Grace For The Journey
We are moving on to the second division of the book of Revelation. Remember that verse 19 of chapter one gives us our outline. Our Lord Jesus instructs John to write about the things that he had seen (ch.1), the things that are (chapters. 2-3) and the things that will happen after this (chapter 4 and following). We are looking at the things that are, beginning here in chapter 2. It is here in chapter 2 and 3 that we learn about these seven churches. We will look at them one at a time, learning how the circumstances of each church apply to us and the churches we belong to.
As a minister, I have frequently heard stories about folks who went to the doctor to have something done, to get something checked out and the doctor will order certain tests, including X-rays, Cat Scans, or MRIs to make sure all is well. Sometimes when the tests are done the doctors see something in that X-ray or Cat Scan that they did not previously know was there. The test revealed a problem that they are now able to correct, to treat.
It helps us to think of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Great Physician who looks at the condition of these seven churches with spiritual X-ray vision. With His penetrating eyes “like a flame of fire” (1:14), Jesus can see right into these seven churches and see what needs correction. What we read in chapters 2 and 3 are the X-ray reports of these seven churches. We are seeing what our Lord sees and, seeing in black and white, what looks good and what looks bad. You will note as we read each of these churches, there is a general pattern here with each of the churches. Jesus says, “Here is the good you are doing and here is the bad stuff you’re doing.” It is as though Jesus is going over the results of the X-rays with us and showing us what looks good and what looks bad. But then, like a good doctor that Jesus is, He does not just diagnose the problem; He also tells us what we need to do to treat the problem, to correct the problem. And, just as it is with our physical bodies, an early diagnosis leads to a good prognosis.
Let’s note that as we look at the X-ray of the church of Ephesus. Jesus says there is some good news and then there’s some bad news. The bad news is the first thing that shows up glaringly on the X-ray and it is found in verse 4, “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” That is Jesus’ way of saying, “You don’t love me like you used to. You are a church that has grown cold.” With that in mind I want us to learn from the church of Ephesus, and we will learn the good and the bad, and we will apply it to our personal lives and the life of the church we belong to. We are going to look at five ways to keep a church from growing cold.
Before we look at these five things, let’s remember that Jesus is doing the talking here. He is telling John to write down what He is saying and to address what He is saying to the angel of each church, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘ These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” What is important to remember about this is where Jesus is. He is the One “who holds the seven stars in His right hand” and the One “who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” It is a reminder of the protection of Jesus and the presence of Jesus. He is in control of the churches and He is there in the midst of the churches.
The first church addressed is the church at Ephesus. It is appropriate that Jesus begins with the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was an important city in the New Testament days. It was the super city, the capital city of Asia, more than a quarter of a million people in population, four great trade routes converged at Ephesus. Those of you who have been attending our Wednesday evening services know we have been studying First Corinthians. Ephesus reminds me of Corinth. Like Corinth, Ephesus was a harbor city and, therefore, a party city. If Corinth was the “The Vanity Fair of Europe,” then Ephesus was “The Vanity Fair of Asia.”
Ephesus was known for its bizarre religious worship of the fertility goddess “Diana,” or, in the Greek, “Artemis.” There was a huge temple built and dedicated to the worshipof theses gods. This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens, 450 feet long, 220 feet wide, with 127 pillars 60 feet high. You will read about the worship of Diana when you read the book of Acts, chapters 18-20. You’ll read in Ephesians 19:34 that, in response to the preaching of Paul, that for about two hours the pagan citizens there cried out, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” But Paul started a church there and he ministered to the Ephesians for about 2 ½ years. You can read all of that later on for background.
Let’s read what Jesus says to the church at Ephesus and, as we do, we’ll note these five ways to keep a church from growing cold. Number one:
1. We Should Have Scriptural Orthodoxy For Christ.
Verse 2 says, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.” In this verse we read about this church’s love for orthodoxy. The word “orthodoxy,” just means “the truth.” When we speak of “orthodoxy,” we are talking about things that are Scripturally true. Christian orthodoxy includes, for example, the truth that there is one God. Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. There is only one way to be saved, et cetera.
As Jesus goes over the X-ray report with the church at Ephesus, He says, “Here’s the good news. You have a love for the truth. You are Scripturally sound. You are orthodox in your beliefs.” That is what He means when He says, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.” The last part of that first sentence of verse 2 ought to get our attention. Who are those who are evil, and what does this mean?” The church at Ephesus was visited by certain teachers who claimed to be apostles who were not. Rather, they were found to be liars. Jesus commends the church for having spiritual discernment and a love for Christian truth. They were able to discern that these teachers who visited their church were false teachers teaching a false gospel.
We, too, should labor for Scriptural orthodoxy. We should likewise have a love for the truth and should protect ourselves from error. I take very seriously my role as the pastor-teacher of our church family. I do not invite just anyone to stand behind this pulpit and preach. I want to be sure that the person who stands to preach God’s Word is someone who will expound the Scriptures with integrity. We should be equally concerned in our Sunday School classes. We must be sure that people are teaching the truth and not leading folks astray.
Now the best way to recognize false teaching is to know the truth. You and I cannot recognize error unless we know the truth. This means we must be individuals and a church that takes seriously the study of Scripture. We must be reading it regularly in our individual devotion time as well as expounding the Scriptures in corporate worship. The pastor’s role is to teach the Bible more than anything else.
Here is a good mark of the church.
Number two, here’s something else that looks good on the X-ray . . .
2. We Should Have Steadfast Loyalty To Christ.
The church at Ephesus was loyal to Christ. They were steadfast in their faith. Look at verse 3, “And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” They have endured through difficult times. They have not given up. They stuck with the stuff. There are a lot of folks who make decisions for Christ, but when the going gets tough, they leave Him. They turn their backs upon the Lord Jesus Christ. By turning away from Him, by giving up, they are demonstrating their disloyalty to Christ.
One thing good about the church at Ephesus is their steadfast loyalty to Christ. They persevered, they endured, during the most difficult times. They stuck with Christ. We should learn from their example. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Jesus guarantees that you and I will have difficult days as we follow Christ, but do not give up. Remember that He is with us, and He has overcome this world of tribulation.
Those are a couple of good things we see on the X-ray. Those are a couple things we can apply to our situation here. We should have Scriptural orthodoxy for Christ and steadfast loyalty to Christ.
AS we continue our study in verse 4 and five, we read a problem spot on the X-ray. Jesus says, number three . . .
3. We Should Have Sustained Intimacy With Christ.
Sustained intimacy – That is, we should continually desire with the Lord Jesus Christ. Our love for Jesus should be constant. See how Jesus puts it in verse 4, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” That is Jesus’ way of saying, “You don’t love me like you used to.” I find this an amazing indictment, given all the good that the church at Ephesus was doing . . .
- They were Scripturally orthodox. They had a love for truth.
- They labored hard for the Lord Jesus. They had a strong determination to stay with the mission in spite of all the opposition!
That should cause us some serious pause and reflection. You can labor hard for the Lord Jesus Christ, you can be busy serving Him in a church, you can have a love for Biblical truth . . . and not love the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of it! I mean Ephesus is a busy church. Man, they are involved in every program the denomination offers. They have got classes for everything. They have got Bible Study; they have got discipleship training; they have got prayer meetings; they have missions training and involvement; and they have a strong music ministry.
They are even doing FAITH!
That is all good. But Jesus says, “As good as all that is, I have something against you. You have left your first love.”
We should have
Intimacy with Christ.
I have known Christians like this. They claim to love truth. They claim to love the church. But their heart, and zeal, for the things of God you is missing. If they really loved the Lord Jesus, the love of Christ would just spill over. This is evidence that you have left your first love. That is the diagnosis.
Jesus, the Great Physician, gives the cure, verse 5, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” Remember . . . Remember from where you have fallen. Remember your first love. Remember when you first came to know Jesus? Remember when you fell in love with Him? It is much like a human relationship. We need to cultivate the love for our spouses. Our love should grow over the years. The honeymoon should not be the only time of infatuation.
Somebody said, “The honeymoon is that period of time between ‘I do’ and ‘You’d better!’” The honeymoon is a blissful time. It is a time of incredible intimacy with the one we love. We need to remember that time. I heard about a woman whose husband was neglecting her and he just never seemed to be romantic anymore, never seemed to be tender anymore, and a young couple moved-in next door and they were so much in love, still on the honeymoon and she watched this young lady and her husband. And she was watching one day out the window and she watched the man going off to work and how he hugged her and then kissed her and then off he went. One morning she watched them and she called her husband over to the window to look and she said, “You see what he’s doing? Why don’t you do that?” He said, “Well, I hardly know the woman.” During the honeymoon time, we are getting to know this one we love. And the intimacy is exciting, electric, and powerful. And that love relationship should grow.
It is the same with Jesus. Remember when you were first saved? Remember the time you spent reading the Bible, you could not wait for the church doors to open? You wanted to be at the church for everything. But all of that has been missing lately. Jesus says to some of us, “You’ve left your first love. You don’t love me like you used to. Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” Remember. Then, He says in the next part of verse 5, “ … repent and do the first works” . . . Repent and Return. Repent – that means, turn back to the Lord. Turn back to Jesus and then Return, that is, “Do” the first works. Return to the things you used to do naturally out of love for Me. Get back into the word. Get back into faithful attendance of the worship services and Bible studies. Do the first works, Repeat the things you used to do, naturally out of love for Jesus alone. This involves learning and applying biblical principles to our lives which leads to us naturally wanting to sing because of the presence and goodness of God, telling others of God’s inexhaustible love and power, teaching a Bible Study class and personally sharing the truths we are learning so they can know God as we do, sharing your faith in the workplace, and leading your family in the things of God.
Then, Jesus gives a warning if the church does not do as He asks, “… or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.” If the church does not remember, repent, and return, Jesus says, “I will remove you – you will lose you influence, your testimony, and your mission.” Ephesus failed to fully apply the Lord’s teachings and that is why it is in ruins today.
We should have spiritual orthodoxy for Christ, steadfast loyalty to Christ, sustained intimacy with Christ, and fourthly . . .
4. We Should Have Sanctified Purity Before Christ.
This is another good sign on the X-ray report. Jesus some more good things about them in verse 6, “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Nobody really knows exactly who “the Nicolaitans” were. One thing we do know from the context. Later in chapter 2, we read of the church at Pergamos. We read in verses 14-15 that the sins of the Nicolaitans included idolatry and sexual immorality.
A church should be sanctified and pure before the Lord Jesus Christ. We should hate anything that is remotely connected with idolatry and sexual immorality. Idolatry and sexual immorality was rampant in Ephesus. That great temple I mentioned earlier, the Temple of Diana, contained thousands of priests and priestesses who served in the temple as religious prostitutes. The idea was that by engaging in sexual relations with these priests and prostitutes that one would be blessed by the false goddess, Diana.
We may not have the same kind of thing going on where we live, but we are just as tempted by idolatry and immorality. With all of the temptations before our eyes, we must remain sexual pure, being a people of sanctified purity before Christ.
Finally . . .
5. We Should Have Spiritual Victory In Christ.
In verse seven, Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” If you are listening, really listening, Jesus has a word for you. He says, “Hear what the Spirit says to the church at Ephesus;” is that what He says? No. Hear what the Spirit says to “the churches,” plural. Jesus has a word for every member of every church. Remember we said before that the seven churches are literal, historical churches, but the number seven, being a symbol of completion and wholeness, reminds us that these seven churches are also symbolic of every church throughout history. That truth is re-affirmed here by the words of Jesus, “Hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
And what does He say? He speaks of our victory in Christ, “To him who overcomes” – that is, to the Christian – “I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” The Christian partakes of the tree of life. When Adam and Eve sinned, the tree of life was banished from the Garden of Eden. It is now situated in “the Paradise of God,” a synonym for heaven. And the Christian partakes of the tree of life through the work of Jesus Christ. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And He is the only way we may have victory, victory over death. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes unto the Father, except by Me.”
This is why we love Jesus. As John writes elsewhere, in 1 John 4:10, “Here is love. Not that we loved God, but that He loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Recently, I read about Henry W. Grady. He was once the famous editor of the newspaper, the Atlanta Constitution. After he gave a great speech on “The New South” he was hailed as a national hero. But Henry Grady knew that deep down something was desperately wrong in his life. One day he told the members of his staff to look out for the paper for a few days, that he just needed to get away for some rest and reflection. He started back to his old boyhood home in the mountains. He arrived there late in the evening. His mother was sitting on the front porch reading her Bible. She heard the front gate open, she looked up and said, “Why Henry. What a surprise! What brings you home? I didn’t expect you.” He said, “Mother, something is desperately wrong. I have lost something, and I need you to help me find it.”
His mother fixed supper for him that night and they washed the dishes together. Then they went out on the front porch, and she sat down in the rocker, and he sat at her feet with his head in her lap, just as he did in the days when he was just a boy. He began to listen to his mother talk about the Lord Jesus Christ and how wonderful it was to be saved, and just talking to him about the things of God, like she did when he was growing up. He began to feel something in his heart grow warm once again. Finally, it was time to retire, and he and his mother went up to his bedroom and they knelt, just as they used to kneel by the bed to pray. His mother even kissed him goodnight and tucked in the covers around him.
Henry Grady did not sleep very much that night. He spent those hours in recollection, in remembering, in repenting, and in repeating. The next morning, when he kissed his mother goodbye to go back to his office at the Constitution, his heart was full of joy, a burden had been lifted. He was a different man and he knew it. When his mother said to him, “Why, Henry, you look so different than you did yesterday.” He said, “Mother, thank you for helping me find what I lost. I am ready to go back to work now, mother, for I have fallen in love with Jesus all over again.”
If you are a Christian . . .
I want to tell you,
Whatever our problem,
That is the answer:
To fall in love with
Jesus all over again.
Has your Christian walk become a dead routine, work, work, work for the church but no warmth of the fire, no joy, and no enthusiasm for the Lord? Fall in love with Jesus all over again. Do you feel as though your church life is disconnected from your work and social life? Fall in love with Jesus all over again.
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!