But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the 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 Nicola'itans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (RSV)
They had forsaken their first love. Wouldn’t you think, considering all that Jesus has already said to the Ephesians’ church, that there wouldn’t be any rebuke? Paul spent three years with them and also wrote a letter of encouragement and instruction that eventually became a part of the Bible. They had so much going for them, how had they arrived at this point of rebuke? It is apparent that a church can do a lot, even have the correct focus on what it is doing, and yet not have the right motivation.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9 NIV)
Like the Ephesians, we need to be able to have perseverance, which is included in our Christian growth. These verses show that perseverance is right in the middle of a Christian’s growth pattern. The Ephesians had already done well in the knowledge department and had advanced through perseverance, but somehow, after moving on to godliness, their spiritual growth stopped or they regressed. It is possible that their zeal for godliness kept them from showing genuine love and kindness for each other. In Matt 25:34-40, Jesus clearly correlated our love and outreach to others with our love of Him.
By focusing on knowledge and self-improvement, the Ephesians may very well have stagnated in their growth. As Peter says, these qualities need to be increasing or our knowledge of the Lord Jesus will become unproductive as a result. When we become involved in the pursuit of outward godliness and forget about love, we may become a legalistic church.
Our relationship with Jesus is a two-way affair. We hear and speak much about the love God has for us, but seldom do we really look at the Word to find out what kind of a love we should have for Him.
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth — for your love is more delightful than wine. Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out. No wonder the maidens love you! Take me away with you — let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you! (Song 1:2-4 NIV)
Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. (Song 2:3-4 NIV)
These verses can be taken to be symbolic of the love that the Lord has for the Church and how the Church should love the Lord.
Take me away with you - hurry! We rejoice and delight in Jesus! We praise His love more than anything on earth! How right we are to adore Jesus. We delight to sit in His shade – to be in His church every chance we can to worship Him. All that we have comes from Him and all He provides for us is sweet because we love Him and know He has our best interest in His heart. Just as Mary sat at His feet to learn from Him and to be near Him, we too, must always want to be in His presence.
But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42 NASU)
If this is our desire, it won’t be taken away from us.
And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. (Luke 7:37-38 NKJV)
Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. (Luke 7:47 NKJV)
Jesus made a clear connected between this woman’s recognition of being forgiven and her love for Him. In 2 Peter 1:9, Peter states that people who don’t have these qualities have forgotten that they have been cleansed from their past sins. The Ephesians must have forgotten who they were before Christ. Even if we received Christ at a very early age, we need to remember that He has cleansed us from our past sins and has forgiven us much. If we don’t, we are likely to forsake our love of Him. The woman showered Jesus’ person with physical expressions of her affection. We can’t do this now so we have to find other ways to express our love for Jesus.
Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus' feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. (John 12:3 NLT)
Jesus replied, "Leave her alone. She did this in preparation for my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me." (John 12:7-8 NLT)
Like the woman in Luke, Mary showed her love of Jesus in a manner that surprised those around her. Jesus not only accepted the demonstration of love, but also indicated that there are times when we need to devote our attention to Him, even to the exclusion of what would appear to be His very important work for us, such as feeding the poor. The Ephesians may very well have been so busy doing “the Lord’s work” that they neglected their time with Jesus, individually as well as corporately.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." (John 21:15 RSV)
Three times, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him and told him to take care of His sheep. There is always a balance in Scripture. Lest we spend all of our time trying to find out how we can be with Jesus and shower our affection on Him, we see that Jesus also expects us to take care of His people as an expression of our Love for Him. Since He lives in us, is it appropriate to say that to love Him is to love His people?
(Eph 5:1, 2 a sacrificial love; Ph 1:7-9 a growing love; Col 1:3-5 a love that springs from hope; Col 2:2, 3:14 united in love; 1 Thess 2:8 a sharing love; 1 Thess 3:12 an increasing love; 2 Pet 1:7, 8 a fruit bearing love). If we stop loving each other, we will stop loving Him. Jesus ends up saying to Peter, “Follow me.” The ultimate in loving Jesus is being willing to do anything for Him, even die.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: (Song 2:16a KJV)
The selflessness of this verse describes how this relationship should be. Jesus gave Himself for us so we need to completely give ourselves to Him. When that happens, we are in a relationship with Jesus in the same way that a husband and wife want to do things for each other. This brings us back to the Ephesians who were no longer doing things out of love, so Jesus was no longer going to do “anything” for them. How many verses do we have where He says he will do whatever we ask?
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7 ESV)
Remember that these promises are conditional and this one is conditional upon our remaining in Him.
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt 22:37-40 NIV)
We must love the Lord with all our being, not just part of it. When we do this, love for each other will follow. We will then be doing everything out of the motivation of love. In this way, all we do follows the Law. A legalistic church is motivated out of the fear that they won’t follow all the rules. However, if they concentrated more on the command to love, they would be obedient and all of their man-made rules would not even be necessary.
Counsel and Warning
If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Col 3:1 NASB)
I have often stated that our position of salvation is secure in Jesus. The Scriptures are clear about this so we have to look for meaning other than this.
Read Ezekiel 16:1-39. In this passage, God tells Jerusalem that she was like a discarded baby girl about to die. He found, loved, and claimed her as His own. She rose to become a beautiful queen with fame among the nations. She then became a prostitute disregarding all that the Sovereign Lord had done for her. Finally, He tells her that He will destroy her. The wording is much stronger than the message Jesus is giving to the Ephesians, but the principle is the same. Without Him and His love, we would have died in our sins; He has caused us to grow and become beautiful. When we stray, we forget where we came from and how high He has raised us. The resolution to the problem is to look back at what He has done, from where He took us, to where He brought us, and where we are headed if we do not change our ways.
However, like the passages in Ezekiel, Revelation is not addressed to individuals, but to an organization or community of people. These passages in no way indicate that a person can lose his salvation. Removal of the lampstand indicates that the church at Ephesus will die, not that an individual will lose his or her salvation. When Jesus said that His Church would prevail against the gates of hell, He was talking about His Body, which is His Church with a capital “C.” All believers belong to His Church and it will always exist. That doesn’t mean that a congregation will not die out, as in fact the Ephesian church did. Ezekiel 16 ends with a promise of restoration, but only after there has been agonizing pain, humiliation, and destruction. There is no need for a congregation (or an individual) to go through that if we heed the warnings and remember where we were and where we are now. Ezekiel 16:39 says that Jerusalem will be turned over to her lovers. So a church can be turned over to the things it loves and puts ahead of Jesus.
A church that doesn’t turn will eventually die out. A believer that doesn’t repent will not lose his salvation but may very well receive divine discipline resulting in a premature death.
Jesus commands the church to repent and do the things they did at first. Even though we know that salvation is by grace, repentance is associated with action, which is the demonstration that what we are doing is in accordance with our faith.
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron 7:14 NKJV)
If we want to see the Church receive the same spiritual blessing as Israel, then this truly makes sense in conjunction with the church at Ephesus. The land being healed is the Church or a church, not the country in which the church resides. So if any church does not humble itself, pray, and turn from evil, it would be taken away. The last item, turning is the key to showing that it is serious.
That is why the Lord says, "Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don't tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead." Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish. (Joel 2:12-13 NLT)
The book of Joel, in 2:28, contains the prophecy of the Spirit being poured out, which is a description of how things would be in the Church age. Before that takes place, this description of repentance is provided. Repentance is not just turning with physical demonstration of change, but the heart must change as well. Turning over a new leaf because I was caught is not repentance.
For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! (2 Cor 7:10-11a NASU)
This is the outcome of true repentance. The change in heart produces earnestness, eagerness, longing, and concern. I think this is what the Ephesians had lost, the eagerness and earnestness to serve the Lord in love and the longing to be close to Him. They had drifted to actions driven from strict obedience. Thus He says they had forsaken their first love. The Ephesians had started with a good attitude, but somewhere it failed. In many cases, we teach our children to obey in spite of their attitude because we know that attitude often follows actions. However, if that attitude never changes, we end up with outwardly compliant kids who will rebel at their first opportunity. In the case of the Ephesian church, they had outward behavior down pat, but they were not doing it out of love.
It’s always good to give someone some encouragement after pointing out mistakes. Jesus does this when He lets the Ephesians know that He approves that they hate the practices of the Nicolaitans. Note that it is the practice that is hated, not the people. (The last question was a trick question to see if you were reading the text or not.) Tradition says that Nicolaitans hate things offered to idols, participated in idolatrous worship, denied God to be the Creator, had a “community of women,” and indulged in licentious behavior. Hal Lindsey says that they taught that their physical actions didn’t affect their spirit, so sin it up. Rev 2:15 also refers to the fact that the church at Pergamum had these in their midst. They also had the teachings of Balaam. Unger links these two together and so does Lindsey. The Nicolaitan’s teaching was an outgrowth and refinement of Balaam’s teachings. Balaam couldn’t directly curse the nation of Israel, so he taught their enemies to entice the young men with women and draw them away from the teachings of the Lord. God’s Law was given in part to isolate them from the foreign influence.
We should look at these teachings to see how they are carried out today. Idolatrous worship is precisely what has happened in the Catholic Church. Many worship Mary, saints, the communion wafer, even bones and “relics” of saints. This is particularly bad in poorer parts of the world where Catholicism has been mixed with primitive witchcraft and native religions. Not all Catholics participate in this worship, but many do and don’t even realize it.
Evolution denies God to be the Creator, or at least the Creator in the method that He said He did it. As evolution creeps into our churches, it weakens our understanding of who God is and His ability. Worse, it puts our own logical thinking on a pedestal that leads to rationalization of the Scripture. Look at Rom 1:18-32 to see what the eventual end of the downward spiral is for those who deny that God is the Creator. 2 Pet 3:3-15 also addresses the issue of those who may agree that God created the earth, but then let all things continue (evolution, etc.). He says they deliberately forget that God has intervened in history. And why do they forget? It is because He has promised to come again and set all things straight. That is the last thing they want to hear. Evolution comforts them. They don’t have to hear Peter’s warnings about how we should live. Once you start picking what you want to believe out of the Bible, or even reshaping it to what you want to believe, you open yourself up to anything.
Permissiveness is an attitude that you can do whatever you want and that it won’t hurt the Spirit or your spirit, i.e. your relationship with God; it is pervasive in the church today. It is seen in things ranging from the acceptability of unmarried “Christians” living together to social drinking.
"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be enslaved by anything. (1 Cor 6:12 ESV)
A misunderstanding of this verse leads to permissiveness. While some things may be permissible such as social drinking, there isn’t any benefit and it may very well end up mastering us. Other things simply are not permissible and should be avoided. We must be alert because many things bombard us today through T.V., books, movies, the internet, smart phones, and seemingly innocent things that “Don’t affect me.” That is why the principal of separation was given to the nation of Israel. They were to stay away from the enticements of the nations around them. We need to stay away from those things that take us away from the Lord. This is the meaning of sanctification, to set ourselves aside and make ourselves available for holy use. We can’t be legalistic and condemn the technology, but we must use it wisely.
“He that hath an ear” Everyone has an ear. It may function well or not, that isn’t the issue. This is an invitation to all who read these messages. First, it is an opportunity to find out what it means to overcome and become a follower of Jesus. Second, it is a message for anyone who is straying or has strayed and needs to turn back.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. (Isa 55:2-3 NIV)
This seems to sum up what it means to listen to God. We tend to run around and look for things that satisfy in all the wrong places. What we need is to simply listen to God and come to Him. Our souls will live and that provides true satisfaction that will last for eternity. It gets right back to the first love that the Ephesians had lost.
For by their own sword they did not possess the land, And their own arm did not save them, But Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence, For You favored them. (Ps 44:3 NASU)
The Israelites had to overcome physical enemies to enter their promised land. It is evident, as you read the book of Joshua, that they didn’t do this by their own strength. The Psalmist reiterated that it was God’s strength that enabled them to overcome their enemies. The same is true of how we are to overcome. We need to overcome sin and the evils of this world before we will have the right to eat from the tree of life. Just as the Israelites couldn’t overcome by their own strength, we can’t defeat sin in our lives by our own power. It only comes because we place our faith in the fact that Jesus has already paid the penalty for our sins and has overcome on our behalf when He died on the cross.
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom 10:17 NKJV)
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17 NKJV)
We have faith by hearing (those who have an ear). But action must follow to prove that the faith is real. The person who overcomes is the one who puts his faith into action. Still, it we can’t do it by ourselves. We must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit living in us. And that power is great. It is greater than most of us imagine.
I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God's power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms. (Eph 1:19-20 NLT)
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Eph 3:20 NLT)
The gift for those who overcome is eternal life, which includes true spiritual food.
And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gen 2:9 RSV)
The tree of life first appears in the book of Genesis where it was provided for Adam and Eve so that they may never die. Whether it was an actual tree is not as important as the fact that it is a gift from God. In Gen 3:24, the Lord makes sure that they cannot go back to the tree and eat of it.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2 ESV)
The river of the water of life (The Holy Spirit) flows from the throne of God. It goes through the city (that’s us, we are the bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem) and through the tree. The one tree of life is on both sides of the river. See how His Spirit permeates all of life at this time. The tree continually bears fruit. The true and holy age of God has arrived, and we are promised to partake of that if we overcome.
Church History - Churches Today.
I don’t think we see as many churches like this as in previous centuries, even in the 20th. More recently they have become the minority. These churches have so many rules that the Love of Christ is seldom seen. They are against so many things that what they are for is lost. Of course this kind of church doesn’t have problems with wicked men and practices like the Nicolaitans. However the wicked people in them publicly proclaim hate for modern Nicolaitans instead of hating their practices. (Those outside the Church don’t understand the difference, but Jesus does.) The Ephesian church is most likely representative of many churches soon after the apostles died. John was the only one left at that time. It took only a few years for people to jump into legalist practices. Look at the next church at Smyrna to see what it is that shakes legalistic churches up to bring them back into line.