The Loveless Church: Is It Possible to Labor for God Without Love?

Shared on October 4, 2023

Is it possible to labor for God without love and compassion in your heart? In this week’s study, I dive into the church of Ephesus – the loveless church. Though this church labored for God, we will see that Jesus had a message to share with them. Join Pastor McCrary as take a look at God’s rebuke to this church and why we should remember our first love in laboring for God.


Is it possible for you, as a child of God, to labor for the Lord without love in your soul? Throughout July I preached a series of sermons titled “A Sincere Heart” in which I focused on our soul and moving in sincere faith. In my sermon – “Is Your Heart on Fire For God” – I briefly spoke about the seven churches that are written to in the book of Revelation before focusing specifically on the church of the Laodiceans.

Now, I want to take a look at the seven churches again, but to do so individually over the next month or so.  I want to focus on the seven churches in greater detail because they are a really good study of the Church today and the message Christ sends to them should resonate within the collective.  So, this week’s study kicks off the new season, a season of Revelation.

A Message From Christ

The passage of scripture that we are going to focus on in our study this week starts us off with Jesus’ message to the angel of the church Ephesus (Rev. 2:1). The “angel” or the “messenger” of the church of Ephesus would have likely been its pastor.

The first thing that I want to point out in this message to the church of Ephesus is the greeting.  Jesus makes it very clear who this message is coming from when He says, “these things says He who holds the seven stars in His right, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (Rev. 2:1).”  Though John wrote this book to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:4), we should understand that he shared with them, and us, a vision and message through Christ. 

Not to stray too far away from our study but I do want to again highlight that the book of Revelation is one that shares a picture of the fulfillment of the divine truth. This picture begins with us seeing Jesus in His glorified body (Rev. 1:9-16). It continues with a picture of the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:1-6) followed by Satan and the sinner’s demise (Rev. 20:7-15). The picture concludes with us being able to see our eternal dwelling place in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev. 21:1-5)

Jesus’ Message to the Church of Ephesus

In the scripture of our study, we will see that Jesus said to the messenger about the church of Ephesus, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary (Rev. 2:2-3).”

Jesus’ message to this church begins pretty complimentary about the church.  Let’s pay attention to Jesus’ awareness of the works and labor of the church.  Don’t you think for one second that the Lord is not aware of what goes on with you and within His church.  We must remember that the Lord is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; He is all powerful, knows all things, and is everywhere at all times.  

In Psalm 1:6, the psalmist wrote about how the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish. David humbly sang in psalm about how the Lord knows His sitting down, His getting up, and His thoughts are far off (Ps. 139:1-2). We must remember that God is sovereign and rules over all things as all things were created by Him (Col. 1:16).

Rebuking evil

With all of that in mind, let us pay attention to the fact that Christ was focusing on the church of Ephesus’ serving and labor for the Lord.  He spoke of their patience and how they could not bear those that were evil.  Jesus complimented how they tested those that said they were apostles but were proven to be liars.

So, we would say that they were doing good, right? As a child of God, we are to rebuke evil rather than to sympathize with and dwell with wickedness. Paul said it best when he wrote to the Corinthians, “Evil company corrupts good habits (1 Cor. 15:33).”

As believers, the goal is clear for us in our walk of faith. You and I are to walk obediently according to the word of God. Jesus said to us, “If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15).” When we walk in obedience to God’s word – His commandments, we will be greatly blessed (Luke 11:28; John 15:7-8).

So, what is very clear about the church of Ephesus is that this was a church that lived by the Word of God. They not only rebuked those that were evil (of sin), they also “tested” those who said they were apostles and found them to be liars (Rev. 2:3). How were they able to do this?

The disciples John touched on this thought in his first epistle which gives us insight on how we, the sincere believers, are able to do this as well. John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).”

What John is speaking of is what we call spiritual discernment.  As a child of God, we are able to discern (recognize) things spiritually because the Holy Spirit resides within us.  All of those that genuinely believe in the only begotten Son receive the Holy Spirit and this special gift of the Spirit.  

Now, to be clear, you have to be open to listening to and being obedient to the direction of the Spirit in order to properly discern things spiritually.  We, the collective Church, should be rebuking evil.  Again, we rebuke evil by walking in obedience according to the word of God, and by listening to the direction of the Holy Spirit.

A complaint against Ephesus

Within the meat of our study this week, we will see that though this church was rebuking evil, Jesus did rebuke the church of Ephesus on a certain issue.  What was the issue that Jesus rebuked this church about?

Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works (Rev. 2:4-5a)…” The church of Ephesus was laboring for the Lord by rebuking evil, but they had reached a point where their labor was without love – they were a church without love.

So, this raises an interesting point about laboring for the Lord.  Do you think it is possible to labor the Lord without love?  Well, the church of Ephesus was able to do some work for the Lord, which Jesus complimented, however their labor was incomplete.  What is your takeaway from the church of Ephesus having left their “first love” or for them to no longer be doing “the first works”?  We need to answer these questions.

The church of Ephesus was certainly laboring for the Lord but their labor was no longer a labor of love and passion.  In other words, when they first began in their walk of faith, their fire for the Lord burned brilliantly; it was fervent and filled with much passion.  The believers in the church of Ephesus, like all sincere believers, had entered into a personal fellowship with the Lord.

Personal fellowship with the Lord should not be taken lightly. Through fellowship with the Lord, we know that the Lord watches over and keeps us, the sincere believer, in His care, like a good shepherd. What this means for us is that the Lord guides us (Ps. 23), He shields and protects us (John 10:7-15), and supplies our every need.

Sadly, what happened with the church of Ephesus is something that we see happening a great deal within the collective Church today.  While they had not departed away from that place of love that they begin with in their walk of faith, the evidence was there of their departing if they continued down the path they were going.

Doing the first works  

What is the evidence of their departing from that love?   Well, the fact that the only kind of labor that they were doing was to prove those that were liars says quite a bit.  While it’s certainly not a bad thing to rebuke evil, there is more for that the believer has been called to do.

This calls for us to take a look at Jesus’ reminding those of the church of Ephesus to do the first works. What are the first works? Recorded in John 6:28-29, are a couple of verses within a passage of scripture where Jesus had said to the people that He was “the bread of life,” and those that come to Him would never hunger or thirst again (John 6:35).

Now, we will see in those two verses that I just referenced, the people had asked Jesus, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”  In response to their question, Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”  So, the first works of God is that of faith, right?

Now, with that said, have you ever considered what the work of faith actually is? If you have, before you read the very next sentence, write down your answer as to what the work of faith is. For those of you that do not know what the work of faith is, I will tell you that the work of faith is to love the Lord with your whole heart, and in that love, you should love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28).

I want you to understand, the first work of faith is for one to repent (to turn) from sin; we are to turn to the Lord and to love Him.  You see, when you love the Lord, this means that you give Him your heart and you trust in Him without doubt.  When we love the Lord in this manner, then we will do as He has commanded us which is a commandment to love others.  

In that love, I want to remind you that the Lord has commissioned us to minister (share) the good news to all people (Matt. 28:19-20). Let us understand this, the Great Commission, as I just shared with you, is a commission to lead others to Christ – it is a commission that can help save souls. To be clear about this commandment of love, we must remember that love does not behave rudely; it is kind and longsuffering (1 Cor. 13:4-7).

Church of Ephesus’ error

The church of Ephesus was doing fine by rebuking evil, but as I said earlier, their labor was incomplete.  Why was their labor incomplete?  The reason why their labor was incomplete was because they were not attempting to correct and uplift those that had erred.

To understand their error, let’s consider for a moment how Jesus dealt with those that had sinned. One of the prime examples I often reference for how Jesus chose to treat those that erred is the woman that the religious leaders somehow caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11). In the telling of this story, the religious leaders brought her to Jesus and they desired that Jesus stone the woman to death. However, as we know, Jesus did not condemn her to death; He told her to go and sin no more.

Jesus, we should understand, was compassionate towards her. To this day, Jesus, as the writer of Hebrews spoke to, is still compassionate to all people. The scripture states, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).”

Even though Jesus had never committed adultery, He was sympathetic with the fact that we fall into temptation. So, through His compassion, Jesus was merciful to the woman. In being merciful towards her, and also towards all of us, the Lord gives us opportunity after opportunity to improve and make corrections. Then, when we make those corrections and improve, God will forgive us our trespasses – He will completely remove our debt.

Did you notice that I have defined the difference between mercy and forgiveness for you?  As the Lord is merciful and forgiving of our wrongdoings, we must learn to be both merciful and forgiving in our compassion for others.  You see, the church of Ephesus had moved away from doing this part of the labor.  

Producing the Righteousness of God

What we must understand is that the collective Church cannot produce the righteousness of God if we are not laboring with compassion in our hearts. A church without love cannot produce righteousness. As James said in his letter, “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God (Jas. 1:20).”

So, while Jesus did compliment the Ephesians for the fact that they did not bear with those who were wicked, we will see that He still desired for them to do the first works.  You and I need to understand that it is simply not enough to tell someone that they have sinned or to simply call people sinners.  You and I must understand that there is still more work to do after you have decided to point out the wrongs of others.

You and I are to produce the righteousness of God – we are to produce the fruits of the Spirit.  What are the fruits of the Spirit?  Paul tells us that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control  (Gal. 5:22).  Paul said that we should not become conceited, provoking one another, and envying one another.

Uplifting the sinner

Now, I don’t think the Ephesians were envious of those that did wrong.  However, I do believe that the Ephesians suffered a bit from the same mindset that the Pharisees had and that many of those who proclaim to be Christians have today.  Those of the Ephesian church, I believe, out of conceit, looked down on those that did evil which is why they failed to move to help those they believed to be sinners.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day struggled mightily in this area. Jesus would go and sit down with the sinner which was Him, again, being compassionate. Jesus would teach and train the sinner to go in a way of holiness and righteousness. The whole time Jesus was doing that, the religious leaders would frown and scoff at the idea of sitting with sinners (Matt. 9:10).

Don’t you think we ought to do as Jesus did? I certainly hope you do. As sincere believers, we are not called to be conceited in our faith. As Paul said, we are called to be lowly, gentle, and patient with love towards all people; we must walk worthy of our calling (Eph. 4:1-2). If we do not walk in this manner, then our labor is incomplete.

So, we must make the effort to show the one that has done wrong the way that is holy and righteous according to the Lord.  Now, should they choose to keep pushing forward in sin, that is their choice but at least we have done what the Lord has called on us to do.  When one chooses to continue in sin, we at that point should turn the labor over to the Lord to deal with and move it.

There is certainly nothing wrong with not bearing with and not tolerating the sinner after you have shown them the pathway of correction.  Now, had the Ephesians gone this route, their labor would have been complete.  So, our big takeaway from this study is that our labor for God must be done without compassion and love.  In order to labor the Lord and produce the works of righteousness, we must labor out of love.

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