Before you start reading, answer this: Did you hear about Christ’s work for you, you a sinner, on the cross and how He substituted His life for yours because you are incapable of saving yourself in your church yesterday? Answer honestly, then continue reading…
What topics dominate many sermons in your church today? The list includes many topics and includes words such as abortion, gay-marriage, republican, democrat, evolution, education, generation, America, social justice, purpose, signs, wonders, and of course YOU (i.e. ME). Sit in any church, listen to any sermon catalog, browse many websites with “preaching advise,” or just go look at your local Christian book store, and these topics are going to flood your senses. They have their place in the thoughts of the Christian mind, but do we, following the example of the first Christians, meet on the first day of the week as Christians, in order to discuss and lecture one another on these topics? According to Christ Jesus, the answer is no.
In the book of Revelation chapter 2, the reader is privileged to read the words of Christ as given to John through revelation. Often times, as an elder of the church I attend pointed out just last night, individuals dismiss parts of the book of Revelation because it is cryptic or too difficult to understand. This elder continued though in stating that when read properly, it becomes quite simple. One such simple portion of Revelation is the letter written by John to the church at Ephesus. Revelation 2:1-7 reads as such in the King James Version:
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
Rev 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
Rev 2:3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Rev 2:4 Nevertheless I have [somewhat] against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Rev 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Rev 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Rev 2:7 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.
Now much time could be spent in discussing the different areas of this verse, including the questions regarding the angel, the candlesticks, and the stars. Let us instead look at the most obvious and simple to understand section though.
Jesus is quick to point out several things which the church at Ephesus is doing well. This church:
- Had good works – They were doing a great job of representing the church of Christ. They were showing love and compassion to others, all in the name of their faith.
- Had good labour – As a church they shared in one another’s difficulties of living as a Christian and going about doing the aforementioned works. They comforted one another and were of great assistance to one another in what was probably a very edifying sense.
- Had good patience – Despite trials and suffering, they remained faithful to the duties they felt led to perform as Christians. They would have been considered pious people in the world as they endured hardships in order to remain faithful to Christ.
- Had good discernment – This church tested the teachings of those who came to teach them. They measured what people were saying in the church against what the apostles had taught them and what the word of God said. This church refused to allow such people to dwell in their midst.
- They detested what Christ detests – The church recognized individuals who would be a stumbling block to the church and detested them. They could not and would not stand for people or sects to lie trappings for their church. When others wanted to bend the word of God or make worship of God more pleasing to their flesh, the Ephesian church refused them knowing that Christ would do the same.
The list above is full of good things and what most churches are inundated with. Do not be like the world is the rallying cry. ”Do better, do more, hold on, persevere, tithe more, protest here, protest there, pray this prayer, pray that prayer, write this congressman, vote this way, blah, blah, blah, blah…….” Surely, SURELY, the church who dwells on these matters must be holy and pious and, as the disciples of old used to argue about, have a seat right beside God reserved for them in Heaven. Well, not according to Christ our Savior.
Despite all the good they had done, Christ had a problem with the church of Ephesus. Pointing down from His Heavenly throne, Christ directs the eyes of Ephesus away from the world, from the Nicolaitans, and directly and squarely onto itself. Christ tells them, you have “left your first love.” The ESV translates this as “the love you had at first.” But what is this first love? What is it that the Ephesians had left that was so important to Christ?
It was the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ.
The Ephesians had abandoned what made them what they were. They had left behind the very force that empowered them to even be able to do the list of good above. They had left Christ behind and were carrying on without Him on a whirlwind of good works. Works that Christ exhorted, but works based on self-righteousness, not the gospel. Look at what Paul congratulated the Ephesians for in his letter to them. Read Ephesians 1:3-14 and see what Paul, the man taught by Christ, was most proud of the Ephesians for. It was their recognition that all good things are working together because of the good news that Christ took a sinful and wrong people and made them whole through the spilling of His blood on Calvary. Their first love was their recognition that: “…According to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Their first love was their recognition that all of God’s plan for humanity and their return to their Heavenly Father culminated that day when Christ was nailed to a tree and then three days later arose from the grave, conquering the consequence of man’s sin, death itself. The gospel was their first love and they had abandoned it. Christ does not say it was willful or planned, but somehow, they had abandoned the very thing that brought them together in the first place. What made the church the church had been forgotten. They still did good, they still were good Christians, they still worked for the kingdom, but they were in real danger.
Christ urged the Ephesians “remember from where thou hast fallen.” Christ tells the Ephesians that they are powerless without Him and in jeopardy of losing the very salvation that they celebrate in the deeds they do. They were in peril of becoming just another social activist group, with no savior, no message of salvation, and no position in the eyes of God. Christ goes as far as to threaten to remove their candlestick, the very thing that makes a church a church. What is that candlestick? Christ Himself. Christ and His gospel are, from the very foundation of the church of Christ, what makes the church shine and glow. Christ’s gospel is the candle which burns and Christ, when he recognizes that a church’s people would rather sit atop that stick, well, His condemnation comes quickly.
What was the solution prescribed by Christ for this church?
“Repent.” That message first uttered by John the Baptist and repeated by Christ Himself is proclaimed again here to a church.
“Repent.” Their Cornerstone was being neglected, their Head covered by a veil of piety and good works.
“Repent.” Christ tells them to stop in their footsteps and go back.
“Repent.” To fail to preach the gospel and Christ’s good news as the foremost important message in the church is, according to Christ, sin.
“Repent.” Drop whatever social program, youth program, elderly outreach program, conference, workshop, your namesake institution, VBS meeting, coalition, protest, etc… you have going and run, don’t walk, run back to Christ, your First Love.
“Repent.” Remember again what it is Christ has done for you.
“Repent.” Remember it is not the works, patience, labor, and hatred of the world that makes you what you are.
“Repent.” It is the blood of Christ that saved you, you a sinner.
“Repent.” Your good deeds and acts that are pleasing to Christ, are of no avail and powerless without the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Repent.” Christ does not dwell where He is not remembered and where the people no longer present their first love to Him.
We look so hard at the epistles for guidance in our churches. The book of Revelation provides us words from Christ Himself on what he expects from His church. According to the letter sent to Ephesus, He expects nothing less than first place.
Are you hearing the gospel week in and week out? Are you teaching the gospel week in and week out? If not, I believe Christ has given you the instruction.
Will you follow it?