The letter of Revelation was originally written to seven churches that existed in Asia Minor or what is today the nation of Turkey. Against a backdrop of persecution, infiltration by false teachers, and sinful lifestyles, John reveals seven characteristics that make up the typology of believers of Jesus and the types of churches that existed then and now.
The first church addressed is the church at Ephesus. What happened in Ephesus church, is a similitude of what the life of a believer or a church can become. Can ‘Ephesus’ be me or us? If it looks like it, then the action should be ‘return to your first love and do the first works’.
Rev. 2: 1-7
We know from the book of Acts that Ephesus was a challenging place to live the Christian life. Its pagan temples were grossly immoral. Witchcraft, sorcery, and idolatry were big business in Ephesus (Acts 19: 1-41).
The congregation at Ephesus was an impressive church. It was founded by Paul. The church could list Timothy and the apostle John as pastors. But the highest compliment that could be paid to any church is that it was a loving church. The first mark of a true believer and a living church is its love for Jesus and the brethren.
Love, however, is something that requires continuous attention and bellowing like the gold or blacksmith does, so it doesnot get lukewarm and covered by ashes.
Apostle Paul warned the elders of the church when he was saying farewell to them, that this might happen in the future if care is not taken (Acts 20: 17-38).
He was afraid that their love for Jesus might cold in the near future. He actually wept at the thought of that.
I read about two friends who were talking one day. “Tom,” the first one said, “why didn’t you ever get married?”
“I thought about it several times,” Tom said, “but things just didn’t work out. The first girl I wanted to marry was a pretty little thing with red hair, but my mother did not like the way she talked.
My second girlfriend was a cute little blonde who sang in a band, but when I brought her home my mother did not like her looks. Then I tried to find a girl that would please my mother. I finally found a young lady down in Charleston who looked exactly like my mother. She talked like my mother and even walked like her. I was sure she would be able to please my mother. But things went wrong again. So, I gave up the idea.”
“What went wrong with the last time?” his friend asked. “Didn’t your mother like her?”
“Oh, yes, Mother thought she was perfect,” said Tom, “but my Dad couldn’t stand the sight of her.”
– It dawned on me that Father thought his son was about to marry a replica of his own wife and refused. It meant that the couples love had degenerated to the extent that Tom’s Dad preferred that his son remain single rather than marry a wife like his mom!
Instead of working on their relationship, they have used it to affect the life of their son, possibly forever!
According to research done by sociologist W.F. Nimkoff and Arthur Wood, the intensity of romance in a marriage diminishes by 80% during the first two years. That is staggering!
I suppose it is true that romance diminishes in those first years of marriage. But the truth is romance diminishes unless it is renewed and revised continuously under a deeper kind of love – the love of God.
Love must be cultivated and deliberately given attention, or it will cool off. What is true for marriages is true for believers and churches too. The first mark of a true believer and a living church is the love for Jesus and the love for the brethren.
- Commendations. 5 commendations
- I know thy Works
- I know thy labours.
That is their good deeds &their toiling and sacrifices.
The word works is modified or further explained by the word labour. The word labour describes work which leads to exhaustion. Literally it describes sweat on the face. It could be translated “trouble.” You may have said to someone, “Don’t go to any trouble.” You mean extra work or effort.
The church did not just work for the Lord, it worked hard and energetically for the Lord Jesus.
- I know thy Patience.
Patience in waiting for Him to work.
Patience in waiting for Him to come again.
Patience is a desired virtue; fruit of the Holy Spirit.
Opposition to the Christian faith could have ranged from social ostracism to physical violence, to economic hardship because of lost jobs or boycotts. Nevertheless, the Ephesians had not thrown their Christian faith overboard. They remained firm and unswerving in their allegiance to Jesus Christ.
Apparently, the church at Ephesus did not give a rip what the world thought of them or did to them. They were going to stay true to Jesus.
Thankfully, we are not faced with this kind of terror in our country, yet we are still required to stand for Jesus Christ in our own little way. We should not laugh at the dirty joke told at work. We must speak up for biblical values at school or in our workplace.
Illustration: A woman took a French class with six other women who met once a week. They all went out to eat after class one day. During the conversation, one of the women asked who had cheated on their husband. All but one woman raised her hand. That woman told her husband about this conversation. Her husband asked if she was the one who did not raise her hand. She said, “I wasn’t the one, but I have never cheated on you.” The husband asked why she raised her hand? Listen to this answer, “I was afraid of what they would think of me.”
Many of us might also be afraid of how we might be perceived if we stand for Jesus outside.
- How thou cannot bear them that are evil.
They could not tolerate them. That is, they had no sympathy with their doctrines or their practices, they were utterly opposed to them. They lent them no countenance but had in every way shown that they had no fellowship with them.
A weakness of many churches today. We want a crowd, many people. Ephesus did not.
- Tried out those who came to them as apostles, and found them to be liars.
They uncovered the false apostles.
They held the right opinion about the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. Things like the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ. Things like Jesus is the one and only Saviour for sinners. The church had been visited by some self-styled apostles who taught or practiced false teachings.
They no doubt heard these pretenders present their ideas, but they did not stop there. They examined the beliefs and the behaviour of these false teachers; and found them to be liars.
What a model church! Busy in service, courageous in suffering and sound in doctrine and behaviour. All these they have done not even for a selfish purpose, but for the sake of Christ. They have laboured to the point of exhaustion yet have not fainted!
But they have one mark against them that discounts all these staggering commendations.
They have left their first love. They have lost focus.
They had the right actions but lacked the right motive.
The Lord is more interested in our motives than the action.
Many are today working for the Lord with the wrong motive.
God wants only one motivative force, that which is borne out of love.
If you cannot serve Him because you love Him, then do not serve.
If you cannot give because you love Him, then do not give.
Anyone who is serving the Lord in any capacity should examine their motive. Why am I doing this?
If your love for Christ is not constraining you, then quit! Get out of it! Anything done for God without love is not acceptable. It is totally a waste of time and resources. God will not pay for what He has not ordered.
King James Version said, they “left their first love.” They did not lose their first love; they left it. The idea is that they got distracted. Something else began to be the central focus of their life. They abandoned what produced their right behaviour and right belief along the way.
Through all our Christian life, we are going to wrestle individually and corporately with making a choice between the secondary the primary options.
The true measure of our life is never going to be the success of our career or our family or our accomplishments. What is God going to measure when we stand before Him on Judgment Day? He is going to ask, “What did you do with Jesus?” That is our Primary preference.
It is easy to get distracted in the pursuit of some amazing accomplishments in life, but as a Christian, our identification, our priority, and our great love is to be for Jesus. We must resist the distractions of this world to abandon that central focus of life.
We are not talking about our love in general for Him so to say, but our first love. Who is the first love of the church? It is Jesus.
Somehow in the busyness of church life and maintaining doctrinal correctness at Ephesus, Jesus was lost. The church became about something else. They were a serving church, a doctrinally sound church, and a persevering church, but they were not a Christ-centered church anymore. Unless they re-centre on Jesus Christ, the light was going to go out.
The word “first” does not mean in a sequence, as firstly, secondly, etc but what is most important. It is this priority that establishes all other priorities. This priority is the core of who we are. Everything else emanates from this core.
There was no gross sin or scandal that stole the heart of the Ephesian church from Jesus. They just got busy and life got in the way. Love for Jesus was taken for granted.
Just like times of reconnecting for a couple can get moved aside by who was picking up the children from school and who was getting them to this activity and that activity. That is life.
What is true about couples can happen to a believer and even a church connecting with Christ.
Remember from whence thou art fallen, repent and do the first works;
Essentially, what Jesus was saying is fall in love with Me again.
Jesus was not content to let this church to wander in lovelessness. He calls it to fall back in love with Him. He issues three commands:
- 1. Remember from whence thou art fallen. The verb tense in the language of the New Testament means “keep on” doing something. It is to be a lifestyle, a habit. Keep on remembering. Remembering involves two actions: recalling and rehearsing. Remembering also involves rehearsing. Stop. Occasionally take inventory.
Do you remember when you were so filled with the love for Jesus your heart overflowed with joy? Do you remember wondering why you ever delayed the decision of coming to Christ and why anyone would not come to Christ? Do you remember being so hungry for the Bible you could not get enough of it? Do you remember Sunday being the highlight of your week? You could not wait until Sunday to go to church and see your new Christian friends and sing and study the Bible. If you do not remember, maybe you never really knew the Lord as Saviour.
Remember back to what it was like when you first fell in love with Jesus. Remember how you used to witness for Him. Remember how you used to bring people to church with you. Remember how awesome it felt when someone you witnessed to or brought to church fell in love with Jesus just like you did. Remember what it felt like when you gave your life to Christ and then a friend or family member gave their life to Christ because you shared your love and your passion for the LORD with them and they caught on fire too … and then watching their love for Jesus set someone else on fire. Remember what it was like to put your whole trust in Jesus … even when you had no idea where your trust and faith in Him would lead you. Remember when it was as simple as “God said it … I believe it … and that settles it!” Remember those days?
He is not asking us to remember once in a while. He wants us to never stop remembering what it was like when we first fell in love with Him.
The way to keep the passion alive in your marriage is to remember why you married that man or that woman in the first place. Do you still remember the day that you first met him or her? Do you still remember the day when you first met Jesus and fell in love with Him? Do you remember the day that He saved your soul? Do you remember how it felt when you realized that you were no longer destined for an eternity in Hell but an eternity with Him in Heaven?
- Jesus also commands them to repent. Many of you know repent means “to change your mind.” It is the radical decision of the sinner deciding he will never ever again return to sinning as a part of his life.
Repent implies sorrow concerning an offence. Ephesus has offended Jesus. They abandoned Jesus! Their neglect of Jesus is not a little thing; it was a great sin. They hurt Jesus. It was not okay to love other things in the place of Jesus. It was idolatry.
- 3. Do the first works. Go back to basics. Demonstrate their love evidentially as before.
Heb. 6: 1-2
Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection,
– not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and
– of faith toward God,
– of the doctrine of baptisms, (divisions)
– of laying on of hands,
– of resurrection of the dead,
-and of eternal judgment.
They did it before. They needed to do it again. Acts 19: 18-20
18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.
19 Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.
Someone asked the writer Ernest Hemingway if he wrote when the spirit moved him. He said, “I move the spirit.” You do not go to work only when you feel like it. You do not pay your bills only if you feel like it. You do what is right and often the feelings will follow.
Smith Wigglesworth…If the Spirit does not move me; I will move the Spirit.
Prophet Elisha also, he had to entreat God by asking a minstrel to play to receive revelation …
Do something to have Jesus back as before.
Illustration:A woman came to a counsellor about her marriage. She told the counsellor she wanted a divorce but before she divorced her husband, she wanted to hurt him as deeply as she could. The counsellor said if that is what she wanted then she needed to go home and be as kind to this man as she possibly could. Cook his favourite meals, be loving and affectionate. Do everything she could think of to build him up. Then when he was so caught up in her love for him, divorce the idiot. It was an intriguing strategy thought the woman. So that is what she did. She showered him with love and affection with her words and actions.
Eventually, she goes back to the counsellor. He asks how things are going. She says great, never been better. The counsellor said that was good. Now it was time to divorce the idiot. The woman looked surprised and said, “Divorce my husband? Why I love my husband.” True story.
Has your love for Christ wane? Start doing those things you did when you were first in love with Him. Watch the love for Jesus and his church begin to return to your heart again.
Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Jesus resolves to terminate the church if they refuse to repent of their lack of love for Him and others.
From this passage rightly, the most critical metric to watch in lives and in our church is love for God and love for others. The absence of love is grounds for getting our franchise revoked. May God search our hearts in order to do a work of love for Him and His church in Jesus name.
In other words, if we do not get back to our first love … if we do not stop just going through the motions or doing the work of the church with little or no heart … our lampstand will be snuffed out and the influence and the outreach of our church will dwindle and disappear; same for our Christian walk.
- More commendation
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
Jesus even cites their expulsion of the “Nicolaitans” and their persistence and endurance in fighting back against the Nicolaitans’ attempt to infiltrate their church.
The Nicolaitans were a group who promoted the practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols and condoned the practice of sexual license engaged in by the surrounding culture. They participated in the “orgies and idolatrous feasts” of their Greek and Roman counterparts and then attempted to convince the Christians in Ephesus that God was okay with such practices and even condoned them.
- Notification of intended reward
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Jesus was not only resolved to terminate the Ephesian church if they do not repent, but He also promised to reward them if they take heed and eventually overcame. Each letter to he 7 churches ends with a promise to the conqueror, that is the person who obeys the message of the letter and overcomes the evil in the church. Here the promise is free access to the Tree of Life. It means enjoyment of eternal life in heaven. Eternal life means living forever with Jesus in heaven, but it also means living a quality of life that God intended for us.
The history of the church at Ephesus is a solemn lesson for us as Christians and our church. When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church at Ephesus, they were on fire. When Jesus dictated His letter to John 30 years or so later, Jesus was already asking His church in Ephesus what had happened to their fire, their passion, their zeal.
Did they follow Jesus’ advice? Did they remember when they were madly in love with Jesus? History has the answer. Over that once famous city, the word “Ichabod” must be written for the glory of the LORD has departed from that place. Its once brilliant lampstand has been removed from its place just as Jesus had predicted.
For those who are not labouring or doing anything for Christ, it is a dangerous way to live. For those who are doing something, do not let the stuff that we are doing for the One we love gets in the way of being with the One we love. The God in Heaven loves you with an everlasting love and the best thing that you or I can do is to return that love.
Remember that we love Him because He first loved us. We show our love by keeping His commandments, which were given to us out of His love (John 14: 15).
Spend time with Him so that you can get to know Him better and better. Show Him that you love Him by worshipping Him. Make Him the primary focus of your life and I guarantee that you will get your first love back and that love will enable you to accomplish more than you could ever imagine.
Lord, Jesus, help me to love You as I should. (Peter, do you love me more than these?)
Lord Jesus, help me not to forget and abandon my first works.
Jesus, help me to be perfect as You.
Sermon delivered on January 31, 2021.