Sunday, Feb. 19
Revelation 2: But You Have Left Your First Love…
Cont’d from Rev. 2 Four Qualities of a Healthy Church
As I mentioned earlier, Ephesus was a great Church, and received a great report card from the exalted Christ Himself! But he has some admonishment for the Church as well. Now, what could possibly be wrong in a Church like this…in a Church that, by all appearances, looks like the First Reformed Baptist Koinonia of Ephesus? Well, let’s look at verse 4:
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Rev. 2:4
Now, I don’t like it when people have a gripe against our Church, but I don’t typically get too hung up about it. However, when the Lord of glory tells you that “I have this against you”, we better listen up because this is a serious issue. This was a Church that courageously stood for truth, but Jesus tells them that they had abandoned their first love.
Ephesians First Love: Love of Your Neighbor
Now, it’s not entirely clear if this first love refers to the love for Christ or the love for their neighbor, but I tend to think that the way they stood for Christ in the midst of the trashy and disgusting culture produced by the Temple of Diana, that the love they lost was the love for neighbor. After all, trying to love people in that culture would likely become difficult. Not only this, but remember that this Church had a reputation for faith and love of the saints. It makes more sense that this was their first love.
[box] And so, we should recognize that it is possible that a Church or an individual can labor and toil, they can hate sin, they can love the truth, they can endure for the name of the Lord…they can shine with those praiseworthy traits and still be in the throes of backsliding.[/box]
The smoldering heat of zeal and love for others was beginning to cool. It is possible to evangelize, to memorize our catechism questions, to love Bibllical truth, and still not love our neighbor.
But let’s admit that keeping a firm grip on the two handles of truth and love is a constant challenge for redeemed sinners who tend to favor one hand or the other. We need to be ambidextrous, but we often are not. Too often churches and their leaders either stand for biblical truth forcefully but without love… or else they preserve apparent unity and love at the expense of truth.
[box] Either we tend toward legalism, where we know we’re right and we’re going to force you to comply to every understanding I have; or we don’t care what you really do so that we all stay on a good standing with one another.[/box]
Example: How the Church Deals with Abortion and Homosexuals ~ Two Extremes
As an illustration, look at how the Church deals with homosexuals and with women having abortions, likely two movements flourishing in Ephesus. On the one hand, part of the visible Church today is so rightly maligned by the world because it tells women getting an abortion that they are going to hell for their murder; it tells homosexuals that they are going to hell for their perversion; it yells and screams and pronounces judgment. It has some truth…and no love.
On the other hand, there is a part of the visible Church that is rightly maligned by conservatives for telling women that abortion is ok. Or they tell homosexuals that what they’re doing is just fine. They’ll still go to heaven because God is merciful. This group has some love…and no truth. Of course, when the truth of the gospel truly grasps our hearts, love for others must result; and, by the same token, the love that delights Jesus grows only in the rich soil of fidelity to God’s truth.
[box] We must tell both the woman getting an abortion, and the homosexual, and the adulterer, and the murderer, and the pornographer, and the liar…that you are sinning and you must repent; but let me pray for you…let me help you…let me walk with you, hand in hand, out of a genuine love and concern for my neighbor.[/box]
Reclaiming Our First Love: Remember, Repent, Return
Jesus tells us how to fix this loss of love in verse 5:
Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. Let him who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
Jesus tells the Ephesians here to do three things; it is the three-fold path to spiritual renewal for a church and for our lives. Three things we must do: Remember, repent, and return. That’s what we need to do to prevent our flame from snuffing out completely and to prevent Christ from removing our lampstand and our witness as a church. This is the antidote to backsliding – remember, repent, return.
Step One: Remember
Remember the time when you first came to Christ and no one knew what had happened to you? You told everyone about Jesus, you preached to your parents, your spouse, your children, your boss, your next door neighbor, the homeless under the bridge. And, you couldn’t put the Bible down. You were reading and reading to the point that nothing else got done and people were wondering what was wrong with you. You wouldn’t think of watching TV because you had to read the Word and histories and theologies. And on Sunday, you’d never think of missing Church and to listen to the Bible opened and for truth to be poured out and smothered all over you.
[box] And so, if you feel the flame of love flickering and cooling this morning, then awaken your heart, beloved, to remember those moments of spiritual power when the presence of Christ had a grip on your heart. That’s step one.[/box]
Step Two: Repent and Turn
Failure to love our neighbor is a sin…in fact it is the second greatest sin in the whole world. So repentance is necessary. And, the word refers to an action; the action of changing directions.
[box] Repentance is not just a feeling of regret and sorrow. That’s good and right, but it’s not enough. You must stop and turn around. If we fall into a mud puddle, we can’t just sit there and cry, waiting for someone to get us. We must get out of the muck and slime immediately…as soon as we realize that we have fallen.[/box]
Step Three: Return to Your First Deeds
Step three is to return to the deeds we did at first. It’s not a complicated command. Do the works you did at first, and return to your first love. Redevelop your old spiritual disciplines: Get up early to pray and read the Bible. Lead family worship every night with the children – even your older children, or just with your spouse. Find an accountability partner; make a point to be in Church and Sunday school every week; memorize Bible verses; go back to the prison ministry; hand out bottles of water at concerts; deliver angel tree gifts; listen to Christian music again.
[box] Whatever those deeds are to awaken your heart…to allow you to sit at the Savior’s feet and listen to Him teach you once again. Remember, repent, and return.[/box]
And Church, let’s admit that this is easier said than done, but Christ warns that if we fail to do this, the lampstand will be removed. Do you know what still stands in Ephesus today? Nothing. There’s no city and there’s no Church.
[box] Our Lord Jesus doesn’t mince words with His warnings. Church, Ephesus is a bleak reminder of a Church that did not heed this letter and had its lamp snuffed out, removed, and placed somewhere else. May we never be so foolish to ignore the warnings of the Lord.[/box]
Let him who has an ear, hear what the Spirit says to the Churches.
Jesus Closes the Letter with Love to ‘Those Who Overcome’
And there is one last part of this letter, and that is the assurance. Look at verse 7:
To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
In this closing, Christ assures the Church that whoever overcomes will receive a great reward. Now, the obvious question is: who will overcome? Well, the answer is simple: it’s the Christians. It’s not some super spiritual subsection of the Church that will overcome – it’s all believers. How do I know? Well, the Apostle John tells us in his first epistle that the one who is born of God overcomes. In other words, ‘overcoming’ is an indication that you are, indeed, born of God.
And so, isn’t this a wonderful closing to the letter? It’s like Jesus adds His signature of hope to the bottom of the letter. He begins with His announcement of what He sees in the Church; He then admonishes them for their sin; but then He assures the true believers. And His assurance here is that we will one day receive something better than the best thing any of us can even conceive. Think of the best thing in the world: the love you feel from your family; the thrill of freefalling in a sky dive; the enjoyment of the Steelers winning another Super Bowl…whatever it is, just know that these little, brief patches of God light just point to the love, the thrill, and the joy that will never cease when we get to heaven.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word that leads and guides us. We pray, O Lord, that You will help us to learn from the strengths of the Ephesian Church…help us to be challenged and inspired by them. Help us to feel the weight of the admonition and warning that You provided. We ask that you would bring true, spiritual renewal to each of our lives. We thank You for being patient and merciful to the backslider, yet we ask for Your assistance in helping us to be quick to repent of our sins, so that you may reignite the fires of our first love. We love You, Lord, and we thank You in Jesus’s name.
Excerpt from the Sermon, “Message to the Seven Churches”, part of Pastor Mark’s Series on Revelation.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://koinoniachurch.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Brenon-headshot.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Pastor Mark Brenon is the husband of his wife Terri and the father of 4 children, including one of whom came via Chinese adoption. Mark and Terri live and homeschool their children in Magnolia, TX. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Engineering Management. Ordained in 2007, Mark is not only a bi-vocational Pastor, but he sits on the board of directors and board of faculty in a small Great Books and Bible college, named John Witherspoon College. He is an occasional conference speaker and has also participated in theological debates on Fox News and the Bob Siegel show. [/author_info] [/author]