"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 lamp stands: 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; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place--unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 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.'" (Revelation 2:1-7)
These words of Jesus Christ have echoed for over two thousand years, but it is as if the church of Jesus Christ in these last days does not hear what her Head is saying. Christians claim that they are waiting for a special personal revelation for their people or for their church too, as they say, "refresh" them or give them new direction that as a result would bring greater effectiveness in their private, family and church lives.
Unfortunately, because people are not consistent in fellowship with Jesus and His Word, various "revelations" and deceptions, resulting from disobedience to God and believer's sinful ways of life, arise more and more in the religious community. Most of these revelations and deceptions have no connection with the Word or even with common sense. It is obvious that the ear is not connected to the head.
Rather than our lives, families, and churches giving Jesus Christ praise and glory in these last days, statistics show (at least in relation to our western Christianity) that the church is headed downhill. I believe one reason for this is that many believers are no longer obedient and do not wish to hear what Jesus has already revealed to them through His Word; but rather seek their own revelations, techniques, and methods that actually draw them further away from Jesus. Many simply do not wish to turn a listening ear to the eternal message of their Head.
This is why Jesus Christ spoke to the seven existing churches in that time and their spiritual leaders who were called "angels", in order to encourage us today and point out eternal, unchanging principles that assist us by His grace in enduring and reaching the end of our race with greater passion for Him and His kingdom.
His arrival is closer than ever before and it is time for us to take His Word seriously and cleave to Him. The church of Jesus Christ has listened to human philosophy too long, conformed to doubtful "revelations" that are often not confirmed by the Word, and have followed religious clichés and Charismatic people lacking in character. Now it is time to turn to the eternal Word of God because otherwise she will be rendered ineffective for Him, and Jesus Christ will no longer dwell in her.
Jesus said, "Blessed [is] he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time [is] near." (Revelation 1:3)
The Greek word for blessed is makarios, which means to be completely satisfied with something. In Biblical context a blessed person or church is one that is made completely satisfied by God, not because of pleasant circumstances, but because God dwells in them through Jesus Christ.
If we lose His presence in our lives or in the life of our church; if we turn away from the living Word and not wish to hear what the Holy Spirit says to the church, we will be rejected by the Lord Himself and grow ineffective in furthering His kingdom.
1. THE CHURCH THAT CHRIST REPROACHED WAS VERY ACTIVE, MORAL AND DOCTRINALLY CORRECT.
"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; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary." (Revelation 2:2-3)
The church without love for Jesus and His presence may be a very active church. She can be a church with an understanding of her mission and vision, and have the majority of believers involved in work for God's kingdom who are dedicated to church activities and give themselves to its work - who are not lazy. These are the kind of believers about whom people can proudly say that of their efforts, work, and dedication they have done much for God's kingdom.
David Ravenhill, in his book "The Jesus Letters" say that according to G. Campbell Morgan the word "effort" means an endeavor that brings results at the cost of pain.
In other words, these were not Sunday Christians; rather true born-again, spirit-filled, sanctified, courageous, and dedicated Christians who gave everything to win the city of Ephesus, which in that time was the leading city of the western coast of Asia Minor. With approximately 300,000 people, it was leading in economics, culture, and religion. The effort of the Ephesian church was obvious. They had a clear goal - they wanted to influence those around them.
They didn't only labor for God; they carried a standard of holiness and pure doctrine that they succeeded in holding in the church.
The Ephesian church persevered in rejecting tolerance of sin among its believers. We know it wasn't easy to because society was filled with sexual immorality, which was connected to the religion of the day. Despite that, they did not lower their standards, as many did in society, which was - as we see - obsessed with the body and sexuality.
According to recent statistics, the church today is no better than the world in many areas of morals and ethics. Instances of divorce, adultery, alcoholism, sexual uncleanness, poor work ethic, and financial bondage have become normal instances in today's churches. But the church in Ephesus was not like that. Her believers were honorable, the books they published were correct in every theological view, their spiritual workers were theologically trained, their preachers preached grammatically correct sermons, their children were not unruly, and morality was held at a high level. In fact, they were so doctrinally devout that they regularly threw out false teachers and "evildoers". "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." (Revelation 2:2)
In other words, they knew what was good and what was evil. Jesus said that they hated the works of the Nicolatians, whom He also hated. The Nicolatians in that time were believers who compromised their own faith in order to enjoy social acceptance by sinful activities. Today many believers and churches conceal sin or compromise and entertain themselves with sinful, worldly activities while at the same time saying that they walk with Jesus, which is impossible. The Apostle John clearly told us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 John 2:15)
The Ephesian church chose truth and holiness. But the problem was much deeper and more serious. As they faced pressure and difficulties, in their battle for holiness, healthy teaching, and evangelistic activities, many simply lost patience and passion for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Although they left their parents, brothers, and sisters for Him; although they lost their jobs and their doctrines and morals had high values; and although they were active in evangelism, Jesus said that nevertheless He had something against them. "Nevertheless I have [this] against you, that you have left your first love." (Revelation 2:4)
2. THE CHURCH WHOM JESUS HAS SOMETHING AGAINST LEFT HER FIRST LOVE.
Jesus had one serious thing against the Ephesian church, she had lost her passion for her Bridegroom.
Can you just imagine how as His bride we ought to be on that day when He comes for us? Jesus, as our Bridegroom, longs for His bride, the church, to be passionate for him, not just to be with Him out of duty.
If we love Him, then on that day when He comes we ought to jump for joy at His presence. In cold churches, in churches where His presence is lacking, love is often deeply hidden - barely seen by the naked eye. These churches defend themselves by creating clichés such as, "worship in heart and not just in action", "respectable worship", "worship in a cultural concept", and so on. It's no wonder people don't want to attend these churches. People can find more love, compassion and passion in a nightclub than in their own church today.
Remember how it felt the first time we fell in love? We could spend hours on the computer chatting, we didn't care about our phone bills, rain and snow were not a problem at all when we wanted to go meet with the one we loved. We always found time for them and we were always on time.
But what about today? Because of family and work obligations we claim to not have time for our prayer closet. If it's raining or cold we don't want to get out of bed, when it's sunny we quickly prepare for a road trip or vacation. When we do attend church we barely raise our hands, our faces fail to show any sign of passion other than a recognition that we ought to perform our duty by coming to church and doing that which He seeks of us. Can you imagine this kind of marriage, a marriage of duty without any passionate relationship?
Something went wrong in the church in Ephesus, which often happens in many growing, active, moral, and doctrinally correct churches. At first they were excited about Jesus, no one had to force them to pray, worship or evangelize. They could hardly wait to gather with other believers and spontaneously worship and sing to the Lord. After service they wanted to go hand out tracts on the way home or speak with their friends about Jesus. They could hardly wait to come to church to hear from God's Word and were ready to act on it despite the cost. Whatever you asked them to do, they always found time to do and it was never difficult for them. Their entire life revolved around Jesus. Jesus always held first place in their lives.
But what has happened to us today? Maybe there was a lack of wisdom at first, but perhaps we grew too wise. We have our own vision for church life, our short-term and long-term goals, our status and theological and moral beliefs. We print books void of doctrinal error and design the best websites. We have begun to pride ourselves on these things; at times we place our jobs and our children on the throne equal to Jesus. Praise and worship has finally grown professional without much passion. We can say that everything is respectable, wise and cultural.
We have grown from passionate children who were always ready to give their lives and all they had for Jesus to very refined ladies and gentlemen who do not wish to show emotion before others because faith is, as they say, a personal thing. And what takes place is that we are no longer excited about Jesus, but about the blessings that we have in His name.
We can reach society with the message of the gospel, fill our buildings, feed the poor, care for the orphans and fight for our religious rights but if we do not have love and passion for our Bridegroom those deeds have no value to Him at all. If these works are not motivated by love and if they do not arise out of a passionate relationship with Jesus, then our works have absolutely no value.
This is why the Apostle Paul devoted one entire chapter to love, writing to the growing, charismatic church in Corinth when he said, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 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. 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." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
C.S. Lewis once said about love and spiritual health, "Every Christian would agree that man's spiritual health is exactly in proportion to his love for God".
The problem that arises in every cold church, as in the church in Ephesus, is that passion is exchanged for duty and personal godliness for church activities. In place of a burden for lost souls we gain a burden for doctrine and at times unbiblical principles. We no longer call sin by its name, but an alternative behavior or render it a private matter. Mentioning morals and ethics becomes something to ridicule.
The church in Ephesus was doctrinally pure and they fulfilled their religious duties, for which Jesus congratulated them, but their heart was no longer on fire for Him, nor was there any passionate desire for Him.
3. TODAY'S CHURCH NEEDS TO BECOME PASSIONATE FOR JESUS IF SHE DOES NOT WANT HIM TO REMOVE HER FROM HER PLACE IN HIS KINGDOM.
"Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place--unless you repent." (Revelation 2:5)
Today's modern church needs to repent in the true meaning of the word. It is not enough to say good and wise words, as many love to say after a sermon. We must be serious and not just continue in our old ways week after week with no visible change.
The Greek word Jesus used in this text for "repent" is metanoeo, which literally means to repent with an accompanied desire for true change of heart before God. The word directs us to a change of thinking that comes through pondering our old works, it points to sorrow about where we've been and results in a wise view of the present and future.
You see, the only solution for us as a church, as Christ's body, is to remember from where we have fallen, truly change our hearts and cultivate a passion for God. God does not want us to just dress ourselves up so we become even more religious, He wants our whole life, a root change, our first works.
It is enough to remember what we were when we were first saved: spontaneous and full of passion for Jesus and fervor for the lost. Nothing was too hard for us to do or give for Jesus; we always found time for Him and served those around us. We spent hours with our Bridegroom Jesus; we could hardly wait to pray and spend time in His presence and we sought for opportunities to extend Him kingdom.
Those were the true works of love - turing away from all that is important means that our Bridegroom is jealous with a godly jealousy and passionately wants us back! This was the mission of the Apostle Paul when he said to the Corinthians, "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present [you as] a chaste virgin to Christ." (2 Corinthians 11:2)
If cold believers do not wish to become passionate for the Lord and begin to perform their first works again, if they do not have an ear to hear the truth, the Lord Himself and her Savior will remove her from Him and her lamp stand from its place. "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lamp stand from its place--unless you repent." (Revelation 2:5)
The lamp stand Jesus was talking about is found in the temple of the Old Testament. One of the duties of the High Priest was to daily clean the lamp stand, which means that he had to remove everything that was hindering it from burning brightly. If he didn't do that then the light would slowly grow dim and in the end would burn out, leaving the place in complete darkness.
The lamp stands Jesus was talking about here were the churches that gave light to the world, and churches that gave light were surely churches with an intense light, filled with "oil" that arose from true passion, love, and fellowship with the Lord.
We are His body and are the only visible expression of Christ, yet if we are not filled with the Holy Spirit, if we do not have His oil, if we are not giving light to the world and fail to remove those things that choke out that light, He will, as He said, come and remove us from our position and the purpose He intended for that place where He placed us.
In other words, if we do not seriously repent and change our deeds, we may continue having our programs, people, doctrine, institutions, and buildings, but we will fail to be a light in the darkness because we will be conformed to it. Jesus Himself will remove our lamp stand.
The only solution for us personally, and for the church in general, is to open our ears and actively listen to what the Holy Spirit is directing the church through Jesus Christ and return to fellowship, passion and love for Him. "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." (Revelation 2:7)
To be victorious means to victoriously believe Christ, to persevere, remain faithful, and live as Christ lived. For this kind of life, passion for Jesus is needed. Yes, a price must be paid, but this kind of life brings a great reward. "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son."
Once again we will eat from the table of life, as Jesus said. In the Garden of Eden there was not only one tree, but two. The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9b). The fruit of the tree of life gave eternal life with God, but by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve understood good and evil and thus broke God's command. This is why He banished them from the Garden of Eden and forbade them to eat from the tree of life.
Yet, Jesus promises us that evil will be destroyed and that we will, as victors, eat from the tree of life and live forever, but we need to return to Him, because unfortunately there is another verse where Jesus said, "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Revelation 21:8)
"Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works." (Revelation 2:5a)
Therefore, let us remember from where we have fallen and choose to change in the power and might of the Holy Spirit so we can do our first works once again, so that when Jesus returns for us, we can say that we have heard what He commanded and we have been victorious in persevering to the end. Then He will say to us, "I have nothing against you, for you have not left Me."