CLW-12 - Ephesus: First Love Then and Now

As we open to Revelation 2:1-7, we are reading the personal message in Christ's last words to His Church. These verses are part of a warning about what tripped up the earliest generations of believers. Jesus wanted them, and us, to stay on the right path.

These churches were real gatherings of people 2,000 years ago. That means that Jesus saw seven different types of believers gathering at that moment in the history of His church. Have you ever thought about that?

Every believer back then was like one of these seven types of believers addressed by these seven letters we are studying. In some part of the end of the First Century AD there were Ephesian types of believers (2:1-7); Smyrna types of believers (2:8-11); Pergamos types of believers (2:12-17); Thyatira types of believers (2:18-29); Sardis types of believers (3:1-6); Philadelphia types of believers (3:7-13); and Laodicea types of believers (3:14-22).

But even more than just back then, these letters were written in God's Word to instruct all of us down through the ages that even to our time, more than likely, the Son of God has walked among us and has found here:

Believers Had Spiritual Heart Problems

The believers in Ephesus had declined from that first love we had for Jesus.

Their hearts had experienced a gradual buildup of other things so that no longer was Jesus holding the position of first place in their hearts, in their schedules and in their concentration, and all of that signaled that He was no longer the supreme ruler of their hearts.

Christ's message for them and to us today is: Love Me most; Come back to Me.

The saints in Ephesus had a serious heart conditions:

Revelation 2:1-7 (NKJV) "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. 4Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place-unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."'

Point #1: Jesus Addresses Them  Personally (2:1a)

Rev. 2:1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,"

Although these seven churches were actual, historical churches in Asia Minor, they represent the types of churches that perennially exist throughout the church age. What Christ says to these churches is relevant in all times.

Jesus addresses Ephesus first, possibly for several reasons:

  • Ephesus was the number two city in the entire Roman Empire.
  • Ephesus was first in the list of churches Christ addresses.
  • Ephesus was home to Paul's longest ministry of 3 years.
  • Ephesus was the largest of the ancient churches according to Eusebius.

Point #2: Jesus Addresses Them With Authority (2:1b)

Rev. 2:1b "these things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:"

These seven stars are the messengers who represent the seven churches. Christ holds them in His hand, which means that He controls the church and its leaders.

So the church in Ephesus is addressed first of the seven (Rev. 2:1-7), as being the most important church in the de facto capital, and as being the landing-place for a messenger from Patmos and standing at the head of a circular road joining the seven cities in order.

Point #3: Jesus Addresses Ephesus With An Approval (2:2-3, 6)

Rev. 2:2-3, 6 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;3 "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. 6 "But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate"

There are 10 specific commendations from Christ in v. 2-3, more than for any other church.

Last time, we studied the founding of this church recorded in Acts 19. We saw that they also had the simple power that characterized the early church which flowed from genuine holiness. Energized by grace, they magnified Christ, God's Word prevailed in them and they lived consecrated lives. The Spirit of God moved unhindered, flowed unquenched and God got all the glory. No one competed for the credit, no one sought to be in control. God reigned, the Spirit moved and Christ was magnified.

Turn to Ephesians 4:22-24, and remember again that we are called to

Three Powerful Habits

The heart of the message Paul taught in Ephesus, that prompted Acts 18, is captured in the words ofEphesians 4:22-24. That same message of Christ's Lordship must fill our lives, leading to the removal of any part of our lives that displeases God. There are three clear choices we must make!

Look again with me at Ephesians 4:22-24:

"that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness."

Start the Habit of Grace-prompted Shedding
Ephesians 4:22

First, Paul is asking believers to start a habit of grace-prompted shedding. This is "putting off" old habits like old clothes that are comfortable and fit us so well, so we often forget that we even have them on, until the Spirit of God convicts us. Paul is reminding us that those who will live a life holy to the Lord must repeatedly put off the old ways.

If we struggle with anger, anger must be shed daily; and if we struggle with pride, pride must daily be shed. This is also the choice we must make for lust, greed, fear and any other byproducts of our flesh. Often believers fail to grow in their spiritual lives because they don't understand the life-long need to shed or "put off" our old sins on a daily basis.

Start the Habit of Grace-prompted Thinking
Ephesians 4:23

Second, in v. 23 Paul is asking them to start a habit of grace-prompted thinking. Choices to put off old ways flow from our renewed minds. Just as Romans 12:2 says we are "transformed by the renewing of our minds". When we think godly, we behave godly; or when we believe right, we behave right.

God's plan for our minds always starts with us personally reading and studying His Word. Then from that, flows our personal request to God's Spirit, asking Him to renew our minds. As we prayerfully read, we have in our minds God's thoughts. As we submit to God's desires through His Word, He infuses His mind into ours. Paul said that we can have the mind of Christ by this constant renewal process. A grace-energized mind comes as believers regularly, hopefully daily get God's Word into their hearts and minds.

A simple goal would be to listen to God's voice all the way through His Word once each year. This in an imperative for us, reading the Bible expectantly and asking God to speak to us by His Spirit each day in His Word.

Start the Habit of Grace-prompted Wearing
Ephesians 4:24

Lastly, in v. 24 Paul is asking them to start a habit of grace-prompted wearing. This is the putting on: "... and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness" (v. 24).

God makes it clear that it is not enough to merely put off old fleshly habits, they must be replaced with the newness of Christ in wearing His love, wearing His peace, etc. (Galatians 5:22). If I lose my temper with my wife or children, and repent and put it off, that is not enough unless I also put on Christ's love and patience also![1]

God is at work in us, His children, and energized by His grace we must work at living out this new life (Phil. 2:12-13). Our daily task is getting dressed in our divine clothes; spiritually speaking clothes do make the man, and the woman.

Point #4 : Jesus Gives Them An Admonition (2:4)

Rev. 2:4 "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love"

The saints in Ephesus were not being obedient to the central truth of the Scriptures Old and New Testament: Love the Lord Your God MOST. That is what had been taught to them from God's Word by their faithful pastors over the years-listen to what Christ said:

Revelation 2:4-5 (NKJV) "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place-unless you repent."

Jesus States His Desire

In one word Jesus describes what He wanted, what they had, and what they had allowed to drift away from their lives. The requirement of the Lord is that we love Him FIRST.

The word in verse 4 translated into English as "first" is the Greek word protos (4413). Protos is a contracted superlative from the Greek preposition pros (4253) which has the meaning ‘in front of, above, before'.

So this word that God's Spirit chooses to record in Christ's message is a word that means that something is to always be "foremost". Thus we can read foremost into the words of the dictionary definition of this word:

  1. "Foremost in" time
  2. "Foremost in" place
  3. "Foremost in" order of importance, and is before others things
  4. "Foremost is being" at the beginning of any list
  5. "Foremost is being" the best and chiefest
  6. "Foremost is being" simply first of all

What had Jesus already asked for them to do, and taught them through Paul, Timothy and John's ministry of the Word to them?

Matthew 6:33 (NKJV) "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."

Matthew 22:37 (NKJV) "Jesus said to him, " ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind."

Pause and hear this letter with the same ears as they had in the First Century. Jesus uses a word they all understood. It is a word He wants us to understand. Jesus says to them and us, I DESIRE to be:

  1. "Foremost in" time
  2. "Foremost in" place
  3. "Foremost in" order of importance, and is before others things
  4. "Foremost is being" at the beginning of any list
  5. "Foremost is being" the best and chiefest
  6. "Foremost is being" simply first of all

So that is Christ's desire. Next:

Jesus States Their Problem

Their lives were clogged with so many other things, so Jesus was no longer first in their hearts, in their schedules or their concentration, and all that signaled that He was no longer the supreme ruler of their lives. They were not being obedient to the clear commands Christ had already given them, thus they were not pleasing Him.

The word just before first love is fascinating; it is the word "left". This word is the huge New Testament word for forgiveness which is the word aphiami (863) and describes forgiveness as an action that means to lay aside, send away or release (as in scapegoat), omit, put away or yield. [This word we know well from the pages of the Scriptures, and it is most often translated "forgive". But the same word is also in I Corinthians 7:11, 12, 13 for a marriage partner being "put away" or "departing" from the marriage.]

Basically forgiveness is when an offense that has been committed and is lodged in a persons life gets released or sent away.

Action Needed: Jesus said: stop everything else from pushing me out, Go back to your original settings and Love the Lord Your God with all you are.

In Luke 15:22, this word is translated the "best robe" and in Mark 10:44 it describes the chiefest of swats.

First love means loving Christ so much that you are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to have Christ foremost in your life.

Beware Of Drifting Away From Foremost Love

At the end of an incredible life, John the Apostle wrote some arresting words. He had met and followed Jesus as a very young man. After those climactic days of the Crucifixion, resurrection and birth of the church, John had outlived them all. As the final Apostle he closes his message with this warning:

In First John, the last words of John to believers are a warning against idols.  The Spirit of God moved John to write a stern warning at the end of the Apostolic Age to the vibrant New Testament Church that they needed to be very careful to guard against idols.

1 John 5:21" Dear children, keep [aorist middle imperative] yourselves from idols." (NIV)

What are some modern day idols? Look at some old ones the Lord condemns and we can see the new.

  • BEWARE OF The idol of Money: Job 31:24-28 "If I have put my trust in gold or said to pure gold, `You are my security,' if I have rejoiced over my great wealth, the fortune my hands had gained, if I have regarded the sun in its radiance or the moon moving in splendor, so that my heart was secretly enticed and my hand offered them a kiss of homage, then these also would be sins to be judged, for I would have been unfaithful to God on high." (NIV)
  • BEWARE OF The idol of Career or technology: Habakkuk 1:15-16 "The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food." (NIV)
  • BEWARE OF The idol of appetiteS or desires: Philippians 3:19 "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things." (NIV)
  • BEWARE OF THE IDOL OF DISTRACTIONS: Jesus is so jealous He doesn't even want you to have friendship with the world. What is this? Worldliness is forgetting God, friendship/idol is on mind all time, willing to sacrifice for, blocks out other things; James 4:6

Jesus says to them and us, I DESIRE to be:

  1. "Foremost in" time
  2. "Foremost in" place
  3. "Foremost in" order of importance, and is before others things
  4. "Foremost is being" at the beginning of any list
  5. "Foremost is being" the best and chiefest
  6. "Foremost is being" simply first of all

Their lives were clogged with so many other things, so Jesus was no longer first in their hearts, in their schedules or their concentration, and all that signaled that He was no longer the supreme ruler of their lives. They were not being obedient to the clear commands Christ had already given them, thus they were not pleasing Him.

 

[1] All of this is through God's grace. Works have no place in obtaining salvation or in gaining merit in the Christian life. The Christian life is sola gratia, grace alone. Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul said, "continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Philippians 2:12b, 13). Hughes, R. Kent, Preaching the Word: Ephesians-The Mystery of the Body of Christ, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books) 1997.