The church at Ephesus was a doctrinally solid church. It also had endured a great amount of hardship. They had remained faithful in the midst of false teachers. In our wishy-washy lite on truth society the church at Ephesus would have been a welcome sight. Yet, in the eyes of Jesus they were missing the mark:
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (Revelation 2:4 ESV)
Scholars debate whether this is love for the Lord or love for one another. I agree with those that believe it is probably a combination of both. Biblically speaking the two often go hand in hand. You can’t love the Lord and hate his bride. Likewise you aren’t going to be lacking in love for Jesus but exploding in love for his broken bride. The doctrinally sound church at Ephesus was missing an awe of God. Perhaps they had gotten to a point where they equated believing correct doctrine with treasuring correct doctrine.
Jesus tells them that the prescription for this lack of love is to remember, repent, and to get back to doing the works that they did at first. In this statement in verse 5 I find something very interesting. In verse 5 Jesus says, “remember therefore from where you have fallen”.
That tells me something about correct doctrine and endurance; namely, they aren’t the summit. Love is. (Or at least love is higher than both of those). Otherwise their lack of love wouldn’t have been a height from which they could fall. Love is not optional to correct doctrine. It’s not the icing on the cake of having sound theology. If you don’t have love then your whole cake is jacked up.
Why does doctrine matter?
From such a truth some have erroneously concluded that doctrine really doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is love. To this I say “poppycock”. Or at least I would if I said things like “poppycock”.
In Paul’s prayer for the Philippians he prays that their “love may abound more and more” and that it might do so “with knowledge and all discernment”. (Philippians 1:9) In other words Paul prays that they might have a growing love that is grounded in the truth.
You do not get to the summit of love without correct doctrine to fuel you upwards. Your love for Jesus grows when your grasping of the truth of Jesus grows. The argument from many of Paul’s letters is that there is an intimate link between our seeing and beholding Christ (doctrine) and our treasuring of Christ and His people (love).
You cannot treasure what you have little knowledge of. My son thinks that baseball is pretty cool. But he also still will sometimes run to second base before first base. Or he’ll think that the goal of the game is to tackle the pitcher after you’ve hit the ball. It’s a pretty cool version of the sport, I’ll give him that, but he doesn’t understand baseball and therefore he doesn’t rightly know how to treasure it. It’s the same way with Jesus. Correct doctrine fuels love. Or at least it ought to…
What does this mean for the local church?
I would like to also ask, “what does this mean for seminaries”, but because I have about as much influence on seminary life as Justin Bieber does on making solid music I will stick to the local church. I will say though, that I believe many seminaries err in training pastors how to have correct doctrine but seldom challenging them to learn love.
In the local church we must disciple people not only with correct doctrine but with a heart that treasures Christ. At the end of the day this is all the work of the Spirit. Even being able to swallow, embrace, and treasure correct doctrine is a work of the Spirit. How much more then is it the work of the Spirit to cause people to respond to correct doctrine with worship and and a life of love?
How does the church keep from churning out theological dolts and/or loveless theology nerds? I believe it’s by continually exposing them to the word of God while modeling humility and pushing them towards that. When discipling others we must value truth and excel in love.
Some need to be reminded that they haven’t arrived simply because they can win games of Bible trivia or go toe to toe in theology discussions with a seminary professor. They need to be reminded that doctrine truly embraced will express itself in worship of God and humble and loving service in a local church.
Others need to be reminded that if their doctrine is shallow more than likely so is their love. They ought to be congratulated that they are excelling in love but spurred on to make that love more grounded in the unchangeable truth of Jesus.
Both must, through the power of the Spirit, aim for the summit of love.