Sermon Series: Revelation 1-3--Change, Evaluate and Restore
Regaining Your First Love
In a nutshell: The way to find your first love–the Lord Jesus, is to Return, Repent, and Re-do.
A. Burke Quote
On the front of the "weekly information guide", that you were given as you came in this morning, you'll find a very perceptive quote by the great British statesman of the 18th century, Edmund Burke. He said in speech before the British parliament...
"Very seldom does a man take one giant step from a life of virtue and goodness into a life of vice and corruption. Usually, he begins his journey into evil by taking little steps into the shaded areas, areas tinted and colored just a bit, almost unnoticed by those around him. Until one day, hardly aware that he had made the journey, he finds himself firmly entangled in a life of vice and corruption."
B. Scripture bears this out
We see that same journey described by Burke, happening time after time in scripture. Let me give you a couple of examples...
In the book of Judges we read about a man by the name of Samson–one of Israel's heroes and judges. Just about everyone of you can recall something about his life from stories you've heard or lessons you learned in church. Samson started his life as a man of God. Most of his days were spent in a close relationship with Jehovah, God. The book of judges tells us that Samson started his day with God; He spent the day with God; and he ended his day with God.
But something happened. Gradually, Samson started flirting with evil. Little by little, pride, lust and selfishness began to replace his love and devotion to God. Then, in Judges 16, we read one of the saddest and most startling verses in the entire Bible...
Jehovah God–His power, and His guidance–had left Samson, and he didn't
even realize it!
Isn't that sad? Samson had become so deeply entangled in sin and had become so insensitive to God's presence in his life, that when God finally left him, Samson didn't even realize it!
2. King Saul
That same phenomenon happened with Israel's first king, Saul. As Saul is introduced to us in the Old Testament, we see a great beginning to a great life of potential. Here was a man with recognized leadership abilities, a man who was humble, and a man who loved God, and whom God loved, as well.
But gradually, over a period of almost 40 years, Saul turned his back on God. His humility gradually was replaced by pride. His leadership became suspect and led to some very bad decisions and alliances. He lost contact with God so that his love for God became non-existent–even to the point where he began consulting a witch (a follower of Satan), rather than God, for guidance and direction.
Quite a change over 40 years.
If I can paraphrase some of the quote from Edmund Burke that I began with, It isn't the giant step from virtue into corruption that we need to fear. It's the little steps that ultimately lead us away from God. And don't kid yourselves folks, it can happen to you and me as well! I say that, because it happened to a group of Christians who made up the church at Ephesus, in the first century. They are the subject of the first of seven processes of evaluation, change and restoration that the God, the Lord of the Church, the ascended Jesus, takes on in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the book of Revelation. Please turn to chapter two in your Bibles.
II. The Church at Ephesus
A. The city of Ephesus.
To appreciate the church at Ephesus it would be a good idea to learn something about the city. Ephesus was one of the five greatest cities in the ancient Roman Empire. It was a great commercial and religious center in the first century. The Temple of Diana, or Artemis, was considered one of the wonders of the world. That temple was four times the size of the great Parthenon at Athens. The population of Ephesus has been estimated to be over 300,000 people in 95 AD.
There was a magnificent road that was 70 feet wide and lined with columns that ran from the main harbor to the great theater. The great Ephesian theater, had a seating capacity of between 25,000 to 50,000, depending upon whose estimates you check. I understand that the remains of this theater can be seen today. This historic theater serves as a background for one of the great episodes of the early church, as recorded in the book of Acts.
There was a showdown in this theater between the silversmiths who made statues of the goddess Diana, and the apostle Paul and some of the Christians in the city. Paul had said publicly that man-made gods were no gods at all. And the silversmiths and artisans who made the idols of Diana became furious and afraid at this teaching, because they thought that if the people listened to Paul, they would lose their livelihood. So at a union meeting in this great theater, they started a huge riot that came close to being an all-out war. It's all recorded in Acts 19, if you want to read about it sometime.
B. The Biblical context.
Well, in this situation, Paul established the church in Ephesus. During his second missionary journey, Paul visited this city on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem. And he left the husband and wife team of Priscilla and Aquila in charge of the church.
While Paul was on his third missionary journey he spent over two years in Ephesus and had a successful ministry. In the book of Acts, we are told that "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul ... " (Acts 19:11) and "the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power" (v. 20). In fact, at least 12 other churches were started in Asia Minor, from the influence and ministry of this church in Ephesus.
Later, Paul sent Timothy to this church to be the pastor. During the time when Timothy was pastoring this church, Paul sent him two letters. We know these as 1st and 2nd Timothy. We also know that one of Paul's greatest letters in our New Testament, bears the name of this church--the letter to the Ephesians that we've been studying on Sunday nights. Later, John the Apostle, who is writing down these "unveiling scenes" in the book of Revelation, also came to Ephesus and pastored the second generation of Christians there, for a number of years.
With that in mind, let's look at what Jesus says to this church about 40 years after it started...
III. The Evaluation of Ephesus
A. The Good Qualities
The church at Ephesus had a number of positive things going for it, that deserved commendation.
1. First, it was a working church. Notice verse 2–it says, "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance." It must have had a lot of ministries and classes that involved its people in trying to introduce the pre-Christians of Ephesus to a relationship with Jesus Christ and teach them how to live as children of God. They must have been trying to change their community through all sorts of influences and programs. And they were achieving some success. This church was growing and having a significant impact in that corner of the world. And they weren't giving up in spite of living in a totally pagan culture– they persevered!
2. Also, notice that verse two says, "I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false." This church didn't tolerate sin in their midst. They practiced church discipline. They knew the difference between right and wrong. They strived to be people who were above reproach in their behavior.
3. Then look at verse 6. Here we see that they also opposed false doctrine and hated evil...
The Nicolaitans were a Christian cult who tried to compromise with the culture of the day and combine the teachings of Christ with the temple prostitution of the goddess Diana. So, it's obvious, these Ephesians Christian were solid, good, and righteous Christian men and women.
B. The Bad Quality
You see, there was a glaring problem that the Lord of the church, Jesus, Himself, saw in this hard working, right teaching, and doctrinally sound church... Look at verses 4 and 5...
I doubt that losing it's first love happened in one giant step. It wasn't that one day they decided not to love God any more. I can guarantee you it was a gradual thing.
-People who used to be convicted by the sermons that were preached, no longer
paid attention. -People coming to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and
being baptized, stopped exciting the church membership.
IV. Three Questions
Now, I have 3 questions that I want to consider in the rest of our time this
A. What is First Love?
Let's take that first question, first, "What is first love?"
1. Illustration: I remember when Diane and I were students at Wheaton College. My junior year, her senior year, we started dating. After about three months of dating, I told her I loved her, and she me. We couldn't stand to be apart. She waited for football practice to be over, so we could eat together. I would spend time with her in the Student Union office while she fulfilled her duties as on officer of the Student Union. She would keep me company as I washed the athlete's clothes, which was my part-time job, down in the bowels of Williston Hall. When we got married, I started seminary. We had nothing but wedding gifts, an unreliable car, and just enough money to rent our first apartment. But that didn't bother us. We said, "We'll live on love."
That's the way first love is, isn't it? It loves the object of its affection without reservation. It is being totally head-over-heels in love. It unselfishly gives itself to the other.
2. Now what is "first love" in God's eyes? It is the love that first brought you to God. It is the love that you experienced when you saw the cross for what it really was. It was when you realized that the blood of Jesus Christ was shed for your sin and you were overwhelmed with God's amazing love towards you. You could hardly take communion without crying, because you were overwhelmed with the thought of God's forgiveness of your sin. You could hardly sing the song, "My Jesus, I love Thee" without tears coming to your eyes. That's first love.
-First love looks at mountains of troubles and sees them as hills to conquer
in the name of Jesus.
Illustration: The apostle Paul is a good example of that first love. Paul recognized that he owed everything to God. Again and again he said, "I am the chief of sinners. I don't even deserve to be called an apostle." He was always very much aware of who he was now, and what he had been in the past. And he never ceased to be overwhelmed by the fact that God could love someone like him.
And when he thought about that, he called himself a "debtor" to God and a debtor to the Jews and to the Greeks and to the barbarians. In other words, because he had been so wondrously loved by God, he owed it to God and to those in his circle of influence to share that wonderful love with others.
That wonderful first love caused Paul to write these amazing words in ...
Do you hear Paul's heartbeat in those verses? Do you hear what he's saying? He is so much in love with God, and valuing so intensely what God values (lost people), that he was willing to be cursed and go to Hell himself, if it would mean that his fellow Jews would be saved.
That's the unselfish quality of first love.
B. How do you lose something as wonderful as First Love?
So, how do you lose something as exciting and as wonderful as first love? I would think that we would take very good care of it, and never take a chance on losing it. But that's not the way things work. We can lose it. So, how does that happen? Let me offer some suggestions.
1. Increased wickedness
Listen to these words in...
That's the way sin works. It doesn't take giant steps from virtue to corruption, just little steps. And as wickedness increases, this once wonderful, warm, unselfish, vibrant love in your life begins to grow cold like an ember that is all alone, no longer a part of the fire. And soon it will die.
2. No daily nourishment
Another way we lose that first love can be found in an illustration from marriage.
Illustration: Two people meet and fall in love. They spend precious time with each other, talking to one another, sharing their hopes and dreams. And when they're apart, they are thinking about each other, wishing they were together. Their love just seems to grow and mushroom. Then one day they become husband and wife. They build a cocoon of love around themselves and they say, "We will always be together. And life will be so wonderful."
But there are jobs to go to, and appointments to be kept, and stresses to be dealt with, and arguments and problems and family feuds and fusses. And all of these things pull on those two people, until soon the demands become so overwhelming that the love relationship begins to suffer.
Then one day the husband looks across the table at his wife, or vice versa, and they think, "That's not the person I married. That's a stranger. I don't know that person anymore." What's happened is that their love has been starved to death. All the other stuff of life kept it from being fed. So without daily nourishment, it began to die.
That's what happened in the Ephesian church. They had so many things going on that they stopped nurturing their love for Jesus. And eventually, that love got pushed into the background–and it was forsaken and forgotten.
C. How do you find a love that is lost?
So, here's the final question. How do you find a love that is lost?
Well, in verse 5, Jesus gives us a prescription that is very simple and very direct. He tells us to do three things. We can make them all start with the letter "R" to help us go back to them time and time again. Here they are...
1. Remember. Jesus says, "Remember the height from which you have fallen!"
The first thing is to think back to what it was like when you first entered into a relationship with God, or remember a time when you re-committed your life to following Him as the forgiver of your sin and the leader of your life. Remember the joy, the excitement, the enthusiasm you had for the things of God. Remember how you saw God's hand in every circumstance. Remember how you felt the presence of God in you. Remember the thankfulness you felt for your redemption. And ask Him to give you those feelings again. He will! That's the first step.
2. The second thing Jesus says in verse 5 is, "Repent".
Repent means to do a 180 degree turn and go the opposite direction. Let me
give you a few examples:
3. The last thing Jesus says to do in verse 5 is, "do the things you did
at first". I call this "Re-do".
Listen friends, there are times when every Christian man and woman needs to revive his or her love for the Lord. It's human nature is to get distracted.
Illustration: That's exactly what happened to one of the great missionary statesmen and preachers of the 20th century, Dr. E. Stanley Jones. He died in 1973, but before his death, one church leader called him the greatest missionary since the apostle Paul.
Dr. Jones came to his home church pastor one Sunday and said, "I have
grown cold in my faith." So, that pastor called the people of the church
forward, while Dr. Jones knelt. And the people of this church gathered around
him and began to pray for him. Later Dr. Jones wrote that as those people
prayed, he felt the hand of God upon him and he was renewed. Later he wrote
My friend, Jesus is calling you to come and soar again in His presence. Do you want to return to your first love, this morning? Amen.
This page was last updated on Sunday, October 31, 2004 03:36 PM