Subject: Ephesian Letter: The Church that Lost its First Love
Scripture: Revelation 2:1- 3:1-19
Today’s Letter: Chapter 2:1-7
We can think of many reasons why once thriving gospel churches fail. Shifts in population; cultural difficulties; when a particularly strong pastor either dies or moves on to “greener pastures.” We should not overlook the fact that many good churches having great resources for ministry suddenly find that the resources mainly when into the pastor’s pocket. Another major reason for church failures and closings or that suffer deep decline is due to some gross moral failure on the part of the church leader.
While these reasons are certainly valid, they are in truth not always the real reason. The main reason for church failure is that the people, including the leadership of the church have simply fallen out of love for Christ. When this happens a church is no longer viable, effective, and have lost their focus and lack the strength of purpose they once had. When a church loses its love for the Lord and his work the Spirit of God will post a sign outside for the world to see and gloat. The sign will read: “THIS CHURCH’S NEW NAME IS ICHABOD WHICH MEANS THE GLORY OF THE LORD HAS DEPARTED FROM THIS PLACE” (I Samuel 4:20:21).
Hyper Dispensationalists will tell us that these seven letters represent seven dispensations or seven specific periods of church history relevant only to the churches in existence at the writing of the letters. Then they try to show what dispensation we are at best like the church in Philadelphia, that is the true church surrounded by false churches, or that we are in the final stage of apostasy described in the seventh letter to Laodicea. During which at some time Christ will return to “rapture” the church!
To take these letters as being sent to churches only in a specific age and not to churches in every age or generation, is to lose the general sense of our Lord’s purpose in writing them, which I believe are instructional warnings to all churches throughout all church history up to the present time.
In every letter, but one, we will find three things prevalent in them all: Some form of commendation – good things being done, and some form of Condemnation, and in all seven letters the Lord tells each one what they must do to measure up, then he closes with a promise. Today, we will consider only the letter to the local assembly at Ephesus.
During Paul’s third missionary journey he arrived in Ephesus, a prosperous but pagan city about half the population of Kansas City (455,000) It was a harbor for many merchant ship filled with precious goods and produce. It was the home to the Temple of Diana who was worshipped as the “goddess” of heaven, which was a famous tourist attraction housing many iconic artifacts all pointing to the great wealth of the religion. The worship of Diana provided employment for artisans and silversmiths, who were creators of her image and sold within the confines of the Temple. Paul’s preaching of the gospel took a big bite out of their income which of course was greatly resented. (Acts 19:24-28) a certain man named Demetrius , a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen; 25 Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth. 26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands: 27 So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth. 28 And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
Upon arrival, Paul set about preaching in the Synagogue where Luke in Acts 19 tells us he “spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God.” But as Pharisaical hearts hardened and refused to believe the gospel, Paul gathered his disciples and moved to a “school” of “one Tyrannus and continued there for two years. It is interesting to note that the Jews not only had public schools but there were also private schools, much like we have in our day. Tyrannus was thought to be either a wealthy man who owned the school or a teacher within it – probably both.
In the letter to the Ephesian congregation as in all but one of the seven, our Lord offers both commendation and condemnation, as well as a promise:
READ THE LETTER…2:1-7
John MacArthur says this about a Christian’s love for Christ: Love for Christ is the core of having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
John 8:42 says: If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me.
John 14:21 He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
John 14:23 If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
1 Peter 1:8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
Jesus asked Peter three in John 21:15-17—Peter, lovest thou me?
o Love for Christ is at first intense!
o Love for Christ is not always as intense as it should be.
o Love, Christian or otherwise, often fluctuates and varies in intensity usually as the result of unrepentant sin.
o Only a true Christian can love Christ. A true Christian’s love for Christ can lose intensity; it is often an on again off again affair; it fluctuates from time to time; it cools and becomes lukewarm, but a true Christian will always love Christ though at times he may not show it or even know that he loves Christ.
o Once Christ loves a Christian, it is intense love; it is intense in perpetuity; it never fluctuates or grows cold, Christ’s love never fails!
I. THE COMMENDATION CHRONICLES:
I KNOW…! This is not necessarily the case of a demonstration of approval, but mainly of the omniscience of Christ who KNOWS. Please see eight things Christ knows about us.
1. I know (am fully aware of) thy works – Never think that the Chief Shepherd in not aware of the things we do or do not do for his glory outside the walls of this building. The believers in Ephesus were not lazy or complacent. They were not mere ly confessors of the Christian religion they were also practitioners of the faith. They learned from the teaching and preaching of God’s word and put what they learned to practical matters out side of the church building. They put their faith to work –walked the walk! But this is what they should do.
2. I know thy labor – These early Christians put themselves wholly behind the work God has given every Believer. They were zealous where the cause of Christ was concerned – the poor, the lost, the hungry, the naked, the prisoners, the children and not just those in the city of Ephesus. Also, they did not have to be reminded of what needed to be done. But this is what they were expected to do for God’s glory.
3. I know thy patience – These people lived in a city and in an age where Christianity and zeal for the gospel was not well received. They endured ridicule and hostility from the Diana worshippers and were ostracized for trying to destroy the strong economic benefits enjoyed by the artisans and silversmiths who profited from the sale of religious merchandise. They endured the moral depravity that was prevalent in their city but were not tolerant toward it. This strength to endure hostility could not have come from within except it be from the Holy Ghost who resided in their souls.
4. I know how thou canst not bear them which are evil. These Christians did not turn their heads from evil…they could not bear or stand for those who were morally corrupt and opposed to Bible doctrine. Hate them? No! Hate what they preached in live and belief? Yes! However, they did not simply ignore their sinfulness and claim tolerance for their evil. They were aggressive in proving and testing them against God’s word.
5. I know how thou has tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars. Many are those in our own time that profit from their deceptive claims to be men and women of God. The Ephesians were not fooled by those of their time who claimed to be apostles but were frauds. In today’s business of religion, it is not true to say that if a person looks like a Christian, and talks like a Christian, and walks like a Christian, it must follow that that person is a Christian. These brethren in Ephesus tried them and found them liars. The rejected the false apostles both in principle and practice. Paul warned them and cautioned them to be aware of them and how to deal with them in Acts 20:28-30 — Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
6. I know how thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my sake hast labored.
These Christians listened to the words of these men with grace and patiently evaluated what they said then, they rebutted their words with Scripture Truth, not satisfied to let it go but labored to vindicate the Person of their Lord and to show them up for what they were – liars and false apostles.
7. I know that thou hast not fainted. Laboring for the Lord is tiring and we often grow weary in our labors – feelings frustration, failure, driving us almost to forfeiture—giving in. But we must, as certainly did the Ephesians –2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Let us faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. And in Galatians 6:9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Christianity is in constant conflict with those who hate Christ, Christians, and all that we stand for. We must never give up or give in to opposition. We must be like the Ephesians and never quit, never falter, always abounding in God’s work, and if we will persevere here we shall never fail our Lord. Rare are the people of God today who will so stand against spiritual hostility for any length of time.
8. I know that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolatians, which I also hate. The “Nicolatians” were a immoral people who taught that since conversion by grace alone, and free from the law for righteousness sake, they felt no necessity to live moral or godly lives, for if by grace, they believed, they could live as they wanted, do as they wanted, and seek only pleasure. The Nicolatians committed fornication, adultery, and lasciviousness. And this was all done under the idea of Christian Liberty! We have NOT the liberty to sin!
II. THE CONDEMNATION CLAUSE –NEVERTHELESS! – verse 4–Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love…this means having said all of this, having let you know that I am fully aware of your works, labor, patient endurance, hatred of sin, boldness to confront evil workers, and such, notwithstanding all of your good intentions, and good works, and perseverance against hostility, I have this against you!
O’ the sorrow of the Lord having something against us, and to know that that which he has against us is that we do not love him as we once did, and so, we are not pleasing to Him. It is my belief that He was speaking to the pastor of the Ephesian church as well as to other members of the congregation. Like often produces like and Birds of a feather do seem to flock together. If the pastor’s fervor and love for the Christ he proclaims, the whole church, while having minds of their own, and not totally subject to the weakness and failures of other, still may suffer.
A. What having “left” our first love means –
1. to have sent it away
1. To have forsaken it
2. To have neglected it
3. To have turned to another to love
B. What “first love” means – love for Christ as at the beginning!
1. Matthew Poole– Because thou hast left thy first love; Their love for the gospel has not been warm in the propagation of my gospel, and in the maintaining of my truth. The love of many in this church, both toward God and their brethren, probably was cooled, though not wholly extinguished.
2. John Gill–Ver. 4. Nevertheless I have somewhat some thing to accuse thee of, and blame thee for. Because thou hast left thy first love; of late thou hast not been so warm in the propagation of my gospel, and maintaining my truth. The love of many in this church, both toward God and their brethren, probably was cooled, though not wholly extinguished– not hospitality to strangers, or an affectionate care of the poor of the church, or a zealous concern to feed the flock, and maintain church discipline; but the love of the saints to God, and Christ, and one another, which appeared at the beginning of this church state, when they were all of one heart and one soul, as generally at first conversion love is the warmest; and so it was at the first planting of Gospel churches, and therefore here called first love.
3. Matthew Henry — Those that have much good in them may have something much amiss in them, and our Lord Jesus, as an impartial Master and Judge, takes notice of both; though he first observes what is good, and is most ready to mention this, yet he also observes what is amiss, and will faithfully reprove them for it. The sin that Christ charged this church with was their decay and declension in holy love and zeal: Thou hast left thy first love; not left and forsaken the object of it, but lost the fervent degree of it that at first appeared.
III. THE WAY TO REGAIN OUR FIRST LOVE – Don Fortner writes on this subject: A word of warning to us all. If we belong to Christ, though we decline in love to him, his love toward us will never decline. And because He loves us he will chasten us and cause us to return to him. If we do not return to Him, if our hearts do not again glow with love to him, if our decline is in a state of permanent decline, it is because our love is a fake, a pretense, a sham profession, and no more. My soul do not be presumptuous here!
The Lord gives us three words of instruction:
1. V. 5 – Remember –therefore from whence thou art fallen.
A. remember where you last hung your harp and left the song that once was in your heart. Ps 137:1-4 By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. 2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. 3 For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. 4 How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a strange land? When our love begins to wane toward our Lord, let us return to where we last hung our harps and happily string them again.
B. Remember the joy of your first meeting with Christ and the love you felt for him for bearing your sins to Calvary’s tree. We may renew our remembrance of Him at the Lord’s Supper Table:
• Remember his love
• Remember his suffering
• Remember his death
• Remember that he stood in the gap for us
• Remember he ever lives to make intercession for us.
• Remember that he has promised to return and give us the kingdom.
2. Repent—–means to change direction come back! The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are three things that will kill love dead! Repent of the things that has stolen your love from what belongs only to Christ. The world and its cares and fashions have changed you back into what you have once overcome in Christ. The lusts of the flesh burning in your heart for things you believe will make you happy: a better husband, more money; bigger houses, fancier cars, more expensive perfumes. And then the pride of life, its façade of promise the going back into a life of carelessness, pride, and greed, and that you are only going after what you want because it is what you are owed. Be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed writes the Apostle.
3. Return and do the first works — do the first works– Returning to love Christ is like an estranged husband or wife whose love had grown lukewarm and lacking the passion for the presence of one another. All seem lost until you remember your vows, your excitement, your hope for the future, the love you felt in your heart for your bride. Remember the years of happiness, forgetting the other times, turn from your coldness and rekindle the flame that once burned in your heart for the other. Remember the zeal for Christ and his cause and your untiring efforts to tell others that you have found the Messiah!
If there are no smoldering coals for you to return to then there was probably no flame in the first place but only a temporary flash of fire that cannot be sustained. A giddiness which never produces righteousness.
Return to your zeal for doing good works, your love of prayer, your love of your brethren, the love of seeing people brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, a love and a zeal to live a life honoring the Savior and Lord of your life.
III. THE APPLICATON
1. The Warning:
A. I will come unto thee quickly—in a time when you least expect.
B. I will remove thy candlestick out of this place—meaning:
• Either the pastor will be removed.
• The church itself will be removed.
• The light of the gospel will be removed.
• You will be removed!
C. Except thou repent!
2. The Promise:
A. let him hear what the Spirit is saying.
B. To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
J.B. Phillips labled the Ephesian Assembly as: THE LOVE LESS CHURCH. If you truly know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour then rate your love for him on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest. According to the Master’s own words you must love him above all others and above all other things or you do not know Him at all. Matthew 10:37-39 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
Hark my soul! It is the Lord;
‘Tis thy Savior, hear his word;
Jesus speaks, and speaks to thee:
“Say, poor sinner, lovest thou me?”
I delivered thee when bound,
And when wounded healed thy wound;
Sought thee wandering, set thee right,
Turned thy darkness into light.
Mine is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above;
Deeper than the depths beneath,
Free and faithful, strong as death.
Thou shall see my glory soon,
When the work of grace is done;
Parnter of my throne shalt be;
Say, poor sinner, lovest thou me?
Lord, it is my chief complaint
That my love is cold and faint;
Yet I love thee and adore;
O’ for grace to love thee more!