LOOSING OUR FIRST LOVE?
(Lessons from the Church of Ephesus)
Revelation 2:1-7, 03/30/2014
Do you remember the first time you thought you were properly in love? Did you think about him/her constantly? Think of how many ways you have invented just to see her or to spend time with her alone? Nothing else really mattered, all you wanted was to be in the embrace of each other right? If you’re married, think about your wedding day. Were you excited, nervous, hopeful, happy, and full of anticipation?
The other day we had our couples date night. I asked a question; how did you both meet? Oh boy you should have been there to listen to the exciting, adventures and romantic stories each couple shared. For some of us it was love at first sight; well that did not stop them there but carried them all the way to the wedding altar. What is even more interesting that these couples are still in in love with each other, for some after some three or four decades of marriage!
As a pastor for me it was very satisfying to see how couples here are still committed to each other in spite of ups and downs in their marriage. But sadly, many couples separate just a few years after their heartfelt commitment? I wonder what has happened to them, have they lost their first love they had for each other? One marriage expert says, “No matter how sincere we are, staying in love is a choice! Love can grow and become more precious with each passing day; but for this to happen we must pursue the secret to staying in love.” Is it even possible to lose our first love? What happens in a marriage relationship could also happen in our relationship with God and with one another. In fact the Bible says in the last days due to the increase of wickedness most people’s love will grow cold. (Matt 24:12)
For the past few weeks we have been on an exciting journey of studying the book of Revelation. This book is all about the message of God to the world and His Church in particular about what would happen before the final return of Jesus, prior to establishing His eternally enduring Kingdom. We are exploring the seven letters to the seven Churches and how that message could impact us today. For the next few Sunday’s I would like to go through these seven letters. Today we look at a Church that once was on fire for the Lord yet ended up loosing it’s first love. Revelation 2:1-7 A bit of background to help us understand Revelation.
Revelation is a symbolic book, but that does not mean the symbols do not depict literal events like the great tribulation, the white throne; the final judgment, the battle of Armageddon, the coming of the Antichrist, the thousand year rule of Christ; the rapture and the final destruction of Satan; the coming down of the heavenly city etc. Some of the events mentioned in the book may happen literally, and many will not. So while interpreting the symbols we need to realize we “see things imperfectly as in a poor mirror reflection.” ( I Cor 13:8 NLT). However we are to center on the purpose of the text, the message of the text and its application and leaving what, when and how things will actually happen with God.
It is traditionally believed that the apostle John was the author who wrote it at a time when the church was undergoing persecution and difficulty in the first century AD. It was written to encourage believers to look forward to a better social reality in the midst of oppression, a world where God is supreme.
However the real problem was not persecution but compromise. Too many Christians had gotten “cozy” with a pagan world, and so the book calls them to choose allegiance to Christ or to the emperor. So the real purpose of the book of revelation then and now is to encourage and warn Christians that they must stay strong under persecution and not to compromise with the pagan culture as their only allegiances are to Christ and Christ alone.
A bit of background information about the city of Ephesus. It is one of the four most powerful cities in the Roman Empire. In ancient times it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Religiously, Ephesus was best known for its temple to the fertility goddess Artemis (Roman Diana). The church was apparently established by Priscilla and Aquila, who had been left there by Paul in A.D 52 and they were aided by Apollos (Acts 18:18-25). Paul returned and spent two years and three months there (Acts 19), apparently using Ephesus as a center for evangelizing the whole region. Later the church struggled with false teachers (Eph 4:14)
Before we dwell into the letter let me explain a general pattern we find in all these seven letters. It contains a commendation (some words of affirmation and praise), a confrontation (a rebuke), a call to repent and a reward to those who repented or will hold firm until the end. With that in mind let’s look at the first letter to the Church in Ephesus. Like all letters it begins with a command, “To the angel of the Church in Ephesus write.” The word angel must not be confused with angels who are the spirit beings, whereas here it could be translated as messenger, elder, leader, bishop or pastor.
“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands says this: John begins each letter by describing one of the aspects of the glorified vision of Jesus in order to show the sovereignty of Christ. Here he refers to Him as the One who holds the seven stars (the leaders, elders of the seven churches) and walks among the seven golden lampstands (seven churches).
That shows that Jesus was in absolute command not only over the seven pastors/leaders of the Churches but the churches themselves why won’t He? After all it is His Church and He is the Chief shepherd over all the under shepherds; I am one of them just like any other pastor, elder or Bishop of any Church or organization. John makes an interesting observation here saying that, “walks among the seven golden lampstands (seven Churches) what does that mean?
Osborn notes, “The imagery of “walking” combines ideas of concern for and authority over the Church. Christ is among his people and is both watching over them and watching them.” Jesus not only walked among the seven Churches in Asia Minor but he also walks among the Churches today. My pastor in India used to say, “Every time we come to worship in the Church; Christ walks among the pews wanting to touch all those whose hearts are open towards Him” Therefore it is so important to attend Church regularly; even more so when you are down, discouraged or struggling with sin and sickness, you never know in which one of the services the Lord might reach out and touch you to heal and make you whole.
Vs 2 “I know your deeds” Let’s look at this for a moment. The words “I know” are mentioned in all seven letters. Ch 2:2, “I know your deeds, 2:9, “I know your tribulation” 2:13, I know where you dwell 2:19, I know your deeds; 3: 1, I Know your deeds; 3:18 I know your deeds; 3:15, “I know your deeds.” What does this tell us? It tells us about one of the natural attributes of God, that is his Omniscience. Our God is All Knowing. He knows exactly who you are, where you live, what you do, what difficulties, challenges and victories you are going through, and whether you are living for him or selfishly living for yourself. In other words he knows everything of you.
This revelation of God knowing everything about us must give us confidence knowing that God knows and understands our situation as well as give us a healthy fear of God. Just to know that God is watching; there’s nothing I can hide from him, he sees what I am doing in secret. We had an interesting discussion on this matter in our Thursday Bible Study. I encourage you to attend the Bible Study group where we study the book of Revelation much more thoroughly.
What did Christ know about the lives of the believers in the Church of Ephesus? That brings us to the Commendation part of the letter. The believers in Ephesus had persevered, tested the spirits (I John 4:1) exposed the false apostles, (2 Cor 11:13), endured for the sake of God’s name, they had not grown weary and hated the deeds of Nicolaitans and they were commended for it.
Who are the Nicolaitans? Nothing is mentioned of them anywhere else in the Bible except in the Book of Revelation. So in order to know who the Nicolaitans, were and what their teachings were like, and why God hated their works we must look at Church History and some extra biblical material. Here is what other theologians say about the Nicolaitans: “Irenaeus says that they owed their origin to Nicolas, who was one of the seven deacons (Acts 6:5). Victorinus of Pettau, the first commentator on Revelation, refers to them as ‘false and troublesome men, who, as ministers under the name of Nicolaus. They had made a heresy, to the effect that what had been offered to idols might be exorcised and eaten, and that whoever should have committed fornication might receive peace on the eighth day.”
Barton, in his commentary notes, “They appear to have taught a loose compromise with the social ethics of that day which included idolatry and immorality. They did not separate from the church but seemed to suggest that Christians could embrace the teachings of Jesus as well as attend functions at the various temples and partake of immoral activity that was perhaps associated with the worship of idols.” What do we call this type of ideology? Syncretism! The Church in Ephesus was commended by Christ for their hatred towards such syncretistic teachings and practices that were rampant at that time. Are we today any different from them? Do we find the teachings of Nicolaitns today in the Church worldwide?
We better believe it! The scriptures warn us in the last days, “many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many.” Those who fall for these false teachings believe that all roads lead to God, so it really doesn’t matter which religion you follow as long as you are sincere about your commitment; you serve people and do good to the environment; fight for social justice; human rights etc. They compromise the Truth, where by denying the sovereignty of Christ and the Orthodoxy of His teachings in order to please man and accommodate their philosophies.
If Jesus were to evaluate our Church what would he commend us for? Would he find us like the believers in Ephesus who had persevered, tested the spirits, exposed the false apostles, endured for the sake of God’s name, had not grown weary and hated the deeds of Nicolaitans? I would hope so. We will close on this positive note today and next time we will study what Jesus was upset about with the Church in Ephesus. For a more detailed study on the Church of Ephesus please check out my sermon blog on our Church website. Invite your friends or family members for a Sunday service as we go through this series on the book of Revelation. Amen