The churches of Revelations – Part 2 – Revelations 2:1-7 – May 1, 2022
By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett -Asbury Free Methodist
Wouldn’t it be amazing to receive a postcard from Jesus! The seven churches of Revelation did! Jesus had a word for each of them. Today we are going to look at the letter sent to the church in Ephesus. Jesus was addressing what was going on in their context. But what Jesus was saying to them has application to us.
At the end of all seven letters to the churches, there is a phrase like this
Revelation 2:7 (NIV)
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches…
Jesus is saying, if you can hear what the Spirit of God is saying, this isn’t just for the particular church I am addressing – I am speaking to the churches. (Plural) In fact, if we have ears to hear, we will hear what God wants to say to us at Asbury through these churches.
I believe what the Lord had to say to the church of Ephesus has to potential to speak to a lot of us. I see some of us in them. I have seen myself in them too many times. Before we get to the letter, let me give you some background.
Ephesus was a large and influential city. It was a city of commerce and religion. In the center of the city, there was a big temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis. She was the goddess of the hunt and of fertility. People would make pilgrimages to the temple. This made for a brisk tourist trade. Instead of t-shirts saying I “heart” Artemis, craftsmen were employed to carve idols. (The kids of that day probably went around saying – my parents went to Ephesus and all I got was this lousy idol)
The church in Ephesus was founded by the apostle Paul. You can read about it in Acts 19. Paul goes to the local synagogue and finds that people had heard about John the Baptist but not Jesus. He shared Jesus, and those who believed were filled with the Spirit. They were eventually kicked out of the synagogue and moved to another hall, where they continued to grow.
In fact, God was at work in a powerful way through Paul’s ministry. People were being healed and delivered from demonic oppression to such an extent that many people followed Jesus. There were so many people who were involved in sorcery that became followers of Jesus that then ended up disposing of books on witchcraft and sorcery that, in today’s money, would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So many people started to follow Jesus that it began to worry the craftsmen that were kept employed by the tourist trade. They caused a riot, and Paul had to flee the city. But the church was established.
Now, as we come to our passage of scripture in Revelations 2, thirty-five years have passed. The Ephesian church had some of the finest pastors the first century had to offer. Paul was their first pastor. Timothy was their pastor for a while. Even the apostle John had pastored there for a time. Thirty-five years after Paul, Jesus shows up.
If you were here last week, you heard about John’s vision of Jesus. If you didn’t catch it, I would encourage you to catch it on the Asbury Podcast or on YouTube. But here is how the vision starts
Revelation 1:12–13 (NIV)
12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man…
We saw how that was interpreted in verse
Revelation 1:20 (NIV)
20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Now notice how he starts off the letter to Ephesus
Revelation 2:1 (NIV)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
He says to the Ephesians, “I am walking amongst the church. I am walking amongst you.” In other words, I know who you are.
Whoever has an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. I believe that Jesus would say, “Asbury, I know who you are.” Some of you will find that comforting, and others will find it disconcerting. But Jesus would say to us, “I walk among you, I see you, I hear you, I know you.”
Jesus goes on to say to the church of Ephesus.
Revelation 2:2–3 (NIV)
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Jesus says I know what you have done. I know how hard you have worked. I know the challenges that life brings. I even know about the dilemmas you have to face. There were these people who were claiming to be apostles, but you figured out what was true and what was not. You have persevered. You have true theologically. You have endured for me. You have done a lot of things right.
I believe Jesus would say to us, “I know what you have been through these last couple of years. I know that there were times when you were just holding it together. I see, I know, I understand.” You have persevered.
Unlike the Ephesians, many of us have grown weary. God sees that too.
He says, “I know your hard work.” ——–This has been a curious time in the life of the church. We have found it really challenging to get volunteers in these last few months. I have talked with a lot of other pastors who have said the same thing. I think people have been really tired from everything surrounding the pandemic. I think Jesus gets that too.
I am hoping that this will change come September. Part of being a follower of Jesus is stewarding our time, talent and energy so that we can be generous with our time and talent and energy. But I want you to know that Jesus gets where you are at right now.
Then Jesus says this,
Revelation 2:3–4 (NIV)
3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
Jesus says – I have seen your hard work, your perseverance, your theological correctness – but you have lost your love. What happens if we don’t have love?
Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues n of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, u but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Paul says, it doesn’t matter if I have incredible spiritual gifts, or I am really smart or have the faith to see mountains move – without love, all those things amount to nothing. It doesn’t matter if I suffer, or I give millions of dollars to the poor, if I don’t have love – I gain nothing.
That is pretty astounding. But look what Jesus says,
Revelation 2:4–5 (NIV)
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
Remember what the lampstand is. The lampstand is the church itself. Jesus says, if you don’t have love, your church will cease to exist. If you don’t have love, then I won’t allow your church to exist.
Some people ask when Jesus says “you have lost your first love,” if he is referring to loving God or loving people. The answer is yes. – He is referring to both.
The greatest commands in scripture are to love God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself. Love God; love people. When the church isn’t doing that – it really isn’t worth being called a church.
I want you to know that as a pastor – this really disturbs me. Because it is easier for a church to produce great ministries than great lovers. It is easier for a church to produce great programs than it is to produce people who really love God and others. It is easier to celebrate the great things that have happened – rather than when people have loved well – because that is the kind of thing that can easily go unnoticed.
But when you stand back and look at it, you know how important it is for a church to love. For instance, our kids. I also know that while it is really important for our Sunday School teachers to teach great lessons, it is far more important that they love the kids. Most lessons, like most sermons, will mostly be forgotten, but they will remember if their Sunday School teacher loved them. But it is easier to help someone to teach well than it is to love well.
We can do great things, but if those things are not motivated by love, they are not being who we are called to be. Many acts of love happen in the background and go unheralded. Where it gets really tricky is that we can do the same action with or without love.
But Jesus sees, and our love does not go unnoticed by him. In fact, this is what our church is primarily rated on. Do we love God? Do we love each other? Do we love our world?
As you know, love is not primarily a feeling; it is an action. Often it is an action that wars against our selfish feelings. I am an introvert, so sometimes, it is easier for me to be alone than being with people. But, when Jesus calls, I need to choose to love and be with people. When Jesus was on earth, there were times when he was tired, but he saw the crowds and had compassion on them. Sometimes love is about doing what you are called to do rather than what you feel like doing.
You may notice that while we invite people to be involved around here, we do not pressure people to be involved. The reason for that is when we try to get work done in a way that wars against love, it is unhelpful. Sometimes we need to help each other connect the dots between what they do and how that is loving. For instance, setting up chairs or doing yard work can be an act of love for God and for others. What we do needs to come out of love. That is the only way for the church to be the church.
So what did Jesus call the church at Ephesus to do? He tells them,
Revelation 2:5 (NIV)
5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
The first thing he says is, “Consider how far you have fallen.” Consider. Look back to where you were and look at where you are. Do you see the difference?
Whenever we are coming back to God, we need to get perspective. Here God is pointing out the difference. Look at where you were. Look at where you are.
Now I get that when many of us became followers of Jesus, there was this new passion for learning new things. There was a passion for his word. There was a passion for telling people about Jesus.
It is analogous to when a couple gets married. There is hopefully a honeymoon period. Everything is new and exciting. After you have been married for a while – love is different. It is not all butterflies and fireworks. But if it is a good marriage, love will deepen and grow. The friendship will deepen and grow. Sometimes if things go sideways in a marriage, you keep going through the motions, but there is not the same kind of intimacy as there used to be.
When people read this passage, they have a tendency to read “first love” as all the feelings that came when I first became a Christian. But that is not what it is saying. Jesus does not expect our love to remain immature. He expects it to grow.
But just like in a good marriage, where spending time together is good, experiencing life together is good, even when life isn’t good. There is this desire to be with each other.
That is the kind of love Jesus is describing when he talks about first love. That love of abiding in him. But like a marriage gone sideways, the Ephesians were going through the motions. Jesus is saying, “Do you remember what it was like to abide in me? Do you remember what it was like for us to hang out together?”
Consider that, and then he says, “Repent and do the things that you did at first.” He did not say, Repent and feel the things you felt at first. There is a difference.
Repentance is a wonderful concept. It means that I am currently not headed toward God. I may be running away from him. But more likely, I am not running away; I am drifting away by degrees. If the chairs were not in this room and I said I wanted to head towards to outside door. I would square up my body and walk towards the doors. But if my body turns just a little, I don’t end up at the outside doors; I end up heading towards the basement.
It doesn’t have to be a significant margin of error to miss where we want to be. Repentance is realizing that I am heading towards the basement and making a course correction, so I am headed back towards the outside doors. Repentance is making a course correction, so I am headed back towards God. I am going through the motions, but I am not moving toward him.
Repentance of our lack of love for God and for one another.
I don’t know about you, but there have been various times in my Christian life when I have had to go there. – I have had to repent. There were times when I was so busy for God that I didn’t spend much time with God. That can happen. We can become busy doing good things. They may even be the right things. But we are like Martha scurrying around and resenting the fact that she had to scurry around. Mary chose the best thing. She sat with Jesus.
Maybe that is you. I know so many of you do so many good things. Don’t make the mistake of equating doing things for God and spending time with God.
There have been other times in my life where it wasn’t so much about busyness but about anger or doubt. There were things that I prayed about again and again and again, but they didn’t seem to change. I got frustrated with God. God, what is the use of spending time with you if you are not going to help when I need it.
So, I would do all the right things, but not with the best heart. There were times when I had to decide whether or not I was going to love him if things never changed. Those were painful days. But by his grace, he brought me to the point of repentance. I would love him whether or not my situation changed.
Maybe you have been there. Maybe you are there. Your life is hard. You wonder why God isn’t answering your prayers. Maybe because of that, you have backed off from God. I am calling you to trust that God is good even when life isn’t. I am asking you to love God by walking through the dark valley with him, not apart from him. Repent. Turn towards him even when the way is dark.
There was a time in my life when God had withdrawn himself from me. I couldn’t feel him. I couldn’t sense him. When I prayed, it felt like my prayers were going nowhere. When I read his word, it was dry as dust. I was wondering where God was.
The old people of faith called this the “Dark Night of the Soul.” There is no consultation from faith. When I was there, was I going to love God and trust him, who I could not see or feel.
You may remember Job. He encountered all kinds of trouble, and his wife said, “curse God and die.” But Job said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”
God brought me to a place of decision. Would I repent and move towards God even when I could not sense or feel God? I did. I still couldn’t feel God, but I learned to live in quiet trust until God broke through.
I don’t know where you are in your spiritual journey – but maybe you have to consider when you have been and repent.
Hear Jesus words
Revelation 2:7 (NIV)
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Jesus says to them and to us – If you hear what I am saying to you and act on it, you are going to live. You are going to be alive now and forevermore.
So, how are you doing with loving God and loving people? This is one of those non-negotiables with Jesus. If you have noticed that you are not heading towards God – it is time for a course correction. Repent.
The Lord will guide you into the next steps. We are going to spend some time talking with Jesus. In the quietness of your own heart, I am asking that you do business with God.
Prayer of repentance (Is there anywhere in my life where I am not headed towards you.) (love)
Prayer for guidance. (What is the next step)
Sermon Questions – May 1st, 2022
The church at Ephesus – Revelation 1:1-7
1. What are you celebrating this week?
2. What are you praying about this week?
3. Read Revelation 2:1-7 – When verse 7 says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches…” what do you think that means. What do you think that means to us?
4. Read Revelation 1:12 and 20. Then read Revelation 2:1 – Why do you think that Jesus chose to emphasize this part of his character? What do you think he wanted the Ephesians to know about him?
5. Read verses 2-3. What does Jesus commend them for? What do you think this looked like in their case? If Jesus was to commend us for the same things, what would he be commending us for?
6. Read verse 4. What do you think this means? What does a mature love for God look like?
(You may want to read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 as you think about this,)
7. Read verse 5. What does Jesus call them to do? What does it mean to repent? What would this look like in their case?
8. What does Jesus promise will happen if they don’t repent? Why does he say this?
9. What does losing our first love look like in 2022? How do we combat that?
10. Read verse 7. What is God’s promise to those who are victorious? What does that mean for them and for us?