The Church Which Left Its First Love: Ephesis
The Church Which Left Its First Love: Ephesus Spring Valley Mennonite; September 23, 2018; Revelation 2:1-7 The original audience for the Book of Revelation was the Church existing in the last decade of the first century. In chapters 2 and 3 seven churches were addressed by the Lord Jesus, seven being the number of completion; these seven churches represented all existing types of churches. And while these individual existing congregations are addressed, each message has the command, “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Note that “churches” is plural. These are universal letters which have applied at the time they were written, down through the centuries, and they still apply today. There is a set pattern to each individual letter: Each is addressed to the leader of the congregation, each begins with a different way identifying Jesus Christ as the author, each has the words “I know your works”. The heart of the message begins with praise and commendation, followed by a searching word of criticism, or a combination of criticism and commendation; next each message closes with an allusion to His coming. A final word of caution to listen is followed with a promise given to the one who overcomes. This is the pattern for each of the seven letters. If you look on a map to locate these seven churches, the order in chapters 2 and 3 form a rough circular pattern, beginning with Ephesus, then proceeding north before circling to the east then south. The message is addressed to the “angel” or messenger, which gives credence to the idea that this “angel” refers to the Pastor, who would be best able to pass the message to his people. He also would have the responsibility to lead the people in steps of correction. Turn to the second chapter of Revelation as we begin our study. (Read vs 1.) I. JESUS AND HIS CHURCHES We see something in this first verse which is very important about the relationship of the Lord Jesus and His churches: We observe a two-fold attitude which the Lord holds toward believers, and thus His church: He first holds them in His hand, and secondly, He walks among them. As His children, we are held securely in His hand. John wrote in his gospel, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” This speaks of our secure position in Christ’s and the Father’s hand. But Jesus is also walking among us observing and watching our deeds: this is our condition as we grow in our walk with Christ. We progress in maturity as we obey or disobey; when Christ corrects us, if we adjust our direction and lifestyle. The result will be the blessing of the Lord. This is basically what the Lord Jesus wishes to accomplish in these letters. Jesus is intimately involved in our lives to the extent we allow, and according to the choices we make. The Lord is involved with each church, evaluating, those “eyes as of burning fire” searching our hearts and motives. And, as we individual Christians respond to the leading of the Lord, so goes the church. We cannot escape the assumption that all believers are to be associated with and identified as part of a church. The idea of “lone-ranger” Christians existing outside of a local is completely contrary to Scripture. Consider again the concept of all the “one-anothers” in the New Testament: it is impossible to “one-another” by yourself. II. THE COMMENDABLE DEEDS OF THE CHURCH AT EPHESIS (Read vv. 2 and 3.) Following the pattern of each of these letters, Jesus begins by commending the church. As we look over these characteristics of the Ephesian church, we see a strong and capable congregation. They are doctrinally strong. Today we would call them a strong “Bible believing church”. They are doing all the right things. They have heeded the Apostle Paul’s warning recorded in Acts 20:29-30; listen to Paul’s words in his farewell address to this church where he invested so much time and energy: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert…” Jesus has observed that they “hated the evil men who claimed to be apostles” and tried to teach contrary doctrines. The believers in Ephesus were also hard workers and were not easily discouraged. The positive qualities of perseverance and endurance were theirs; they were not growing weary as they continued to do good. This church was very capable in discerning truth from error. Today we are faced with many challenges regarding truth. Our culture has redefined truth to be whatever is expedient or what the majority determines truth should be. This foolish idea that each person determines his own truth is becoming predominant, and those who hold the idea that there are absolutes, things that are always right or wrong, are now viewed as being intolerant. But we have an absolute standard of right and wrong: The Word of God. By this absolute standard we can discern what is true and what is false. We, following the example of the Ephesians, must never stray from the absolute standard of God’s Word. Jesus commends churches who stay true to the Word of God. As strong as this church was, they had a serious flaw: Read v. 4. This afternoon I am conducting a wedding for the daughter of a dear family we know. In my charge to the couple, I will use the text from 1 Corinthians 13 describing love: love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; it does not brag and is not arrogant. I will begin with verse 4, because the first three verses deliver a the strongest condemnation toward Christian service without love: The first verses of chapter 13 of Corinthians tells us that I can speak with the greatest eloquence, can unlock the mysteries of Scriptural prophesy, and speak with the greatest wisdom; I can give of my wealth until I am impoverished and can have the greatest faith which can accomplish wonderful things for the Lord, I can even submit to martyrdom—BUT IF I HAVE NOT LOVE AS MY INWARD MOTIVATION, ALL THESE THINGS COUNT FOR NOTHING! You can see why I begin with verse 4! The Ephesian church was DOING all the right things, but they had left their first love. It is instructive that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church written roughly 35 years earlier had remarked about their love for one another: Ephesians 1:15: “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.” Remember how the Lord instructed that one main way we demonstrate our love for God is to love one another. These ones which Christ was addressing were of the second generation from those Paul to which he was writing in the Book of Ephesians. New believers are characterized by a passion and love for the Lord. A church full of new believers is a church filled with passion. But after the first generation died off, the children of those first Ephesian believers were strong in doctrine and holding fast the truth, but their love had grown cold and serving the Lord had drifted into something routine and commonplace—duty had replaced a passionate love for the Lord. This sort of thing also commonly happens in a marriage. For those who are or who have been married, think of your days of dating and courtship. Your thoughts were filled with thoughts of the one you loved. You couldn’t do enough to demonstrate your love for them! How excited you were when you could spend time together! This continued through the engagement and into the first years of marriage. But time has a way of dulling passion. Differences and conflicts arise. How often couples begin to grow apart and come to the place where they say, “I just don’t love them anymore”. Through counseling, prayer and God’s power this love can be deepened and renewed. This is what we mean when we say that marriage takes continual work. Paul observes in Ephesians that marriage is an illustration of Christ’s relationship to the church: The Church is the bride of Christ. So, I think what happens in a marriage is a good picture of what happened in the Ephesian church, and what can happen in any church—and what happens in our own personal relationship with the Lord Jesus. We need to stop for a moment for personal evaluation. I personally had a “come to Jesus moment” this week in which my lack of passion for the things of the Lord became clear. How is your relationship with Christ? Have you left your first love? I have never been part of a church such as Spring Valley where everyone pitches in and willingly serves, even sacrificially. For this I am awed! But I cannot read your heart and your inward motivations. I think the Lord would have me ask you “Has your service to the Lord become routine and commonplace, more characterized by the word ‘duty’ than love?” I am so thankful that the Lord gives us the cure for regaining our passion and love for Him and others: III. THE CURE AND PATHWAY TO RETURNING TO OUR FIRST LOVE Read v. 5. Jesus gives the church three steps for returning to their first love: Remember, repent and redo. They were to remember from where they had fallen. The picture is instructive: one never falls up, but we always fall down. The passionate first love of one for Christ is the highest and most exalted position one can experience. This once-experienced closeness to Christ can be regained, and the first step is to think about how great it was, and to contrast your current status with the past. We remember what we felt when we realized that we could be free from the heavy load of shame and guilt over our sin; when we knew the intensity of God’s love because of grace—realizing that we neither earned or deserved our salvation. We remember the peace in our souls and the delight in following closely such a gracious and loving Father. Having seen and remembered how wonderful our closeness was, we begin to desire that closeness again, whatever the price. Then we find that this sin of complacency and drifting away has already been paid for! Every sin we ever could or will commit has been forgiven—all we need to do is to repent of that sin. To repent means “to change our mind” (the Greek word is formed by the prefix: meta-change and the root: noia-the mind. It is an inner change, a decision to change direction: I am going to move toward Christ, or move back up to Christ (remember, we have fallen) instead of continuing to exist with relational distance between us. It helps to realize that the closer we are to Christ, the greater the joy and blessing; conversely, the further we stray, the more dangerous and plagued with difficulty will be our life. I like the illustration of an umbrella in a rainstorm: as long as we are under the umbrella we stay dry. If we choose to walk outside the protection provided, then we get wet. God loves us so much that He will discipline us—and He has all the resources of the universe at His disposal—to help us realize we have fallen from our position of protection and privilege and first love. So we decide to confess our sin, our complacency and our drifting away from our first love. This is an act of the will: I will repent and change my mind resulting in a change of direction. I will choose to move back toward my first love. The third step is the action step; the first two are mental and attitude change steps; repenting being a decision of the will. The step which is to follow repentance is to re-do the things, the deeds we did at first. What are those deeds? What characterizes our “first love” deeds? Consider: • We made a vow of exclusivity: no other loves before God. Just as we vow in marriage to give our love and allegiance and devotion to only one person, we did so with God. Is anything more important right now than your relationship with God? • We were serious and passionately involved in worship and devotion to God. Has your worship become routine and commonplace? • We had an insatiable desire to be close to the Lord Jesus, to please Him and do the things He tells us to do. We remember Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments.” Remember the new commandment He gave? “Love one another.” • We made the commitment to put His interests before our own, to make His interests our own, to love and to cherish no matter what circumstances would come: (for better for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer). We remember our vows to let Him be Lord of my life. Is He? • We agreed, with His power, to walk as He walked; How did Jesus walk while on earth? He walked in mercy, compassion, alleviating misery, freely giving to the needs of others, sacrificing Himself totally as a servant, even to death on the cross. He taught the truth and backed it up by living the truth. His life shined light into the darkness of our experience. These are our “first love” actions. But notice, the Ephesian church was good at doing things; but the missing factor was doing them out of love, not duty. IV. ONE LAST COMMENDATION AND CHALLENGE Read vv. 6-7 Who were the Nicolaitans that Jesus hated, and were their deeds? I would love to give you a definitive answer, but little is said about them in the Biblical record or in History. Several plausible explanations have come forth: the word root is said to be “laity” with a prefix “Nikao” meaning “to conquer”. If you ever have wondered about where the Nike brand came from… The idea was of those who advocated a political hierarchy over the people of the church. The result of such a hierarchy is that leaders are more concerned in looking good to their superiors, who control their careers, than about serving Christ and the church. This is one suggestion about the identity of the Nicolaitans. Another equally plausible suggestion revolves around a man named Nicolas who taught that the flesh was of no concern to God, so one could indulge the flesh completely without any consequence; they advocated free love and all manner of immorality. Which is the true identity of the Nicolaitans? We don’t really know, but what we can know is that there can exist movements within the church that Jesus hates. The History of Christianity has had any number of such movements. One such one today would be the Prosperity gospel which claims that God’s will for every Christian is that we be healthy and wealthy (and send your dollars to this address…) The challenge for the church in Ephesus and for us is the same: Now that you have heard it, do something about it. (He that has an ear, let him hear). The promise for those who hear and follow through is the glorious promise of heaven, and to eat of the tree of life which is there. Correct doctrine and hard work are not enough to escape the hard discipline of the Lord. Our attitude in serving and learning is all-important. We each need to evaluate whether we have fallen from our first love. If so, we need to remember, repent, and re-do the deeds of that first love.