Tony Evans - A Challenge to Prioritize Your Priorities
The first church we come to is the church at Ephesus. To appreciate and understand Ephesus, all you have to do is understand New York. Ephesus was the New York of Asia Minor, now known as Turkey. Ephesus was the center of commerce, of culture, of civic focus, of fashion. If you wanted to go on vacation, Ephesus was the place to go. It was a tourist city. It was well known throughout Asia as the place to go. It was like a Wall Street, it dealt in significant financial matters because of its strategic location. It was also known for idolatry. 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 faced 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 lampstands, 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 lampstands, 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 am well aware of what your ministry has to offer. 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, I see your overtime. I see your huffing and puffing to get the ministry done. So, you don't only do stuff, you go overboard in the doing of stuff. Your toil, you are tireless in ministry activity, and I'm very much aware of that. 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. You test things to see whether they are consistent or inconsistent with the Bible. You are a Bible teaching, Bible believing, Bible quoting, Bible toting church. 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 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. Jesus says, "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.
To love God is to passionately pursue God's pleasure. To love God is to passionately pursue God's pleasure. But here's the problem, because I am sure there were believers in Ephesus who says, "I love the Lord". Oh, but that's not his complaint that they don't love him. His complaint is they don't love him first. You have left your first love. You may still love me, but you no longer love me first.
Let me explain something about God that we all need to grab. We need to get this one. There are certain things God can't do, so let's get this straight. We got this thing, God can do anything. Well, not quite. Certain things he just can't do. God can't lie, the Bible says. By two immutable things, it's impossible for God to lie, so he can't lie. God can't sin. God can't act contrary to his nature, for then he would no longer be immutable, the unchanging God. God cannot stop existing because he's eternal, so he can't do that. Some things he cannot do.
Let me tell you something else God can't do, he can't be second. He cannot be second. Whenever God is made second to anything, even if they are good things, it's unacceptable because he is in a class by himself. In the beginning, God. Before there was anything, there was God. The Bible says over and over again, what's the first commandment? You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul. What does it say about Jesus Christ? That he might have first place in everything. Paul says in 1 Timothy, "When you come before God, first of all, raise holy hands, men, before the Lord. Do it first". When it comes to giving, God says, "Give to the Lord the firstfruits 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". And you know the bad part about it? We've left him and don't even know we've gone. 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.
The reason why we have to find time for God is 'cause we don't want that time. So, we got to fit it in when nothing else is competing with it. That's 'cause he's not first love. He's when I get around to your love. When I get around to you, I'll spend some time in prayer. When I get around to you, I'll spend some time in your Word just meditating on you. When I get around to it, I'll spend some time just giving thanks for what you've already done and not just asking you for what I want you to do. I'm going to do it because you are first. And that may mean I have to get up a little earlier for you to be first with my day.
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. Remember. Remember how it was, Oak Cliff, when you didn't have all these buildings and all these programs and all these members? And remember back there when you were just in a house, and you had to depend on me for everything? You go back to that time when you didn't have to manage all this and have all this, and all you had was me. You remember that. You remember saying 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 where you came from 'cause you ain't always been up here. You haven't always been on Camp Wisdom. You haven't always been doing this. You weren't always blessed like you are now. Says, "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. It's 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're 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 got to get my priorities together". No, you got to get your sin fixed because he says repent. You only repent of sin. So, he doesn't view 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.
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. He drives it home now, he says now, "I do have to compliment you because", verse 6, "you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans".
The Nicolaitans were 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 want to commend you, I want to 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. To the one who overcomes, overcomes what? Overcomes the pressure to not put me first. 'Cause it's pressure sometimes to put God first. You got to go against your inclinations. You got to go against other people. You have to go against your schedule.
There's pressure not to put him first. So, you got to overcome that pressure. He says, "If I am not going to be first", verse 5 says, "I will remove your lampstand out of its place". 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 going to hang with a believer who doesn't value me enough... who else died for you? Who else paid for your sins? Who else is giving you eternal destiny? 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 that and 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 going to reward her. He who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. 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? 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. Hasn'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". They had lights on the falls, and even though I was a long way away in the hotel room, I was just awed by the sight even from a long distance. I just went, "Whoa". 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 the 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 basin 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 going to give you a raincoat, and they going 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 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 him 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 want to be drenched by his glory. May God raise up saints who leave the hotel room, not satisfied with the park, but want to be drenched with his glory and overwhelmed by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Did you know there's some things God can't do? Oh yeah, some things God can't do. I know that may sound a little crazy, but think about it. The Bible says God cannot sin, he can't do that. The Bible says by two immutable things, it's impossible for God to lie. He can't do that. The Bible speaks about the fact that God exists in simplicity because he's spirit, so he can't be divided. Can't do that. Let me tell you something else God can't do. He can't be second. He cannot be number two. Whenever you put God in second place, third place, fourth place, fifth place, or no place, then what you've asked him to be a part of is something he cannot do.
That's why there's so much in the Bible about idolatry, because you've put something or someone next to him. He can't do that. And when you understand that God can't be second, and therefore, won't be second, that changes how you relate to him and how you prioritize him. Did you know there's some things God can't do? And one of them is, he can't be number two. You and I must learn what it means to have God in first place. And you can be doing a lot of good things and he still not be first. Because he wants to be first relationally more than anything else. And when you prioritize making him first in the relationship, you have set in motion how the rest of your life can be operated in an orderly fashion.