Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday,July 9, 2023
Shavuah Tov,

Is Your First Love Growing Stronger Or Weaker?
by Dr. Raymond Finney

INTRODUCTION: Today’s RR is a love letter of sorts. I write about my first loves. Do you need to review and consider a similar re-kindling of your first loves?

KEY SCRIPTURE: The Revelation is one of my favorite Bible books. This book is a major source for end-time prophecy and fleshing out important faith doctrines.

In the second and third chapters of The Revelation, Yeshua dictated letters to seven Messiah’s communities (more commonly called “churches”). These communities existed in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) in the first century (that is, in John’s lifetime). John had ministered in all of these communities before his arrest and imprisonment on Patmos.

SIDELIGHT (UNRELATED TO THE TOPIC AT HAND): Does the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) only regard itself as legitimate? If I understand correctly, all other churches fail because they do not recognize the primacy of the Pope. There is a long-standing Catholic doctrine, which states, Extra ecclesiam nulla salus (Latin), translated in English, “Outside the Church, there is no salvation.” Obviously, this doctrine is offensive to non-Catholics. Church fathers dance around this doctrine and codify it in Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 846.

Consider Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. We all are different parts of Messiah’s Body. There are Catholic, Protestant, and Messianic parts of His Body. We need to work together against the common Enemy (Satan), rather than quibble over unimportant procedural variations. I may explore this issue in a future RR. END sidelight (sorry for sidetrack).

Prophecy scholars teach that the characteristics of each of the seven communities prophesied (foretold) a different historical stage in Christendom’s development and progression. In the typical letter, Yeshua reviewed the community’s characteristics as well as (usually) praises and rebukes for that community. Yeshua explained why He rebuked some communities (Revelation 3:19a): [Yeshua said] “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline….” If you are a parent, you understand the conflicting actions of love on one hand and rebuke and discipline on the other hand.

The first community of Believers addressed by Yeshua in The Revelation was located in Ephesus. This community foretold the earliest stage of Believers, beginning after its birth through the Ruach ha-Kodesh in Jerusalem (Acts, chapter 2) and continuing until the establishment and dominance of the next community, the community in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11).

Consider these two passages for today’s RR

Yeshua praised the community of Believers at Ephesus for their loyalty, faith, and labors to establish a worship community (Revelation 2:2-3): [Yeshua said] “I know all about your deeds and your toil and your patient endurance, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. You have tested those who call themselves emissaries and are not, and have found them to be liars. You have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

The community of Believers at Ephesus originally had as members people who personally knew Yeshua or heard about Him first-hand. They passionately loved Him, even to the point of dying, if necessary, horrible deaths as martyrs.

As the original community members who had personally known Yeshua died,  different community members– a new generation– took their place. These new community members were not as much in love with Yeshua as were the original members. Yeshua reminded them of their failing love for Him– the First Love of the original community (Revelation 2:4-5): [Yeshua said] “But this I have against you, that you have forsaken your first love. Remember then from where you have fallen. Repent and do the deeds you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place– unless you repent.”

The principal influence of the community in Ephesus was AD 33 to ca AD 100. The principal influence of the community in Smyrna was ca AD 100 to ca AD 313. Earlier communities blended into the next communities, Our community, Shomair Yisrael Synagogue, likely has teachings and influences from earlier communities which preceded us.

I base today’s RR on Yeshua’s rebuke of the Ephesian community in Revelation 2:4: [Yeshua said] “But this I have against you, that you have forsaken your first love.”

A PERSONAL RR: I write today about my first loves. I have written piecemeal in the past about these loves, and I may repeat myself in places. I try not to write about my personal life in these RRs, but I have a purpose in making today’s RR  personal.

A FIRST LOVE– MY SAVIOR: Yeshua HaMashiach is my Savior. His Spokesman, the Ruach ha-Kodesh, invited me to marry spiritually the Bridegroom Yeshua. Briefly, this invitation occurred in this manner:

I was, perhaps, ten years of age. I sat, impatiently and fidgeting, on a pew in Lincoln Park Baptist Church, Knoxville, at my mother’s “invitation.” (I choose not to accuse my mother by using such phrases as “coercion” or “kidnapping,” but she was far more in favor of my being there than I was.) It was a hot Sunday morning in May. The only “air conditioning” in the early 1950s was provided by open windows and handheld funeral home fans. (Does anyone remember these pew fans? I believe our fans were supplied by Rose Mortuary.)

I looked wistfully out the open window, planning my day as soon as the long-winded pastor wound down. Lunch followed by games of marbles with my neighborhood friends sounded perfect. I had acquired a coveted prize– a steelie taw (a large ball bearing). I plotted how to take my friends to the cleaners.

Will this pastor ever finish, I wondered. I have important things to do. Then, suddenly without warning, He quietly came to me. He, I would later understand, was the Ruach ha-Kodesh. He gently invited me to follow Yeshua as my Savior. All thoughts about lunch and marbles ceased! I just had to walk to the front of the church (the altar) and surrender to the Lord, as is the custom in Baptist churches. No one could stop me! I had an invitation from the Spirit of God to surrender my life to Yeshua. I must go talk to the same pastor that minutes earlier I thought would never stop talking. No one could stop me! I had a Divine invitation to keep!

I would later learn that God had loved me before I ever thought of loving Him (1 John 4:19): We love [God], because He first loved us..

Shortly thereafter, I was baptized by water immersion. I have tried in my stumbling, ineffective way to follow Yeshua ever since, often failing miserably. An introspective Paul felt the same about himself (Romans 7:15-25): For I do not understand what I am doing– for what I do not want, this I practice; but what I hate, this I do. But if I do what I do not want to do, then I agree with the Torah– that it is good. So now it is no longer I doing it, but sin dwelling in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me– that is, in my flesh. For to will is present in me, but to do the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do; but the evil that I do not want, this I practice. But if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I doing it, but sin that dwells in me. So I find the principle– that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I delight in the Torah of God with respect to the inner man, but I see a different law in my body parts, battling against the law of my mind and bringing me into bondage under the law of sin which is in my body parts. Miserable man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God– it is through Messiah Yeshua our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself serve the Torah of God; but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin.

SIDELIGHT: Critics of our faith claim that the salvation experience is only  emotional chicanery invoked by slick-talking pastors and passionate music. They point to the seemingly irrational response of attendees at a Billy Graham Crusade who walked toward the front of the audience while the choir sang “Just As I Am.”  I am typical of many converts. On that May morning, I was not listening to the pastor and no music was sung. Without warning and without anyone’s suggestion, I heard from the Ruach ha-Kodesh that it was time for me to accept Yeshua as my Savior. I believe I had a personal invitation from Yeshua, and that no human influenced what would seem to be an illogical response. END sidelight.

Adonai has blessed me with my invitation to follow Yeshua as my Lord and Savior. Thank you, Adonai!

A FIRST LOVE– MY WIFE: Linda nee Hunley is my wife of more than sixty-one years. Briefly, this invitation for her to be my wife occurred in this manner:

I had the good sense to invite her to be my bride many years ago. Much to my amazement, she actually accepted my invitation! As is the situation in many marriages, my wife is far superior to me in many ways. Why she agreed to marry me remains a mystery. She even had mirrors in her house!

The main thing I wanted in life was a good wife and marriage and, God willing, children. I did not care much for dating, which I found to be somewhat boring. I met Linda as a blind date arranged by my best friend in high school and college, Leonard. On a bitter cold winter evening (in February, if I remember correctly), I located my blind date’s house. I knocked on the door, expecting a meaningless date. Wow! What a beautiful young lady answered the door. I soon found that she was uncommonly sweet, kind, smart, and… (how much space do I have?). I never dated another girl after this blind date with Linda and did not want to date anyone else. As far as I know, she dated no one after our date. I knew I had to convince her to marry me, and I made certain I kept her occupied so that no one else would date my Linda.

Experts would predict a failed future for us. We were probably too young to get married. We had no money. I was a student. We lived in the worst apartments in Memphis. We ate the cheapest food we could buy at Fred Montesi’s market. We had no television, automobile, or telephone. We had no entertainment such as going to a movie, but we could walk in the cool of the evening to the bank of the Mississippi River and watch the barges. Such “entertainment” should not be very exciting for a young woman, but Linda never complained– not once.

Over the next few years, Adonai blessed us with four children. I thought Linda was an exemplary wife, but she was an even better mother (and, later, grandmother).

Adonai has blessed me with a wife who is the love of my life. Thank you, Adonai! I am reminded of Proverbs 31:10-12: An accomplished woman who can find? Her value is far beyond rubies. Her husband’s heart trusts in her, and he lacks nothing valuable. She brings him good and not harm all the days of her life.

OTHER FIRST LOVES: I also have other first loves– including my children/ grandchildren and my nation. A logical question is: How can a person have several “first” loves?

In the quoted passage in The Revelation (Revelation 2:4), “first” translates the Greek prōtos. Prōtos usually implies (and is correctly translated as) first in order of time, succession, influence, honor, or rank. I believe, though, it is Messiah-like to be able to love many persons as “first” in honor, including the Person of God.

Yeshua Himself affirmed or taught three commandments about love a Believer should follow– love God with your entire being, love your neighbor as yourself, and love your fellow Believers as Yeshua loves us.

Yeshua did not say pick one love and forsake all others. Love all, whether unseen    (Adonai) or seen (neighbors). Of course, marriage vows involve a pledge to love one’s spouse and “forsake all others.” Adultery– marital love of more than one “spouse” – is forbidden by another commandment given to us by Adonai through Moses and affirmed by Yeshua.

IS LOVE FOR MY FIRST LOVES GROWING STRONGER OR WEAKENING? Yeshua admonished the community of Believers at Ephesus with this condemnation (Revelation 2:4): [Yeshua said] “But this I have against you, that you have forsaken your first love.”

I have taken the occasion of writing this RR to assess my “first loves.” I suggest it is prudent that each Believer also assess the love relationship he or she has with first loves.

I mentioned in this RR that I have several “first loves” – Yeshua (God in Three Persons), my wife Linda, my children/ grandchildren, and my nation. I can truthfully say that I have not forsaken any of my first loves.


● The love for Yeshua kindled in my heart as a young boy sitting on a church pew in Knoxville more than seven decades ago is still alive and well. I agree with Paul about the assurance of Adonai’s love (Romans 8:38-39): For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.

● The love for Linda kindled in my heart as a young man knocking on a door in  Knoxville more than six decades ago is still alive and well. Consider: (Proverbs18:22): Whoever finds a wife finds good, and receives favor from Adonai. – AND – (Hebrews 13:4a): Let marriage be held in honor among all and the marriage bed kept undefiled,…. – AND – (Genesis 2:24): [Marriage] is why a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife; and they become one flesh. – AND –  (Ephesians 5:25-26): Husbands, love your wives just as Messiah also loved His community and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, having cleansed her by immersion in the word.  – AND –  (1 Corinthians, chapter 13): Read the entire beautiful chapter on love. – AND –  Read other verses upholding the sanctity in God’s eyes of a marital union between one man and one woman.

● The love for my children and grandchildren kindled in my heart when I first laid eyes on them is still alive and well. God has given me children and grandchilkdren, and I gratefully thank Him (Psalm 127:3): Behold, children are a heritage of Adonai– the fruit of the womb is a reward.

● My love for my nation remains as strong as ever. Sadly, my nation is forsaking me, rather than my forsaking my nation. I do not recognize the United States of today, when compared with the nation I so dearly loved in the past, Yeshua warned us in the Olivet Discourse (Matthew, chapter 21; Mark, chapter 13; and Luke, chapter 21) of the upheavals in society that would create the degenerate, corrupt, immoral nation we now have. I am saddened by America’s collapse, but I am not surprised. Yeshua warned us of great apostasy and a time as in the days of Noah, as His return nears. When a nation fails God, each person must intensify his/ her dedication for him-/ her-self and family, as did Joshua (Joshua 24:15): [Joshua said] “If it seems bad to you to worship Adonai, then choose for yourselves today whom you will serve– whether the gods that your fathers worshipped that were beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will worship Adonai!”

I am confident I will go to my grave still loving my first loves. My God, my wife, and my children/ grandchildren have been faithful and kind to me. I could not ask for better. I am truly blessed,

I do strongly regret, though, that I was not a better child of God, a better husband for Linda, and a better father and grandfather. Bible authors flagellated themselves for being flawed. If the chosen of God failed, why am I surprised I fail? Maybe we should all  learn– and accept– that we humans will succeed only with Divine presence (Philippians 4:13): I can do all things through Messiah who strengthens me.

Alexander Pope (Essay on Criticism, Part II ,1711) wrote: “To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.” Pope’s poetry is not written directly in the Bible, but the concepts of human error (sin) and God’s gracious willingness to forgive that sin are foundational to Biblical teachings.

It may be too late for me to change my decades of error. I have tried to forgive every person who has “sinned” against me, because I will be forgiven of my sins against God only in the manner I have forgiven others (Matthew 6:14-15).

I have mellowed more, as I await the greatest unknown adventure of any person’s life. (Becoming mellow is much easier in retirement. My work was killing me physically and mentally.) The “greatest unknown adventure” of which I write is: When I take my last breath, will I enter a silent, dark state with no consciousness never to return? Or, will I enter Paradise and, later, Heaven with such amazing features that I cannot even begin to imagine?

WHERE DO YOU STAND WITH YOUR FIRST LOVES? I suggest you do a self-evaluation, as I have, to determine where you stand with God and others. Is it time to to re-kindle first loves? God, your family, and others may like to hear from you, “I love you.” John taught us that speech without action is meaningless (1 John 3:18): Children, let us not love with word or talk, but in deed and truth! Your first loves need to see a change in your actions toward them, not just glib words, to show that your love comes from deep within you.

Until next Sunday, Shalom and Maranatha.

Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 9 July 2023 20th of Tamuz, 5783
Nu 30:1[2]-31:12 Ez 14-15 Neh 9 Eph 2 (Lk 14)