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Jack Graham - First and Foremost


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    Jack Graham - First and Foremost
TOPICS: Seven: To The Victors, The Seven Churches of Revelation

We are beginning a brand new series of messages from God's Word called "7 To the Victors" and it is taken from Revelation chapter 2 and 3. So begin finding in your Bibles the second chapter of the book of Revelation. "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write". Now the angel of the church, angelos, that means messenger. So the angel here of the church is the messenger, i.e. the pastor, the leader of the church. So you're looking at Angel Jack here today. I'm an angel. I know you were expecting a whole lot more, but I'm the messenger of the church. And so the postman of Patmos John delivered this message from Jesus to the leaders of the churches, and it was almost like a network of churches. It was around the postal route of the ancient world. And so these letters, and the entire book of the Revelation was circulated among all these churches around the Aegean Sea at that time.

So He said, "To the angel of the church of Ephesus say this, write this: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand'". Seven stars, again, the pastors. (It's good to know that the pastors are in the hand of Jesus) who walks among the seven golden lampstands (the lampstands are the churches, the light of the world. That's what God has called us to do. And so to this church write this; verse 2, "'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 first 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...'"

And this phrase shows up in all the letters to the church. All the words of Jesus to the churches. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches", so listen up! This is Jesus talking. "To the one who conquers", to the victors, "I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God". Seven churches. Christ's call to those churches in the midst of persecution, in the midst of idolatry and immorality, in the midst of error and cults and all the rest Jesus says, "Church, you're doing some things really well". He gives them some words of commendation and it's a wonderful report. An excellent church. "I know your works". They were faithful in their service. They were committed to a ministry of good deeds. Faith without works is dead. They understood that. And so their faith is working. Jesus went about doing good.

So this body of Christ at Ephesus is going about doing good. They are serving and loving and reaching and witnessing and ministering to people. They're feeding the poor. They're helping the helpless. They're working and they're working hard! That's a good thing. And there's another word here. He said, "I know your works and your toil", your hard labor. It's a word that means to work at the point of exhaustion, to never give up, to pay the price. There's no easy way to serve Christ. And sometimes we want to quite the first time things go wrong. Not these believers. They kept going hard at it. And they gave themselves completely. They refused to just be a pew straddler. They refused to be a part of just, you know, an entertainment cult. They wanted to be a part of engaging their community with the message of Jesus Christ. How grateful I am for the dedicated service of people in this church.

So that's a check for a church at Ephesus. "I know your good deeds. I know your hard work, your toil to exhaustion". And then he said something else. He said, "Not only are you active and dynamic in your service, but you're orthodox in your doctrine". Verse 2 says, "You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not". You've been unwilling to tolerate evil in your midst. And many churches in that era could become compromised because of the corruption and the immorality and errors and heresies that were all around. New Age mysticism is not new. The New Age mysticism was prominent in the ancient world in the first century. In fact, that's really where it came from. And there were New Age mystics that would travel about from place to place in teaching, and they would often like wolves come into churches and try to steal church remembers with their untruth and their false doctrines. And yet because this church was so well grounded.

Remember, founded by Paul, taught by Paul, Apollos, Timothy, John, they knew the Word of God and they tested everything as we should test everything regarding spiritual matters, regarding the Word of God. And they compared everything to Scripture. They could smell a heretic a mile away. They refused to allow anything in, any leaven to come in to corrupt their church. This was a veritable citadel of truth, a bastion for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. They belonged together because they believed together. And this is what binds us together as a church is our belief, our strong belief in the inerrancy of God's Word and the truth of Jesus Christ and the mission that He has given us. We are bound together, we belong together because we believe together and we must always be on guard to anything that would divide a congregation relative to truth or untruth.

Paul warned in Acts chapter 20 about this. To this very Ephesian church, to the leaders of the church. Acts 20:28, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with his own blood". The church is a priceless possession blood-bought by Christ. Therefore, we as the overseers, the pastors and leaders of the church. I have this major, massive responsibility of making sure that we protect the church against those things which are false and those things which are evil. For he says in verse 29: "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock". Devouring the flock.

So a church should be built steadfast upon the word of God and the teaching of Scripture, and be ever vigilant and ever valiant in defending the truth of God's Word. No problem here at Ephesus. They were orthodox in their doctrine. They were fastened to the word of God. When they smelled or saw error they put it out. They're not going to tolerate that. We're not going to compromise who we are. So that's another check. Active, dynamic, in service, fervent in service; devoted in doctrine, dedicated in doctrine, orthodox in doctrine. And one other thing. Patient in tribulation. Look at verse 3: "I know you're enduring patiently and bearing up". I love that word, bearing up, holding up under pressure. "Enduring patiently" is the idea of holding up under extreme pressure. "And you've done this for My name sake, because of Me".

Remember I said Donitian was making sport of killing Christians. He even erected a statue of himself at Ephesus, demanded the people bow down and worship him as the Caesar. Christians in particular were suspect and called upon to recant their faith in Christ and called upon Caesar as Lord. And when they didn't, they died at the hands of this cruel dictator. But these Ephesian believers, they were the Delta Force of the church. They bore up and held on to truth. They refused to give up, to recant. In spite of Domitian, even though there was paganism all around them and all of this idolatry and all of this stuff that was working against them. They bore up, they were strong in their faith and patient and enduring in tribulation. My goodness, what could possibly be wrong with a church like this? If you could find a church like this, join it! Great church! What could Christ possibly have to say to a church like this, other than "Atta boy, keep going"!? Jesus said, "But nevertheless I have this against you. You have abandoned the love that you had at the first. You have left your first love".

Now notice He didn't say, you have lost your first love; He said you left it! There's a difference in losing something and leaving something. I leave stuff around all the time, but I know where it is, hopefully. It's not that they didn't love Jesus. They loved Jesus, but Jesus said, you don't love Me the way you used to love Me when you first knew Me, when you first began to follow Me. This can happen in a marriage, right? You probably can remember first love when you were dating, when you first got married, All the moonlight, you know you loved being around each other. Couldn't stand being apart. That was first love; it was fresh love; it was exciting; it was romantic; it was dynamic. It was passionate. Sometimes as the years come and go that love wanes.

Now we know that love is different. First love must last however, and I love Deb more today than I've ever loved her, and that love is still dynamic in our lives. But it's different, but it's still love and it's still great love. But this church, these people had in the midst of all their doing and going and serving; grinding it out, it's now routine, like some marriages. Just going through the motion, just doing the duty. But the first love is gone; the excitement is gone; the enthusiasm is gone; the heat is gone! Still doing all these things and doing it quite well! But Jesus said, "You're not doing the main thing. And the main thing is loving Me most. Loving Me first and foremost".

You say, "Is that really serious"? I mean, if you know, Jesus said to me, "I've got something against you" you know, I'm paying attention. But maybe some of the Ephesians thought, "Well, at least we haven't murdered anybody. We, you know, we're staying with our wives. We're not cavorting with the temple prostitutes at the Temple of Athena. We are living decent lives and we're doing all this stuff. We're working hard, we're at church, we're doing our best. How serious could this be"? Well, it's very serious! So serious that Jesus said, "If you don't repent of this, if you don't turn around and come back to Me, your first love, then I'm going to remove your candlestick. I'm going to remove your light".

That's your influence. Because where there is no love ultimately there will be no light. What makes a church great is our love for God, our love for people, our love for each other. And when the love diminishes, the love is degraded, the ultimately the light, the influence goes out. And that's happened to thousands upon thousands of churches through the years. In spite of doctrinal orthodoxy, in spite of fervent service, in spite of patient endurance, never quitting, you've left your first love. It can happen to a Christian, and I don't want it to happen to me. It's serious when Jesus says, "You don't love Me the way you used to love Me. You don't serve Me out of the same passion and compassion for Me that you once served Me". After all, what is the first and the greatest commandment? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength".

That's loving Him. That's the main thing. And it's the main thing that motivates all the rest of the things. Because ultimately you're burn out and give up if you're not motivated by your passion, your fervency, your enthusiasm for Christ Himself. So Jesus said, this is absolutely serious. You don't love Me the way you used to love Me. If you don't love your wife now more than you loved her in days gone by, it's a good chance you love her a whole lot less. Same is true with Jesus. And it can happen gradually. When it uses the word "you have abandoned, you have left your first love," it's the picture of just kind of gradually moving away, moving away, moving away.

I remember when Deb and I were dating in college at Hardin-Simmons, I had a old sorry car. I mean, I didn't have to get women with a nice car; I had a cruddy car. And but it was an old beat up Rambler. And Deb and I had had a date or two so I wanted her to move over. The big deal was to get the girl, you know, to sit over by you. Get close. So it was pouring rain that day in Abilene and I left the window down on that other side of the car and just let it pour rain in there. Rolled it back up. So guess where she had to sit? And later on she liked sitting there, I guarantee you. But gradually, you know, Deb, over there on the other side of the car. She said, "You know, you don't sit close to me like you used to sit close to me". And I'm saying, "Well, who moved? Who moved? God, I don't feel as close to you as I used to feel". Well, who moved?

Gradually you can just kinda move over and it's just not as exciting as it used to be. And Jesus says, "You need to fix that". And He gave us the counsel as to how to repair and rekindle and recapture that love, and you know what it is? Three words He says: remember, repent, repeat. Remember. He said in Chapter 2, verse 5: "Remember therefore from which you have fallen and repent and do the works you did at first". That's remember, repent and repeat. Some things we ought to forget. We ought to forget about past failures, we ought to forget about past sin if they're under the blood of Christ. We certainly ought to forget about baggage and bitterness from the past and leave a lot of things in the past. Paul said, Philippians 3:13, "Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are before".

Some things we must forget, but we must never forget our love for Jesus, our first love for Him. And that's what He's saying here. He says, "Remember what it was like when you first knew Me, when you first followed Me, when you first came to Me in salvation, when I called you to Myself. Remember how you loved Me and how you couldn't wait to get to church to hear more about Me. And how you wanted to study God's Word. You couldn't get enough of the Bible! The Bible was just, the word was just leaping off the pages. You were so excited about God's Word and those days in which you were a new Christian and you were just excited. It was fresh, it was wonderful". We don't love the Lord the way we used to love the Lord. Nobody had to beg you to give, twist your arm or put a guilt-trip on you to give. You just gave because you wanted the Lord to have everything you have. "Tell me to tithe, okay, where do I put it"?

Do you remember times like that in your life? Go back to that! Memory, someone said, is the handmaiden to revival. Let memory do its work in you. Get on your knees, get on your face before God. Ask Him to rekindle the flames of your past love for Jesus. That your love would be strong again and vibrant again. "I still remember the day You saved me, the day You called out my name. You said You loved me, would never leave me, and I've never been the same. We will remember"! Then He said repent and do the first works. Do you know what that means? Repent means to change direction, change course. You're heading down the wrong way. Turn around and go the right way and repent. This is sin, this is not just a weakness. Repent! "Lord, I", pray something like this: "Lord, I repent of my lovelessness. I repent of my coldness. I repent of my half-heartedness. I repent that I don't love You the way I used to love You. I don't show it the way I used to show it. I never talk about You. I never tell anybody about You. Lord, I need You and I repent"!

Change your mind, change your attitude. That's repentance. Confess your sin. And then do the first works. Rekindle. That means start doing what you did when you first came to Christ or when you were walking fully with the Lord. Get in your Bible. You know, that's what you should do in a marriage. If your marriage is cold and needs to be rekindled, do the first work. Go back, do the things that you did when you first started together. Be together, spend time together, date your wife, your husband again. You know, look at her through loving eyes. I mean, it's not love at first sight; it's love that says when you keep looking at each other through the years!

You say, "Well, have you seen my wife lately"? Have you looked in the mirror, dude? And it's not, you know, It's not "I just lost that lovin' feeling". No, you act your way into feeling. You don't feel your way into loving; you act your way into loving. And the same is true in our spiritual relationships. Begin to act in obedience to Christ. Start loving His appearance. Start loving the things that God loves. Get in church again. Don't just drag in here, but get awake and get alert and come in here and seek God and sing and participate in the worship and get your Bible open and hunger for God's Word. Be like David, the man after God's own heart who said in the psalms, "My heart pants for God like a deer pants for a water brook".

Do the first works! Get back! Deb and I took a road trip this past week. We haven't done that in a long time. It was fun. We've been on planes together. You know how that is but we decided to take a road trip so we went deep in the heart of Texas and we had a really good time. And so we're coming back after a long weekend, and where we are, I thought I knew which direction we were going. In my mind I was certain of this. This sound familiar, ladies? No need for the GPS. We were so deep into the country, the phones didn't work so I didn't have that, but you know, I knew where we were going. So we came to a certain intersection where, you know, we turned left because that was going to get us to Interstate 35, Temple, and right on home to Dallas. It'd take about four hours from where we were. And so here we go. We're having a great time. We listened to the radio, singing some sixties music. You know, just having a date. We're having a good time.

And you know, at some point I get to thinking, "You know, this stuff doesn't look familiar. Didn't we just pass that before"? And so we pull over to a filling station cause now I'm needing gasoline, and so we pull up the navigation system and at that point, reality set in because we had gone sixty miles in the exact wrong direction, one hour. That's a bad feeling. And so I start thinking, "Okay, we'll take a shortcut back". We'll... even I wasn't that brave. And so I'm saying there's only one choice that we have and that is to turn around and go back the same way, all this time we've been drifting, and go back to where we started and turn it around and go the right way. And that's what we did. So instead of four wonderful hours together, we had six wonderful hours together. And when you find yourself drifting in the wrong direction spiritually, there's no shortcut back, there's no easy way back. But what you do is you repent, you turn around and you go back and do what you needed to do in the first place. Start reading your Bible. Get on your knees; start praying again. Get back, and then go forward in the love of Jesus Christ, and to you will be the victory.
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