Summary: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’. But is the same statement true when it is applied to our relationship with God? Is the same statement true when it is applied to our relationship with our fellow believers?

Two men were discussing the subject of love. The first one says, "I thought I was in love three times,"

"What do you mean ‘Thought you were in love?" asks the second guy. "Well, three years ago, I cared very deeply for a woman who wanted nothing to do with me," said the first.

"Wasn’t that love?" asks the second. "No, that was just obsession. Then two years ago, I cared very deeply for an attractive woman who didn’t understand me."

"Well, wasn’t that love?" asks the second. "No, that was lust," says the first. "And just last year, I met a woman while I was on a world cruise. She was gorgeous, intelligent, a great conversationalist and had a super sense of humor. Everywhere I followed her on that ship, I would get a very strange sensation in the pit of my stomach."

"Was that love?" asks the second guy. "No. That was just sea sickness!" said the first.

Christian Pick-up lines

I came across the top 8 cheesiest Christian chat-up lines:

8. Wow... Nice Bible!

7. Did it hurt... when you fell from heaven?

6. Just looking at you makes me feel all ecumenical.

5. Before tonight I never believed in pre-destination.

4. You know I’m really into ‘relationship’ evangelism

3. Is it a sin that you stole my heart?

2. Nice bracelet – WWJD – ‘Who would Jesus Date’?

1. Excuse me, I believe one of you ribs belongs to me!

The Power of love

Love is a strange thing isn’t it. It’s a feeling that practically defies definition. Just four little letters L O V E, that, when combined, equal one of the most powerful emotions a human being can experience. We spend the entire course of our lives giving and receiving love. We thrive on it, we revel in it, we delight in its existence. And yet there are times when we curse it, when we despise it for the pain that it leaves in its wake.

I think Huey Lewis got it right in his song ‘The power of love’:

The power of love is a curious thing

Makes one man weep, and another man sing

First time you feel it, it might make you sad,

Next time you feel it, it might make you mad,

But you’ll be glad when you’ve found,

It’s the power that makes the world go round.

Love has the ability to take us to the greatest highs in life – and then plunge us into the greatest depths of despair. Love brings with it the greatest joys you will ever know – but it can also bring the greatest, heart breaking sorrow that you will ever be called upon to bare.

There are few things in life that have the ability to cut us as deeply as the moment in which love is lost. The intense heartache, and pain that follows can lead us to feel as though we will never breathe again, that our hearts will never heal, that our tears will never stop flowing, that joy will never again find its way into our lives.

In 1833 Alfred Lord Tennison’s best friend, a guy called Arthur Hallam, died suddenly. And his death threw Tennison into a tormented and near suicidal state. And it was out of that pain, and out of that sorrow, and out of that depression, and out of that heartache, and out of that grief that Tennison penned those immortal words:

‘I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it, when I sorrow most;

’Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’. That is probably easier believed if you are enjoying the abundance of joy and laughter and excitement that love brings, but not so easy if you are carrying the pain and the hurt of a lost love. But I’m sure we all know what Tennison meant when he wrote that sentiment. A life lived without ever experiencing love would be a life not worth living.

Is it better to have loved and lost with God

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all’. But is the same statement true when it is applied to our relationship with God? Is the same statement true when it is applied to our relationship with our fellow believers? Is the same statement true when it is applied to the church?

In Revelation Chapter 2 and verse 4, Jesus is writing to the church in Ephesus and he says this (and I have used the New Living Translation on purpose) ‘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.’ The NIV says, ‘Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.’ But if you have the study bible, look in the notes and you will see that it defines ‘first love’ as – the love they had at first for one another and for Christ’.

And then there comes a warning. Jesus goes on to say, ‘If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.’ And I am reminded of the warning given by the writer of Hebrews 6:4 who says, ‘It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace’.

And basically what he is saying is that it is impossible for those who once fell in love with Jesus, if they fall out of love with Jesus, to ever be restored – and there’s even a hint that they may lose their salvation. So you have to ask the question - when it comes to God, when it comes to Christ, when it comes to the church, when it comes to each other – is it really better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

The church at Ephesus

Let’s just familiarise ourselves with this Church at Ephesus. Ephesus was situated in what we know today as Turkey. It wasn’t the capital city (Pergamum), but it was by far the wealthiest and the greatest city in all Asia. It was a major centre for trade, travel, culture, religion and business. The orginal cosmopolitan city.

The Apostle Paul paid a visit there in about AD 53. You can read about it in Acts 19. His ministry was so successful that it practically turned the city upside- down. But in the very heart of that city he started a church that was filled with believers who were active, who were loyal, who were fervant in their faith. Right in the heart of that city he planted a New Testament church that was vibrant and glowing and growing. A church that was alive, and the Spirit of God was active in people’s lives.

Now it is widely believed that John wrote the book of Revelation somewhere around AD95 – so this church in Ephesus was only about 40 years old by the time John had his revelation. And yet already the rot had began to set in.

Not all bad

Now this wasn’t a bad church – in fact on the outside things seemed to be going pretty well – on the outside it looked pretty impressive. There were many good things about this fellowship. As Jesus looked at that church, He saw many positive things. Listen to the first 3 verses:

`I know your deeds, your hard work & your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, & have found them false. You have persevered & have endured hardships for my name, & have not grown weary.’"

What a great description of a church? Years after they were formed, Jesus was able to look at that Church and commend them for their perseverance, in fact the Greek says ‘they were toiling to the point of exhaustion’.

They are hard workers

These people were hard workers – they were ‘doers’. He says, "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance" – There were undoubtedly a lot of things going on. The church diary was full of different activities. I am sure that there were prayer meetings, and there were Bible studies, and there were homegroups, and evangelistic events, and there were kids clubs, and there was worship services and there was communion. They were busy, busy, busy. And Jesus says to them ‘I know your hard work, I know your deeds, I know the things that you are doing’.

Do you ever get discouraged working in the church? Do you ever feel like no one seems to know what you are going through? Do you ever feel that no one cares? Do you feel like you are doing a lot of work and no one really appreciates what you are doing?

Jesus says, "I know about your hard work". I can see what you are doing! I appreciate your faithful service! You think that no one cares about what you are doing... but you’re wrong...because I see what you do... I know that you faithfully teach Sunday School week in and week out... I know that you pick up rubbish around the church... I know that you are visiting and writing letters to encourage people... I know your deeds... I know your hard work... And I appreciate what you are doing for me and in my name!

This church was a busy church!

They uphold doctrine

This church was also a bible believing and bible preaching church. Then He says he recognises that this is a church that doesn’t allow people to twist the message of the Gospel... they stand up for the Truth. In fact they were so upright in their teaching and doctrine that, not long after this, Ignatius, who was the bishop of Antioch, wrote that the report that had reached him was of a church so well taught in the gospel that no unorthodox sect could gain a hearing among her members.

Perhaps much of the Church today could take a leaf out of their book. I am all for working with other denominations. But I must say that sometimes we are too quick to promote the spirit of unity amongst the churches to the detriment of basic bible teaching and we open the door for many different beliefs and doctrines. But we don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings... we want everyone to get along. And that is all good as long as in it all we do not allow false teaching to enter the church. Jesus commended the Ephesians for staying true to the faith, would he commend the church in the UK today do you think? Would he commend us?

They endured

And then, thirdly, Jesus congratulates them for persevering in the face of hardship. In the face of trouble they hadn’t given up. Ephesus was not an easy place to live. Ephesus was not the friendliest of places for Christianity. It was a centre for Roman imperialism and the Ephesians worshipped the goddess Diana. Bishop Ignatius later referred to Ephesus as "the highway of martyrs." This was a difficult place to live, it was a dangerous place to live. And Jesus congratulates them for persevering in the face of hardship. When trouble has come their way... they haven’t given up... they haven’t grown weary... they haven’t decided that it just isn’t worth it... they have hung in there... they have remained resolute... they have kept their determination.

And Jesus says, ‘I know that it gets tough some times. I know that it isn’t always easy... but I am glad that you are faithful... I’m glad that you haven’t given up...’

Too busy to love?

Jesus commends them for all these things – This was a dynamic church, this was a dedicated church, this was a determined church. If Jesus came to Orchard today and said those kind of things about us – we’d be really pleased wouldn’t we? If you went to a church and found all this stuff going on you’d think you’d walked into the perfect church, wouldn’t you. A church with a great youth program, a church that is involved in their community, a church where it’s all happening, a church that stands up for truth, a church that stands up no matter what persecution comes their way.

Love don’t live here anymore

And Jesus commends them. ‘You’re busy, and you’re working hard, you’re faithful, you persevere’ – but then he looks right into their eyes, he looks right into the depths of their very soul and he utters words which must have cut them to the core ‘but I have this against you – You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!’

Now to hold something against a friend or family member is a serious thing, but when the Lord of the Universe holds something against His church, it is time to tremble. Jesus is able to look beyond all the flurries of activity, beyond the outward appearance and looks straight to the heart. Despite all of their good deeds, despite all they were doing, despite their outward appearance, this church had a major problem. This church no longer loved God or each other as it once had. They were going through all the right motions but their relationships had grown stale.

It bothers me, but today there are many people and many churches in the same condition. Outwardly, things look great, but inwardly, their hearts are no longer filled with love for Jesus. What happened? What had gone wrong? Now I don’t imagine for one minute that their forsaking their first love happened in one giant step. It wasn’t that one day they got up and decided not to love God any more. It was a gradual thing.

For a while their love for God was so great & so infectious that people were drawn into their fellowship. Great sermons were preached, & wonderful things were happening. And they were known far and wide for their steadfast faithfulness, even in the face of persecution. But then they got so consumed with activity, so busy doing things for Jesus, that they stopped spending time with Jesus. And eventually all that was left was people going through the motions. Until finally, when Jesus looks at this church, He says, "This I have against you. You have forsaken your first love."

Boy meets girl – fall in love

Illustration - A boy and a girl meet and they fall in love. They spend precious time together, talking, sharing, and thinking of their hopes and their dreams. They spend quality time together over candle lit dinners, and they engage in romantic conversation with each other. They dream about how they’re going to spend a life time together, and how they’re going to be so happy.

Their love grows, and then one day they become husband and wife. They both settle down in their careers, and if they’re fortunate, God adds children to their family. Then, as time goes on, they begin to have the normal stresses of life to deal with. Work demands take priority. There are bills to pay, deadlines to meet. The house takes constant effort to keep clean and tidy. The children demand more and more of their parents time and attention.

Soon, there are problems with their marriage, there are family feuds and arguments. Over the course of time, all of these things begin to take their toll, until one day this couple, that were once so much in love, look at one another across the breakfast table, before the husband has shaved and showered, and before the wife has put on her makeup and dressed. The wife looks at her husband spooning in his cornflakes, and the husband looks at his wife with her hair still in curlers, and they both say silently to one another, “You’re not the person I married.”

That’s the way it happened in the church at Ephesus. They had become so busy with other things, they had become so busy doing stuff for Jesus, that they had fallen out of love with Jesus. They had lost their first love. And Jesus turns to them and says, ‘I hold this against you, you no longer love me or each other as you did at first’.

Love is the be all and end all!

Love... love - You see – that’s the starting point of the Christian life. Our Christian life begins when we fall in love with Jesus – and then as we go along the Christian journey at some point – and this may have happened to some of you – other things become more important, other things consume your time, other things compete for your attention. It might be work related, might be family related, might even be church related – but other things keep you so busy that you no longer have time to spend in the presence of God – and you’ve lost your first love. Your love for him has grown cold and old. You know longer love Jesus or the other people in this fellowship as you did at first.

You see it doesn’t matter how orthodox your beliefs are. It doesn’t matter how blameless your characters are. It doesn’t matter how good you are at persevering under trial. It doesn’t even matter how good and professional our church services are. What does matter – what really matters – is whether you are still in love with Jesus Christ as you were on the day when you first found him.

So Jesus says to this church – I commend you for your toiling, you’re working to the point of exhaustion. I commend you for your effort. I commend you for your faithfulness – all of that is good – you’re busy, busy, busy, - you’ve got your home groups, you’ve got your kids clubs, you’ve got your alpha courses, but, he says, I have this one thing against you - and you can almost hear the pain in his voice as he utters these words – you have lost you first love. You just don’t love me anymore. Oh how I long that you would love me as you did in those first days.

The Warning

Ok, let’s just have a look at the warning. Jesus said, ‘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.’

What is the lampstand? It is the church itself. Revelation 1: 19 says quite clearly – ‘The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.’

So when Jesus says tells them that unless they repent, unless they return to loving him and loving each other as they did in the beginning, that he will remove their lampstand – what he is saying is that they will cease to be a church, they will cease to be his church.

I’ve said it before in this series, and I’ll say it again - there is only one thing that defines us as a church. It’s not the fact that we meet together on Sundays. It’s not the fact that we sing hymns and choruses. It’s not even the fact that from time to time we might get caught praying or reading the scriptures. The only thing that defines us as a church, as the body of Christ, is our love for God and our love for one another.

Love for fellow believers

Jesus said, ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples – if you love one another’. This is how people will know that you are my church – because you love one another. This is how people will know that you belong to me, that you love me, because you love one another.

And he’s not talking about loving sinners, he’s not talking about loving the unsaved, he’s not talking about loving the world. He’s talking about loving your fellow believers. Those you share communion with, those you are in fellowship with. Those you sit next to in church week after week. And without that love for one another – if that love isn’t there - we might as well pack up and go home. Forget about evangelising, forget about your church programmes, forget about your busyness, forget about upholding truth. Without love – there is nothing!

And unless you repent and start loving me and loving each as you did at first, then I will come and remove your lampstand from it’s place. Oh you might still meet together on Sundays, you might still sing your songs, you might still listen to your stories, but you will cease to be a church, you will cease to be my people – because my people are a people of love.

A loveless church is a lifeless church, and a lifeless church is a dead church. . If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. I wish I could say that Ephesus repented, but apparently they did not, for the city soon lost its influence and today is nothing more than just ruins. Church and city together have vanished. And when we loose our first love, that’s all that’s left, is just ruins of what once might have been. And the lamp was indeed removed.

‘It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’ Is it? Is it really? Can that really be true when it comes to our love for God and our love for each other.

There is still the promise of life in paradise for the individual who remembers from where he has fallen, and returns to his first works and his first love – to that person Jesus says ‘I will give the right to eat from the tree of life’. But let the loveless church be warned, ‘If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing’.

Let’s pray... Is that you this morning? Do you find that your love for God and for others has grown cold. Do you leave here on a Sunday and not care about the lives or the situations of those you just worshipped with... Do you find yourself so busy with ‘other things’ that you have no time left for God in the week?