Revelation 2:1-7 // The Church That Lost Its First Love

 

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Text: Revelation 2:1-7

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty, Gracious Father, since our whole understanding of salvation depends upon our true understanding of your holy Word, grant to all of us that our hearts, being free from worldly things, may hear and understand your holy Word with all due diligence and faith, that we may rightly understand your gracious will, cherish it, and live by it with all our hearts, to your praise and honor; through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION:

This morning, we are going to start on a journey through the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation.

As some of you may know, this is the first Sunday in the season of Epiphany. The term epiphany means “to show” or “to make known” or even “to reveal.” In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some eastern churches, Epiphany or the Theophany commemorates Jesus’ baptism, with the visit of the Magi linked to Christmas. [2]

So, most of the time, pastors might preach on the baptism of Jesus, the three wise men bringing gifts to Jesus when he was a child, or some might even preach on Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine.

One of the reasons why I feel like this is appropriate for Epiphany is because one of the major practical applications that we take from the book of Revelation as a whole is that Jesus sees His church, and His church sees Him seeing them (as funny as that sounds) because He’s revealed to them. That’s what the word, “Revelation” means, it means ‘revealing.’

Jesus sees His church in their sufferings, their trials, their temptations, but He also sees the sin. We like the idea of Jesus seeing us in sufferings, trials, and temptations because we know that He can relate to those things, and He can sympathize with us in those things, but we don’t like the idea of Jesus being able to see our sin because if He sees our sin, then we can’t get away with it anymore.

So, during this Epiphany season, I want us to see Jesus and hear Jesus. I want us hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.

All of these letters in Revelation follow the same pattern: there’s a picture of Jesus, a message from Jesus, and an explicit command to hear what the Spirit is saying.

You’ve probably heard people teach on these letters and say that these churches are a timeline of Christian history, and then they’ll pull out their charts and graphs and try explain how each of these seven churches fit the timeline, but the problem with believing that is that when you say that this letter applies to “this part of church history” and “that letter applies to that part of church history” what you’re actually saying is that only one part of it applies to us today, and that’s not the case.

The letters that John wrote to the seven churches are for every church in every age. For we are told in verse 7, ”he who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.”

When CB radios became popular in this country you might tune in to find someone to talk to and you would ask each other ”do you have your ears on?”

That’s similar to what Jesus is saying here. He’s saying, “If you’ve got your ears on, then hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

The picture of Jesus here, according to verse 1, is that he’s holding seven stars in his hand, and he’s walking among the seven golden candlesticks. These are representations of the church. Jesus doesn’t just see what’s going on from afar, but He’s personally active among His people.

This morning, as we look at the letter that Jesus tells John to give to Ephesus, we will see that there three things we need to deal with: There’s An Assessment of the Church, An Accusation Against the Church, and An Answer for the Church.

AN ASSESSMENT OF THE CHURCH (v. 2-3)

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” – Revelation 2:2-3, NRSV

As we look at these two verses we find that there are three things that characterize the assessment of the church.

They Were Energetic (v. 2a)

Jesus says, “I know your works, your toil…”

They were an active congregation. They are at all the community events. They’re the first ones to welcome new people who move to their area. Their Sunday School programs and Bible Studies were filled with rich discussion, and they gave heartily to all the right causes.

They Were Established (v. 2b)

Not only were they energetic, but they were established.

Look at the second half of verse 2 – “I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.”

They hated moral evil. – They didn’t want to see anyone mistreated. They stood up for their fellow man.

They also hated ministerial evil. – They didn’t tolerate people who taught false doctrine. Jesus even tells them in verse 6, “this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

  • No one knows much about the Nicolaitans, but what scholars can come up with is that they were a sect of apostate Christians who tolerated idolatry and fornication, and the church here at Ephesus wasn’t having any of it, and Jesus commends them for it.

Not only were they energetic and established, but they were also enduring.

They Were Enduring (v. 3)

In verse 2, Jesus says, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…” and then in verse 3, Jesus says, “I also know that you are enduring patiently…”

They’re in this thing for the long haul. They seem to be ready for whatever comes their way. On the outside, this looks like a healthy church.

Who wouldn’t want to be apart of a church where they’re energetic, established, and enduring?

So, what’s the problem? The problem is on the inside and it goes deep. On the surface, everything looks healthy, but there’s something going on on the inside that only Jesus can see, and that’s what warrants the accusation. Maybe it’s the same way with some of us. Maybe we look fine on the outside, but on the inside we’re lacking. On the inside we are weighed in the balances and found wanting, and Jesus sees it even no one else does.

THE ACCUSATION AGAINST THE CHURCH (v. 4)

“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” – Revelation 2:4, NRSV

The accusation is that they lost their first love. What does that mean? Obviously they love something. Their church doesn’t look healthy on the outside because they’re just going through the motions. Jesus doesn’t accuse them of “going through the motions.” They actually love what they’re doing, and it shows in the quality of their service.

  • The problem isn’t with what they love, but who they’re not loving.
    • They loved service more than the Savior. They loved form, but not godliness.

“We can get so focused on the work of the Lord that we forget the Lord of the work.” – Denny Duron

We can strive to make a better image for ourselves, and make our brand bigger and better, but if we are not focused on Jesus, then it’s all in vain.

  • Our motivations are ultimately the litmus test. Do we want to help others find and follow Jesus? Or do we just want others join our social club so they follow our vision of what we think the church ought to be?

One theologian describes Ephesus leaving their first love like this:

“They had lost the first flush of excitement in their Christian life and settled into a cold orthodoxy with more surface strength than depth.” [3]

  • (Illustration: This kinda reminds me of a story I heard where there was a woman who felt like her husband was neglecting her. They had been married for several years, but she felt like the fire was going out.

    One day a newly wed couple moved in next door, and everyday when he left for work he would grab her and hug her and plant a long kiss on her lips. The neglected neighbor watch this until she could take it no more. She dragged her husband to the door, made him watch what was going on and asked, “Can you do that?” He thought about it a minute and said, “Sure, I guess I could, but I don’t think her husband would like that too much.”)

As continue to look at the passage, we’ll see that not only is there an assessment of the church, not only is there an accusation against the church, but Jesus also provides An Answer for the Church.

AN ANSWER FOR THE CHURCH (v. 5)

“Remember then from what 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.” – Revelation 2:5, NRSV

Remember

First, he calls them to remember. The present imperative form of this verb beckons them to “keep on remembering.” Never forget what you have lost. Go back and note when and where the flame of love grew faint. Take an inventory and evaluate where you are now compared to where you were then. Go back to the time when your love for Jesus was a burning passion and all that mattered. [4]

Memory is a powerful tool. Almost everything sacramental that we do in the life of the church calls us to remember.

  • In baptism we remember that just as God brought Moses and the people Israel across the Red Sea so He brings into out of the captivity of our sin and into the promised land of the Church.
  • In the Lord’s Supper, we remember what makes our salvation and our baptism possible – the shed blood of Jesus. His body is broken for us, and His blood is poured out for us. Those are things we are called to remember.

And the church at Ephesus is called to remember a time when they loved God, and they remembered what He did for them.

Not only does He call them to Remember, but He calls them to repent.

Repent

Think about the word, “repent.” In the Greek this is metanoeō “to think differently” or “reconsider.”

  • What do they have to reconsider? What do they have to think about differently? When we ask that we also have to understand that this is for us so what is that we have to think about differently?

We have to think differently about our sin—sins of indifference, religious formalism, legalistic routine. Repentance requires that we change our minds from thinking that our good deeds are meritorious and earn God’s favor.

In calling for the Ephesians to repent (and ultimately, calling us to repent), Jesus reminds us that labor is no substitute for love, purity is no substitute for passion, and deeds are no substitute for devotion. We can’t pat ourselves on the back for doing good things for the wrong reason. [5]

Repeat

The NRSV that I use says, “do the works you did at first,” but the New King James is probably more correct when it says, “do the first works.” The reason that’s important is because that word “first” is the same as the word “first” in verse 4.

It speaks of that which is “first in rank and importance”. In other words, Jesus isn’t calling them to go back and do what they did before, instead He calls them to return to the things that are most important.

What is most important when it comes to our relationship with Him? The Lord’s call here is for the Ephesian believers to return to the simple fundamentals of the faith.

It is a call to return to the altar of prayer.
It is a call to come back to the Word of God.
It is a call to return to a place of worship.
It is a call to return to the sacraments.
It is a call to obedience to His will.
It is a call to walk in holiness before the Lord.

  • Now, when we think about holiness we tend to think of moral purity. Although some aspects of our holiness might involve that, there are lost people who don’t know Jesus who are more moral than some of us are.
    • So, what is holiness? What does it mean to be holy as God is holy? (1 Peter 1:16) Holiness is ‘other’ness. When the Bible speaks about God being mean it means that He is complete set apart from everything. There’s literally nothing else in this universe like Him.
  • So, when the church is called to be holy as He is holy, when the church is called to walk in holiness. It means that we are to walk in otherness. We are a called out people. It doesn’t mean we’re better than anyone else, but it does mean that something has been done for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves.
  • We are ‘set apart’ precisely because Jesus attained a victory for us that we couldn’t get on our own. So, in giving an overview of the seven letters in Revelation, M. Eugene Boring says, “The Christian life called for in chapters 2–3 is not adherence to moralistic norms but a life lived in view of the reality of the Christ event in the past and the victory of God in the eschatological future.” [6]

Being holy means understanding that we look forward to a time when our faith will be sight. In the end, Jesus wins, and because He wins, we win.

Jesus is still calling the church to return to these basic, foundational truths.

CONCLUSION (v. 5, 7)

“Remember then from what 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.” – Revelation 2:5, NRSV

There’s a lot of debate over the symbolism involved here about what this lampstand could mean, but I think there’s a practical truth to taken from this statement that Jesus makes – a church cannot expect to keep its light, if it doesn’t keep its love.

(Illustration: Henry Grady was the editor of the Atlanta Constitution. After a great speech entitled, “The New South” he was hailed as a national hero, but Grady knew something was desperately wrong in his life.

One day he left his downtown office and started back to his boyhood home in the mountains. When he arrived he found his mother sitting on the porch reading her Bible. He quickly confessed to her that he had lost something and desperately needed to find it. That night after supper they sat on the porch together. As he placed his head in her lap as he had done as a young boy, she started talking about her Lord Jesus Christ. She talked about how good He’d been to her throughout the years, and how wonderful it was to serve Him.

Henry Grady began to feel something in his heart grow warm once again. When it was time to go to bed he and his mother walked up to his room where they knelt together. That night he didn’t sleep much. He spent the night remembering and repenting.

The next morning, his mother said, “Henry, you look so different.” He said, “Mom, I am different. I have found what I lost.”)

Do you need to find what you lost this morning? You can. Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, You love us. You loved us so much that You sent us Your Son to deal with the problems of our sin, our guilt, and our shame. You also not only call us to repent, but You grant repentance as gift. Grant us repentance this morning. Send the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins, and bring us closer to You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

____________

  1. Prayer based on the Strasbourg Liturgy of 1539
  2. http://www.crivoice.org/cyepiph.html
  3. Osborne, Grant R. Revelation. Baker Academic, 2008.
  4. Exalting Jesus in Revelation (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (Kindle Locations 967-969). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  5. ” “
  6. Boring, M. Eugene. Revelation: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (pp. 89-90). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

Author: RevLoganDixon

26. Simul Justus et Peccator. Pastor. Libertarian. Musician. Thinker. Dreamer. Coffee-drinker.

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