Revelation Part 4
As I noted a few weeks ago, each of these letters to the 7 Churches has the same 4 common elements:
– An Appeal to the revelation of Jesus in Ch. 1
– A Declaration of insight (positive and/or negative)
– A Call to something
– A Reminder to hear everything Jesus says to all 7, not just what He says to each particular church in its context.
That is the pattern I’ll be using in working through each of these letters.
I. (v.1) THE APPEAL TO THE REVELATION OF CHRIST:
“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.”
1.1 “To the angel”: This is probably not referring to the pastor since this appellation is not given to pastors anywhere else in the Bible.
More than likely, this is a reminder that God supernaturally superintends His Church by means of angelic beings who have an assigned, vested interest in the spiritual health of Christ’s congregations.
We’re not given any more information regarding this state of affairs, so it does not open the door for Christians to appeal directly to those angels nor to interact with them in any way. But it does tell us they are there by God’s assignment and that we are to be aware that we are not simply left on our own.
Heb. 13 reminds us that the way we conduct ourselves is monitored by such angelic beings, and that we ought to be aware of it. Heb. 13:1–2 “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
And 1 Cor. 11:10 Paul warns the Church to be careful that she maintains proper order in her services because of the angels – the idea being that these are God’s observers in His Church and report back to Him.
No local assembly, and no individual in the Church is without divine oversight. Nothing we do goes unobserved.
1.2 “Him who holds the 7 stars and walks among the lampstands.”
Not only does Christ Himself have these angelic beings who bear some responsibility for the Churches, but He Himself walks among the Churches – represented by the lampstands as per 1:20.
As we looked at in detail last time – Jesus remains intimately and personally involved in His Church.
He is in our midst, and with His eyes of flaming fire – He hears and perceives and knows everything about us AS a Church and as individuals IN the Church.
It is on this basis that He then makes His assessment of the Ephesian Church – and by implication – ours as well.
II. (v.2-3 & 6) THE POSITiVE AND NEGATIVE DECLARATIONS:
2.1POSITIVE: “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.”
This is not an inactive Church – she is a church that works. Jesus says He knows 3 things especially: Their TOIL; Their PATIENT ENDURANCE; Their keenness to sort out false teachers who might come their way.
These are not people blown about with every wind of doctrine.
They are not fools for false teachers and teachings.
They are a discerning bunch and they are willing to make necessary judgments about truth and those who claim to teach the truth.
They had followed the OT guidelines which God had laid out for testing false prophets – and had rightly applied them to dealing with false teachers or false apostles.
The Church in its earliest days had few local teachers, so there were many itinerant preachers and teachers like Apollos who God raised up to meet the need. However, there were also some who were self-appointed and saw this as an opportunity to seize power, money and prestige.
The 2-fold test for such teachers was:
- What they taught. Did it accord with received Scripture teaching?
- How they lived. Did they live as those redeemed from the World’s values and sin?
Both had to be in place.
Jesus adds a 4th commendation in vs. 6: They know how to hate what Christ hates – in this case the works of the Nicolaitans.
We do not have much detail on this group – but based on what is said about them in vss. 14-15 in the letter to Pergamum, it appears they had some tendency to teach that it was all right for Christians to engage in pagan rites and festivals as a reasonable compromise with the culture.
Ephesus was known both for its pagan temples – especially to the goddess Artemis (Diana), and to the cult of Emperor worship. There were thousands of priests, priestesses and cult prostitutes.
Given the fact that much of the economic trade in Ephesus was rooted in trade unions that protected the manufacture and sale of silver images of Artemis – the pressure would be intense to strike a happy compromise in order to secure work as a silversmith or a merchant. They needed to thrive in that economy and culture.
Because Paul’s original mission work there, ended up in a riot over the fact that Paul was preaching Christ alone as God (Acts 18-19) – keeping a low profile and not speaking out publicly against idolatry would be especially tempting. Why rock the boat more, when it almost capsized back then?
Keep your head down. Don’t make unnecessary waves. Compromise here and there. Keep your Christianity to yourself. Stay internally faithful, but publicly quiet and respectable.
This would be their great temptation. And isn’t it ours as well?
They seemed to be holding the fort in this regard.
They hated this teaching and Jesus is markedly pleased with that attitude.
2.2 (v. 4) NEGATIVE: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
2.3 You have abandoned your first love”
This abandonment is the subject of a lot of scrutiny by everyone who works through this passage. Just what does Jesus mean and what does it look like?
We know it had something to do with their outward witness in the Ephesian context.
I take that from what Jesus warns them of in vs. 5: “repent…If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”
The connection with Jesus’ teaching about the Church in the Sermon on the Mount comes immediately to mind: Matthew 5:14–16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The implication of Jesus’ words in this letter is: “If you won’t take up your charge to BE light in this place, I will remove your light altogether!”
But in exactly what way had this become the danger they faced?
The answer surfaces in the statement: “You have abandoned your first love.”
Look at the whole description again:
They TOIL – they work hard
They PATIENTLY ENDURE – they are holding on without fainting
They PRACTICE DISCIPLINE and judge truth claims well
They HATE COMPROMISE with the culture
But it is all being done in some way – lacking love. Lacking passion.
And there is no surer way of demonstrating a fading or faded love, than holding the fort, doing the grunt work, but without the joy that love inherently brings to the equation.
They believed the right stuff.
They did the right things.
They were dug in for the long haul.
They were committed.
But they had abandoned – they had left their first love. They were going through the orthodox motions, but it no longer captivated their hearts.
Don’t get me wrong, there is much to be said for sticking to one’s clear duties and obligations when the joy of a relationship wanes – but when it remains that way – and nothing is done about it – nothing short of disaster is on the horizon.
This is the Ephesian condition, and it can easily be yours or mine as well.
In sum, they had begun to obscure the LIGHT they were meant to be in that dark place, by serving Christ and His cause – however meticulously and orthodoxly – without joy.
And nothing – nothing is less a witness to the world about the God whom we serve, and the Christ who loves us and redeemed us than to present Him to the world as one who has made us joyless, over-scrupulous, judgmental, perfunctory performers of dead religious duty.
Now the Ephesians are not alone in this are they?
Is there anyone who has walked with Christ for any length of time, who has not also experienced dry seasons? Periods when the faith has not been abandoned, and the commitment to truth and to His Word and to His Church – at least outwardly has not shifted – but in truth, inwardly, there is no joy anymore. There is no excitement. The heart has grown cold and formal.
Yes, you come and sing and pray and have your private devotions, but in reality, your heart is no longer broken over sin…
You are no longer delighted in the things of God…
You haven’t wept in joy over the mercy and grace and goodness of God to you in weeks, months, or maybe even years.
You’ve lost your first love. There is no newness, no freshness in your walk with Christ. It is all old hat, and you’ve hunkered down for the long haul – but you know something is not right. Service in the Kingdom has become all duty and obedience, and it is no longer love that draws your best efforts out of you for the name of Christ.
His love doesn’t melt you anymore. The question is – “what do we do?”
And Jesus provides the answer, even before they, or we ask it.
III. (v. 5) THE CALL: “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.”
Jesus’ doesn’t merely diagnose their predicament and turn it into prosecution. No.
Instead, He also gives them a sweet and wonderful prescription to restore them to their previous help.
And He does so by means of a two-fold remedy.
3.1 “Remember from where you have fallen.”
When love and passion have lost their joy, when we have lost the sense and impact of the love of God for us in Christ – we inevitably turn to something else to fill the void.
In fact, the word for “abandoned” here is always used in the NT of not just leaving a relationship, but leaving it and turning to someone or something else. Not just a faded love, but a redirected love.
In spiritual life, this most often manifests itself in a turn toward ritual, rite and ceremony. To formality and mere duty in place of joy and vitality.
And so the first need is this: We must go back to refamiliarize ourselves with the wonder, the joy, the magnificence and the thrill of what brought us to Him in the first place: the glory of His love for us.
To rehearse and revel in His wondrous love.
Recovery of our love for Him, begins in recovering awe at His love for us! It must lead us back to gaze upon the cross again until the love of Christ warms, floods and overwhelms our hearts again as it did at the first. For we always leave our love for Him, when we have first lost sight of His great love for us.
Paul saw this tendency in them much earlier, and made it the basis of his intercession for them his letter to the Ephesian Church: Ephesians 3:14–19 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
To be filled with the fullness of God, to be satisfied and deeply moved in Him – comes only out of “knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge!”
Filled with His love, we will be filled with love for Him. There is no other way.
The principle is articulated for us in 1 John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us.”
We cannot stir up love in a vacuum. It has a seed, a starting place. And the place His love for us is manifested above all others – is Calvary. In Jesus’ willing, loving and free offering up of Himself for our sin – taking the complete wrath of God due to us, so that we might enjoy the complete favor of God due to Him.
3.2 – Secondly – “repent, and do the works you did at first.”
Repent! Turn around! Refuse to accept this as a permanent condition to be tolerated or accommodated – but a malady of the soul to be challenged and cured!
We have a most encouraging example of this tactic written down for us in Ps. 103.
Spurgeon writes on the opening phrase: “Bless the LORD, O my soul. Soul music is the very soul of music. The psalmist strikes the best key-note when he begins with stirring up his inmost self to magnify the Lord. He soliloquizes, holds self-communion and exhorts himself as though he felt that dullness would all too soon steal over his faculties, as, indeed, it will over us all, unless we are diligently on the watch. Jehovah is worthy to be praised by us in that highest style of adoration which is intended by the term bless. Our very life and essential self should be engrossed with this delightful service, and each one of us should arouse his own heart to the engagement. And all that is within me, bless his holy name. Many are our faculties, emotions, and capacities, but God has given them all to us, and they ought all to join in chorus to his praise. Half-hearted, ill-conceived, unintelligent praises are not such as we should render to our loving Lord. If the law of justice demanded all our heart and soul and mind for the Creator, much more may the law of gratitude put in a comprehensive claim for the homage of our whole being to the God of grace. “
This is a call, a command to self:
Bless the Lord soul – bless Him!
Don’t you dare forget all the benefits that are yours in Christ.
How He forgives all my iniquities – continuously,
Heals all my diseases – purposes to cure every defect of sin
Redeems my life from the pit
Crowns me with steadfast love and mercy
Who satisfies me with good
Who promises to render final justice on all wrongs
Who is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and ABOUNDING in steadfast love
Who does not deal with me according to my sins
Who does not repay me according to my iniquities
Who removes my transgressions from me as far as the east is from the west
Remembers my frame that I am only dust
Whose steadfast love is from everlasting to everlasting
Whose throne is in the heavens and so He rules over all to make all of these things certain
BLESS THE LORD, O MY SOUL!
IV. (v. 7) THE REMINDER: Now – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Conquers? In what way? In respect to repenting from lost love to renewed intimacy and passion.
And for all who do, there is the promise of enjoyment and pleasure in God for eternity.
Jesus was still walking in the midst of this joyless Ephesian Church.
He was still holding their angel in the palm of His hand.
He is still with you dear saint, you who have lost your first love.
And He calls you back to the Cross this morning, to be broken in joy and wonder once again.
He who has an ear – let him hear.