What was wrong with the church in Ephesus? I have heard some people refer to it as the loveless church, although that is not what Jesus says about them. There was a problem with their love, and it was a shared problem. The whole church was guilty of this defect, but they had not ceased to love.
I suppose we need to ask if Jesus is referring to the object of their love or to the manner of their love. Had their love been diverted from someone or had it been dampened? If he is referring to the object of their love, then he could be referring to the affection they once had for him and for one another. If he is referring to the strength of their love, then it was not as warm as it used to be. Of course, there is a sense in which the object and the manner are affected by one another. A dampening of love will lead to diverted love because Jesus would no longer receive their constant, full affection.
It is interesting to read the letter by Paul to the Ephesians and the first letter by John and observe what they said about the necessity of love, both in attitude and in action. The contents of this letter indicate that they still had a love for Jesus because that was why they engaged in all their activities.
The question also arises regarding who had the first love. Some commentators think that the ones who had the first love were the first generation of believers. The ones to whom Jesus sent this letter would be the second or third generation in the main because most of the first generation would have passed away. Yet Jesus in his counsel to the church members in verse 5 says that part of the remedy is for them to remember where they once were. So it looks to me that the actual ones to whom he is writing once had a stronger love.
Something had caused them to lose their first love. It could have been the existence of persecution, because in such times we are told that the love of many becomes cold. Or it could have been the battles they had fought to preserve the church from error because often in such times conflict brings about decline in love. Or maybe they engaged in all their activities out of routine and everything became formal. It is striking that Jesus does not say anything about prayer in his commendation and one would think that a church like Ephesus, with all their activities, would have valued prayer. But we know most things in a Christian church can continue without prayer, and what causes that is a loss of first love. Spurgeon sums it up when he says that it is possible to do many things for Christ without spending much time with him. Those with first love delight to be with Jesus