Right Theology and Cold Hearts. Part 2, Gaius Columbus reflects further
I continue to think about this subject. The passage In Revelation 2 says, “you have lost your first love”, but does not specify an object. I think it is right to presume the writer means love for Christ. How are we to express our love for Christ? How are we to manifest that we care for Him? Well, John says in both his gospel and in the first epistle that it is through our love for each other. Is this the key to unlocking this passage and understanding it? Does the writer mean that the Ephesian Christians had stopped loving each other the way they used to at the beginning and in so doing showed that they had also lost their first love for Christ?
On the surface, it seems incomprehensible that Christians undergoing a common experience of persecution would lose their love for each other. Generally, acute grief tends to bring people together. But what about when acute grief becomes chronic or intractable grief, when sorrow appears to have no relief in sight? Does first love stay strong in these circumstances? What effect do the inescapable cares of this world, the chronic hardships and the continual hard knocks of life have in creating the fissures we see in relationships? I think the cares of this world—like the seed that fell among thorns—choke the love that first abided in abundance.As physicians we have all witnessed examples of grief that tears families apart. I know of cases where a child’s death in the ED results in the divorce of parents. I know of cases where the stress of a new long-lasting illness destroys a family.
It is conceivable then that chronic ongoing (as opposed to acute) grief arising from persecution can tear the fabric that held Christians together in the giddy early days of conversion. Perhaps it is because of the defections and betrayals that accompany such persecution. Remember Paul’s complaint that no one stood beside him during his time of trial. This passage may mean that even though brothers who remained in the fold continued to excel in their personal and corporate service to Christ, in their perseverance under torture, and in their intolerance of false teaching and wicked conduct, they perhaps had stopped caring as deeply for each other as they once did.
This could also explain why hearts go cold in times of wickedness. Mathew 24 v 12, Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. If we live in a culture of heartlessness and selfishness in which people including those in the church stop manifesting love toward one another, preferring instead to take advantage of one other, or worse still, to be cruel, the strong exuberant love even brothers once felt for each other will grow cold. Unresolved hurt and the fear of being exploited will the compound matters. Perhaps this is what Christ is warning us against. He is saying is effect,
“Do not deceive yourselves, despite the stress these persecutions have placed on you, despite the fact that you hold on to correct theology and work hard and hate evil, if your love for one another has grown cold, so too has your love for me. Repent, therefore, and go back to the gestures of love you once shared—stay in touch with each other, care about each other and about each other’s welfare the way you once did. Pray for each other, express your love for each other, do the things for each other that you once did and fellowship as expectantly with each other as you once did”
In this respect, the admonition by the writer of Hebrews, not to “forget to meet together as is the habit of some” is a warning against following one pathway to a state of love grown cold. My love is definitely not as warm as I head for Church every Sunday as it ought to be; increasingly, I find myself going to Church out of a sense of obligation (or to assuage guilt, or because a Christian parent should take his kids to church) and not because I am looking forward to hanging out with friends and brothers that I genuinely love and like.
As I think more about this, I find I like Calorius’ analogy in his comment more and more. It is worth asking our wives (as marriage is one picture of our relationship with Christ) what means to them in practical terms to say one’s “first love has grown cold”. I suspect there are truths that such an approach will unearth that can be applied more generally to our walk with each other and consequently with the Lord. I continue to reflect on this subject and may return to it another time. - Gaius Columbus
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