Oh, how I remember when faith was young and the passion for my Savior ran hot like molten lava down a mountainside affecting every area of my life. I remember sitting in my dorm room in college and reading the most exciting book I had ever read before. I couldn?t get enough. I wanted to know more. I carried little cards in my pocket with Scriptures written on them to class, to lunch, to practice, everywhere I went so that I could ?hide God?s Word in my heart.? I was alive, truly alive, for the first time in my life and it wasn?t because I had scored a touchdown, won the lottery, or finally found someone who made me happy.
There wasn?t any place where I would not go to share God?s love. I saw no person as outside of the reach of God?s gracious grip. I recognized every opportunity to serve, to share, or to speak of His love and mercy as a blessing and not a burden. My eyes had been opened to the wonders of the Savior?s love for me. My heart burned with love and I was consumed with a desire to know Him more and more.
Time rocked along and I went to Seminary and got involved in ministry, ?professional ministry.? My time of sweet fellowship with my Savior turned into planning Bible studies, youth outings, and managing volunteers and budgets. In the early days of my walk with the Lord I saw the Lord lead people into my life for me to share with, but those times became planned excursions to ?make contacts.? The passion that once gripped me was converted into hours of planning. The burning desire to be a witness to Jesus? sweet grace became the grind of doing the Lord?s work and meeting deadlines. I was so innocent, so na?ve, in those early days of my faith and yet there was a genuineness and authenticity that was unmistakable. The innocence and naivet? were replaced with a drive to be successful. The push for numbers, more and more kids to come to Christ, more and more kids to attend Sunday school and youth group, brought about a numbness to the joy that I had once experienced in just being with my Savior and asking Him to use me however He wanted. Somewhere along the way my love for my Savior was replaced with a passion to succeed. How would I ever get back to my first love?
I don?t know if any of you can relate to my story, but I?ve heard of others who went away to summer camp, a women?s conference, or a Promise Keepers weekend and fell in love with Jesus only to watch the blazing coals of passionate love die down once they came off of their mountain top experience. For those of you here this morning that have sensed a wave of coldness, complacency, or callousness wash over your passionate love for Jesus, don?t despair, there is hope for you and me this morning. Our hope, how we can get back on track and regain our passion for our first love, is found in our study of Jesus? words to the church in Ephesus. Turn with me to Revelation 2:1-7 and let?s read our Scripture for today.
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: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which 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. 6But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:1-7 NIV)
The seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 were actual churches located in Asia Minor in the first century. Each of these letters is so important for us to understand, not just from a historical standpoint, but we need to study these letters looking for practical application for our own lives and the lives of our churches as well.
This morning we will take a look at the first of the seven letters, Jesus? letter to the church of Ephesus. It is important for us to understand the situation the church was facing in the city of Ephesus. The importance of this city can?t be overemphasized. John MacArthur has written in his commentary.
Although not its capital (Pergamum was the province?s official capital), Ephesus was the most important city in Asia Minor. (Since the Roman governor resided there, it could be argued that Ephesus was the de facto capital.) Its population in New Testament times has been estimated at between 250,000 and 500,000 people. The city?s theater, visible today, into which the frenzied rioters dragged Paul?s companions Gaius and Aristarchus (Acts 19:29), held an estimated 25,000 people. Ephesus was a free city (i.e., self-governing, within limits), and no Roman troops were garrisoned there. The city hosted athletic events, rivaling the Olympic games. Ephesus was the primary harbor in the province of Asia. (By law incoming Roman governors had to enter Asia through Ephesus.) The city was located on the Cayster River, about three miles upriver from where it flowed into the sea. Those disembarking at the harbor traveled along a magnificent, wide, column-lined road (the Arcadian Way) that led to the center of the city. Ephesus was also strategically located at the junction of four of the most important Roman roads in Asia Minor. That, along with its harbor, prompted the geographer Strabo (a contemporary of Christ) to describe Ephesus as the market of Asia. (John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11, pg. 57-58)
Ephesus was like one of our major metropolitan cities today. As important as the city was politically and in the world of commerce, the city was also very well known for its diverse religious fervor. Robert Mounce writes,
The imperial cult was not neglected in Ephesus. Temples were built to the emperors Claudius, Hadrian, and Severus. The major religious attraction, however, was the Temple of Artemis (Diana in Latin), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. (Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, pg. 67)
In the major metropolitan, culturally diverse, and religiously pluralistic city sat the church of Jesus Christ. When we understand these things about Ephesus, Jesus? letter to the church is transformed from mere words on a page to an intimate letter from One who loves His church. Let?s take a look at verses 1-3 and see what we can learn.
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: 2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. (Revelation 2:1-3 NIV)
In the first verse of Revelation 2 we find the letter addressed to the ?angel of the church in Ephesus.? There is a difference of opinion about who the ?angel? is in this verse. The disagreement is over the Greek word, ?a;ggeloj? (aggelos) which means, ?a messenger, envoy, one who is sent, an angel, a messenger from God.? Thayer?s Greek Lexicon tells us,
The angels of the churches’ in Revelation 1:20; 2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,7,14 are not their presbyters or bishops, but heavenly spirits who exercise such a superintendence and guardianship over them that whatever in their assemblies is worthy of praise or of censure is counted to the praise or the blame of their angels also, as though the latter infused their spirit into the assemblies; (Thayer?s Greek Lexicon)
Still, other Bible commentators believe that the ?angel? was the Pastor, Bishop, or Elder of the church?the messenger who delivered the Word of God to the people.
The next phrase that we read in verse 1 identifies who wrote the letter to the church. We read, ?These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:? Do you recognize that phrase? We read it in Revelation 1. Take a look with me beginning at verse 12.
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,”? 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:12-13; 16 NIV)
In each of the seven letters we will find one of the descriptions of Jesus from Revelation 1. We won?t take time to look at them this morning, but it would be a good time of study for you to compare each of the seven letters with the descriptions of Jesus in Revelation 1. This morning we are focusing our time of study on the letter to the church in Ephesus.
In verse 2 Jesus says, ?I know?? The Greek word, ?eivdw/? (eido) means, ?to see, to pay attention, to perceive by any of the senses, to inspect or examine.? Jesus knows His churches. He knows the folks in Ephesus. The seven churches that are listed in Revelation 2-3 were important churches, but they weren?t the only churches in existence at the time. Jesus knew every single one. He knew the intimate details of the churches life. Regarding the church in Ephesus Jesus says,
2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. (Revelation 2:2 NIV)
Jesus is the Risen Savior who walks the halls of His churches; He observes the activity going on in Board meetings and prayer meetings. He watches as the broken and beaten down come through the door needing help. He sees the compassion, or lack of compassion, offered or withheld from the least of these. He listens in on the chit chat, gossip, rumors, prayers, and tender words of comfort and consolation shared. He sees it all, He hears it all, and He knows everything that is taking place in all of His churches. To the church in Smyrna He says,
9 I know your afflictions and your poverty– yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NIV)
The church in Sardis appeared to be full of life. There were lots of programs and activities for everyone. The church was the talk of the town and yet Jesus stood in the classrooms and courtyard of the church in Smyrna, He saw beneath the surface, and this was His assessment of the church in Sardis.
To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1 NIV)
Jesus sat in on the Sunday school classes of the church of Philadelphia, He attended the Elder?s meeting and He saw that it was a struggling church, a church that was facing obstacle after obstacle and barely getting by. Jesus speaks to the church in Revelation 3:8.
8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:8 NIV)
The piercing gaze of the Messiah examined the church in Laodicea and He diagnosed its deadly disease. Turn with me to Revelation 3:15 and let?s see what we can learn from Jesus? observations.
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (Revelation 3:15 NIV)
Jesus is walking with us at Britton Christian Church today?what is He saying? That is a pertinent question, an important question that ought to always be before us as a church? We don?t gauge how we are doing by comparing ourselves to the top 10 churches in Oklahoma City. We should never evaluate how we are doing by what we think we should be doing. We should be prayerfully seeking for the Lord to show us His will, to lead us, guide us, and correct us when we get off track.
What does Jesus know about the church of Ephesus? Well, take a look at verses 2-3 and you can find out.
2I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. (Revelation 2:2-3 NIV)
Jesus knows about their deeds, their hard work, and their perseverance. He knows that they can?t tolerate wicked men. He knows that they won?t allow just anyone to come in and teach in the church. The leaders of the church in Ephesus checked the theology of the traveling teachers to see if they were truly followers of Jesus or simply trying to infiltrate the church to lead others astray. Jesus knows that the people in the church at Ephesus have endured hardships for the cause of Christ. Through the hardship and persecution they have tenaciously held on and not grown weary. Wow! What a church.
You and I can start to get a profile of the type of church the First Church of Ephesus was by looking at these commendations, the ?atta boys? offered by Jesus. This is a hard working church. They don?t flinch in the face of persecution. They won?t wink at the false teachings of those who claim to be apostles, but aren?t. These folks have perseverance. They are marathon runners in a world full of forty-yard dash contestants. They are in it for the long haul. The Ephesian believers are a people of perseverance. We?ve taken a look at that little word before, but it won?t hurt us to look at it again. The Greek word for ?perseverance? is ?u`pomonh,? (hupomone) and the word means, ?steadfastness, constancy, endurance.? In the New Testament it is the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.
In a society full of all kinds of strange religious teachings, from Emperor worship to the diabolical ideas that were shared at the Temple of Artemis, the Ephesian church had taken seriously the call to preserve the faith. They wanted to keep the Word of God pure and untainted. They would not compromise the teachings of Jesus no matter how much pressure was applied. The Ephesians were men and women who were committed to Truth. Jesus knew this about His people in Ephesus and He commended them for their passion for the truth.
Even though Jesus commends His followers for their perseverance and passion for the truth, His letter doesn?t stop at this point. Jesus says, 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. (Revelation 2:4 NIV) Robert Mounce writes,
Every virtue carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. It seems probable that desire for sound teaching and the resulting forthright action taken to exclude all imposters had created a climate of suspicion in which love within the believing community could no longer exist?Good works and pure doctrine are not adequate substitutes for that rich relationship of mutual love shared by those who have experienced for the first time the redemptive love of God. The Ephesian church had forsaken its first love. The expression includes both love of God and love of humanity at large? (Robert Mounce, The Book of Revelation, pg. 69.)
It had been forty years since the church had been established. Forty years is a long time and much can happen in forty years. We can go back to Paul?s letter to the church of Ephesus and see that love was once alive among the people of the church in Ephesus in a day gone by. In Ephesians 1:15-16 we read,
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:15-16 NIV)
Isn?t that interesting? Before Paul had ever visited the church he heard about their faith and their love for all of the saints. In Ephesians 3:16-19 Paul writes,
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19 NIV)
Paul says that the people of Ephesus were ?rooted and established in love.? The church that ?was? is not the church that Jesus writes to in His letter found in the book of Revelation. What had happened? What changed? I don?t think we have to have someone from Ephesus give us those answers. There are probably many of us here this morning that can answer the question. What happened to the love? What happened to the passion to serve the Lord by being a blessing to His people? Did the new wear off? Did you get busy or distracted with the responsibilities of life? Did your heart turn cold when you were you taken advantage of by someone you tried to help? Did you get your feelings hurt when you didn?t get the appreciation or respect you thought you deserved? Did you pour your heart into serving God and then encountered problems of your own that you felt God didn?t respond to? What happened? Do you find Bible study more comfortable or safe than serving? Were you captured by matters of theology and doctrine and felt that the pursuit of these matters were a better use of your time? What happened? I don?t know what happened in your life, but I know what happened in mine?I became too driven to succeed, to be successful. I had to work hard, get the job done, and bring in more and more people.
Like the man or woman who is a workaholic and absent from their home and the intimacy that takes place there, I was absent from the intimate times I had once shared with my Lord. Now, the workaholic will say, ?I?ve got to work hard, put in long hours so you and the kids can have nice things. I?ve got to work hard so I can pay the bills. I?ve got to stay late if I ever hope to get the promotion we?ve talked about.? He may be providing things for his family, but he is missing the life of his family. So was I working, holding my nose to the grindstone, and missing the intimacy that the Lord desires to share with His people so we can in turn share that intimacy with one another.
Jesus commends the congregation in verses 1-3. He critiques them in verse 4. In verse 5 Jesus gives the church the remedy for their ailment, He provides a pathway for them to return to their first love. Read along me.
4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which 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. (Revelation 1:4-6 NIV)
First, they are to remember the days of old, remember the height from which they had fallen. I can remember like yesterday when I first accepted Jesus into my heart. I can remember like yesterday when He opened my eyes to His grace and I understood for the first time my need the Savior. Things were much simpler then, faith was so child-like then. Instead of feeling sad over the days of old like they can never be recaptured, I simply need to remember those days so that they stay fresh in my heart and mind.
Secondly, Jesus says to repent and do the things they did at first. ?Repent,? the Greek word, ?metanoe,w? (metanoeo), means ?to change one’s mind, to withdraw from, or turn around.? Jesus says, ?You are so strong, so committed to truth, and preserving my Word, now turn-around and start loving folks again, resume reaching out, and let your light shine in this dark world for the Kingdom of God!? What a great lesson for you and me.
For those of us who?ve felt our love grow cold?we need to repent. We need to turn around. When God shows us that the love and passion we once experienced, that once flowed from our hearts into the lives of others, is now gone?we need thank the Lord for revealing it to us and turn around.
Jesus tells the church that if they don?t listen to Him and heed His counsel He will remove their lampstand. We learned in Revelation 1:20 that the ?lampstand? is the church. If the church is not going to let the light of its Savior shine into the darkness then why should it remain in existence? Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 5:13-16,
13″You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16 NIV)
If salt loses its saltiness what good is it? If we hide a lamp under a bushel what good is it? If the church isn?t going to be the church then what good is it? The Church today needs to know that we are called to let Jesus? light shine in this dark world. If we hide His light within the walls of our churches Jesus will eventually come in and turn His churches into warehouses.
We need to also be reminded that ?Church? is you and me. The Church is not a series of buildings located on corners in towns and cities all across the world; the Church is the people of God. Men and women, boys and girls, who have been called, commissioned, and sent forth into schools, neighborhoods, places of business, and in the marketplace all over the world. We are called to invade the darkness with His glorious light. We are called to bring hope where there is hopelessness. We are called to bless where others only want to curse. We are called to reach out when others want to shrink back. Oh, my brothers and sisters, what a glorious calling we have received!
If you are a Christian, but this morning the Lord has revealed to you that you have a heart like the folks in Ephesus?you?ve forsaken your first love. Won?t you remember when your faith was fresh, your love was passionate, and your willingness to be used by God overflowed in abundance. Won?t you confess your coldness to the Lord and return to your first love?
If you?ve never asked Jesus into your heart then won?t you do so now? Why would you want to walk through this world all alone? Why would you turn away from the One who has given His life for you, to pay the penalty for your sins so that you might experience eternal life, and abundant life in this life? Won?t you invite Him in?