Allen Raynor Weblog: “Ephesus: The Loveless Church” (Pt. 2)
(May 21, 2019)
Jesus rebukes the congregation at the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:4 by telling them that in the midst of all their business, activity, programs, evangelism, etc. they had forgotten what it was really all about. The Ephesian church had taken on a life of it’s own and “Christ” was no longer its life! Christ was to be their first love, their first concern, their top priority; but it had become about other things for this church. He tells them “Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Rev. 2:4) Incidentally, just because there is “love” in a church does not mean Christ is their “first” love. C. S. Lewis points out in Mere Christianity that many say “God is love” but what they really mean is “Love is God.” In other words, the virtue of love itself is believed to make one somehow “Godly,” when in reality Godliness only comes by first truly loving the one true and living God and ordering all that is done around Him and His expectations.
The greatest commandment of all is found in Matthew 22:37-38 where Jesus says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” How easy it is for us to not keep the main thing the main thing! In marriage, we vow/promise to cherish one another but then how often we end up cherishing other thing (even other people) more. How many have worked enormous amounts of overtime with the aim of helping their family, but in the end, it just took time away from the family and the extra money earned was insignificant. How many professional athletes would continue playing the game if they no longer got paid to play? But, at one time these people played, and gave their all, simply for the love of the game. As the church, we can go through the motions of everything we do and be guilty of having “left our first love.” Your first love has got to be Jesus!
In verses 5-6 Jesus corrects the congregation. God is a God of grace, yet uncompromising when it comes to truth. He is also the great physician and He writes a prescription here for them. The prescription is this: “Remember from where you have fallen.” Remember where you once were. Remember when you first were saved? Remember how you felt? The feeling of relief you experienced? Most people report a strong desire to attend church, pray, read the Bible, tell others about Jesus, and be around other Christians right after getting saved. All these things are completely normal behavior. The question is, why do they slow down, or stop altogether for lots of people? Jesus was calling the Ephesians back to the basics; back to the fundamentals. The late, great football coach Vince Lombardi was a fanatic about fundamentals. Those who played under his leadership often spoke of his intensity, drive, and endless enthusiasm for the game. Time and time again he would come back to the basic techniques of blocking and tackling. On one occasion his team, the Green Bay Packers, lost to an inferior squad. It was bad enough to lose, but to lose to that team was absolutely inexcusable. Coach Lombardi called a practice the very next morning. The men sat silently, looking more like whipped puppies than a team of champions. They had no idea what to expect from the man they feared the most. Gritting his teeth and staring holes through one athlete after another, Lombardi began: “Okay, we go back to the basics this morning . . .” Holding a football high enough for all to see, he continued to yell: “Gentlemen, this is a football!” Sometimes there is simply no substitute for getting back to the basics! There is no substitute for your “first” love.
Ephesus had to have seen a significant drop-off in a single generation. The Ephesian church had been commended for love (Eph. 1:15-16; 6:24). Now they are being commanded to “repent” of their “lovelessness” and get back to basics! The word “repent” here means “change one’s thinking,” and it is clearly connected with changed behavior, which is clarified by the phrase “and do the first works.” Even though this church did not love as it should, it still hated the evil, wicked works of the Nicolatians, whom Christ says He also hates. So, the Lord’s rebuke for their lovelessness is surrounded by positive compliments. The Nicolaitans were a heretical group that troubled the churches of Ephesus and Pergamos (vs. 15). Apparently their teachings and practices were immoral and idolatrous. This serves as a warning to all churches and believers as it is always easy to get off track and follow heretical teaching.
In verse 7, there is a promise to the congregation. Jesus’ words are similar to those used when He gave the Parable of the Sower (Mat. 13:9). It is “The Spirit” of Christ who guides believers into all truth. We read in Gal. 4:6 “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts.” He calls upon them to be “overcomers.” An overcomer is one who perseveres in obedience and is victorious in the face of trials. Some trials we face are big, coming about only occasionally in our lives, while some trials are daily. Being an “overcomer” here does not mean earning your salvation by overcoming. Salvation is secure in Christ for those who have truly trusted Him. But, a failure to “overcome” means a loss of rewards one would otherwise have. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 clarifies this a bit for us; “If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
The reward for those who obey God and His promises will eat of “the tree of life.” This symbolizes a renewing of the fellowship mankind had with God before the fall. The special access Adam and Eve had with God will be enjoyed by overcomers. Paradise is the place He told the thief on the cross that he would join Him after death. Paul uses this term interchangeably with Heaven. The most important question anyone is ever going to ask you in this life is, “Are you going to spend eternity in Heaven?” Have you trusted Jesus Christ? The only way to get to Heaven is through Him.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor