working on the basics, just the rock bottom basics.
You see, they had gotten so good at what they did that they forgot to pay attention to the basics. They had become so sophisticated, so complicated, that they had lost sight of just the plain vanilla fundamentals. The coach knew that the reason they were defeated was that they had become so over-confident, so cocky, that they had abandoned the fundamental things you have to do when you play basketball.
It’s good to be accomplished. It’s good to know many things. It’s fine to be sophisticated. But if you have lost track of some basics, you’re going to lose out. It’s time to get back to basics.
The Lord Jesus said to the Church at Ephesus, you are accomplished. You’ve done some fine things. I commend you for it all. "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." Or, as another translation puts it, "You have lost your first love." Church, you need to go back to basics; you need to remember what church is all about. "I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first."
Let’s look at what the Christians at Ephesus had accomplished and see if we can figure out how they abandoned the love they had.
First, the Lord tells the church, "I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance." I know your works. You have been busy. You have accomplished a good deal. You have stayed by the stuff. And that’s great. But, in the midst of all your hard work, you have abandoned the love you had at first.
I think He is talking about the love they had for the world around them. The love they had for a lost and dying world. It was that love that motivated them to be a busy and working church there in Ephesus. But they had gotten so busy being busy they had abandoned their love for others.