Evangelical Community Chapel at Liberal: a Molalla, Oregon Church

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Revelation 2:1-7

July 24th, 2010 by Vic

“Ephesus, don’t stop loving”

July 25, 2010

What do you suppose it means when a church loses it’s first love?  New churches start with a zealous enthusiasm to be witnesses.

This letter is written to Christians as a  Church.  To become a Christian we simply repent of our sin and choose to follow Jesus.  Our decision is preceeded by the Holy Spirit convicting us of our sin and helping us believe that Jesus became a sacrifice so God could forgive us of our sin.  When we repent God forgives us and we are adopted into the family of God.

The church at Ephesus had been a bright light, but was becoming a dim wick.  If we are not getting along with each other, then our witness to our neighbors has very little effect.  Our wick may be getting dim.  If we are not loving the people in the church, the Lord will not trust us with any new people.  Without love there are no meaningful relationships and that is a violation of the Great Commandment.

John the apostle may have been the pastor of the Ephesian church, but was in a prison camp on a rocky island called Patmos.  One Sunday morning he was given a revelation from Jesus Christ and was loudly commanded to write most of this vision down and send it to 7 churches.  He was in the Spirit.  That means he was seeing the world from God’s point of view.

John expects his readers to understand what he is writing.  He is not trying to hide anything, but we do not understand all the symbolism that the first century Christians understood.  For example their sword was symbolically similar to our judges gavel.  Dresses with high waistlines were common with leaders, not expectant mothers.

We probably would understand the book better if our pastor was exiled, if we were being persecuted, if we had seen friends tortured to death for their faith, if our family had suffered loss.  When things are going well our spiritual eyesight seems to dim.

The number 7 occurs 54 times in Revelation and suggests unity in diversity, perfection, and completion.  The 7 churches symbolically represent all the churches in every age.  To each church there is a direct, personal message.  These letters to the churches are like a preface to the rest of the book.  If we do not understand these letters we will not understand the rest of the book.

Think about the importance of what is happening.  The local church is important.  Before Jesus gave John some spiritual truths, He spoke personally to the churches.  Before all the battles, seals, trumpets, and bowls Jesus gives His first attention to the Church.  He wants the Church to know He cares. In the rhythms of God’s grace the church has different needs at various times.  As we look at these 7 churches we will see our church as it has been, as it is, and as it can be.

CONTEXT OF THE CITY ‑ EPHESUS

Ephesus was the biggest Farmer’s market of Asia, the light of Asia, and the vanity fair of Asia.  It was one of the 3 great commercial cities in the eastern Mediterranean with Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria.

It was located in a valley about 3 miles from the sea on the Cayster River.  It was the transportation junction by land and water between the east and west.  Because they cut all the trees off the hill sides to build and rebuild the great temple for Diana (Roman), Artemis (greek), Croesus (Lydian) they were already having trouble in the first century keeping the channel open.  Today 20 miles of silt have separated it from the sea.  Its magnificent harbor is a marsh.

But at the time this letter was written, the Temple of Diana was one of the 7 wonders of the world.  It was originally built on an island in the harbor, but even by the time this letter was written it was no longer an island but a part of the city.  It was 425x220x60 high, over 2 acres, with 127 marble columns, 36 of which were gilded with gold.  Because it was so secure, it was used for the central banking of that world.

As a religious center this Temple would compare to the Vatican, Jerusalem, or Mecca today.  It was also a center of magical arts and some mystery religions.  They sold lucky charms called Ephesian letters.  Many worshippers and tourists made pilgrimages to this Temple.

The temple of Diana was also used as a museum and included the best art of the day.  This temple was declared a sanctuary for criminals.  No one could be arrested within a bow shot of the Temple so the housing around the Temple became occupied by those people.

Diana was the fertility goddess and several hundred prostitutes were always available.  The idol of their worship was probably a meteorite.

In addition to this world renown temple Ephesus had a large amphitheater which would seat nearly 50,000.  From the amphitheater to the harbor was a marble street 36 feet wide and 500 meters long.

Ephesus also had 6 temples to Roman emperors and was the foremost center of imperial worship.

In this city Paul or Pricilla and Aquilla planted a Christian church.  In a city seeking pleasure, is a congregation seeking God.  In a city inventing ways to sin, is a holy people.  How can you live a holy life in a city like this?  Jesus sends a letter to this church and 6 others.  These letters are sent to Christians.  The introduction of each letter, its theme, its promises, are related to the whole book of Revelation.

The historical situation of each church and the O.T. phrases used in each letter mutually interpret one another.  John was commanded to write 2 times in Chapter 1 and we are reading what he wrote.  These are words from Jesus, not John.

Although each letter is addressed to a particular situation of a particular church, it is relevant for the needs of all 7 and sent to all 7 which symbolically means these letters apply to all churches of all time.

The condition of the churches is presented in the literary form of a chiasm, an arch.  The 1st and 7th are in danger of losing their identity as a Church.  The 3rd, 4th, and 5th churches are compromising.  The 2nd and 6th letters are written to churches who are faithful and loyal to Christ’s name.

The keystone focus suggests the Christian church is perceived as being in poor condition.  At the center of the arch, the center of the middle letter is the statement that all the churches will know that Christ is judge. (2:23)  There is a resurrection and judgment.

All the letters deal generally with the issue of witnessing for Christ.  Churches are exhorted to strengthen their witness.  There is nothing in these letters about church buildings or organization, but ministry. What is Jesus saying to us?  It is all about Him.  It is His story not mine.

CHRIST INTRODUCES HIMSELF ‑ 2:1

The previous verse tells us that these 7 stars are messengers, leaders, prevailing spirits, or pastors of the 7 lampstands which are churches.

(controls)  Jesus reveals Himself as the one holding the church leaders in His hands.  The word for holding κρατων suggests complete control.  Jesus does not hold just the corner or just the handle, He holds the whole thing.  All the messengers of the gospel are held in Jesus’ right hand.  Not like you hold a briefcase, but like you hold a baby.  Not like you hold a horse, but like you hold a coin or ring.

The church in Ephesus may have been concerned for their pastor’s safety and condition, but John writes that in Christ there is safety and security for those that are still shining and letting the light of Truth and knowledge shine.  Jesus is holding them.

(cares) Not only is Jesus the one who holds, but the one who walks περιπατων among the churches.  He is concerned about the churches.  Jesus had promised to be with us till the end and that is what He is doing.  It is not just his standing presence, but his activity on our behalf.  He is caring for us today.  He walks among us.  The unseen presence of Jesus is in this place.

(knows) Jesus holds, Jesus walks, and Jesus knows.  The word for know is Οιδα which suggests a complete knowledge of the facts.  Jesus says, “I know your works, deeds, or your life style.”  These works εργα are seen as a complete whole, everything you do.  Jesus knows our church. Jesus knows us because He cares and walks among us.  He knows how we are living.

CHRIST COMPLEMENTS THE CHURCH ‑ 2:2, 3, 6

In verse 2 Jesus complements them for their effort/labor, their endurance, and their testing of false teachers.  Then in verse 6 He complements them for hating the works of the Nicolaitans.  Let me just comment briefly on those 4 things.

Their effort/labor was a work and toil past the point of sweat to exhaustion.  They were all out for Christ, and as you will note in the last phrase in verse 3, they have not grown weary.  Tired in obedience, but not tired of obedience.

The 2nd compliment was their endurance.  Their endurance was steadfast.  The kind that turns suffering into grace and glory.  According to verse 3, the endurance was for Jesus’s sake.  They could endure suffering, but not wicked people.  The wicked are described as false brothers or false apostles.  They claimed to be sent by God.  They claimed to have divine authority, but the church did not endure these people.

The 3rd compliment was their testing.  Their testing of every quack, beggar, charlatan, wolf in sheeps clothing was not easy, but as verse 3 says, they persevered.  It is not easy to test the teachings of smooth talkers.  You get tired of trying to correct people who see no need to change.  The Ephesians had revealed the false ‘apostles’ as liars.  The church had watched these who claimed to be special people and found that their words did not match their behavior.  They did not do what they said they would do.  They did not live like they told others they should live.

The 4th compliment is their hatred of false teaching (v 6).  The Nicolaitans were a group of false Christians.  They were a separate group within the church claiming to be part of the church.  We don’t know much about them because their teaching did not last long.  Νικο means victory/conquer and λαιτων means people.  Maybe they controlled people or used positive thinking to trick people.  One tradition suggests these may have been Antinomian Gnostics.  They claimed that if your heart or spirit was right it does not matter what your body does.  They believe in a dicotomy which says the flesh is bad anyway and cannot be redeemed till we get to heaven, so indulge the flesh, but keep your heart right with God.  These may have been Christians who enjoyed banqueting with the politicians in the imperial temples.  They did not think it would hurt anything to honor the emperor by burning incense to his statue, take a toast to the emperor’s health, eating meat sacrificed to idols, or watching the fertility cult performances.  They had freedom in Christ.  Their hearts were right with God.  They were mature Christians and to them all things were pure.  Didn’t Paul say to the pure all things are pure?

It is amazing how our theology reflects our culture.  A lot of alcoholics know the Bible says that a little wine is good for the stomach, but none know the context.  Our emphasis today on individual rights is more cultural than Christian.  False Christians were looking for a way that would make it easier for them to live in the world. They were not prepared to be different.  They had not taken the letter of the Jerusalem church seriously (Acts 15).  It did not mean anything to say a prayer to another god, idols were dead anyway.  It did not make any difference to offer insence to a pagan god.  It kept you from loosing your job. “You have to feed your family don’t you?”  They felt you had to compromise a little or you could not go to any parties.  You could not go to any banquets.  You could not get ahead.  It was OK to compromise.  You could cheat on your taxes.  The gov’t doesn’t need your money.

The early church had struggled over the gospel’s effect on the Gentiles.  In Acts 15 the church leaders wrote that all believers were to avoid food sacrificed to idols and sexual imorality.  The Nicolaitans ignored that letter and apparently did both.

Christ complements the church for hating the works of this group.  Do we hate evil?  To hate evil is a virtue and grace.  God is pleased when you are shocked by evil.  Does sin shock you?  I find myself more shocked by a tital wave or a forest fire than the lotto, the casino, or social drinking, which kills more lives.

Jesus introduced himself as the one who holds, walks, and knows.  He complements the church for toil, patience, testing, and hating evil.

CHRIST CORRECTS THE CHURCH ‑ 2:4

But you have left your first love.  According to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:15), they had been a loving church, but now 40 years later, they lacked love.  The desire for orthodoxy and sound teaching had dulled their heart of love.  Good works and pure doctrine are inadequate substitutes for mutual love.  Without love we cease to be the church.  The Ephesians had stopped witnessing to their neighbors.

The greek wording suggests that their first kind of love they chose to leave.  They sent it away.  At a point in time they made a choice to stop loving.  The first enthusiasm is now gone.  The love for the brotherhood is now gone.  They still love, but not with the intensity they did at first.  This is a serious defect.  They did not see their own lack of love.

Do you suppose that heresy hunting had made them sour and rigid?  Do you suppose that criticism had killed their desire to love?  Your doctrine may be right, your orthodoxy may be right, but it may destroy love.  You may be doing everything quite properly.  You may live by every rule you know, but if you have not love it profiteth you nothing.  “If I have not love, I am nothing.”  Orthodoxy without love is dead.  Orthodoxy and criticism kill the church.  We need more lovers that hate sin.  You hate the deeds of those who do evil.

CHRIST COMMANDS THE CHURCH ‑ 2:5

Here are 3 penetrating commands.  These are 3 imperatives to restore love in your heart.  These commands are written to the church, but we can apply them to our lives.

1. Remember.  This is a present imperative and means to keep on remembering.  Don’t forget for a second.  Reflect and ponder about what your life used to be.  Was life better when you first became a Christian?  Remember.  Continue to be mindful.  Do you want your love back?

2. Repent.  This is an aorist imperative that suggests you do it now.  Make a radical change in your lifestyle before God right now.  Don’t blame others.  It was your choice to send love away.  It was your choice to stop loving.  It must be your choice to want it back. The word repent here is a command to do it now.  Don’t wait.  If you want love, repent of your sin right now.  Change your mind.  Turn around.  Make a clean break with your current way of life.

3. Do the works you used to do.  There is no true repentance until your life style is different.  Repent and do good.

Jesus says, “I am coming and will remove your lampstand unless you repent.”  Our options are limited.  We either love one another as we have been commanded or Jesus will come and close down the church.  The phrase I will come to thee is future middle which reminds us that Jesus decides for himself when this will occur.

CHRIST COVENANTS WITH THE CHURCH ‑ 2:7

He that hath an ear.  How many people do you know that do not have ears?  But does our church have ears for God’s word?  This promise is for us.  Are we listening?  This letter is for us.  Let’s be still and listen.

Hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  Jesus promised that His Spirit would come to remind us and teach us His words.  The Spirit of Jesus is talking.

To everyone that conquers/overcomes.  The word overcomes νικωντι is the word we get Niki from.  It means victory.  Victory does not come to one who gives up.  Victory does not come to one who has it easy.  Victory does not come to one who has all the answers.  To have a victory, there must be a conflict.  It will never be easy to live a Christian life in this world.  We are aliens.  We are different.  That causes conflicts, but if we endure there is victory.

The overcomers have the same victory that Christ had on the cross, the victory that transforms tribulation into dignity and strength.  The overcomers are in Christ.

To everyone and every church that overcomes, Jesus promises 2 things: the perfect food and the perfect experience.  What was the world offering them?  Many kinds of food and drink that would not satisfy.  Many kinds of pleasures that give no satisfaction tomorrow.  The food and pleasure the world offers does not satisfy very long.  Jesus said, “He who comes to Me will never thirst.”  The Jews believed that when the Messiah comes, the world will again be like the Garden of Eden.  Jesus offers complete and lasting pleasure.

Jesus promises a banquet feast at the tree of life.  The tree represents life as it was intended to be lived.  The decorative wooden dowels on which the Torah scroll is rolled are called “trees of life”.  The original tree of life was left in the Garden of Eden in Gen 3:22.  It symbolizes the life that man was created to live, life with God.  What Adam lost, Jesus will restore. Jesus gives what satisfies longer than the moment.  Christ is the source of life and all good gifts.

Jesus promises paradise.  The word paradise means park, garden, a beautiful garden of peace and rest, a garden of Eden restored, heaven itself.  Jesus promised the thief on the cross a life in paradise.  He told His disciples He was going away to prepare a place.  I think He’s preparing me a garden instead of a mansion just over the hilltop.

Maybe today for you it seems like nobody cares, Jesus wants to come and reveal Himself as the holder, walker and knower.  That is a comfort to the righteous, but dreadful to the wicked.

Maybe you have been so right you were wrong.  Maybe you have become critical and lost your first love.

Maybe you have come to realize that you are living more and more like the world around you and you want to have your first love restored.  Remember, Repent, and Do Good.

Maybe you wonder if all the inconvenience is worth it.  Is it a struggle being different?  The overcomers will be rewarded.

Jesus knows just what you need.  He loves you.  Have you forgotten?  Dr. E.Stanley Jones tells of a girl who, frustrated by the city, entered a house of prostitution.  Learning of her daughter’s plight, the mother desperately sought to rescue her.  Not having her child’s address, she left a photo of herself in each house of ill fame she could find.  One day, the daughter saw on a mantle in a reception room a familiar picture, it was the likeness of her first love.  Beneath were the words, “come home, I love you.”  Jesus has left a picture of Himself with a note attached.  “Come home.  I love you.”

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