Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Revelation 2 - First Love


In the Apostle's Revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ we introduced to seven churches each held in the right hand of the Lord Jesus; all but one receiving a letter of both praise and critique. These letters are unique in that they represent actual church bodies that at one time existed (See above photo of Ephesus Church) yet are preserved as testaments of what the Lord desires His church to represent. Each of the churches, saving Laodicea, have qualities that are fitting for churches throughout all ages to emulate. But they also have qualities that are carnal and if left unattended, will cause personal loss and harm to the cause of the Lord.

As a called out believer I am compelled to take the firm stand that when God shows us a thing, an area, or an attitude in our life that needs work we really need to take heed. Even though His mercy and compassion, all acts of Grace, are new each morning, Lam. 3:22-23, continual quenching of the Spirit of God will only lead to His hand of protection and blessing being removed until we become cognizant of our wandering and repent (recognize and turn from our wandering).

If we take the view that each letter was written as a kind of road-map of things that please the Lord in the Christian life then we can look through the lenses of these letters to see where we also stand and ask ourselves, "If Christ wrote our church a letter, what would it possibly say?"

Ephesus
"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: "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; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. "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." '
(Revelation 2:1-7)

The church at Ephesus is first of all exhorted through imagery. The one holding the seven stars in His right hand and who walks in the midst of seven golden lampstands speaks directly to them. Biblically speaking the right hand represents blessing and walking in their midst represents His presence. Rev. 1: 20 tells us the seven stars are the angels or pastors of the churches (ἄγγελοι -plural of angels, messengers) and the seven lampstands are the churches themselves. Christ is holding each pastor in His hand as He walks in the midst of the church they lead. That is both a blessed and sobering thought. It is a blessing to know the willing Christ is with us upholding us in His righteousness. But it is sobering to think of the judgment that could ensue should we become weak in our resolve to please Him.

In Ephesus Jesus first praises them for their works of obedience, their labor spent in service, their patience in waiting for the Lord's direction and provision, and moreover, their separation from those who live a life of carnality and spiritual depravity. He then capitalizes on the hucksters who thought they could take advantage of their love through claiming a calling that proved to be errant and deceitful.

In a late first to second century book entitled, "The Didache," also known as, "The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles by the Twelve Apostles," there is an interesting chapter that discusses how to know if a person claiming to be an Apostle really is one -- a litmus test so-to-speak.

Note 11: 4-6: 
4 Let every apostle who cometh unto you be received as the Lord.
5 He will remain one day, and if it be necessary, a second; but if he remain three days, he is a false prophet.
6 And let the apostle when departing take nothing but bread until he arrive at his resting-place; but if he ask for money, he is a false prophet...
12 But whoever shall say in the spirit, Give me money, or things of that kind, listen not to him; but if he tell you concerning others that are in need that ye should give unto them, let no one judge him. 
-The Didache, 11:4-6, 12

It seems there were safeguards the church, or at least some from the church, were putting in place to keep it from being derailed. Maybe Benny Hinn should read that last statement (see: http://www.christianpost.com/news/benny-hinn-asks-followers-for-2-5-million-to-get-out-of-debt-94822/) At least in Ephesus the guard was up and intentionally listening to the Holy Spirit would ensure it stayed up.

Loss of First Love
But something else had crept into the church and it was taking away their affection. Jesus warns them of this with the word's, "You have left your first love." One might ask, "How could this be?" This church was praised for so many good things from obedience to endurance --even guarding against false apostles. It seems odd that one could "lose their first love" when they were practicing the things they were praised for. But lets understand that warnings do not come to those who are dead but to those who are still living. Jesus extends His grace to them asking that they repent because the direction they were heading was disaster. The works were no longer being done out of love for God but out of a stiffness that comes from having to do something or some task but not so much with a willing spirit. They had lost their internal and intentional devotion.

Why this happens can be elusive, but you can bet it centered on other personal affections that were becoming predominant in the lives of the church members. Below I have listed Lack of First Love Symptoms along with a diagnosis and a prognosis.

Symptoms:
1) Feeling relieved when others do the work and not you
2) No longer volunteering to serve in God's army (the church)
3) Supporting God's work by "Check" only
4) Withdrawing from activity and fellowship
5) Absence from Bible Study and prayer meetings
6) Lack of personal talks with God
7) An overwhelming desire to be unnoticed by church members
8) Going to a larger church where physical accountability is of no concern

Diagnosis:
1) There is no longer a healthy fear or reverence for God
2) Life has become comfortable and you like it
3) Thankfulness for daily provision and for God's grace in calling you to serve is almost non-existent
4) Loss of vision from where you were when you were lost and without God in the world and how He saved you from a life of destruction and Hell.
5) The elusive Pride of life - Feeling like you are entitled.
6) Loss of concern for the souls of the lost
7) Loss of concern for teaching and training others in Christ

Prognosis
1) Soon you will die out
2) If not already, you will start seeing a loss of blessing, provision, and power that is God at work in your life.
3) Ichabod will be written over your door

Where is your heart? Do the symptoms above describe where you are at relationally with God? God's prescription is to remember from where you have fallen. It is so easy to forget God when you are comfortable. But is it not He that provides the very breath you breathe? Is it not He that raises up and brings low? Have you gotten to the point that you are above the judgment of God? If so, you are fallen and you need to get up. You need to repent. You need to get back into fellowship with God.

This I can say with surety, "Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."
Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV)

The church at Ephesus died out somewhere around 200 A.D. It did not have to be that way, and neither does it have to be that way in your life. Pray, confess, and repent today. He is listening and is the master of reconciliation.
God Bless!!

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