When you go to a restaurant, you can often tell what’s important to them based on what happens while you’re there:
A restaurant might have hired a five-star chef, serve food you can’t pronounce, and for a price you can’t afford because they love quality.
Another might have a laid-back atmosphere, chilled jazz music, and eclectic decorations because they love atmosphere.
Another might have inexpensive prices, smiling faces, and quick turnover on dishes because they love customers.
There’s a restaurant on one of Gordon Ramsay’s show a while back called Amy’s Baking Company. And after watching the episode, it’s pretty obvious that Amy’s Baking Company loved their own Amy. There were photos of her hanging throughout the restaurant. The food took hours to complete because Amy needed her time to work. The customers were sent away without any of their complaints being answered because Amy was always right. Even Gordon Ramsay left the show without turning the restaurant around because they didn’t love becoming a good restaurant as much as they loved Amy.
It’s easy to tell what a restaurant loves by looking at how they operate. It’s the same thing with churches:
This church loves community outreach.
This church loves beautiful music.
This church loves fantastic architecture.
Today we are continuing our series called Dear Church. It’s a series in which we examine letters from Jesus to seven different churches. The letter for today looks at a church that had the wrong love. Our goal: Identify what that love is, compare it with what we love as Gethsemane Church, and consider what we should love most of all.
Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Wrong Kind of Love
The lesson comes from Revelation 2:1. Take a look at the beginning of this letter from Jesus: “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.”
A few notes:
The letter is written to the angel. That’s either a reference to (1) an actual angel or more likely (2) the pastor of the church in Ephesus. Angel literally means “messenger” and since the pastor is the messenger bringing God’s Word to the people, the angel could easily represent that.
This church is the one in Ephesus. Ephesus was a church that started up after Paul did some groundwork there during his second missionary journey. If you remember, that’s the place where Paul stayed for two years until a riot started by the merchants and workers behind the Artemis of the Ephesians industry. Granted that would have been around 45 A.D. and Revelation would be around 90 A.D. So, a great period of time has passed within this church.
The one writing the letter is John, but these are the words of Jesus. Flashback to last week’s sermon:
Jesus is the one holding the seven stars.
Jesus is the one walking among the golden lampstands.
Jesus is the one speaking to his churches.
And remember, Revelation 1:20 reveals that the lampstands are the churches.
The symbolism is that Jesus walks amongst his churches.
He is there with his people.
He is with believers.
He is with YOU.
This was true for the Ephesian church. Jesus had been with the Ephesian church, he knows a thing or two about what is important to them. Look at what Jesus says to them:
I know your deeds. (v.2a) I know how you’ve been bringing bread to the local widows. I know how you’ve helped the poor in your community. I know how you’ve been kind to any foreigners who come to the area.
I know your hard work and your perseverance. (v.2b) I know that you’ve been battling city ordinances aimed against you at the hands of idol making industry. I know that some of your members have left because of persecution. I know that you’ve gathered up extra funds just to keep the church’s budget above water.
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people. (v.2c) I know that you speak out against the greed of the city. I know you speak out against the temple prostitution ring. I know that you speak out against the local merchants as they go get wasted every evening after work.
I know that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them false. (v. 2d) I know that people have been coming to you claiming to be from Jesus, but they teach anything but Jesus. I know that rather than keep them around, you called them out. You pointed out their hypocrisy. You told them what was right.
You have persevered.
You have endured hardships for my name.
You have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. (v.3b-4)
Do you see the problem? Because as the letter begins, Jesus addresses them doing a bunch of things that a church ought to be doing!
It looked like there wasn’t any problem with what they were doing.
At least, not to the human eye.
Jesus’ eyes, are blazing fire. (1:14)
And his eyes saw the heart.
And their hearts had forsaken their first love.
And their hearts now had the wrong love.
TRUTH: The Ephesian church had the WRONG love.
Because they had forsaken their first love. Their first love was Jesus. When Paul had brought the message of the Gospel to them forty years earlier, they had loved the incredible news that he brought.
They loved how Jesus had been the only real God in a city of fake gods.
They loved how Jesus had made them a part of His kingdom.
They loved how Jesus had brought them forgiveness.
They loved how Jesus gave them confidence in the promise of eternal life.
But now, years later…
But now, years removed from when they first believed.
But now, they loved something else.
Now they had the wrong love.
Since this letter was written down and preserved, we’re able to reflect upon it today. Here’s where it’s a big deal. When our love becomes anything other than Jesus.
1) Doing Good
There’s a lot of good for churches to do: Food banks, food drives, working with youth, working with seniors, working with children, helping widows, helping veterans, singing down at the retirement home, knitting sweaters for refugees, collecting Toys for Tots, Bottles for Babies, and Doritos for Daddy’s.
It’s not wrong to do good.
It’s not wrong to love doing good.
In fact, if you aren’t doing any good, there’s a problem in your church.
If the thing you love most is simply “doing good” …
Did you know that the Church of Satan has a Facebook page? It’s a church dedicated to worshipping Satan. The page is filled with pictures of the devil and ancient cult-like worship. But it’s also filled with a request for socks.
The church of Satan ran a sock drive. They collected dry socks to give out to the homeless in their area. The idea was simply to “do good” and help people in the community.
And so I ask…
If all we love is doing good, then what’s the difference between this church and the church of Satan?
If we leave out Jesus, then what’s the difference between us and anything else?
Enduring as a church can get hard. You lose a couple of members. The cost of keeping a building open increases. The budget becomes harder and harder to make work.
So, if you have been around for a while, that’s awesome. You might love the fact that you’ve been around for awhile and you might be wiling to do whatever it takes to continue to be around for a while.
But if you love enduring more than anything…
Then, maybe you don’t teach what God’s Word says about hell. (We don’t want people to leave.)
Maybe you don’t rebuke that church member for sleeping with his girlfriend. (We don’t want to upset him.)
Maybe you don’t call out that church leader who gives a lot of money for bitter attitude because (We need his funds to survive.)
Suddenly, you’re enduring.
But not as a church of Jesus.
3) Hating Evil
Understand. God hates evil, too.
In fact, God is holy.
That means he hates evil more than you ever could.
But if our first love is pointing out evil:
Then, I imagine my sermons would just be about how bad everyone is out there.
Your homework would be to go on Facebook and put an angry face next to every article that supports something evil.
Our elder’s job would be to simply go onto blog posts and write angry messages.
Without mentioning Jesus.
Imagine that you were struggling with lying. Lying is a sin. Lying is evil. Then, you came to me and said: “Pastor, I have been lying. It’s wrong. It’s a sin. I’m so sorry.”
And I leaned in.
Looked you in the eye.
Then said: “You know lying is an awful sin deserving of God’s hellfire wrath. Go and do better or else.”
How do you feel?
Close to Jesus?
Here’s the truth:
If we loving “Hating evil” more than Jesus, then it leads us to not teach Jesus.
And if we don’t teach Jesus, isn’t that…
4) Being Right
At the time of the Early Church, pastors would travel from city to city. They’d introduce themselves as “a pastor of Jesus” and then ask to preach in the local church.
The problem is that some people weren’t really teachers of what Jesus taught. As they’d begin preaching things that Jesus didn’t teach and say things that Jesus didn’t. So, it was good for the church in Ephesus to point out where those apostles were wrong so that they didn’t lead people away from Jesus.
The problem was that over time the church seemed to stop teaching what was right because it would lead the people to Jesus, but because it meant “they were right.”
I think this is an especially important warning for our church. As Lutherans we trace our roots back to people who defend the truth. 500 some years ago a monk named Martin Luther defend the truth that we are saved by faith in Jesus against Catholic teaching that we had to earn it. 50 some years ago our group of Lutherans decided to hold to the truth instead of teaching what the Bible doesn’t say like so many other varieties of Lutherans.
But if our main love becomes “Being right” instead of “teaching Jesus”, then suddenly:
We aren’t right.
And all of this about the wrong love is a big deal. Look at what Jesus says next: 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. (2:5)
Remember what the lampstand represented?
Remember who walks among them?
And Jesus says that you if you are a church that keeps having the wrong love, he’s going pick up your lampstand, remove it from where he walks, and leave you by yourself.
Do you get it?
If you are a church whose first love is not Jesus, then, you are NOT a church.
If you aren’t a church, then you aren’t part of God’s family.
And if you aren’t a part of God’s family, then you’re far from Jesus.
II. The Right Love
The word used for love in verse 4 is AGAPE. AGAPE is a Greek word that means, “unconditional love.” It’s a love that’s all the time. It’s a love that’s independent. It’s a love that continues from one side, even when the other side does not reciprocate.
It’s also a type of love that humans fail miserably at.
That’s why in the Bible humans aren’t often described as having that type of love.
Most often the one described as having that type of love is God.
Because God is AGAPE…This is AGAPE: not that we AGAPED God, but that he AGAPED us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 Jn. 4:8, 10)
Do you get it?
Even when our first love is lost.
Even when we love other things more than God.;
Even when our love for Him grows cold.
God’s love for us does not.
God’s first love is YOU.
God loved you more than being in heaven.
God loved you more than staying away from this world.
God loved you more than suffering.
So, God came to earth.
God loved you more than his own blood.
God loved you more than his own breath.
God loved you more than his own life.
God lived for you.
God died for you.
God rose for you.
And that “first love” is more than just ordinally. As in, “you are my number one.”
God also loved you chronologically “first.”
Because God didn’t say: “I’ll wait up until you love me back before I do this.”
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
While we were still with the wrong love, God showed love for us.
While we were still void of love for Him, God filled our hearts with His love.
In fact, that leads to a second truth:
Because God loved us FIRST God is our FIRST LOVE.
It’s like Kool Aid. If had a cup of Kool Aid and I wanted to give you Kool Aid, but didn’t have any Kool Aid in my cup, then I couldn’t give you any Kool Aid because of my severe lack of Kool Aid.
When God is involved.
And God is a pitcher of Kool Aid.
And God pours his love in my heart.
Then, God has just enabled me to show love.
Love for God.
Love for Jesus.
Love for the Gospel
Love for others.
1 John 4:20 says this, “We love because Christ first loved us.”
The truth is that God’s loved empowers us to love him.
And our love for Jesus compels everything else.
Because notice that after Jesus reprimands the church for losing their first love, he gives them a compliment. He says: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (v.6)
Who exactly the Nicolaitans were is unknown.
That’s lost to history.
What isn’t lost to history is that Jesus was against them.
Which means the stuff that the Ephesians church had been doing, they should continue to do.
They should do good.
They should endure.
They should hate evil.
They should hold to what was right.
But they should do so, because of their love for Jesus.
Instead of doing good because “I love being called good;” we do good “because God is good to us.”
Instead of enduring because “I enjoy enduring;” we endure because “God’s love keeps us enduring.”
Instead of hating evil because “I like to think of myself not evil,” we hate evil because “God has saved me from evil.”
Instead of holding to what is right because “I like to be right,” we hold to what is right because the truth of Jesus is what saves.
III. WHAT NOW?
Look at how Jesus ends this letter to the Ephesians: Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (v.7a)
And if you’re wondering if that applies to you, put your hands to the side of your head.
Do you feel some flappy, cartilage things?
Those are ears.
You have them.
Please listen to Jesus’ letter.
Because I can’t look at your heart.
And you can’t look at mine.
So, God is asking each of us to look within ourselves:
To see where has our love grown cold.
Where have we loved other things more than Jesus.
When we find the answer, to repent:
To confess the wrong love that we have.
To return our first love, Jesus.
Look at Jesus’ promise: 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.” (v.7)
Doesn’t that sound good.
For you, paradise might be a trip to the beach, sitting under a fancy umbrella, sipping martini’s and listening to Bob Marley.
But this is the paradise of God.
What’s God’s version of paradise?
Being with you.
Apart from things that get in the way.
Apart from sin.
Apart from fear.
Apart from shame.
Apart from guilt.
Apart from pain.
Apart from death.
By the tree of life.
So you’re with him forever.
That’s God’s version of paradise.
To be beyond the very last, with his very first love.
May God keep our hearts strong with him. Amen.