Revelation 2:1-5 – Dear Church, pt. 1
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from
its place, unless you repent.
Crises have a way of getting our attention – awakening us to the things that really matter.
Visit any ICU waiting room, and you will understand. Almost everyone there is in the same boat – utterly helpless – they realize that the stuff we get all wrapped up in doesn’t really matter when your loved one is clinging to life. There, God has your COMPLETE attention. THIS is a wake-up call.
There are OTHER, equally jarring events that arrest our attention. Imagine how you would feel IF after finishing a difficult day at work, you come home to an empty house. Taped to the refrigerator is a note with your name on it. Unfolding the page, the words “I’m so sorry… but I can’t do this anymore” drive you to the floor. Such a letter slams the door on the possibility of working things out. It’s too late for counseling… too late to address the issues that led to this tragic end.
It happens - every day – we get SO caught up in the routine that MANY things, IMPORTANT things, are neglected. But THEN something alarming shake us from our slumber – a diagnosis, a divorce, a death, and suddenly we realize we need to do something – we need to realign our priorities and invest ourselves in the things that REALLY matter before it’s too late.
We have one of those events - wake-up calls - in our text. I can’t even imagine how ROCKED my world would be if I received a personal letter from Jesus telling me that OUR relationship was in trouble! What would we do as a church, if, Jesus, the Lord of the Church, removed His hand of blessing from us??
Let’s consider the context…
The Church at Ephesus is the only church in the NT to receive letters from TWO apostles. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, they were the thriving church of the day. Healthy… sound… evangelistic and making a difference. Though smack dab in the middle of a pagan, hostile environment, theirs was THE premiere church of the day.
But just 40 years later, this church was in serious trouble - as is evidenced by THESE ominous words from Jesus,
“I have this against you… you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
This once powerful testament of the grace of God, this church that had stood head and shoulders above the rest, had become a mere shadow of its former self. The furnace was there – but the fire was out. In just 40 years, the church got wrapped up in unimportant things – and the light of that church was about to be snuffed out. This letter from Jesus, then, was THEIR wake-up call.
Could this happen to US? Have we cooled? Am I… Are YOU as near the Lord today as ever? Or has a spiritual malaise overtaken us so that we find ourselves no longer thrilled at the prospects of worship, of service, of sharing our faith? How about our attitude towards others - the lost?? The Saved??? The Bible DOES say, “they will know us by the love we have for one another,” does it not?
Have WE, like the Ephesians, “abandoned the love we had at the first?”
In this incredibly poignant letter, Jesus warns of the very REAL danger of “abandoning our first love.” His message comes in three parts.
1. First, we see their Faithful Works in verses 2 through 3. – “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary.”
He knows your works! I LOVE that… don’t you?? To think, so much of what we do for the Lord ESCAPES the attention of others, but Jesus KNOWS. Listen, I know we don’t do our acts of ministry FOR RECOGNITION. I know that. If we ARE we are missing the whole point. But it blesses my heart to know that the things I do for Christ – are noticed by Him!
You might pour your heart out every week, serving, singing, giving… and nothing is ever said, and at times you may feel taken for granted or unappreciated. But verse 2 reminds us “Jesus knows!” And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.
But He doesn’t stop there – He praises a couple of specific things:
He praises their perseverance. They had not given up or given in to the moral corruption of the age. When faced with difficulties, they had obviously taken to heart something Paul had said to them many years before, “Let us NOT grow weary in well doing; for in due season we shall REAP if we faint not.” They pushed through the adversity because the glory of God was at stake… and they cared about people!
Anyone who has ever attempted ANYTHING of lasting value knows that perseverance is important. Things of eternal consequence, things that matter, are often accomplished by people who push through hardship and opposition.
Some of YOU know it all too well… a spouse that doesn’t understand or appreciate your dedication to church… a parent that is critical of your desire to answer the call to ministry. A boss that refuses to honor your commitment to put God first. And your willingness to push through that adversity IS praiseworthy.
He also commends their Purity. No one who knew this church would ever question their commitment to sound theology. They were faithful to God’s Word even when challenged by society. They had not compromised even when their Jewish family and friends threatened to SHUN them if they didn’t. They did not water down the gospel in order to grow a larger congregation. Their faithfulness to God’s truth extended to the men they allowed in their pulpit and to those who would join their fellowship. They had remained “on message” even when the world around them resisted and resented that message.
Our Lord took it ALL into account… and praised them for it.
2. But after their faithful works, we see their fatal weakness in verse 4, “But I have this against you,… you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Interestingly, 40 years before, Paul had praised the church for its love. In Ephesians 1:15, Paul said, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” There was ONCE a time when their love for the Lord and for each other was noteworthy. He held them up as an example to OTHER churches. But over time, a ‘coolness’ had set in.
Understand - God isn’t a PAST-TENSE God. He isn’t interested in all the things you USED to do. He is interested in TODAY. When we are pressed to consider TODAY – we defend ourselves with the same old worn out stories of things we ONCE did. When in reality, those memories have become excuses for our unfaithfulness TODAY.
There ONCE was a time when the Ephesian Church was the EPITOME of love. But NOW… now they had “abandoned” that love. The word “abandoned” means - to give it up… to turn away from it. According to our Lord’s own assessment, the Ephesians had walked away from the ONE quality that distinguishes Christians from the world - LOVE.
ALSO noteworthy is the fact that when Paul wrote them in Ephesians 1, he spoke of their “exalted position” in Christ. But HERE, Jesus describes them as having “fallen” in verse 5, “Remember therefore from where you have ⇒ FALLEN.”
Do you remember what it felt like when you first “fell in love?” How that person stayed on your mind… how you would sit in class and doodle his name on your paper or how you would carve her initials in a tree? Remember those days? How that person was your number one priority… you always had time for them… you would do little things that communicated your love and devotion – those kind acts, those sweet gestures – Ahhhh, the good old days! “He was such a gentleman,” “she was so thoughtful…” Just the mention of their name would make your heart skip a beat.
Then you got married…and all those tingly feelings when out the window. Over time, your relationship became routine. The daily grind set in and you began taking one another for granted. You don’t talk anymore. And if your heart flutters NOW – you dial 911! Amen??
I realize that healthy love, mature love can’t stay in those first experiences – it must grow, it must deepen – but even MATURE love must fight against “creeping separateness.” And if you rely only on the things you did in the past - your relationship is doomed.
Now, try to remember how you felt when you first gave your heart to Jesus. How THANKFUL you were for His grace. For the first time in your life you felt clean and forgiven and accepted. Your life had PURPOSE and JOY and you longed for opportunities to be in God’s house to worship and learn. Every sermon seemed JUST for you. You looked forward to opportunities to give, to fellowship. You told others about Him and what He had done for you. You read God’s Word and prayed. You testified in services. When others offended you, you assumed it ‘unintentional’ and quickly forgave them.
Do you remember those days when your love was contagious?
When we first gave our hearts to Jesus, it seemed easy to forgive, to sacrifice self. But over time, we tried to substitute ACTIVITY for love - buildings and programs drew our focus… our schedules began to put the SQUEEZE to our relationships.
What once seemed so EXTRAORDINARY has become ordinary. Petty things now bother you. You don’t have the joy you once had. Your enthusiasm is gone. Instead of being tuned in to the messages, you pass the time thinking about all the stuff you’ve got to do when you get out of here. Occasionally you feel a little spark (when a particular song is sung or scripture is read), but those times are becoming fewer and farther between. A coolness has invaded… and NOW church is just something to do when you don’t have anything more interesting going on. There was ONCE a time when your thoughts were filled with God’s goodness – but NOW your problems fill your mind.
What happened??? You forgot the love you had at the first. Oh, You may still serve. You may even teach a class, sing the songs, and do all the things you USE to do, but now it’s just MOTION without EMOTION.
It happens to all of us in varying degrees at one point or another. Christianity, like any relationship, requires us to constantly evaluate, change, and challenge ourselves. And when we go through seasons of cooling, we need a wake-up-call. A word from God that smacks us in the head and His Spirit says, “Yeah, I know about all the good things you’ve done… but that’s ancient history. You need to get back to the love you had in the beginning.”
3. But not only do we see their faithful works and their fatal weakness… THIRD we see their Forceful Warning in verse 5, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
They had FALLEN. And that fall would bring to a devastating end all those years of labor and love. For the life of me, I can’t understand how a people GIVE UP like that. Understand it or not, it is a reality.
But their fall was not without remedy – they could regain their standing and influence. They could get their joy back and become the living church they were created to be… a church where the Spirit of God moves, hearts are touched, and lives are changed. But to regain that position, they had to repent. They couldn’t go about ‘business as usual… they had to change course ELSE they would die.
Might the Lord be saying WE need to ‘change course?’
A battleship had been out to sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. Their visibility was poor in the fog, so the captain remained at the wheel, keeping a diligent eye on their surroundings.
Shortly after dark, the lookout cried, “Light bearing on the starboard bow!”
“Is it steady or moving astern?” asked Captain. The lookout replied, “Steady, Captain.”
The Captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, change your course twenty degrees.”
Back came the answer, “Negative. YOU change course twenty degrees.”
The Captain said, “Send – I’m a Captain in the US Navy, change your course 20 degrees!” The reply came, “I’m a seaman second-class, change YOUR course 20 degrees.”
The Captain was furious. He yelled, “Send - I’m a US naval destroyer. Change your course 20 degrees!” The answer came back, “I am a lighthouse!”
Jesus looked from heaven at all the activity of the Ephesians and warned, “If you don’t change course, I will take your light away!” Their CHURCH had become a MUSEUM and was in danger of becoming a MAUSOLEUM unless they returned to the love they at the first.
And 2,000 years later, I believe that warning still stands.
Don’t confuse activity for love. Don’t mistake motion for Emotion. Look at yourself honestly and ask – “How’s my love?” “Do I love God, and do I love PEOPLE, like I did in the beginning?”
Maybe it’s time to change course?