How’s Your Love Life?

Posted: October 10, 2010 in Revelation

Revelation 2:1-7, “How’s Your Love Life?”

Pop grammar quiz! What’s an “oxymoron”? An oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines terms that are normally contradictory. Examples: jumbo shrimp – a little pregnant – congressional ethics… 🙂 For one that hits a little closer to home, how about this: loveless Christians?

That seems to have been the case with the church in Ephesus. This was a local church congregations that did a lot of things right – but they left one really important thing out: they had lost their love for Jesus Christ. And a church without love for the Lord Jesus can’t properly be called a church at all. Call it a social club – call it a book club – just don’t call it a church, because a church is only a church when Jesus is in the middle of it.

Where was Ephesus? [MAP] Ephesus was a major city in the Roman empire at the time: a central port, a huge population, a booming economy, etc. This was a city in which people wanted to live! It was also the home of a vast idolatrous cult of Artemis (Diana), whose temple was one of the “7 Wonders of the Ancient World.” The worship of Artemis of the Ephesians was quite a profitable industry at the time – which is why when people started converting to Christianity, one of the local silversmiths (Demetrius) instigated a riot against Paul & his preaching (Acts 19). All in all, Paul spent three years in Ephesus, and a solid church was founded there. Timothy was later sent to the city to help establish the leadership, and historically it seems quite possible that John took over the work after Timothy left.

One would think with that kind of initial leadership, that this church would never receive much rebuke from the Lord Jesus – especially THIS kind of rebuke in which they are shown to have abandoned their love for God! Yet within John’s own lifetime, that was exactly what happened. This was a letter from the Lord Jesus that he likely had to take back to his home church (imagine what that was like!). This goes to underscore the importance of what Jesus says in this letter. If it happened to Ephesus – it could happen to ANY church, including our own. Our love for God is absolutely foundational to our existence as a church – if we get that one wrong, it doesn’t matter much what else we get right.

Revelation 2:1-7 (NKJV)
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:

A. Remember “angel” = “messenger” & is likely a reference to the pastor/elders of the church. Heavenly angels surely surround us, observe us, and even assist us (likely at times we are never aware), but obviously angels can not change the direction of a church. That’s left to the people.

B. In the letter, we learn three things about Jesus. 1st, Jesus holds us. Recall that the “seven stars” = the seven angels of the seven churches (Ch 1:20). To say that Jesus “holds the seven stars in His right hand” is to say that Jesus holds those angels (the pastors/messengers) in His right hand. Right hand = the strong hand, the place of power/authority… Illustrated in God’s promise to Israel of His protection: Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ [] Jesus holds us! Jesus sustains us – and praise God for it! If we were left to hold up ourselves & give ourselves strength, we wouldn’t last a day! Yet our life in God is not based upon our own strength; it’s based upon our Lord Jesus’ strength.

C. 2nd, Jesus is among us. He “walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” – that is, He walks in the midst of the seven churches (Ch 1:20), ultimately representative of all the churches. … Of course, this is exactly what Jesus said that He would do. Wherever two or three gather together in His name, He is there in the midst of them (Mt 18:20). He promised never to leave us nor forsake us (Hb 13:5) – we can trust that our Lord Jesus Christ is always spiritually among His Church.

a. Beware of the thought that corporate worship times are just rituals when people who believe certain things gather together & go through the motions. If that’s all there is to a worship service, then we’d have a tough time truly calling it a Christian worship service. There might be Christian ideas, but without Christ present, it can’t truly be called “Christian.” Yet anytime those who are born of the Holy Spirit & are in Christ gather together, we can be assured that our living Savior is present among us. We sing songs to HIM – we pray in HIS name – we worship HIM. He’s here, because He’s alive!

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;

A. 3rd, Jesus knows us. There wasn’t anything the church of Ephesus did that the Lord Jesus was not aware of. … He knew their “works.” Jesus is going to state this about each of the seven churches. Sometimes they were good works; other times they were not-so-good. Whatever the case, He definitely knew what each local church did.

a. Speaks of His omniscience. One of the basic attributes of God is that He knows everything. Everything. For some, that might be a rather sobering thought in that there’s no sin of ours that can be hidden away from the sight of God. And that’s certainly true – the omniscience of God guarantees the perfect judgment of God because He knows not only the things we’ve done in the open, but the things we’ve done in secret, including the motives which we had when we did them. … At the same time, this can also be a joyous thought. Because God is omniscient, there’s nothing we do for the Lord that He does not know about. We often say of the world, “no good deed goes unpunished” – with God it would be, “no good deed goes unnoticed.” To those who labor away serving family members (or even church members) that are never recognized (and sometimes underappreciated), we can be assured that God sees all of it. When a born-again believer stands before the Lord Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ, he/she will be rewarded for deeds we may have even forgotten about – but our Lord knew of them intimately.

b. Speaks of His interest. Think of it – of all the things the Creator of the Universe could be paying attention to, He’s looking at His Church. He’s intimately aware of our works – of the things we do for His name & glory. Obviously in His omniscience, Jesus knows of our works (if He didn’t, He wouldn’t truly be God) – but the fact that He points out our works shows His great interest in them. He cares about what we do as His people! Sometimes people get the idea that it doesn’t really matter what they do – after all, in Christ we’re forgiven & all of the bad stuff we do will be burned away. Beware of such callousness in our faith! It DOES matter what we do, because our Lord knows what we do & it matters to HIM.

B. What exactly did Jesus know about the Ephesians? 1st, He knew of their deeds:

a. He knew their effort – “your labor.” Other translations say “toil” – AMP says “laborious toil & trouble.” There’s a picture here of exertion – of a church that is going about the work of the kingdom. They’ve put their hand to the plow, and they’re not looking back. What exactly their labor included, we’re not told – but it’s obviously labor that was pleasing to the Lord because Jesus is commending them for it. James tells us that pure & undefiled religion is to help widows & orphans in their times of trouble & to keep oneself unspotted from the world (Jas 1:27) – perhaps Ephesus was busy doing these very things. Whatever it was, this was an active church – a working church.

i. That’s a good thing! The local church is supposed to be busy doing the things of God. Whether it’s by spreading the gospel by passing out tracts or by passing out soup in a homeless shelter – we’ve been given a Great Commission to fulfill, and we need to be about the business of doing it. Too many churches become full of Christians who cloister themselves away… That’s not what Jesus would have for His church. We’re laborers in the harvest of God (Lk 10:2); we need to be out & about doing the toil of the harvest.

b. He knew their patience. ὑπομονή = “to hold up under”…staying power. Can you imagine being a Christian living in a city like Ephesus? You’re surrounded by sexual idolatry & wickedness & all sorts of commerce & pride. (Sound familiar?) The challenge is to hold fast to their faith under all the pressure from the world to give it up – and that’s exactly what Jesus commends the Ephesian church for doing. Whatever persecution or discrimination they faced simply for being believers in Christ, the Ephesians stood firm in their faith demonstrating Godly patience.

c. He knew their love for righteousness – “you cannot bear those who are evil.” The Ephesian church was filled with people who had a very low tolerance for sin. Over & over again the NT emphasizes that though we are not saved by any righteousness we think we have in ourselves, once we have been saved by placing our faith & trust in Christ Jesus alone – at that point our lives are to change & we’re to live in the righteousness of God. We’re to be holy because our God is holy (1 Pet 1:16) – we’re to judge & deal with sin in our own ranks (1 Cor 5:12-13) – we’re to walk worthy of the calling with which we were called (Eph 4:1). Ephesus was known for taking a stand for righteousness, and Jesus commended them for it.

i. All of these things speak of their good deeds. When it came to what a church was supposed to DO as a body, the Ephesians excelled!

C. 2nd, He knew their doctrine – “you have tested those who say they are apostles…” Paul had warned the Ephesian church specifically about false teachers coming in among them, and they were ready! Acts 20:29-30 (29) For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. (30) Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. [] That was not only true for the people of Ephesus, it’s true for all of us living in the end times, as Paul wrote to Timothy while he was serving in Ephesus (1 Tim 4:1-3). We’ve been warned against false teachers, and so we must be ready! Ephesus was ready & recognized them as liars (literally “pseudo” – false). It doesn’t matter what title someone claims for himself – we can recognize them by the fruit of their teaching & the fruit of their character. [pseudo-prophet on TV] … The point? We can only recognize the false when we know the truth. Ephesus obviously had a love of sound doctrine that protected them from false apostles. If we want to be protected from false teachers, we need a similar love for the word of God!

3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.

A. The result of everything Jesus knew about the Ephesians? He commends them for their faithfulness – their dedication. Again, Jesus affirms their ‘staying power’ & commends them for being able to bear the pressures that have come upon them as a church, while staying faithful to the word of God & mission of the kingdom. They were dedicated to the name of Christ, and although times were tough, they were not yet ready to give up in weariness. They were steadfastly serving the Lord Jesus.

B. There are some wonderful tests here for us. Knowing that Jesus’ yoke is easy & His burden is light (Mt 11:30), we still have life to live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ yoke may be easy, but life isn’t always the same. But we can do ALL things through Christ who gives us strength! (Phil 4:13) So how do we know if we’re doing things in OUR strength, or in JESUS’ strength? Look to some of these tests:

a. Are we patiently persevering? (I.e., not doing thing begrudingly, but out of quiet patience.) When we labor, are we laboring for the name of Christ? Are we becoming weary – i.e., do we want to give up? We’re not to become weary in doing good (2 Ths 3:13)…if we do, it’s a very good indication that we were attempting to do the work of God in the power of our flesh.

b. Question: if we aren’t to do the work of God in our own strength, how exactly ARE we supposed to do it? In Jesus’ strength – by the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s exactly what Jesus was telling the disciple prior to His ascension. They had all the basic facts they needed about the gospel message (they knew Jesus is God in the flesh who died for their sins on the cross, rose again on the 3rd day, and offers forgiveness & eternal life to all who call upon Him in faith) – what they lacked was the power. Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” [] Likewise, we need to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit (per Eph 5:18), in order that we would be empowered by God to live as He would have us to live.

4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

A. Jesus commended the Ephesians for their good deeds, good doctrine, and good dedication – but He had something against them, and it was something big: they had lost their devotion (their love for God). “You have left your first love.”

a. Is this love for God or love for people? Different scholars take different positions here, noting that by Jesus’ call for Ephesus to return to their “first works,” it sounds like He may be calling them to demonstrate their love for others through their works. The problem with that is two-fold: (1) Jesus has already commended them on their labors, so we know that their deeds have been pleasing to God. (2) Although love for others is critically important to the life of a Christian (it’s the royal law on which all the others hang, according to James), our love for others isn’t the “first” love that we have. Our “first love” – our primary/most important/foundational love – is our love of God through Christ Jesus.

B. Some would look at the church at Ephesus & have nothing but compliments: “They’re so involved in the community – look at all the good things they do!” “Look at how they value holiness – they take the word of God seriously!” “No false teacher is going to fool them – look at how they value sound doctrine!” Those are all wonderful things to have said about any church, for sure! (Hopefully we can have those things said about our own church! Who wouldn’t want that?) Yet what Ephesus was missing was major…it was essential. Good works are good, but they’re ultimately worthless without the heart involved. And their heart for God was exactly what was missing. [] In the midst of loving one another, don’t forget what’s most important: loving God.

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.

A. How serious is it for a church to remain with our first love of God? Because without that first love, we can’t be considered a church at all! Jesus warned the Ephesian church that He might “remove your lampstand from its place.” Is Jesus telling the Christians there that they might lose their salvation? No – this is a message to the entire church congregation (through its pastor). The ones who are born-again & abiding in Christ will remain born-again…but the local church congregation itself might die. … Unfortunately, churches die all the time – for much the same reason. … And frankly, if a church ever abandons their love for Jesus Christ, it SHOULD die. They either need a revival or a burial, but they cannot stay the same.

a. Scholars note that this actually happened, historically speaking. The Ephesian church was once a base of ministry to the whole region of Asia minor. Yet the city declined in the 5th century & eventually became nothing but a site of ruins…including the church that was once there.

B. What did the Ephesians need to do? “Repent and do the 1st works.” Define “repentance…” μετανοεω = “with + thinking = reconsider” – basically talking about a change of mind. The Hebrew equivalent often referred to sorrow & accompanying action. Biblical repentance involves both mind AND action. Due to the particular grammatical form of the word here, AT Robertson summarizes, “urgent appeal for instant change of attitude and conduct before it is too late.”… Once we understand we need to change both our mind & our behavior (our direction), we need to know what to change it TO. Knowing we need to change is a good start, but we’ve got to know what the destination is before we can start heading there. For the Ephesian church (and those who struggle with the same issues), it’s to “do the 1st works.” Sounds great – but what’s the 1st work? We know it can’t be a deed or other labor (Jesus already commended them on their works) – it must be related somehow to the love of God, which they had abandoned. Jesus likely defines it for us in John’s gospel. John 6:28-29 (28) Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (29) Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” [] … The 1st work of every believer in Christ is to believe Christ – to cling to Him by faith & love in God!

a. Objection: “But that’s so basic! Here’s a church that’s warned that it might die out as a local congregation, and Jesus is just calling them back to basic faith, that they would love & believe God. Shouldn’t there be something else?” Why do we think death is always caused by complicated means? If someone’s heart stops beating, they die. If a Church’s heart stops beating for Jesus, it dies. The very basic remedy is the same as our initial salvation: repentance & faith. … The church in Ephesus already had the good works, the good doctrine, & perseverance…what they needed was the foundation of all of it! What good is dedication to the 2nd greatest commandment if the 1st greatest commandment is abandoned? []

b. This is perhaps one reason Paul tried to point the Ephesian church back to the love of God. Perhaps he saw what was going to come – or maybe he didn’t, but the Holy Spirit knew exactly the words to warn the church while it was still relatively young. (Praying for them) Ephesians 3:17-19 (17) that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (18) may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— (19) to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [] … The more we know of the vastness of the love of Christ for us, the less likely we’ll be to ever abandon our love of Him.

C. We know this was the Ephesian church – but is this also YOU? The Ephesians knew how to play church & put on the right “face” when they walked through the doors. They knew all the right outreaches in which to participate & all the right lingo to speak. But in the end, they lacked love for God. Are you the same way? … Repent! Stop going in the direction you’re going – do a U-turn & come back to God! … Have you witnessed your love for Christ grow cold? Meditate on the richness of His love for you! Think again of how Jesus demonstrated His own love for you on the cross – how He bore the nails in His hands for you – how He was willing to leave the glories of heaven simply to dwell among us that He might redeem us from the grave. There is truly no extent to which God has not already gone for you in His love for you – the vastness of His love is amazing! If you’ve caught a glimpse of His grand love, respond to Him in kind: in prayer, in song, in devotion, in love!

6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

A. Jesus gets back to the good works here. The Church at Ephesus hadn’t done everything wrong (though they got something pretty major, wrong!) – they had also done some things right. One was their good deeds, doctrine, & dedication – the other was their good discernment. They knew the things God hated, and they hated them as well.

a. This ought to be a characteristic of every church. It’s important to hate the things God hates & love the things God loves. Objection: “Wait a second – God doesn’t hate anything!” On the contrary! There are several things the Bible explicitly tells us the Lord hates: robbery for burnt offering (Isa 61:8) – thinking evil in our hearts & loving false oaths (Zech 8:17) – divorce (Mal 2:16). Because God is perfectly holy & perfectly righteous, it only makes sense that He hates certain things. If we get outraged when we see injustice taking place, how much more of an offense is it to God?

B. Who were the “Nicolaitans”? We don’t know too much about them. The church fathers write only briefly about them, saying that they developed out of Nicolas (one of the original deacons in Acts 6) who was a false convert/apostate. Revelation is the only book in the Bible that mentions them by name – but Revelation mentions them a lot in these first few chapters. Jesus addresses them more in depth in the letter to Pergamos – apparently, they were idolators & participated in sexual immorality, among other things. Whatever it was they did, Jesus absolutely hated their deeds. Individually as people, surely Jesus loves them as He loves anyone else – but as a group, He (rightfully) hates their deeds. Those things were some of the very sins for which He had to die, and yet false teachers were attempting to bring those things into Jesus’ own church.

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.” ’

A. We’re going to read this 1st sentence over & over again in the letter to the seven churches. Not everyone had the spiritual enabling to hear what the Spirit had to say through these letters, but for those who did, they needed to pay attention.

a. Who wouldn’t have an ear? Those who aren’t born-again. The natural man can’t understand the things of the Spirit, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).

b. Notice that this invitation is open-ended to anyone who’s a believer. The letter was specifically given to the Church at Ephesus for what they were historically experiencing. That being said, the truths are the same for the entire Universal Church throughout history! Anyone who has an ear is supposed to hear what the Spirit has to say.

c. Notice also the working of the Trinity. It was Jesus who dictated the letter to John, but it’s also the words of the Spirit to the overall Church. It shows that the Spirit is an individual Person within the Godhead (because only People can speak; not inanimate forces). … It shows the unity within the Godhead (what Jesus spoke is also what the Spirit says). Both the Trinity’s diversity & unity are shown at the same time…a glorious mystery!

B. What’s the promise? The overcomers/victors have the reward of eternal life. IOW, everyone who is born-again & does not depart from his/her 1st love in Christ will enjoy fellowship with Christ for all eternity.

a. What’s the “tree of life”? The same tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden with Adam & Eve! Adam was removed from Paradise on earth due to sin; the Last Adam (Jesus) invites humanity back into Paradise in eternity due to how He dealt with sin. … The curse is reversed & creation is restored to God’s original intent!

The Ephesians had good deeds, good doctrine, good dedication, and good discernment. What they lacked was good devotion. That’s a bunch of “d’s” – let’s add two more: denial & destruction. Dedication to God without devotion to God is truly denial of God & leads to destruction by God. For all of the wonderful things the Ephesians did right, the Lord Jesus points out that they had moved away from their foundation as a church: they had lost their love for God. Without a true love for Jesus, a church is in denial about actually being a church – they’re just playing religious games at that point. And when that happens, the Lord is going to cleanse His people, and destroy what needs to be destroyed – allowing a local congregation to die off.

That’s for a church – but what about you as an individual? Have you found yourself growing cold in what ought to be your first love? Repent! Get back to the first works, casting yourself upon Christ Jesus in faith – dwelling upon His love for you & responding in return. Let this be a day of dedication (or rededication) as you start anew in your love of Christ.

Maybe you’ve never left God as your 1st love because you’ve never HAD God as your 1st love. Let today be the day that changes! Understand that we were doomed & headed for Hell – every sin & act of rebellion against God left us square in the sight of His judgment. But God loves us & His desire is that none would perish! So He sent Jesus Christ to die in your place – taking the punishment you deserved at the cross…and then Jesus rose again to life, showing that the debt was paid & that forgiveness is available in His name. The only work to do is a response to HIS work: to believe upon Jesus – the Son of God sent by the Father.

  1. […] Continued here: How's Your Love Life? « Preach the Word! […]

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