Return to Your First Love
Revelation • Sermon • Submitted
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Please turn to Revelation 2:1-7
We just started the school year…and one of the things you have to look forward to getting this year if you are student or giving if you are a teacher…is a report card.
At their best, report cards are designed to give you a picture of reality.
what you are doing well; and what you need to improve on.
Here in chapters 2 and 3, Jesus gives 7 churches, real churches that existed in the ancient world, a report card of how they are doing.
and Imagine being one of those churches.
and the messenger delivers a scroll, and you sit there listening as Jesus, the all powerful God—gives you and your church a report card.
Our first church report card we see is in Ephesus.
(map) — there it is
and if you want some history on Ephesus, read Acts 19. there’s a lot of things happen—this church has a great history and heritage:
he finds some believers who did not know anything about the Holy Spirit—so Paul prays for them, lays hands on them, and they speak in tiongues.
we read in Acts 19 that Paul spent over 2 years teaching the Word of God in a public lecture hall.
we read that God did extraordinary miracles through Paul that even handkerchiefs and aprons that touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and evils spirits left them.
there’s a weird of story of demon possession;
there’s an account of a public burning of sorcery scrolls—those who came to Christ who used to practice sorcery.
and then there is a riot. b/c some of the silversmiths who made silver shrines of the goddess Artemis—their business was going down because people were coming to Christ.
and through this all a church was planted by Paul. believers grew—that was over 30-50 years ago.
This is the same church and area that the book of Ephesians was written to...
Turn to Revelation 2:1-7
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
2nd generation Christianity
The report card that Jesus has for the church has 3 parts--
It has the good....the bad…and the _____ (not ugly)…hopeful.
Good, bad, hopeful
look at verse 2 again:
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
They are known for being a church of actions—and he clarifies—hard work, and perseverance.
Many of us in this community value those kinds of things—hard work, action, perseverance.
not only that—they have great doctrine and they apply it. they have doctrinal discernment.
those people who are claiming to be apostles—that is key leaders in their church or community—they regularly test them and their doctrine and actions, and have found them to be false!
This is huge! In our day and age when we may say “who are you to judge me? or label something right or wrong—they do this. or easily believe what we hear or read on the internet—
do we have doctrinal discernment?
and this is important to do for me and our leaders and teachers here.
11 Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
You need to make sure you don’t always take my word or any teacher or leader’s word for it—test it!
Sometimes, we say “Doctrine doesn’t matter.”
ironically, that is a doctrinal statement!
and we behave based on what we believe.
doctrine matters immensely.
look at verse 3—the good continues...
3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
verse 6 brings up more positives
6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
this group will be mentioned again in verse 15. and it’s difficult to know what this heretical group taught.
at the very least their name is mentioned near characters like Balaam in the OT, and Queen Jezebel in the OT—we will talk more about them later—but these characters promoted sexual immorality, and idolatry—so at the very least we think this sect was mixing worship of Christ with immorality and idolatry “You can do both!”)
some even think that they twisted Paul’s teaching that you are free from the law b/c of grace and you can do whatever you want—like worship the emperor or visit a temple prostitute in Ephesus which they were famous for....but their doctrinal discernment and passion for the truth—and their perseverance all good.
they are a model church.
is there any where you need to be doctrinally discerning?
is there any place you need to persevere?
but then you get to the BAD:
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
some translations say “first love.”
this is describing the kind of love when they first converted to Jesus Christ.
they had lost the first enthusiasm and excitement in their Christian life. and had settled into a life that knows truth and just perseveres in life.
this is 2nd generation Christianity
this 2nd generation church had failed to maintain the fervor and passion they had at first.
Their love had what Jesus described as “growing cold”...
Now what kind of love are we talking about it? at least 3 kinds...
love for God (Jesus)
love for others
love for the Gospel
the kind of love that they had abandoned or forsaken was gone.
and this is getting to the heart of the passage:
It is possible to do good deeds on the outside
to have good doctrine in your brain and even us it
yet lack a deep, genuine passionate love for Jesus, others, and the Gospel.
(say it again)
One preacher says it like this: By all outward appearances this church looked healthy. Its doctrine was spot on, and the lifestyles of its members matched their confession. However— and this is an ever present hazard— they were in danger of becoming “a Pharisee church.” (remember the Pharisees—they seemed to do everything right yet their hearts were far from God!) They were in danger of a legalism that in time would be their death. They were still doing all the right things, but sometime in the past they had forsaken the right motivation. They didn’t have a head problem but a heart problem. Obedience out of duty had replaced obedience out of love for Christ. The difference between the two is massive. It is the difference between “I obey and Jesus accepts me” and “Jesus accepts me and I gladly obey.”
You see before God –it matters not just what we do, but why. Motivation matters big time. We see this all through Scripture—for instance,
—2 Corinthians 9:7—Paul said 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
or if you serve as a leader in the church--
2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve;
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
And you may say well this motivation is more than feeling—I would say “Yes!” to that but it also includes feeling to some degree. God cares the motivation behind our giving, doing, sacrificing for Christ.
Even in our human relationships we get this—if you have a best friend or a spouse and you find out that they are simply staying with you or being with you simply out of duty—they have to but are not delighting in their friendship or marriage—that could be very hurtful
And that is extremely dangerous.
Jesus says in vs. 5—if not, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place. Remember the lampstand in this imagery refers to the church—Jesus says if this situation is not change—he will bring judgement. He says I will come and remove the lampstand to your church. Now, this could mean he will shut it down, or at the very least—he is saying you are in danger of not being a real church. In addition, your witness as a lamp will not be truly effective.
The heart matters—the heart is the inner most core of our being (nor our biological heart) it is a complex system of our beliefs, feelings, wants, desires, values. When we act—we act based on what the heart wants, desires, values, feels, believes. When we speak—that is simply a symptom of the heart.
what are some signs you are like the Ephesians—b/c let’s face it—diagnosing the heart is difficult—especially if the actions and doctrine is there but not the affections...
No spiritual disciplines—lack being intentional and disciplined in pursuing the Lord. we can’t remember the last time we read the Bible—just to read it and learn about God and hear from Him. or pray—and stop and be silent and listen. or to spend time with a friend talking about your relationship with God. When is the last time you talk about with someone else and wanted to about your relationship with God. I can remember several times in my teen years and college years—when I would just read the Bible, chapter after chapter, excited and eager to learn. excited to pray. excited to share my faith. talk to my friends about it? When is the last time you and I had that?
Apathy—you may lack intentionality, but you find it hard to care…you feel very apathetic towards this. that is a sign of this.
Dry or checklist prayer life — I mentioned prayer before. Do you have a checklist prayer life—where your prayer life is a series of requests—check this off? or do you have times of praise and thanksgiving and intimacy with the Lord? times where you just pour our in praise to Jesus
all Duty no delight—is your Christian life characterized by duty not delight? more by serving out of fear — what will others think of me or will God strike me down if I don’t?
Lack of assurance of God’s love? in other words—do you serve with knowing that God really loves you…like if you mess up, are you able to ask for forgiveness and move on, or are you crushed.
Feeling superior to others…I have been focusing on God’s love—what about love for others? a sign that you have forsaken your first love is that you often feel superior or better than other people. No you may not feel it…but deep down if you know someone struggling or see someone struggling we think “Oh I am so glad I am not like this person” or “If only that person got their act together...” when you are doing this you are comparing yourself to others—lacking the love you had at first. lacking the grace you received
The 1 Corinthians 13 test this is famous for being the love test. another sign is look at these descriptions:
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8. cynicism—you are deeply skeptical about life, about people, that people can change and circumstances.
these are all signs that you may be like the church at Ephesus.
What are some reasons we may grow this way?
Lack of intentionality
we forget the basics matter (Patrick Mahomes story) sometimes we think little habits and basics are not exciting—but they matter!
The biggest thing, Mahomes said, was doing a deep dive on his own fundamentals. Studying the way he carried the ball. Ball placement. How to make his throwing base better. “Whenever you get in kind of a slump like that, I guess you would say it’s about, ‘How can I go back and just make it easier?’ This position is already so hard, why make it even harder?” he said. “For me I started being more patient, started taking the underneath stuff, and then started opening it up.”
Mahomes needed, he said, to hold the ball higher so he could get it out faster. He needed to have a better lower-body base when making his second or third read on a play. He said he tended to bring his feet too close together and have long strides while moving, and he worked on getting his feet in the exact right spot while throwing as the play extended. “Once I started doing that, and taking those completions, taking that stuff over the middle, and to the flats, I think it made defenses come up. And that allowed me to take that big shot that we always love doing,” he said. “Getting the ball out faster, making the right decision, not hanging on that one read.”
4. suffering can cause this—where we fall away
5. life going well can cause this b/c we get too comfortable
The Good…(vs. 2, 3, 6)
The Bad… (vs. 4)
let’s talk about the Hopeful…(vs. 5)
how to change:
If you see yourself in these signs—there is hope for you and actually hope to change. I find this encouraging—challenging but encouraging—that Jesus doesn’t say—hey you abandoned my love, good riddance, I am done with you, but no, you can actually have hope and change. Jesus gives us another chance.
look at vs. 5
5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
How can we change:
first—remember or consider...
the Bible is filled with calls to remember. we need to remember our original love for Jesus—and others. Our excitement, our joy when we first came to faith in Christ! My sins are forgiven! I am new in Christ! The Lord of the universe loves me!! because of Jesus I can have real meaning, peace, satisfaction, joy, hope, life.
to repent-mean to change direction.
in our hearts and actions.
and this is where it is tricky—pay attention—slap yourself.
you see they weren’t doing bad stuff—we often think repentance is just stop doing bad stuff, confess it to God, and do good stuff.
but it’s more.
they needed to repent of their heart motivation for the good stuff.
a. It is easy to notice when we do something wrong, stray—we confess that to the Lord and repent-
b. But it is trickier—when on the outside we are following God—we need to deeply in the heart repent—not just for the wrong—but for the wrong reasons even behind the good reasons. The Ephesians could say—“Hey we have done all this good stuff, we are enduring, we have great doctrine—we don’t need to repent.” Yes they do—yes we do—even the good things we do can be sinful if we do them for our glory rather than God’s. if we do them to earn God’s favor and somehow put God in our debt. If we are like the Pharisees who do such things to earn favor before God and man. so when we repent before the Lord—it’s not just the obvious sinful actions—but the attitudes and motivations behind our good, too!
c. Tim Keller quote—The Prodigal God – bottom of page 77 – 78
2. And then do the works you did at first—
a. So repentance, deep repentance gets at the heart
b. And produces action. Unless there is change not just in heart but in action—it is not true repentance.
let me end with some more hope.
look at verse 1.
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
Jesus is so powerful—and so authoritative—he holds the 7 angels—and they easily fit in his right hand.
He has the power to truly help you change. so many times we think people can’t change or I can’t change. but Jesus can help us.
and not only that—He walks among the lampstands—meaning he walks with you among the churches. He is powerful and big but intimate and walks with you. Jesus is walking among us—pursuing us—wooing us back, wanting us to repent and turn to Him.
if your love for him and others has grown cold—look to Jesus.
and look at what verse 7 promises
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
that word for victorious or conquer in your translation is where the company Nike gets its name — from nikeo - to conquer. So the one who perseveres in Jesus—will have victory—will eat from the tree of life that Adam and Eve had access to in the Garden.
and the reason we can participate is because Jesus died on the tree—the cross--
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
He died on the tree so we could eat from the tree.
he took the curse so we could be blessed.
where do you need to return to Jesus Christ today?