Love: The Supreme Test of the Church
I was saying that John fell at His feet as one dead. There was another man who, traveling on a road with the positive intention of blotting out from this earth, as far as it lay in his power, every remembrance of Jesus of Nazareth, was met by this same Lord of glory. All-terrible? Well, certainly Saul of Tarsus went down, he was broken, the encounter overpowered him and left its mark upon his very physical body to the end of his life. For three days he had no sight, and they had to help him into the city. But do you tell me that was God the All-terrible? Oh, listen to the conversation! "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" What is the one of that? It is not, I am sure, the tone of anger. It is a pleading tone of entreaty, of sorrow, of solicitude. "Who art Thou, Lord?" "I am God the All-terrible, and now I have brought you to book?" No - "I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest ..." "What shall I do, Lord? ..." "Rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do." The Lord went ahead of him, prepared the way for him (Acts 9:1-9; 22:4-11). Do you tell me that terrible revelation was not love? Well, ask Paul himself what he thought about it, and see in after years what he had to say about it. He did not say, "He met me, He smote me, He destroyed me, He bought me into such awful judgment that I lost all hope." He said, "He loved me and gave Himself up for me" (Galatians 2:20). That meeting, terrible and devastating as it might be in one sense, was a meeting with the Lover of his soul!
I say again, we have to make over anew our conception of Divine love. It is not that sickly, sentimental thing we call love. It is something tremendous. We have so to reconstruct our conception of Divine love as to see that our highest interests for all eternity demand very faithful dealings with us by God, and the more we really know the heart of God, the more we come to be ready to say, "Thou art right, Lord; even in what I would call Thy hard handling of me, Thou art right." God in His love has the end in view, not just the pacifying of some fretful child with a toy. We are called unto His eternal glory and "our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (1 Corinthians 4:17). But we do not always believe it while the affliction is on us. We do not even call it "light"; but He knows how transcendentally and infinitely the glory outweighs the suffering. He has decided with the greatness of the end in view, it is worth His while to be faithful with us and let nothing pass that would take from that glorious prize of His glory or work against it. He knows quite well that, when we are with Him afterward, were we to see something that was not taken up by Him and dealt with because of the suffering and the pain it would have caused us, and because we would have murmured and complained, that we would say to Him then, "Lord, why didst Thou not do that in spite of me?" And so, knowing the end and dealing with us in the light of it, the faithful and the true love is other than our poor sickly conception of love. Love in our thinking so often means just giving way all the time, just having everything we want or giving everything that others want. God deals with us, not as infants, but as sons (Hebrews 12:7). The presentation, you see, is all a comprehensive and detailed consummation of love.
The Churches Challenged as to Love
Now you pass to the next two chapters, and you have the churches; and the Lord is here dealing with the churches on the basis of the presentation. That can be seen by noting that every one of the seven messages to the churches takes up some feature of the presentation of Christ in the first chapter. You can look at that and note it. Actual phrases in the presentation of chapter one are used in relation to the churches respectively. So He is dealing with the churches on the basis of Himself as fully presented, and therefore if the presentation is the comprehensive embodiment of love, He is dealing with all the churches on that basis.
Now you note that the messages and the churches are bounded by Ephesus and Laodicea, and not as unrelated but as embracing and covering all the seven. In Ephesus and Laodicea the trouble is defective love. Ephesus, "thou didst leave thy first love"; Laodicea, "thou art neither hot nor cold." The whole question with these churches is love. Let us hurriedly look a them separately, as far as we can.
First Love as Covering All
Here again is the wonderful thing, that in Ephesus, which marks the beginning of everything, all turns on love. "Thou didst leave thy first love." What is first love? Well, first love is all-inclusive in its nature. You will not be able subsequently to find any characteristic or feature of love without finding it in first love. First love covers all the ground of love. We could not tabulate the meaning of first love. It is everything, it is all that you can say about love, utterly selfless, self-forgetting, uncalculating. It is fierce, it is fiery, it is completely hot, strong and faithful. That is where the Lord begins. First love is the basis on which the Lord takes up the whole matter, comprehensive of all love's features. So in relation to the ultimate situation, we see here, through Ephesus, that what the Lord must have in His Church is inclusive love, love in all its features. He must come at the end back to the beginning, and bring His Church likewise back to that basis. Of course, there must have been a first love; you cannot depart from what never was. That will challenge us.
(continued with # 15)