Mistaken spirituality focuses only upon doctrinal purity.
Read Revelation 2:1-7
“I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
The church at Ephesus had a history of strong leadership and sound biblical instruction. The church began under the direction of Paul on his missionary. When he left to further his evangelistic work, he left Priscilla and Aquila to continue to help the church become grounded in their new faith. Later, Paul himself would return and lead the church for three years, and he would leave Timothy to serve as the pastor. While Timothy was in Ephesus, Paul would write his two letters to Timothy to encourage him in his leadership. As we saw yesterday, Paul would challenge Timothy to continue to teach sound doctrine and correct any false doctrine that might arise. Paul would also write to the church at Ephesus one of the essential letters that provided the theological basis for our understanding of Christ’s redemptive work. Not only did the church have strong ties to Paul, but it also had a close connection with the Apostle John, who also spent a significant amount of time in Ephesus. Like Paul, John would also write a letter (3 John) to one of the church leaders (Gaius), encouraging him to confront false teachers who had infiltrated the church. With this theological pedigree, it is not surprising that Christ commended the church for their sound theology and their rejection of any false teaching.
Despite their heritage, Christ still confronted them with a dangerous attitude that was threatening to undermine the vitality of the church. They had lost their love for Christ. In our focus upon maintaining doctrinal purity, we reduce our faith to a doctrinal statement rather than an ongoing relationship with Christ. In both the Old and New Testament, the highest command is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:20; Deut 6:5). The danger amid doctrinal error is that we can develop a fortress mindset where we become so focused upon doctrinal purity that we no longer have a passion for Christ and reach people with the gospel. Doctrinal purity without love becomes dead orthodoxy. We can become doctrinally pure, assenting to all the right doctrines, but now allowing those doctrines to transform our lives.
However, this love is not mere emotionalism but is grounded in fidelity, commitment, and obedience to Christ. It is a love that is revealed in our desire to grow in our relationship with Christ and walk in obedience to his word. This love is then expressed in our love for others. To love God is to love those created in his image, be concerned about their wellbeing, and desire to see people experience the reality of Christ’s redemptive work.
This is what causes us to stop and reflect upon our relationship with Christ during this Covid-19 pandemic when the church has gone virtual. Has our love and desire to grow in Christ and be in fellowship grown, or has it gone cold? Has our absence from the church made our heart grow fonder, or has it made us indifferent? This year has been a test of our love for Christ and his people. Even though we still affirm our theology, have we lost our first love?