My college professor, an ordained Presbyterian minister, often reminded me to preach the Word of God effective is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comforted." I took his insight seriously and often was led to preach sermons directed to Christians. Someone said that the church is like a sleeping giant, not fulfilling its potential. This message fits in that category.
According to my notes, I preach it four times. The first time was 5/28/78 during the morning service at Immanuel Baptist Church, Newport News VA. My notation was that "Brian Carvell came for baptism and Debbie Karnes and David Cecil joined by letter." The second time was 3/1/81 at Wyckoff Baptist Church, Wyckoff NY. The third time was at our home church during the time we were at Northeastern Bible College, Madison Baptist Church, Madison NJ, during the evening service on 3/8/81. The fourth time was Una Baptist Church, Nashville TN, on 6/19/83.
My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will bring the message alive both to warn and encourage believers to keep their love for the Lord Jesus Christ fresh.
Subject: The Greatest Danger Facing the Church
Text: Revelation 2:4
"Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love."
Are you a church member? If so, what IN YOUR OPINION is the greatest danger facing the church today? More personal--what is the greatest danger facing you as a Christian? Such is the problem of this message. The answer given by Jesus is SHOCKING, DISCONCERTING AND STARTLING. Let us explore it together. "Nevertheless, I have against thee" (somewhat" is not in the Greek) because thou hast left thy first love" verse 4. The text is lifted from the address of Jesus Himself to the Ephesian church recorded in Revelation 2:1-7.
In the first century, seven churches of Asia-Minor played a great part in the early spread of the gospel. Most prominent of these was the church in the great metropolitan city of Ephesus--greatest city of the province. Ephesus was a flourishing, commercial city with a large harbor--ccommodating the biggest ships. It was on the Cayster River (a few miles inland from the Aegean Sea). Gateway of Asia--trade routes. One of the richest cities in the Roman Empire. Greeks built temple to Diana--largest Greek temple in the world, (one of seven wonders; 425' x 225'x 60' high--with 130 columns.) Today's city block is 300. Center of worship full of pageantry and ceremony. Orgies/Prostitutes/mutilations, (24,000 gathered in amphitheater lamenting the vile city.) Political center. Home of greatest bank in the world. Held most famous games in Asia yearly. Center of crime and immorality.
THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS--means "Desired One" See Acts 18-20
"Paul met certain men and told them about Jesus and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 19:2)
"Paul preached boldly for three months telling what he believed and why. Persuading man to believe in Jesus." (Acts 19:8).
"Preached daily for everyone--both Jews and Gentiles heard the Lord's message. GREAT POWER--(vv 19-20)--book burning which indicates how deeply the whole area was stirred by God's message".
"So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed" (Acts 19:20).
HISTORY OF THIS CHURCH IS THAT OF GLORIOUS CONQUEST
Paul stayed two full years in Ephesus--stayed longer than in any other city, wrought wonderful miracles. Even handkerchiefs that Paul would touch would be taken to the sick and the sick would be healed. Wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. Later wrote the epistle of Ephesians (one of Paul's prison epistles c 60-62 AD) to them. Calls them "saint", "holy", "forgiven", "redeemed", "sealed by the Holy Spirit" "fellow citizens of the household of God".
Aquilla and Priscilla were there. Apollos--most brilliant pulpier who ever preached the Gospel of the Son of God was converted there--polished orator and expounder of the faith. Timothy was their pastor. Paul wrote 1 Timothy to him while he was there.
John, author of Apocalypse/Fourth Gospel/Three epistles
came to live in Ephesus around 60 A.D., fleeing terrible war in Judea that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem. Legend that he brought Mary the Mother of Jesus to live there--and she was buried there. Served that church for 30 or 40 years. From there exiled to Isle of Patmos.
LET'S LOOK CAREFULLY AT THE TEXT.
The vision of Christ--His presence in the churches
Note the vision of Christ as He walked in the midst of the lampstands, Christ's presence in the church and the availability of His power.
"Where two or three are gathered"
A. Lampstand--holds light, but has no light of its own.
A lampstand gets its light from the oil or electricity generating through it. Child of God, church is a means of light, but Christ is the light. He uses churches and His children as lampstands to convey this light.
B. "Unto the angel" --messenger entrusted with a communication that comes from the "courts" of heaven. This is the primary purpose of preaching. "Faith cometh by hearing" Romans 10:7. The sermon is the center of the Christian public worship service. The Pastor of the church--servant of God is to hear the word that God speaks. Hear from God, receive from God, take the word from God's hand and deliver it to God's people. Nehemiah 8:8. The angel is to say what God wants His people to hear. The message he is to deliver is what God wants preached to His people. SO WHAT THE ANGEL DELIVERS IS AS FROM THE MOUTH AND LIPS AND HEART AND MIND OF THE LORD GOD HIMSELF.
C. Greek picture is that Christ has complete control--right hand--whole object is gripped and grasped within the hand.
D. "I know"--The Lord wants us never to forget that He knows when we do our best--when we sin.
Christ's words of commendation. A mountain!
A. I Know Thy Works and Thy Labor. Pouring their lives and souls and hearts into their business for God.
EVANGELISTIC--great ardor and enthusiasm for souls.
Active, energetic--IN BUSINESS FOR THE LORD. WORKING AT IT. "LABOR" to the point of sweat and exhaustion. Toil--working at a cost--taking something out of them. Not something incidental to them. KIND OF TOIL THAT TAKES EVERYTHING OF MIND AND SINEW THAT A MAN CAN PUT INTO IT. Reminded of David: "Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which would cost me nothing" ( 2 Samuel 24:24).
A LIFETIME OF LABOR OF SOME OF US WOULD NOT
EXHAUST A BUTTERFLY. MANY LOVE TO EAT OF THE CLUSTERS OF THE VINEYARD: FEW LOVE TO TOIL IN ITS CULTIVATION.
THE ONLY WAY TO GET PEOPLE OUT OF THE WORLD IS TO GET THEM INTO A VIGOROUS PROGRAM AT CHURCH.
B. "Patience". Steadfast endurance. Triumphant fortitude.
No matter how Ephesian Christians were beaten down, discouraged or persecuted, they did not quit. They stayed with the work.
C. A Separated Church. A true church is IN the world, but not OF the world.
"And how thou canst not bear them which are evil." ...noticed/cognizant of/sensitive to PRESENCE OF EVIL. No alcoholic beverages. Immorality preached against. It is possible to get so accustomed to evil that you barely notice it.
D. Orthodox: Could not bear false doctrine. Tried those who said they were apostles. False doctrines did not get a foothold.
ARE TEACHINGS CONSISTENT AND FAITHFUL WITH THE WORD OF GOD?
E. Autonomous Church--a movement to subject the people of God to one or more powerful leaders. "hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes". Means "conqueror of people"--effort to divide people into clergy and laity.
Hate sin--love sinners. God's holy anger is kindled against sin. His love for the sinner never wearies and grows cold.
NOW WHAT COULD JESUS POSSIBLY HAVE AGAINST THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS? TESTIMONY WILL BE REMOVED
The complaint of our Lord
Jesus walks among the lampstands. The congregation is less than 30 years old. He pours in sacred oil. He takes out impurities. He trims the wick and He makes the light to shine. He walks among His churches with eyes as a flame of fire with penetration. He sees everything among His people.
Our eyes are covered with the smoke of this world and we cann't see very well.
"Nevertheless I have against thee, namely this, thou hast left thy first love."
STARTLING! DISCONCERTING! Unless I possess that passionate love for God in my heart, all these other admirable traits are worthless.
Abounding deep joy.
Unction from above.
All out for God at any cost and any price.
Truly bright and happy days.
Hearts beat true to Him.
Communication of love (excitement).
Willing to charge hell with a water pistol.
There is something marvelous about a local church on fire for God. Where God is working God's presence is felt. Things are happening. In all the hustle and bustle of church work, they had forgotten their first calling of fellowship with the Son of God.
SPIRIT GRIEVED. Letting the wonderful experience of grace become commonplace.
SELLING OUT TOO CHEAP:
Spirit wanes. Not content with just the things of God: sermons, prayer meetings, reading the Word of God, singing. Take each other for granted. Service becomes mechanical and a form. ROUTINE. Cooling off of fervor. No place for emotion and praise. Icily regular. Cold. Without moving devotion. Self-complacent.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
It is possible to teach, drive a bus, sing, give, preach WITHOUT A BURNING LOVE IN THE HEART FOR JESUS AND GOD.
IN THE SCALES OF GOD MY PERSONAL LOVE FOR HIM OUTWEIGHS ALL THAT I MAY DO FOR HIM WITHOUT THAT LOVE.
Briefly, IF GOD HAS MY LOVE, HE HAS WHAT HE WANTS FROM ME.
PONDER THIS QUESTIONâ€”WHY DID GOD CREATE MAN?
(Imagine the Father, Son and Holy Spirit--design angel--what are you going to make now? What will you use him for?
The most important thing about anything is the primary use.
GOD WANTED A FREE BEING (not a machine) who could respond to His love and choose Him. When man chose God's companionship, "they walked together in the cool of the day."
Purpose gives direction and meaning to everything. God made us to love Him--not serve. You can serve without loving, but you can't love without serving. "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God--for God is love" (1 John 4:7).
FIRST LOVE. An interesting figure of speech. Have you ever been in love? Do you remember how you would go through any adverse conditions to be with that sweetheart? To be in that presence. Something within that made long distances--short, cold weather--warm, difficult situations--easy. The greatest commandment is given in Matthew 22:35-40 to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, spirit. Sin misses the mark of why God made us. THE TEST OF LOVE--you can't love someone you don't know--spend time with Him. You want to talk--seek His presence, establish a WATS line of prayer--the sweet talk of lovers, read His love letter to you--get in your room and shut the door.
"Our fathers were favored by you. We can't get you awake. Then trouble come into our situation." (Psalm 44). A picture of marriage--"Hearken, o daughter and consider and incline thine ear. Forget also thine own people and thy father's house. Shall the king greatly desire thy beauty; for He is thy Lord--worship Him." (Psalm 45).
Test # 1. Lost Joy. "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation"
Psalm 51. "The joy of the Lord is my strength" (Nehemiah 8:10). Lose joy, lose strength.
Test # 2. Lost Interest. A growing spirit of worldliness. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." When a person loses interest in one thing it shifts to another. You don't have to beg when a person is SPIRIT-CONTROLED.
Test # 3. Lost Burden. No concern, no tears. People are going to hell. If we donâ€™t weep, who will?
Test # 4. Attitude. "Beloved, if God so loved us we ought also to love one another"
1 John 4:11. "And above all things have fervent love among yourselves; for love shall cover the multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8). Critical/Censorious/sarcastic. By this shall all know you are my disciple" (John 13:35). Priorities will change.
Our Lord's word of counsel
"Let us search and try our ways. Let us lift up our hearts with our hands unto the God in the Heavens. We have transgressed and rebelled" (Lamentations 3:40-42).
A. Listen. "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve. If God be God, follow Him--if Baal, follow him."
B. Remember. Take inventory. How long since you looked in God's face? MEMORY can often be the first step on the way back. Luke 15:17--Prodigal. First it is essential to realize that something is wrong.
C. Repentance. Admission that the fault is ours and accept personal responsibility. GODLY SORROW--OR--LOSE TESTIMONY. "I have played the fool and I have erred exceedingly [Saul]"(1 Samuel 26.21).
D. Do. God be merciful. "By their fruits ye shall know them."
"Bring forth fruits meet for repentance." No man has truly repented when he goes and does the same thing again. A changed life is the proof. Christians who are unwilling to yield all talents/capabilities to Jesus have a love problem. If our love for Christ Jesus is what it should beâ€”no task is too great/no sacrifice too much. "If ye love me, keep my commandments." More precious to the Lord Jesus than the constellations in the heavens are the churches He bought with His own blood. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it. He died for His people. The church was born in like manner as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam. The church was born out of His side, in the blood and tears and sacrifice of Jesus. He loves His church.
"YOU HAVE LEFT YOUR FIRST LOVE. REMEMBER therefore from whence thou are fallen."
The light does not burn apart from personal love for Jesus; when love dies, light goes out. USELESSNESS invites disaster. Light bulb ceases to shine and the custodian throws it away. Paul: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods (and put it in the collection plate), and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three, BUT THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE" (1 Corinthians 13).
Ephesus is a scene of ENDLESS DESOLATION. Harbor is filled with silt. Giant lizards. A marsh. See the outline of biggest theater on earth at that time 24,000. Pond breeds malaria-bearing mosquitoes.
THE FOUNDATION OF ALL OUR SINGING AND TEACHING AND MINISTRY OUGHT TO BE A GREAT DEEP-SEATED LOVE FOR JESUS.
"I love the Lord". Refrains/Reverberation/Echo.
Return to a day-by-day intimate fellowship with love for Jesus. Draw close to the Lord. Feed upon His Word. Exercise in things of the Spirit.