1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."
Revelation is probably the most controversial books in the Bible. It is a prophetic book in many ways. Now often times we get caught up with the futuristic parts of prophecy. This is understandable, especially in the Book of Revelation. After all, the book of Revelation ends at the end of time.
Prophecy, though, through Scripture is as much about forth-telling as it is about mysteriously foretelling future events. In other words, most of prophecy in the Old and New Testament, whether talking about the present, the near future, or the way-ahead far in the future, is really telling us about what is going to happen so that it will change our hearts, our attitudes, and even our behavior in the present time and the present moment.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Book of Revelation. Before we get to the four horsemen of the apocalypse or the seven trumpets or the seven bowls of judgment, we hear about seven churches. Why do we hear about the seven churches first? Because the book of Revelation is written to the churches about how the churches are living their lives together and their lives as believers. Everything that follows is designed to challenge and comfort the church. But first, Jesus speaks directly to his Church through seven local congregations.
There are seven congregations, and in Apocalyptic prophecy numbers mean everything. Seven is a number of wholeness, completeness, and perfection. These seven congregations that Jesus talks to are seven real, historical congregations. They also represent the churches as a whole throughout time and throughout history.
So when we read Revelation we should not just be thinking about what happens at the end of time. Instead as we read the book we should be asking what that is saying to me and to you, and to us as a local church. We should be asking about what God is doing in our churches, how God is blessing and encouraging us, how he is challenging us, and how we should respond to his call as we move into the future.
So, for the next several weeks we are going to be looking at the different churches in Revelation, and thus hear what Christ has to say to ALL the churches.
The first church that Jesus addresses in these letters to the churches is the church in Ephesus. The Ephesian church is a fascinating church. My mother actually visited Ephesus last year. Before Christianity, Ephesus was a center of the pagan worship of the goddess Artemis. When Paul first started doing his work there, they got so angry with his evangelistic effort that they stoned him until they thought he was dead. He was possibly imprisoned there at times. The ministry went on. The apostle John is reputed to have moved to Ephesus with Jesus' mother Mary, Priscilla and her husband Acquila helped to plant the church there in Ephesus, and eventually were pastors of the young church. Eventually, Timothy came to be the leader of the church in Ephesus as well.
The church in Ephesus was a prominent church, but it was not the most prominent church of the early church. It wasn't in the governmental center in Rome. It wasn't the Jerusalem church centered in the Holy Land. It was in the back woods of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey. It had a history, but it was an average church in an average place in the Mediterreanean world.
The Ephesian church was an important congregation in the early church, but Ephesus was not the easiest place to have a church. It was a center of idol worship. It was one of those places where every kind of kooky religious philosophy and cult made its way into. It is no surprise then, that Paul's letter to the Ephesians talks a lot about spiritual warfare, and a supernatural, spiritual realm. Christians were viewed with suspicion because idolatry was big business in that community, and the Ephesian church stood against that idolatry. It cost something to be a Christian in Ephesus. It cost a lot to follow Jesus in the community of Ephesus actually.
In each letter to the churches Jesus is introduced or identified as the letter starts, but each in a different way, with an emphasis on different characteristics. When Jesus is introduced to the Ephesian church he is introduced as the one who walks among the seven lampstands with seven stars in his hand. He is emphasizing that the church is a light in a very dark place, and that Jesus is walking among them.
We can see that they are a light in a dark place from what Jesus says about them. Jesus commends the church for standing against evil. For living right. For having good doctrine.
The Ephesian church was a church that had good theology. They stood for what was right. They taught what was right. Their people were moral. Most people would look at them and see a faithful church. They would see a good church. Yet Jesus had a concern for them.
Jesus said that they lost their first love. He said that they needed to return to the works that they had at first.
Sit and think about that for a second. They had lost their first love. The love that they had at first. They said all the right things. They did all the right things. But somewhere along the way they had lost their passion. They had lost their heart. They had left the love they had at first.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love? Remember the crazy things you would do? Stay up all night visiting on the phone, then go to work the next day? You remember how you couldn't hardly wait to spend time with that person again, even though you had just left them five minutes ago? Do you remember the silly things you would do to impress that person you were trying to impress?
Do you remember the improvements it made in you when you first fell in love? How you outlook on life was hopeful? How you were more joyful? How people wondered exactly what had happened to you with that goofy smile on your face?
Do you remember when you first accepted Christ? Do you remember when you first began to understand what following Jesus was all about? I hope you do. I hope you remember staying up late at night, wondering if your friend had accepted Christ. I hope you remember the joy of reading Scripture and noticing how it seemed every time you opened the Bible it spoke to you and your life right now. Do you remember how nervous and excited you felt that day that you were baptized? Do you remember those moments when you wanted everybody to know about Christ because your faith meant so much to you? Do you still have that kind of love for Jesus that you had at first? Do you still have that passion for the gospel that you knew when you first got close to Jesus? Do you still have that urgency to reach those who don't know Jesus? Do you still have the eagerness to serve that you had when you first started to believe that Christ in you could make a difference in others' lives? Or, God forbid, have you lost your first love?
I want you to notice that Jesus is walking among the lampstands that are present and representative of each church. Jesus is walking among his church, wanting to be close to it. Wanting to be in relationship with His church. Yet when he is in the church, he notices that the church has lost its love for Him. Its love for others. Can you imagine? Jesus coming into the church that meets in his name. And he is wondering….where is the passion? Where is the love?
It is a lot like when people first starting sinning in Genesis. Jesus walked among the lamp stands in Revelation. God came to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool in the evening in Genesis. And they were hiding. Where there was once love, there was then fear. Where there is once healthy relationship, there was then broken relationship.
The Ephesisan church thought God wanted them to be doctrinally pure. The Ephesian church thought God wanted them to stand against evil. God did. But they forgot that God wanted them to love Him, and love the people he created.
God wants them to return to the love that they had at first. He says if they do not, he will remove their lamp stand from them. In other words, if the church does not rediscover their love and their passion for God and his good news, they will cease to be a church of Christ. And God will not bless them. They will cease to be a church if they do not rediscover the love they had at first.
Stange thing. There is not a Christian church in Ephesus today. This once prominent church no longer exists. Could it be because they lost their first love?
Could it be that God did remove their lampstand?
Could God be saying the same thing to us that he is saying to the Ephesian church?
Church, you have been faithful. You have stood for what is right. We have a church full of people who don't have to be here. You have each made a choice to worship in this place, as a part of this church body. You are a kind church. You are a committed church. All of these are good things.
Yet I wonder, do you have the love for Christ that you had at first? Do you have that passion, that burning heart, that fire in the belly for living Jesus everyday and in every way? Do you have that passion to see God at work in your life? Do you pray for your church? Do you even talk about your church as "us" and "our church" or do you talk and think about your church as "that church" when you talk about it? Are you eager to see what God can do in your church in the next week, month, or year? Are you eagerly seeking to join God in that thing that you see Him doing here at First Baptist? Or are you just ho-humming along, putting in your hour or two once a week, patting yourselves on the back for showing up this Sunday? Have you settled for a Christianity without a heart? I hope not!
I hope if I asked you how you are growing in your faith, you could give me an answer about how God is working in your life. I pray that if I asked you what you are most excited about in your relationship with Christ you would have a few words to say, or even a story to tell. Even if you had to swear me to confidentiality to tell me. I pray you have not fallen from the love you had at first.
What step of faith is God leading you toward? How is God calling you to return to your first love? Could it be that God is asking you to make a deeper commitment to your faith? Could it be that God is asking you to stop ordering your world around your moods and how you feel from day to day, and start really committing to loving your neighbor, or your spouse, or your kids? Could it be that God is simply calling you to live with joy and passion instead of feeling sorry for yourself or being angry at the world?
You see, my friends, when your love for Christ dies, then your love for others dies, and it is not long before you are a heartless, compassionless, bitter shell of a person who tries to do the right things, but never has the right heart. And it not long if we are like that as a church that we are a shell of a church, with no real good news to offer. I don't want that for me. I don't want that for us. I don't want that for you. I hope you don't want that either. I hope you will return to the love you had at first.