Love God; love the people: the heart of it all.

I have been thinking lately about one of the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. I wasn’t thinking prophetically but rather practically. These letters are given in chapters two and three. The very first letter was addressed “to the “angel of the church in Ephesus” (“angel”  probably should be taken in its root meaning of “messenger”). In it, Jesus commends the church for its good “works,” its “patient endurance” (ESV) and its proper intolerance for those who practiced evil, either in false teaching or immoral living. They had “not grown weary.”

If it were a contemporary church, the church in Ephesus would be a leading light in evangelicalism: doctrinally right, wary of false teachers, working hard, well-organized, and standing against cultural accommodation. But they had one little problem. Jesus threatened to “remove [their] lampstand from its place” (2:5, ESV), because they had “abandoned the love [they] had at first” (2:4, ESV). That would mean ceasing to exist as a church.

Apparently, they had decided, as that word translated “abandoned” suggests, that love was not going to be a central part of their Values Statement as a church. They were preaching the gospel of Jesus, standing against cultural compromise, calling out false teachers, and working hard. That was enough for them—but it wasn’t enough for Jesus.

As March rolls around, I also start thinking about the story of Patrick of Ireland. His day comes on March 17 each year. There is a bit of legend that has grown up around Patrick, but what we can actually know about him comes through a document that he purportedly wrote later in his life to defend his ministry in Ireland and to appeal to church leaders to keep him there.

Remember his story? He was an English youth of 16 when he was captured by Irish Pirates and hauled away to Ireland. He was sold to a local “king” and set to work tending his herds. He often spent months alone wandering around in the hills following those animals. But something happened during his exile. God restored his (formerly nominal) Christian faith, and Patrick became impassioned about the life of prayer. After 6 years, following a vision, he set out to escape and met a ship 200 miles away sailing for England. He made his way back home, and he became a pastor and then a bishop. Some 30-40 years later, he had another vision which compelled him to return to Ireland, the land of his captivity, now as a missionary. He obeyed that calling, and the rest, as they say, is the stuff of history—and legend.

What brings these two themes together is this: if we are nurturing a “first love” Christian life, then the powerful motive force for our lives will be the same as that of Patrick: he loved our common Lord Jesus Christ, and he loved the people.

As I see it, that sums up our calling, also. Love God; love the people. Every truly Christian action ties into these.

Smiley Mudd