When she first fell in love you could never get her to talk about anyone or anything else. All she wanted to tell the whole world was how He was her everything. She would go up to random strangers on the street and tell them about the things He had done for her showing the great love that He had for her. She knew it would be happily ever after for her and her Man. Her friends and family were happy for her, but were relieved when she finally stopped talking about Him all the time. Now she concentrated on her own inner purity. She was determined that there would never be a part of her that was fake about this relationship. Moreover, she hated the thought of flirting—let alone cheating—with anyone else. Of course He was glad she only had eyes for Him and that she was striving for such inner purity, but He had noticed that she no longer talked about Him in public or with her girlfriends or at family gatherings . He saw that even with all of her purity she had abandoned the love she had at first. His name is Jesus and she was the church in Ephesus. When she first fell in love with Jesus she wanted to tell the whole world. But now her love had grown cold. Jesus warned His disciples about this in Matthew 24:12-14, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” The golden lampstand that is the church in Ephesus was not shining her light into the world. She was not witnessing to Jesus. The church in Ephesus would close unless the love that they had at first was rekindled. For that matter any church not witnessing the gospel to the world is in danger of closing—even if our teaching is perfect . Thus in Revelation we see Jesus walking like a priest among the lampstands so that He can repair or remove the lampstands as necessary. Jesus said,
- Churches that can identify and reject false teaching are to be praised for it.
- We at Niagara Presbyterian Church are to be encouraged because we don’t want to hear false teaching. We don’t want to hear a message that seeks to call what is good ‘evil’ and to call what is evil ‘good.’ We hold fast, for example, to the teaching of Scripture that marriage is designed by God to be between a man and a woman. It is worthy of praise that we want to hear the truth to push back against the increasingly pagan culture around us. For another example, we refuse to mix our Christianity with the idolatry of consumerism. We don’t want to hear messages that say that we will only be satisfied and fulfilled if we have Jesus and lots of stuff. We seek satisfaction and fulfillment in Jesus alone knowing that consumerism would make us become like the things that we buy – we would become lifeless idols that are unable to hear or speak. So it is worthy of praise that we refuse to blend such modern idolatry with our faith in Jesus. We also need to be encouraged because we want to hear the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name and reject any message that is not the pure gospel. We hold fast to the teaching of Scripture that salvation is by grace alone and not by works.
- In the same way, Christ praised the Ephesians for being able to identify and reject false teachings. The fact that the church hated the Nicolaitans’ efforts to mix Ephesian idolatry and Christianity is especially impressive. The more we study the culture of Ephesus the more impressed we would be. For starters the teaching of the Nicolaitans would have been very attractive because the city was wealthy at least partly due to the trade associated with the pagan temple there. This was a church that had been planted in the midst of a thoroughly pagan environment but they were patiently enduring and they had not grown weary doing so. But not only were they able to reject the teaching of the Nicolaitans, they also were applauded by Christ for being able to identify and reject false apostles. False apostles would have taught that salvation is by grace and works of the law. The church knew the teaching of the apostles so well that they could identify these imposters by listening to them carefully. (Jesus could say all of these things in their favor because like us they didn’t want to hear false teaching and become like the world, but something more than right teaching about the law and gospel is necessary for a church to thrive rather than close.)
- Churches that thrive are full of people madly in love with Jesus.
- The church in Ephesus would close unless the love that they had at first was rekindled – by which Jesus is not talking about their love for one another but the love that they had for Him as shown by witnessing to the lost. That church understood the law and the gospel. They worked diligently to distinguish the truth from falsehood. Those are good things. But they weren’t sharing God’s word with the people around them any longer. The church was not taking that truth out into the world and witnessing to the lost. Indeed, they had all the right words about Jesus, they knew all the right theology, but Jesus was their lost love. And love for Jesus is expressed by witnessing to the lost. Now when we speak of the church in Ephesus we are speaking about the members of that church. Jesus was not calling for the church to start a new evangelism program, as much as that might or might not be helpful; He was calling the members of the church back to Him as their first love so that they might naturally express that love as witnessing to the lost world. Furthermore, there was no danger that this church would misunderstand Revelation to mean that witnessing is a good work that is necessary for one to be saved. They did not need to tell others about Jesus so that He would save them. Instead, if they had ears to hear, then they would speak the gospel to the world. In other words, each genuine believer in that church would repent and do the works that they did at first. Thankfully many of those in Ephesus who first received this letter did so and the lampstand was not removed as can be seen from the writing of the church father Ignatius. (But these words were not just written for them. Revelation 2:7a says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”)
- We too need to hear that our church will disappear if we don’t continue to fall in love with Jesus as shown by witnessing to the lost. If we are not witnessing to the lost it is because our love for Jesus has grown cold or we could put it that we have lost that first love. But, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says” to us. This language suggests that not everyone will repent, especially if we have become like idols unable to hear. We might even imagine a scenario where those with ears to hear will hear God speaking and go share the good news with the world but maybe there are not enough people in their congregation who do so for that particular church to thrive. But we cannot let that possibility discourage us for he or she who has an ear to hear, let that person hear what the Spirit says. And be encouraged by the promise of Revelation 2:7b: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” So we hear God is speaking to us and we believe His promise. Therefore, we experience a makeover where we don’t expect that the lost will come to us, we find the lost who have willingly wandered away from God and His people. We experience a makeover where we love Jesus and the world knows it because we tell them all about the things He has done for us showing His great love for us. We experience a makeover where we start talking about Him all the time with random strangers on the street and with our friends and family. We invite others to enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ or for those who have fallen away we invite them to rediscover that lost love. Indeed, for those whose love has grown cold we share the promises of the gospel of everlasting life for all who endure to the end. Likewise for those who have never fallen in love with Jesus, we tell them the promises of the gospel including saying to those who are aware of their sins, ‘Your sins are forgiven in Jesus’ name.’ We tell the world stories about Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors. We don’t worry about what words to use or what response we will get for we are in love. We don’t worry about being the only person we know who is head over heels for Jesus for we are in love. The tree of life awaits. Thanks be to God.