David Jeremiah - Losing Your First Love
These are real letters that were written to real churches, that were located in real cities in real countries. In fact, these were churches kind of like our church. John knew these churches. He had visited some of them. He knew about them. He knew what was going on in these churches. And so, while he was in exile, that means he was separated from people on the isle of Patmos, he drafted a letter to each of these churches and spoke to them about the realities of their congregation. The Bible says that the Lord is the one who is searching the churches. The eyes of fire that are described of him in the first chapter of Revelation, he is searching the heart of the churches to see what they really are.
And ladies and gentlemen, it would be good, would it not, if we could get the perspective of the head of the church on what's going on in the church today. Because I don't know about the rest of you, but sometimes I really get confused. Problems faced by modern churches could be solved by reading the recommendations that the Lord made to the seven churches of Asia Minor. It is interesting that all seven churches got to read the short letters written to each of the other churches since they all were contained in this book. So, every church found out something about the other churches. Prophetic scholars have studied the letters to the churches and the condition of these churches, and they have discovered that the seven churches represent seven ages of history in the history of the church. For instance, the church at Ephesus represents the early church that's recorded for us in the book of Acts.
What is the last church on the list? The church of Laodicea. And the Bible says that that church was scorned because it was neither hot nor cold, but it was lukewarm. And it was so disgusting to God that he said he was going to spit it out of his mouth. Believe it or not, that's the church that will be on the earth when Jesus comes back to get us and take us home. And many people believe we may be living in the Laodicean age of the church. You make up your own mind about that. Now, as we begin this letter, and I'm going to go through some of this quickly so we can spend time where we really need to, we, first of all, notice the destination of the letter in the first verse. "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write".
Now, this letter is addressed to the angel of the church, or the messenger of the church at Ephesus. Somebody says, "Does every church have an angel"? Yes, it's the pastor. You think I'm kidding, don't you? No, the word "angel" is the same word that is used for a pastor, for one who declares the Word of God. And so, these letters were written in the language of the New Testament. They wrote it and they gave it to the angel of the church, the pastor of the church. Ephesus itself was a cosmopolitan and cultural city filled with rich and poor alike. It was the home to one of the seven wonders of the world, the temple of Diana. The temple of Diana was the theatre of immorality. Great revenue was derived from the sale of statues of Diana. Prostitution was part of the religious practice of the city.
And Paul established the church in Ephesus on his second missionary journey. He spent 3 years there. And the letter that we know as Ephesians was written by Paul to the Christian church in that city. And it was while John was living in Ephesus that he was taken captive and he was exiled to the isle of Patmos, where he spent his closing days, and from which he wrote the entire book of Revelation. So the letter we call, the first letter, to the angel of the church of Ephesus was written to that kind of a city. You kind of get a picture of it in your mind as I've described it. Now, in every one of the letters before the letter is actually begun, the writer of the letter, who is ultimately Jesus Christ, describes himself. In fact, all seven letters have a description of Christ, and each description of Christ focuses in on some aspect of who Christ is.
So notice the first verse in the second chapter. "These things says he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands". What he is saying to this church at the very beginning is that, no matter what their problems are, he is the authoritative right hand of power in the midst of them. He walks among these churches. He holds control of these churches. And now, the body of the letter, we might call this the diagnosis of the church. Verses 2 and 3, read these words with me. "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not. You have found them liars, and you have persevered and have patience, and you have labored for my name's sake and you have not become weary".
Now, that's a pretty good dossier for a church. Let's break it down for just a little bit and you'll see what I mean. First of all, the church in Ephesus was a dynamic church. He says, "I know your works". We often deemphasize the importance of good works because we don't want to water down the importance of grace. We know that you cannot be saved by good works. You're saved by grace, but we also know that once you are saved, it's all right to do some good works. In fact, one of the roles of the church is to stir people up to do good works. Well, the church at Ephesus was flat out stirred up. They were a working church. This church was on fire for God. It was a dedicated church. It says here, "I know your works, and I know your labor". You say, "Well, isn't that the same thing"? No, those are two different words. They mean two different things. The word "labor" means to work to the point of exhaustion. That is, the Ephesians were paying a price to serve the Lord.
In the church in Ephesus, there were many who were doing the work of God, and there were many who were doing the work, the labor. They were pressing the limits. You know, sometimes in our churches today, because we have paid staff, it's easy for members to think that everything will get done without them. The people in the Ephesian church didn't hesitate to serve God with their whole hearts. They labored and they worked. This was a good church. The Bible also says they were determined. Not only dynamic and dedicated, they were determined. It says, "And you have persevered and you have patience". The word "patience" occurs twice with reference to the church in Ephesus, once in verse 2 concerning their service, and again in verse 3 concerning their suffering.
This is the kind of patience that endures, but maintains a forward motion. This was patience as they served and as they suffered for the sake of the gospel. And this was a disciplined church, "That you cannot bear evil". The church at Ephesus was a church which would not allow evil in its midst. They would not tolerate evil, and they practiced church discipline when it was necessary. They were patient when it came to service and suffering, but they were not patient when it came to sinning. They stood for the truth and for righteousness. And they were a discerning church. Notice the next phrase, "And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them to be liars".
Now, what's that all about? During the early church, there were some who went around from the churches that had been established and claimed that they had been sent to the church by 1 of the 12 apostles. That they were, quote unquote, "in apostolic succession," so to speak. That the apostles had laid their hands on them and said, "You go and speak on our behalf of the churches," which of course did not happen. But they would use the apostle's name to gain an entrance into the church. And then they'd come in with all their crazy doctrine. The Bible says that when they came to the church in Ephesus, the people in Ephesus saw them for what they were, and they would not allow them in the church. "You have tested those who say they are apostles and they are not, and you found them out to be liars". And Paul had warned them that such a thing would happen.
Do you remember when he gave the Ephesian elders their final lecture in the 20th chapter of Acts, do you remember what he said to them? Listen, he said, "I know this, that after my departure, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock". And the Ephesian elders didn't forget that, they remembered it. And when these people came, saying, "Oh, we're from the apostles," when they weren't anywhere near the apostles, they sorted it out and said, "No, not here". Do you see that's how we should all be? We should care about the doctrine of our church. We should ask God not to let false doctrine get in among us and sow discord in our ranks. Well, this church in Ephesus was like that. They were discerning. But I want you to know that while this church was a dynamic church, and it was a dedicated church, and it was a determined church, and it was a disciplined church, and it was a discerning church, it was also a declining church.
You say, "Pastor, how could that be? I've never heard of a church with all of those things so positive. I mean, if you're going to write up a church, write this one up. It's a great church". But look down at your Bibles and notice what it says in verse 4. "Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love". Now, just let that sink in for a moment. Outwardly, the church was a model church. But Jesus saw past all of this stuff we've talked about so far. He saw past it all, and he recognized that this church had heart trouble. They had left their first love. They had fallen from the early heights of devotion to Christ, which they had climbed. Their first flush of ecstasy had passed. The early devotion to Christ had cooled. They had been in love with him, but they had fallen out of love with him.
You say, "Well, how did they do all of these works if they weren't in love with Jesus"? They just did these works like you would do works in any organization. Did you know that you can do ministry and not even have a relationship with Jesus? You can figure out what everybody expects you to do, go through the motions, and you can do it. And it gets done a lot of places like that. The Bible says they lost their first love. What is that? What is first love? It's the devotion to Christ that so often characterizes the new believer: fervent, personal, uninhibited, excited, openly displayed honeymoon love for the Lord Jesus.
Love is the first mark of a true and living church. Indeed, it is not a living church at all unless it is a loving church. Just 30 years earlier, the Apostle Paul had ended his letter to the Ephesians with these words, "Grace be with you all who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity". And we don't know how long it took them to fall out of love with Jesus, but it was less than 30 years. Because when he wrote this letter, they were loving the Lord Jesus sincerely. By the time John writes this letter, they had fallen out of love with the Lord. They had experienced a slow drift in the wrong direction.
So, what about us? What about our church? Have we lost our first love? Do we love Jesus as we once did, and do we love people he has instructed us to love? First love doesn't care what others think about our enthusiasm. First love does not worry that we will be thought to be fanatics. First love just loves. First love cares only about one thing. Now, this is a pretty challenging passage of Scripture, but I am so glad it doesn't end here because here, we're going to find out what you do if you've fallen out of love with the Lord, if you feel like your life is cold where it used to be warm. What do you do? And it's real simple. There's a formula here right in the text, and I want to show you three exhortations.
Notice, first of all, you need to remember. It says, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen". How many of you know that restoration always begins with remembering, meditating on what your relationship with Christ was like when you were first saved? Go back and take a snapshot of that. Take a mental focus of that. Remembering how you used to witness for him, remembering how you used to bring people to church with you, and you would try to make sure you had someone coming to church with you every week. Remembering what it was like to lead someone to Christ, or to see someone come forward in a service that you had invited, and they heard the gospel, and they got saved. Or remembering as you heard their baptismal testimony, that God gave you the opportunity to have some influence in the life of that person, and how thrilled you were about it.
The first thing you need to do is remember. And then you need to repent. That's the second word. "Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent". Now, repentance means changing your mind and turning to go in the opposite direction. If you have left your first love, you must turn and head back toward the Lord Jesus. This is a choice, this is an act of will. So if you've grown cold to the Lord in your heart, I can tell you it's had an impact on your life, and some stuff has slipped into your life that you wish weren't there, and you're ashamed that it's there, and you hope nobody knows it's there. So what do you do if you want to get back to that first love experience? You repent. Repent means stop doing that. Quit doing it, get away from it. Whatever that means to you, you know what it means.
I don't have to draw you a picture. And then the last one is really interesting. The first one is to remember where you used to be when you were in love with the Lord like you should be. And then repent, and go back, and do the first works. Notice the third thing is to repeat, go back and do the first works. I love this word "repeat". This means that the way you get back to the way it was, now that you remembered the way it was, is you go back and you do the first works. What does that mean? Well, what was it like for you when you first became a Christian? Did you read your Bible? Well, yeah, well, why don't you go back and do that again? Did you come to church all excited? Well, just come and, if you're not excited, act excited when you walk in the door. Maybe God will help you to get excited.
What the Bible says is, in order to restore where you were, you have to go back and do what you did. Love is really a verb. It's an action word. And the way you come back to where you should be is you go back to where you were, and you start doing the things you used to do. And, all of a sudden, you'll discover that that love that kind of slipped away has started to come back. And you begin to remember what it was like to really be in love with the Lord Jesus Christ and want to serve him with all of your heart. Most of you could make a list of first things. You know what they were. Just think about it, what are the things that I used to do when I first became a Christian I don't do anymore? Go back and start doing them.
And by the way, this is a really good formula for a marriage that's in trouble as well. Did you know that? When a marriage gets in trouble and you start realizing that your relationship has grown cold, you should remember what it used to be like. And you should repent that you let it get to the place where it is. And then you should repeat. You should go back and do the first works. Maybe we don't have the feeling we ought to have. Let's just go back and let's act like we used to act when we were really, really, really in love". And then, all of a sudden, you begin to realize, "I really do love this person. How did I let this coldness get into my relationship"?
Now, Christ concludes his admonition to the Ephesian church with a sober warning. Read what it says. He says, "If you do not do this, I will remove your candlestick". What that means is Jesus said, "If you don't get back to loving me like you should, not just going through the work of doing church, but loving me, what will happen is that your influence, your candlestick will be snuffed out, and your outreach as a church will be gone". Christian tradition holds that after his release from Patmos and, in an extreme old age, John used to be carried into the place where the church of Ephesus assembled. And the brethren would hear him say, as he was propped up into the pulpit, "Little children, love one another".
Did they remember what they had lost? Did they recover that first love? Let history tell the answer. Over that once famous city, the word "Ichabod" must be written, for the glory departed. Ephesus, whose harbor could accommodate the finest seagoing vessel and whose highways radiated out to all the cities of Asia Minor and beyond, Ephesus is a ruin. There is no church. The great golden lampstand has been removed. God has given us an incredible opportunity to influence the world for Jesus Christ. But ladies and gentlemen, if we get caught up in our statistics, and we begin to think that all the stuff we're doing is what really matters, and we quit loving the Lord Jesus Christ with a heart like a new believer, one of these days, they will come to find the church and it will not be here. I remember reading a very interesting little statement that I never have been able to forget.
Here's the statement this man made who realized he was where we are in this lesson. He said, "I was on my way to the Savior, and I ran into serving. And I got into serving, and I never got to the Savior". And I trust that I will not forget in my own life, and you will not forget in yours, that the Lord God of heaven loves you with an everlasting love. And the best thing you can give back to him is to return that love to him. You love him because he first loved you. You love him by keeping his commandments, by spending time with him, getting to know him, expressing your worship for him. And that needs to be the first focus of all of our lives. And I guarantee you that when you do that, when you have that kind of love relationship with the Lord, he will enable you as the overflow of your life to accomplish more than you could ever do if you're just trying to do it in your own strength and in your own energy.