Good morning. I thought I would take this opportunity for an aside from Acts and look at something from the book of Revelation. This actually came from a question that came up as we studied in Acts.
But first I’d like to start with a quick story. After worship service a wife patiently reminded her husband to put on his hat and coat before leaving. Overhearing the exchange, the preacher remarked to her; “Rather absent-minded, is he?” The wife replied; "Extremely so, the other night when we got home he knew there was something he wanted to do, but he couldn't remember what it was until he had spent over an hour trying to think." "And did he finally remember it?" asked the preacher. "Yes” she said, “He remembered that he wanted to go to bed early."
As we age, change happens, doesn’t it? Have you changed as you aged? We would all have to say yes – physically, emotionally, and maybe even spiritually. What about churches – do they change as they age?
Where can we go to find a description or evaluation of any of the churches of the first century (NT churches)? The book of Acts where we have been studying for sure, but those are mostly describing the beginnings of the churches. What about later? How did those churches do in the long run?
The seven churches addressed in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation represent the types of churches that are generally present throughout the N.T. They, no doubt, had similar people, assets, and problems. Five of the seven churches (Smyrna and Philadelphia being the exceptions) were rebuked for tolerating sin in their midst, not an uncommon occurrence in churches ever since. The words we find here could be easily reproduced in our own time and addressed to many churches that we may know – even this one.
• Each of the seven addresses begins with, “I know your works.”
• Each contains a promise, “To him who overcomes.”
• Each end with “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Our focus today is on the oldest church of the 7. It was from the evangelistic efforts of the church in Ephesus that some of these other congregations came to be. It is only fitting that Jesus would evaluate them first. By the time of this letter, four decades had passed since the Ephesian church’s tumultuous birth. The apostle Paul was gone, as were many of the first generation of believers converted under his ministry. This church had experienced changes. How had these changes affected the body?
Read with me Revelation 2:1-7 – “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.'' '”
I. Who is speaking here? We will begin our study of these verses with the identification of the One who is speaking to the church in Ephesus. Revelation 2:1 says; `These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:’ Although He is not named directly here, we can easily recognize the speaker as the Christ.
A. Jesus’ self-description is taken from John’s vision in Revelation 1:13-18 – “13. and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. 14. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; 15. His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; 16. He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. 17. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. 18. "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”
1. As Jesus walked among the lampstands (i.e. the churches) he held the stars (authority) of those churches in His right hand. He had every right to evaluate and bring judgment upon these congregations because they belong to Him.
2. There is also in this, a picture of Jesus’ love and concern for these churches. He walks among them to protect them – give them the oil they need to continue burning – trim the wick to make them brighter.
II. What He Commends: What did Jesus see at Ephesus that pleased Him? Revelation 2:2-3,6 – ‘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…. 6."But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
A. The Greek word for “know” here is eidō [ay-do] which indicates knowledge – Jesus does not have to come to see – He already knows everything about this church – and us!
B. When Jesus commends this church what did He see that was right about it?
1. “Works”, (ergon) – this indicates that this was a working church. The same word is used in Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
2. “Labor” (kopos) means labor to the point of sweat and exhaustion. They were willing to work hard for Christ. They were no doubt teaching the lost and edifying one another as Paul had done when he was among them.
3. “Patience” – (hypomonē) is patience in trying circumstances. Strong defines it as a hopeful, enduring patience. Thayer says it is “the characteristic of a man who is not deflected from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings”. This commendation indicates that, despite their difficult circumstances, the Ephesian believers remained faithful to their Lord.
4. “Can not bear those who are evil” – The Lord says that this church “could not tolerate evil men”. Following the example of Paul, they held a high standard of morality and doctrine. They were sensitive to sin in the lives of the members. In Ephesians 4:27 – “nor give place to the devil.” Paul had warned them not to give the devil a place or foot hold and they were practicing that effectively.
5. “You have tested” (peirazō) – They were willing to put their teachers to the test. They were aware of the danger of false teachers and false apostles. We noticed earlier that Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20 about the coming influence of false teachers. Acts 20:29-31 - “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. 31. "Therefore watch…”
i. In his second epistle, John warned that “many deceivers have gone out into the world” (2 John 7) and cautioned believers, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;” (2 John 10).
ii. The early church father Ignatius, writing not long after John penned the book of Revelation, also commended the Ephesians for their vigilance: “You heed nobody beyond what he has to say truthfully about Jesus Christ… I have heard that some strangers came your way with a wicked teaching. But you did not let them sow it among you. You stopped up your ears to prevent admitting what they disseminated” (on Ephesians 6.2; 9.1; cited in Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, 89, 90).
6. “Hate” (miseō) – in verse 6 Jesus adds the specific commendation for this church you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. It might surprise us to see hate being commended. First, we must note that they “hate the deeds”. God hates all sin and expects His people to hate it as well. We can not get comfortable with evil doctrine of immorality or become desensitized to the sin we see around us.
i. We know very little for certain about the Nicolaitans (they are mentioned later in the letter to the church in Pergamos). Beyond that there is nothing, and anything we find is outside scripture. From various writings it seems to refer to an apostate group who led others to commit immorality.
ii. Merrill C. Tenney, professor of New Testament and Greek studies says… “the teaching of the Nicolaitans was an exaggeration of the doctrine of Christian liberty which attempted an ethical compromise with heathenism”
iii. Irenaeus wrote of the Nicolaitans that they “lived lives of unrestrained indulgence”
iv. Clement of Alexandria added that the Nicolaitans “abandon themselves to pleasure like goats… leading a life of self-indulgence” (cited in Barclay, The Revelation of John, 1.67).
7. The Ephesian church was not taken in by this heresy.
C. Let’s recap then, all that was going right in this church at Ephesus:
1. They were a working church.
2. They were disciplined and discerning in doctrine.
3. They had endured hardship without growing weary.
4. They were persevering through troubles.
III. What Jesus Rebukes: Then in Revelation 2:4 – “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Despite the good things that Jesus has said about this church, this is a serious flaw. In the first chapter of his letter to this church, Paul says in Ephesians 1:15 – “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16. do not cease to give thanks for you… ”. That was years before. Things had changed in Ephesus. What does it mean for a church to leave its first love?
A. They had allowed their love for Jesus and each other to grow cold. What brought them to Christ no longer motivated their activities. Even though their works were right, and they were even willing to bear reproach to uphold the truth, they lacked the essential reason God had provided.
1. When we consider love, we cannot help but think of Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about the primary place of love. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 – “1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.”
2. It is possible to do the right things for the wrong reason or even without reason at all. Serving God has a necessary emotional component. WHY becomes a harder question for us to ask than WHAT or HOW.
i. Let me give an example: A person who begins teaching a Bible class or giving to a ministry out of a love and zeal for Christ, later only stays with this work because no one else will take the job.
ii. Another example, Christians who now attend worship out of an obligation to family, or because others would be upset – but they do not do it out of love anymore.
iii. How about at home? Marriages can continue to exist, even after the love has grown cold. The activities are mechanical and unfulfilling. Churches can prove to be sound in doctrinal matters, but dead and cold in their love for God and each other.
3. A loveless obedience is a real threat among those who strive to do the right things, and do not tolerate evil. One author offers this observation: “Every virtue carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. It may indeed be possible that desire for sound teaching and the resulting forthright action taken to exclude all imposters, can create a climate of suspicion in which brotherly love might no longer exist… Good works and pure doctrine are not adequate substitutes for that rich relationship of mutual love shared by persons who have just experienced the redemptive love of God.”
i. One must be careful with this sort of comment because it seems to imply that it was their very loyalty to the faith that resulted in their lapse. Their hatred of heresy "bred" their defection; and that cannot be true. God’s pure word produces pure faith and love.
ii. It was "their leaving their first love, who is Christ." A failure in the Christian's heart of their love for Christ results quickly in the other failures. Their actions, their defense of the faith, had become action for action’s sake rather then action born out of love for the One who first loved us and gave Himself for us.
4. We must stand against evil and desire sound teaching. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 - “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”
5. Of course, we must oppose a brother, who teaches error, yet our stand must be taken with care remembering that who we love first is Christ. Paul tells the Galatians in Galatians 6:1 – “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”
IV. What Jesus Commands: Revelation 2:5 – “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. Remember is the first word here. It is noteworthy that Jesus’ solution starts with the command to remember. When the love goes out of a marriage, the counselor may ask the couple to remember why they married each other in the first place – recall the emotion, the commitment, the willing sacrifice. What was good about the other person?
1. What is good about Jesus? Why do we love Him? God wants us to remember, so we do not lose our love.
2. Repent: They needed to repent in a deliberate rejection of their sins, because to fail to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength is sin. Matthew 22:36-38 says – “36. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?'' 37. Jesus said to him, " `You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' 38. "This is the first and great commandment.” Without a willingness to humbly repent, there is not hope of recovery from such a critical error.
3. Speaking of what Jesus said in Matthew 22 what did He say next in verse 39? “And the second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
B. Do the first works: Finally, they needed to demonstrate the genuineness of their repentance and do the deeds they did at first. They needed to recapture the richness of Bible study, devotion to prayer, and passion for worship that had once characterized them. The church’s cold love for God may have become evident in their disregard for each other. Start serving God in love and then you will start serving each other again. Put first things first.
V. What He Promises: Revelation 2:5 – “or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.” Revelation 2:7 – “… 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. As critical as their sin was, it was not too late. If they repent, God will forgive. If they do not repent, Jesus will come quickly and remove their candlestick.
1. This coming of Jesus is not His second coming, but a coming judgment on this church. The final coming of Christ in the Judgment to come will occur, irrespective of any group's repenting or not. Although we are accountable as individuals, a church can lose its lampstand. What does that mean?
2. First, we must recognize that this is something that only Jesus could do. The lampstand from the image in chapter 1, represents the place of the church in the mission to bring the light of God to the world. It represents the church’s place with Jesus.
3. A church can lose its lampstand while it yet exists. Burton Coffman puts it this way… “This does not refer to any total destruction of a church or of a city, but to the removal of the impenitent from any effective status as a lampstand of the truth in Jesus Christ. Many a church has continued to enjoy life on earth long after their utility as an effective instrument for spreading the gospel of Christ has perished. Such churches have indeed had their "lampstand" removed.”
4. This promise emphasizes again that it is Jesus who holds the sovereignty. Our life as a church exists in His mind, not ours. We may be listed in every directory, but missing from among the lampstands tended by Christ.
B. Then Verse 7 does indeed seem to point to the Judgment to come. Notice that this promise is personal and individual, not corporate. To each one who overcomes, he will be able to eat from the tree of life.
We see from reading John’s last book - the status of the churches. I can not help but wonder, where will this church be in the years to come? Will we still be here? A few things are certain:
• We will experience change,
• Satan will not quit trying to destroy us
• If we do not abandon Him, God will see us through whatever comes.
He is our first love. We must not leave Him.
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins… If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
Reference Sermon: Dave Schmidt – 4/15/2018
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