Tony Evans - The Priority of an Overcomer
The first church we come to is the church at Ephesus. It was well known throughout Asia as the place to go. It was an economic boom town. It was like a wall street, it dealt in significant financial matters because of its strategic location. It was also known for idolatry. The temple of Diana was located in Ephesus, a major idolatrous tourist attraction. Diana would draw people from all over that part of the world. And so people from all different backgrounds, cultures would come through Ephesus because of all that it had to offer. The church at Ephesus where you get the book of Ephesians out of. That's the book written to the church at Ephesus.
The story of the church's beginning, feel free to read it sometime, is Acts chapter 19 of how in the midst of sorcery and witchcraft and economics, people got saved and the church was established. And it is expressed to us in Acts 19 about the energy, excitement, and challenges that face this brand new church. But here in the book of Revelation, he is not writing because all is well, he is writing because of a situation that needed to be addressed for people who wanted to be overcomers, as I hope that we do. He makes it clear in the first verse that this was written for the angel of that house that is God's messenger. The word angel from the Greek word "Angelos" means messenger. That the messenger, the pastor, if you will, was to proclaim this message to the congregation at Ephesus Bible Fellowship. And if you and I will hear what he has to say, "He that hath an ear let him hear," verse 7 says. Then you are on your way to being an overcomer, an overruler of that which is ruling over you.
Now, he first wants you to know, according to verse 1, that the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven lampstand says this. So before he says anything, he wants to let you know where he's walking. He says he's walking among the seven lampstand, that's the seven churches. So right now as we gather in our congregational meeting today, there is an unseen visitor. Jesus Christ is walking up and down the aisles of this worship service. You cannot see him because he's here in Spirit not in body, but he's very much there and he says he that walks among the seven lampstands says this. And the first phrase he says is, "I know". So he wants you to know as he passes by your pew, "I know you and I know you. I know who you are, I know where you came from, I know where you're going, I know where you've been, I know what you're thinking right now, I know".
So right now, we might as well get off the facade 'cause he knows. He starts off with a compliment, a commendation if you will. He wants to congratulate the church first. He says, "I know your deeds. I know what you do. I know that you are a serving church. I know about your programs. You are a serving church. You're not only a serving church but I also know," verse 2 says, "Your toil". The Greek word for toil means to labor to the point of exhaustion. "I see your sweating. You're not only a serving church, you are then a sacrificing church, you go overboard". In addition to that, "I know," he says, verse 2, "Your perseverance. I know that you don't quit when the going gets tough because you are a steadfast church. When times are hard you keep going, you don't throw in the towel just because you may not be feeling it today, I'm well aware of your longevity, I'm conscious of your 40 years.
Not only that, I am also well aware that you do not tolerate evil men and you test them who call themselves apostles and are not, you are a separated church, that is, you are orthodox in theology and doctrine". He says, "I know something else about you that is, you have perseverance and have endured for my name's sake. You are a suffering church you have not grown weary. You're serving, you're sacrificing, you're steadfast, you're separated, you're suffering, you are a model congregation and I know it. But, but," the commendation now turns to a criticism or a condemnation. "But I have this against you, you have left your first love". Wait a minute. Jesus, you just told me five things that you like about me, about Ephesus Bible Fellowship. You done just told me five things. You know how irritating it is for somebody to tell you five good things and then come with one thing that they can't deal with?
Jesus says, "I've seen, I've seen your commendable attributes but I have this one thing against you, you have left your first love". So evidently you can be a serving church and a serving Christian and have left your first love. Evidently you can be a sacrificing church and a sacrificing Christian and have left your first love. You can be a steadfast church and a steadfast Christian and have left your first love. You can be a separated church and a separated Christian and have left your first love. You can be a suffering church and a suffering Christian and still have left your first love. So evidently you can be doing right stuff and be in wrong relationship. You can be functionally precise and spiritually outta sync. What is this problem that Jesus speaks of that's so big that it wipes out five compliments, that it overrules five affirmations? He says, "I just got one thing, but it's a doozy. You have left your first love". His complaint is they don't love him first. You have left your first love.
Now, you may still love me, but you no longer love me first. God cannot stop existing because he's eternal, so he can't do that. There some things he cannot do. Let me tell you something else God can't do, he can't be second. When it comes to giving, God says, "Give to the Lord the first fruits of what he's given you". All through the Bible this thing of first, first, first, first, first because God assumes if he's not first, he must not be worthy. God demands to be first in our affection, in our attention, in our priority. He demands to be first because that's what he is. And when he is no longer first and has been repositioned with something or someone in place of him, you've just created an idol because you've made something else first. And whatever is first becomes your god.
So now God has competition in your life. He's not saying you don't love me, he's saying you don't love me first. That I am not your priority and I don't know how to be second. We, individually and corporately have often committed the sin of making ministry for him more important than relationship with him and the cost has been great in our spiritual experience of him. He says, "You've left your first love, you've compromised religion for relationship and you've left me". He says, "You've left your first love". What does it look like when you leave your first love? It means that you have to find time for him when you have time for other things. It has to do with priority. He wants to know he's first. That he has been relationally prioritized not just programmatically included. He's not against the program, but he wants to make sure that you do not allow religion to pacify you. The first message to the first church about being an overcomer is about being relationally driven over programmatically driven. He doesn't want a program per se, he wants a relationship that leads to a program.
So what do we do about this and why will it matter? Verse 5 tells you what to do, three things. He says, "Remember from where you have fallen". The three R's: the first one he says, I want you to remember. When you first got saved, you didn't know anything but John 3:16 and you just knew one little hymn. You couldn't wave your hand in the air like you just don't care. You didn't have all of that. All you knew was your sins were forgiven, you were on your way to heaven because you had come to Jesus Christ. You didn't have much, all you had was me, you better remember. Remember when I'm the one that mattered most.
Second R, he says, "Repent". Okay, there's only one thing you repent of in the Bible and that's sin. The only thing you're ever called to repent of, and that's sin. So guess what? Leaving your first love is sin. It's not just a bad habit, it's not just a mistake, when the relationship becomes secondary to the program, you are living in sin, I'm living in sin, we collectively are living in sin when the relationship is secondary to the program. He's not just calling it, "'Oh I gotta get my priority together,' no, you gotta get your sin fixed". Because he says, "Repent". You only repent of sin. So he doesn't review this just as a scheduling issue, he views it as a sin issue. That I am no longer the priority in your life. You have programmed me to be second and all the programs are wonderful. He says, "You must repent, you must turn, you must turn". He says, "And then you must repeat".
Do your first works over again, verse 5 says. "Do what you did when all you had was me. 'Cause when all you had was me, you had time for prayer. When all you had for was me, you had time for spending time in my Word. When all you had was me, you found out that I was kinda all you needed 'cause I kept coming through for you and you found out how real I could be but now you are a little spiritually sedity. You can do it without me, you can do it on your own, you can be your independent self while carrying on the program. Repent and go back and do your first works over again". First love is where there is a fire for him and everything else surrounds that. He's not just fitted in when we have an extra moment or two. John 14:21 is a powerful verse. He says, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments and to the one who loves me," watch this, "I will disclose myself to him". Whoa. "I will talk to him, I will show him or her, I will reveal myself".
The reason why we're not hearing from God, the reason why we're not getting guidance from God, the reason why we're not experiencing victory from God, is 'cause he doesn't feel free to disclose himself to somebody who gonna treat him second. Why should I unveil my plan for you when you gonna kick me to the curb after you get it and replace me with something else? "But I will disclose myself to the one who loves me". He drives it home now. He says now, "I do have to compliment you because," verse 6, "You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans". Now they're gonna come up again and so I'm not gonna spend time on 'em now. The Nicolaitans were Christians who were abusing, professing Christians who were abusing grace. They thought grace was an excuse to sin. "Because I have grace I can just go do anything". He says, "I know you hate that so I wanna commend you, I wanna commend you but this first love thing", watch this, "He that hath an ear let him hear". Pay attention now, "He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches".
So I'm talking to the churches, but are you listening as an individual. He that hath an ear, she that hath an ear. So forget your neighbor right now. The question is, what are your ears picking up? "He that hath an ear". So now it's an individual question but being delivered to the whole congregation. Do you have an ear to hear? Well, everybody in here has ears, but you can have ears and not hear. He wants to know, are you paying attention to what is being said here about the primacy and prioritization of God in your life. And if you have an ear that is willing to hear and to reprioritize relationship over religion, devotion over duty, he says, "If you have an ear, this is what happens to him who overcomes".
It's that word, nike, Nike, swish. Victory, that's what the word means victory. "To the one who overcomes". Overcomes what? Overcomes the pressure to not put me first 'cause there's pressure sometimes to put God first, you gotta go against your inclinations, you gotta go against other people, you have to go against your schedule, you have to go against your, there's pressure not to put him first. So you gotta overcome that pressure. You got people all over the place waiting for their blessing while they make God last.
He demands to be first because he says, "If I am not going to be first," verse 5 says, "I will remove your lampstand out of its place. I will shut that mama down. You'll go to church but I won't be there. No love, no light. You'll run your life but I won't be hanging with you 'cause I'm not gonna hang with a believer who doesn't value me enough. Who else died for you? Who else paid for your sins? Who else has given you eternal destiny? Who else has...who else do you call on when life shuts down on you? Well, if you think that they're your savior, go to them, go to them. But if you really want me to be all out in a bag of chips, I need to be first. And to him who overcomes the pressure not to put me first, to that one, to he," 'cause he says, "He who overcomes," I'm gonna reward her. "He who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life" which is in the paradise of God.
Oh, this is powerful. "I will grant him," not everybody, only the overcomers. I will grant the overcomer not every Christian 'cause he's only talking to Christians here. So every Christian doesn't overcome even though they are an overcomer. "To he who overcomes," that which Christ has already overcome for them, "I will grant him to eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God". He's speaking about a future reward that will come but that future reward receives a down payment in this life. It's not all experienced here now because we live in a sinful world. What is this eating of the tree of life in the paradise of God that I can begin to experience some of it now and much of it later. Whenever I go to speak for a pregnancy center, I speak for a number of pregnancy centers around the country who are promoting life, they always ask me would I come an hour earlier?
And the reason they ask me to come at six is because they have a special donor reception. This is a reception from major donors to the pregnancy center to thank them for their support of their center. So they ask me, 'cause I'm the guest speaker to come and to meet the special guest at the reception. The reception is held in a separate room from the general banquet. The banquet may have a 1,000 people, but there may be just a 100 people who are the specially invited guests to the reception. They have their own special food. We stand up and we take pictures with the various guests. They give special gifts and special recognition because they are special people although they are among the bigger crowd. God says, "I have a private reception in a private hospitality room called the Paradise of God with a special tree called the Tree of Life but only the invited guests get in there".
Now, yeah, you gonna go to heaven if you've accepted Jesus Christ, but you don't get to the reception where you get this private audience, and this private participation, and this private interaction, when you've lived your life making me second, third, fourth, and fifth, and I've given you eternity. No, the reception for those who buck the pressure to make me anything less than the risen Lord that I am, who buck the temptation to yield to the world's exclusion of me in order to be safe, secure, and popular. He says, "For that believer," oh, no, they get a private audience, they get special consideration. So the question is, do you want special consideration? Ultimately there, but he will disclose himself beginning now. John 14:21 says, "To you and me".
Now, if you've left your first love, the keys are still in the spot you left it, hadn't moved. So he's waiting on you to meet with him every day, every day. He's waiting for me and I know what it is to lose that. One year, many years ago, we went on a family vacation to Niagara Falls. Drove up from Dallas to Niagara Falls. We got there at night and Niagara Falls has a American side and a Canadian side. We went to the Canadian side, we went into the hotel at night. I pulled back the curtain and I could see the falls in the distance. And I went, "Wow". The next morning we got up and had breakfast and we went to the Canadian side of the falls. And on the Canadian side of the falls there's a park.
So we stood in the park. Ooh, this was different than a hotel room. Hotel room I couldn't hear a thing I could just see it but now I'm standing on the Canadian side and that water is going over the precipice and going into the basement of the falls and I could hear the thunder of the roar as the water splashed down in the falls and as the wind blew up the water, it actually crossed the street and I got dots of water on my face from the fall. You see, when I was in the hotel room, I could just see it and be impressed by it but once I got a little closer to the park, I got affected by it. 'Cause I could hear the sound and I got little drops of water on me. So I felt a little something, something, because I had relocated myself. Oh, but there's another way you can see the falls. It's called the Maid of the Mist. These are little boats down in the basin of the fall. If you decide to get on the Maid of the Mist, they gonna give you a raincoat and they gonna to give you an umbrella 'cause you about to be drenched by the falls 'cause you are so close.
See, some Christians are satisfied to see Jesus from their hotel room. They look out, they never hear from him, they never get to see him up close, they're just impressed from a distance. And every now and then they look his way. But then there are a few Christians who will come to the park and they like the sound and they will be a little closer. And every now and then they'll feel a little something, something. But then there are those few Christians who are not satisfied to look at it from the hotel room, they're not satisfied to look at him from the park, they want a raincoat on, they want an umbrella over them because they wanna be drenched by his glory. May God raise up saints who leave the hotel room not satisfied with the park, but wanna be drenched with his glory and overwhelmed by the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.