Today I want to start a series looking at the first few chapters of one of the most controversial and misunderstood books of the BibLe… the book of Revelation.
No some of you may have already switched off, thinking I’m going to be predicting the end of the world for next week, but I believe that we have much to learn from this book. That being said, I am only going to concentrate on a few chapters, specifically what Jesus said to seven churches, because I think He is saying much the same to the modern church today.
DO YOU WANT TO BE BLESSED?
A bit of background is needed to understand what is going on. The apostle John is writing this book, and at the time he has been banished and imprisoned on a rocky, desolate little island called Patmos, in the Mediterranean off the coast of modern day Turkey. He is in a miserable situation, persecuted for his faith, and in the middle of this dark, hopeless situation God gives him the most amazing visions.
Revelation 1:3 (ESV Strong's)
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.
So even though his situation is miserable and hopeless, he tells us that ending this book will bring us blessing. I’m up for that! Are you?
TURN YOUR EYES UPON JESUS
The very first thing he sees in this vision is Jesus. Now John knew Jesus personally when He was on earth. He’d seen Him crucified, He seen the resurrected Christ, but this vision is different. What He sees is the triumphant Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, the ruler over all creation, the One soon to return to earth.
Revelation 1:7-8 (ESV Strong's)
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
So this is not some vague, thus sayeth the Lord kind of vision, it’s the real deal, with Jesus at the centre. His hair is white like snow, his eyes are like fire, his mouth is like a sword, and this Jesus has a message for 7 churches in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey.
In the vision Jesus has 7 stars in His right hand, and walks among 7 lamp stands, and just so you don’t get this wrong, John tells you what this is about…
Revelation 1:20 (ESV Strong's)
As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
So with this sort of vision, Jesus must have something pretty important to say. Though these seven letters were for specific churches at specific times, they also provide valuable advice and insight for churches today. Today we still face the temptation to lethargy, immorality, and false teaching—and we are still called to continued faithfulness. By identifying the temptations, failures, and faith of those first-century churches, John provides a map for modern-day churches that reveals where the spiritual dangers lie and how to avoid them.
EPHESUS- I’M NOT FEELING THE LOVE!
Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV Strong's)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where 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. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Jesus addresses this church at Ephesus, and He has many great things to say about them, commending them for their perseverance and beliefs. In fact, Jesus states 9 positives about them, because He sees them and knows them.
NOTHING IS HIDDEN
Luke 12:2-3 (ESV Strong's)
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.
Jesus sees it all, the good, the bad and the ugly. And He examined these people, and found much to commend about them. I bet, if He wrote us this letter today, He’d probably say the same about our church, and about us as individuals. To summarise, Jesus bigs them up because they are…
1. A SERVING CHURCH
This was a busy church, serving the Lord in many areas. I bet their calendar was just packed with events, filled with great activities like rock n roll nights, dig in and Church camps. They had great morning teas, men’s and ladies meetings and a ton of interesting Connect groups.
2. A SACRIFICING CHURCH
The Greek word translated as labour or toil in verse 2 literally means “toil to the point of exhaustion.” These believers not only worked hard and served with all their hearts, but they had paid a price to do so.
They keep going even when things got tough, and they have and gave until I hurt. Fully committed, they turned up and served faithfully, just as many of you do here.
3. A SEPARATED CHURCH
The Ephesians Church was a separated church, and they carefully examined visiting ministry to make sure they were teaching truth, not error.
2 John 1:7-8 (ESV Strong's)
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. They did not just swallow what any old preacher said, but carefully examined it… They tested the spirits…
1 John 4:1 (ESV Strong's)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
These people were no voters in the plebiscite, and they stood for what was right and true, not flying off into error and excess.
4. A SUFFERING CHURCH
In verse 3 Jesus describes them as
enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and this in the Greek means enduring under trial. And you have not grown weary.
Under attack they persevered and did not lose heart. They suffered, but kept going standing for the truth.
Now I reckon Jesus could probably say exactly the same thing about this Church, and us as believers, don’t you? Many of you here serve faithfully, test what myself and others say for error , stand for what is right and persevere even under suffering. This church looks like our church today. But while Jesus found so much to commend about them, He found one telling factor which was so severe, so important that if they failed to address it the penalty was going to be severe.
They had lost they first love. Church, with all the great things going on here, and with all the wonderful things you do and the way you serve, the question is this…
HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FIRST LOVE?
Revelation 2:4-5 (ESV Strong's)
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where 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.
This busy, serving, separated, sacrificing church really suffered from “heart trouble”–they had abandoned their first love! They displayed “works … labor … and patience” (Rev. 2:2), but these qualities were not motivated by a love for Christ. Jesus’ words here are not about what they are doing, or that they should do more, they are about the motivation behind the acts… love! Somewhere, somehow along the way they had morphed from human beings to human doings!
Paul wrote to another church at Thessalonica
1 Thessalonians 1:3 (ESV Strong's)
remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
What you do for Jesus is important, but why do do it it even more important.
A HONEYMOON TO REMEMBER
What is “first love”? It is the devotion to Christ that so often characterises the new believer: fervent, personal, uninhibited, excited, and openly displayed.
Do you remember when you first became a Christian? It’s different for everyone, but I know for me, I reached a point where I just wanted to lay it all down for Jesus. I pledged to give myself totally to the Lord and serve him forever! I recognise that love is not just a feeling, it’s an act of the will.
It is the “honeymoon love” of the husband and wife. And God feels the same love too…
Jeremiah 2:2 (ESV Strong's)
“Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
When I first met Fiona, she came to my youth group. I was playing guitar, and she was looking cute. I rolled my eyes at her, and she rolled them back, and there was that electric spark. Not long after we started dating, then got engaged, then got married. And there was real excitement, at least in my life.
While it is true that mature married love deepens and grows richer over time, it is also true that the love husbands and wives feel for each other can easily wane. We should never lose the excitement and wonder of those “honeymoon days.” When a husband and wife begin to take each other for granted, and life becomes routine, then the marriage is in danger.
And so it is with this church… and maybe with us!
SAME OLD SAME OLD
How many of us love the Lord? How many of us long to serve Him? Can I ask you honestly… do you have the same spark, the same level of love for the Lord today as you once had? Are you in love with Him in the same way?
He is our bridegroom, and we are his bride. He is unabashedly passionate about us. He’s captivated with us. He thinks we’re beautiful. He yearns for us to love him as passionately as he loves us. Do you respond with the same love, or has it grown cold?
When you are dating, you’d crawl over cut glass to be with your beloved. But now it’s, “So what have you cooked for dinner, before I head out for the Church meeting.” Many marriages get into a rut, but a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out… it’s not a place you want to be, right?
I heard about an older couple in marriage counselling. The woman complained, “He never tells me he loves me!” The man replied, “I told you I loved you when we were married, and if I ever change my mind you’ll be the first to know!”
Just think about it: It is possible to serve, sacrifice, and suffer “for the sake of the Lord” and yet not really love Jesus Christ! The Ephesian believers were so busy maintaining their separation that they were neglecting adoration. They were substituting labour for love; purity for passion. But these sacrifices did not impress Jesus. The church must have both if it is to please Him.
Listen, this is a great Church. There’s a buzz in the room every Sunday, and people are busy, serving one another, and serving the Lord. Busy, productive, happy… yet Jesus says, I hold one thing against you… you’re too busy serving the King to have time to just love the King!
If you’ve been a Christian for years, you are prone to this sin.
Habakkuk 3:2 (ESV Strong's)
In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.
In the midst of the years, many of us need reviving. We need reminding of God’s Goodness to us through the years, and we need the spark of that first love! However long you’ve been a Christian, today is a great day o fall in love again!
BACKSLIDING IN THE CHURCH?
We often think of backsliding as people who drop out of Church, but I challenge you with this… there are often many backsliders still in the church. Turning up regularly or semi regularly for Church, going to events, maybe even serving in some way.
Like that great Church at Ephesus… Full of labor, opposed to wicked men and false teachers, persistently orthodox, not fainting in the day of trial; and yet, lacking in love to the point where Jesus is ready to reject them! Is the complaint true of us here in this church?
People may not see you as a backslider, but you know your own heart. And love develops over time. The exuberance of its emotion may have passed with the years, but has it been replaced by a deep, all-constraining, and complete devotion to our Lord?
HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY MEASURE YOUR LOVE?
So what is the measure of whether we have lost our first love? Is it a feeling, or can we measure it in a more tangible way?
Was once speaking to a friend who told me, “I love my wife and kids, but I just can’t stop having affairs and sleeping around.” I said to him, “OK, bro, but let’s be honest… you actually don’t love your wife and kids.” Love is not a feeling, it is action, it is obedience, it is faithfulness.
1 John 3:18 (ESV Strong's)
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
True love is demonstrated, not just felt or spoken of. It’s easy to say I love my wife, but it’s much harder to demonstrate that every day, devotion time to her, listening to her, caring for her, providing for her, remaining faithful to her.
The true measure of love for Christ is not a feeling, it is obedience…
1 John 5:3 (ESV Strong's)
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Are you reading His Word daily as He commands, are you keeping yourself pure. Are you praying constantly, are you repenting of sin in your life? Are attending church, are you serving in a ministry with gladness and Joy?
If you are doing lots of things for the Lord, but without a joyful, devoted, serving heart, without spending time everyday with Him, then perhaps you’ve lost your first love. I preach to myself as much as anyone, in fact, even more. I’m a busy guy as you know, too busy, getting too tired, slowly running down. I need to jealously guard my time with the Lord, keep pure and stay devoted!
REDISCOVERING YOUR FIRST LOVE
John the apostle reveals a simple, 3 step plan for rediscovering your first love…
Revelation 2:5 (ESV Strong's)
Remember therefore from where 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.
First, we must remember (in Greek it literally means “keep on remembering”). Jesus calls us to remember the height from which we have fallen, the pinnacle of our relationship with Him. He wants us to remember what we have lost and cultivate a desire to regain that close communion once again. And it’s not a once off, we need to keep on remembering, lest our love grow old and stale!
Acknowledge the problem and determine “how far you have fallen.” Losing your first love is accompanied by a lack of communion with God and fellowship with other believers, so you can likely determine when the problem started by identifying when you last engaged in spiritual acts of devotion. Make a list that includes the last time you prayed regularly, read the Bible and attended church. Next, examine the list and consider how you’ve changed, both externally and in your heart, since you began neglecting or stopped engaging in those spiritual disciplines.
Psalms 106:12-13 (ESV Strong's)
Then they believed his words; they sang his praise.
But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.
Forgetfulness is a chronic human problem, and that’s why Jesus says, keep on remembering.
No one sets out to see their marriage grow cold. No true believer ever plans to backslide. It happens gradually, like a man who has one last surviving hair that he took care of, until one day he woke up and there was the hair on his pillow. So he exclaimed, “oh no, I’ve gone bald!”
People sometimes describe their first love for Jesus as a mountaintop experience. Jesus tells us here to look back up the mountain.
The next step is that we must repent. Repentance means to change our minds, literally to turn away from sin–and we need to confess our sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9).
That means we must not only confess our dulled love but also put our hearts back on the trail up the mountain, where we once loved Jesus passionately.
Repentance literally means a “change of mind.” It’s not about changing our intentions or beliefs, and it’s not about feeling sorry that we’ve been caught, but rather it’s about turning 180 degrees from sin to obedience.
2 Corinthians 7:10 (ESV Strong's)
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
To rediscover your first love, you need to take steps not only to stop your fall but also to get back on the right path of obedience to God. You must love Him enough to let His Spirit change you.
We may be doing love-chilling things and failing to do love-warming things. To rekindle that first love, we should purposefully do the things we once did. When we do them, we will fall in love with Jesus again.
“Do the things you did at first”, Jesus commands. (Revelation 2:5)
What actions did you take when you were being faithful to God, when you were full on loving and serving Him? What activities were you engaged in when you were leaning on the strength of God rather than on your own strength? Remembering what you did before can help you see what you must start doing once again.
The third step is very practical… we must repeat the first works, we must get back to what we use to do and love in our relationship with Christ. This suggests a restoration of the original fellowship that was broken by our sin and neglect. For the believer, in practical terms, this means prayer, Bible reading and meditation, obedient service, and worship.
And if you were not doing them at first, start afresh today. We have our Bible reading plan, and we recommend doing 201 today. Get excited, fall in love again and rediscover your first love!
WHAT ARE YOU BUILDING?
So there it is… remember, repent and redo what you first did. For the church at Ephesus, with all their good works, all their service, all their suffering, all their piety, today no church exists in the city. Their lamp stand has been removed, just as Jesus promised.
And here today, let me ask you… what are you building? All of your good works, all of your good intentions, all the things you do might look very impressive, but let me finish with this image…
1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV Strong's)
For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
All the great things we do for Jesus ultimately are worth nothing if we don’t have that first love.
We judge our lives based on results. Look at my family, look at my church, look at my life. See how God is blessing us, blessing our church, blessing our ministries. But if the church is half the size, if you are broke, if your family is split, can you still love God? I mean really love and trust Him?
Philippians 3:14 (ESV Strong's)
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
The goal is knowing God. The prizes are many, and the come along the way, but let us never focus on the peripheral results of the one great aim we must all have… knowing God! The church at Ephesus had it all, achieved it all, worked hard and served hard, but lost the most important thing of all!
God doesn’t want to be used, He wants to be loved. Life is not about what we achieve, it’s about who we follow. But today, in this church, don’t be deceived by the phrase “first love”. First love might be the starting point of your life with Christ, but it’s got to be the high point! It’s not a way to get what you want or to achieve more for the Kingdom, it is the Kingdom!
Rekindling that love that once so powerfully attracted us to each other in marriage and also in our relationship with the Lord is worth all the effort we put into it—and more. It’s priceless!
So what are you building in your life, in your ministry in your Christian Life? Is it gold, silver, costly stones, is it something that delights your Heavenly Father, that brings Him joy because it is done with that love, that devotion, that total commitment? Or are you doing all the right things without the right attitude. Whatever you do, without your first love, are you investing into wood, hay and straw. Looks good now, when God ignites it, will it pass the test or will it amount to nothing of value.
Today many of us, myself included, need to fall in love with Jesus once again. I do this often with my wife, take her on dates all the time, but I need to do it more. And I need to do it more with my Lord.