1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 1 John, 1 John 3:16–18, Ephesus, Faith, faith, Good Works, James, James 2:14–17, James Durham, love, Love, Revelation, Revelation 2, Song of Solomon, Song of Solomon 3, Song of Solomon 3:1-4, works
In Revelation 2, Jesus commends and then rebukes the church at Ephesus. He commends their good works and care for correct doctrine, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.” He also commends their “patient endurance”. Yet, there is a fault, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Now James explains that a faith which has no work is no true faith:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
John in his first epistle explains that one who claims love and yet does not actually conduct acts of love has no true love from God:
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16-18
Thus, “faith” and “love” which exist only as words, are not faith or love; yet work — even good work of charity, and endurance and right doctrine — without love means nothing:
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
What does all this mean? At times Christians of this time and place speak of a personal relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately, it seems that such words usually mean a self-centered self-defined vague Jesus as the guy who paid for my get out of hell card. Yet there
is a sense in which the phrase is quite correct: Jesus is a persons : he is a man and the Son of God incarnate and is a person. He is a person with whom a relationship may and must be cultivated.
But the relationship may not be a matter of mere words like “faith” or “love”. Were I to tell my wife “I love you” and yet keep a mistress, my wife would rightly question (to say the very least!) the word “love”. I perhaps may feel an emotion of some sort — but I would not demonstrate love. That would be a “dead” love or faith. My wife seeks the words, but she really seeks my life. When words and conduct, when the entire life renders a true love, then the marriage exists.
Conversely, if I were to do things because I thought she wanted me to, but I did not care for her out of love, there would still be no true love.
Conduct without love and words without conduct are both nothing more than manipulation. Work without love and faith is rank paganism: I have sacrificed X and so the deity owes me Y. Words without corresponding conduct are fraud. A confidence man promises an interest in an oil well in North Dakota — he may even deliver a piece of paper claiming the same — but he only delivers words without meaning, because he words correspond to nothing in reality.
How then must the church at Ephesus respond? Canticles (Song of Solomon) 3 pictures the bride who seeks her love:
1 On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not.
2 I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not.
3 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
4 Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me.
This passage pictures the desire of the bride for the bridegroom — and thus the desire of the Church for Christ. In Revelation 2, Jesus has told the Ephesians, You must come seek me — and seek until you find: just as the bride in Canticles must seek her love. James Durham’s comment on verse 4 helps us to understand the application to the soul:
The second thing here, is her success, which is according to her desire, ‘I found him’ (saith she); when I had pressed but a little further, he sensibly and surprisingly made himself known to me. Observe. 1. Christ is not far off from his people when they are seeking him, whatever they may think when he hides himself. 2. They who love Christ, and conscionably follow all means for obtaining him are not far from finding, nor he far from manifesting himself to them. 3. They who sincerely press forward to the life of ordinances beyond the form, and by faith take themselves to Christ himself for the blessing, not resting on their performances will not long miss Christ, yea, it may be, he will give them a sensible manifestation of himself sooner than they are aware; for, ‘the Spirit is obtained, not by the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith,’ Gal. 3:2. 4. A soul that sincerely loves Christ, should not, and when in a right frame will not give over seeking Christ till it find him, whatever disappointment it meets with; and sure such will find him at last. 5. Christ found after much search, will be very welcome, and his presence then will be most discernible. 6. Believers should no less observe, and acknowledge their good success in the means, than their disappointments; there are many who often make regrets of their bonds, that are deficient in acknowledging God’s goodness when they get liberty.