The Love for Christ
Sermon Text: Revelation 2:1-7
These churches were in such different states as to purity of doctrine and the power of godliness, that the words of Christ to them will always suit the cases of other churches, and professors. Christ knows and observes their state; though in heaven, yet he walks in the midst of his churches on earth, observing what is wrong in them, and what they want. The church of Ephesus is commended for diligence in duty. Christ keeps an account of every hour’s work his servants do for him, and their labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. But it is not enough that we are diligent; there must be bearing patience, and there must be waiting patience. And though we must show all meekness to all men, yet we must show just zeal against their sins. The sin Christ charged this church with, is, not the having left and forsaken the object of love, but having lost the fervent degree of it that at first appeared. Christ is displeased with his people, when he sees them grow remiss and cold toward him. Surely this mention in Scripture, of Christians forsaking their first love, reproves those who speak of it with carelessness, and thus try to excuse indifference and sloth in themselves and others; our Savior considers this indifference as sinful. They must repent: they must be grieved and ashamed for their sinful declining, and humbly confess it in the sight of God. They must endeavor to recover their first zeal, tenderness, and seriousness, and must pray as earnestly, and watch as diligently, as when they first set out in the ways of God. If the presence of Christ’s grace and Spirit is slighted, we may expect the presence of his displeasure. Encouraging mention is made of what was good among them. Indifference as to truth and error, good and evil, may be called charity and meekness, but it is not so; and it is displeasing to Christ. The Christian life is a warfare against sin, Satan, the world, and the flesh. We must never yield to our spiritual enemies, and then we shall have a glorious triumph and reward. All who persevere, shall derive from Christ, as the Tree of life, perfection and confirmation in holiness and happiness, not in the earthly paradise, but in the heavenly. This is a figurative expression, taken from the account of the garden of Eden, denoting the pure, satisfactory, and eternal joys of heaven; and the looking forward to them in this world, by faith, communion with Christ, and the consolations of the Holy Spirit. Believers, take your wrestling life here, and expect and look for a quiet life hereafter; but not till then: the word of God never promises quietness and complete freedom from conflict here.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- Can a working church sometimes focus on working for Jesus while eclipsing a love relationship with Him? Do we put what we do for Jesus before who we are in Him? A cooling of personal love for God inevitably results in the loss of harmonious relationships within the body of believers. Jesus had made it clear that “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Love for other believers is the distinctive badge of Christian discipleship, but at Ephesus hatred of heresy and extensive involvement in the works appropriate to faith had allowed the first fresh glow of love for God and one another to fade.
- Are you “going through the motions” of good works, motivated not by the love of and for Christ, but by the works themselves. Has once a love relationship with God cooled into mere religion? For the loss of a vital love relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ opens the doors to spiritual apathy, indifference to others, love for the world, compromise with evil, judgment, and, ultimately, the death of the church altogether. Let us not lose our warmth, zeal and passion for Christ so that we do not become little more than cold orthodoxy.
- Are we taking care that our church is not only a doctrinally pure church but a loving church? Sometimes a focus on doctrinal purity will make a congregation cold, suspicious, and intolerant of diversity. “When love dies orthodox doctrine becomes a corpse, a powerless formalism. Adhesion to the truth sours into bigotry when the sweetness and light of love to Jesus depart” (Spurgeon). We must seek a love that includes a love for God and Christ, love for each other, and love for the lost. It is love defined as obedience (2 John 1:6). We must not sink to a place where we carry out our Christian responsibilities with diminishing love for our Lord and others.
- Do you keep in mind that the exalted Christ knows what goes on among his people? Your deeds? Your hard work? Your perseverance? Kopos (toil) denotes labor to the point of sweat and exhaustion. It describes an all-out effort, demanding all that a person has to give-physically, mentally and emotionally. The Ephesians were diligent workers for the cause of Christ. Theirs was no spectator mentality; they did not want merely to be entertained. Nor were they content to eat the fruit of others’ labor, but were willing to plow, plant, and harvest their own crop. In the midst of the pagan darkness that surrounded them, they were aggressively evangelizing the lost, edifying the saints and caring for those in need. Do not lose heart in your deeds and hard work for your perseverance will glorify our Lord.
- What were the Ephesians persevering against? Note that perseverance is translated hupomonē in this context, which denotes patience in trying circumstances. In contrast, its synonym, makrothumia, generally emphasizes patience with people. Hupomonē does not denote a grim, fatalistic resignation, but a courageous acceptance of hardship, suffering and loss. This commendation indicates that, for His name’s sake, despite their difficult circumstances, the Ephesian believers had not grown weary (Galatians 6:9)—they had not yielded to disappointment, ingratitude or criticism. They remained faithful to the Lord, loyal to His Word and to the work to which He had called them. The question must be asked, are you persevering for His name’s sake in the mist of the difficulties of this world?
- How can a local congregation lose its “first love” for Jesus? What are the signs of genuine love for Jesus in worship and ministry? How does the lack of love show up? How can a congregation regain this love?
- What does it mean to have the affections of a first love? The first love which characterized the Ephesians was the zeal and ardor with which they embraced their salvation as they realized they loved Christ because He first loved them (1 John 4:19) and that it was His love for them that had made them “alive together with Christ.” So overwhelmed were they by the joy that came from understanding their former state—dead in trespasses and sins—and their new life in Christ, that they exhibited the fruit of that joy (Ephesians 2:1-5). Because of God’s great love for the Ephesians, they were “made alive in Christ” and that new life was exhibited in the passion of gratitude. That passion for the Savior spilled over onto one another and out to those in the culture they lived.
- Do you have an intolerance for people professing to be something that they were not? These Ephesians “tested out the spirits” and believed not everything that someone said (1 John 4:1). Ignatius, leader of the church in Antioch, wrote about the Ephesians: “You all live according to truth, and no heresy has a home among you; indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone if they speak of anything except concerning Jesus Christ in truth.”
- What first love did the Ephanians leave? As Christians, we are told to love God and to love one another. Did they leave their love for God? Did they leave their love for one another? Probably both are in mind, because the two loves go together. You can’t say you love God and not love His family, and you can’t really love His family without loving Him first. The Ephesians had a definite, sure difference in their relationship with Jesus. Things weren’t as they used to be. It isn’t that we expect that we should have the exact same excitement we had when everything was brand new in the Christian life, but the newness should mature into a depth of love that makes it even better than the first love.
- Are you feeling like the Ephesian congregation in a loss of your first love? Adam and Eve forsook their first love and paid for the consequences of their sin. We need to always remember from where we have fallen. This means remembering where we used to be in our love for the Lord and for one another. Repent—this is not a command to feel sorry, or really to feel anything. It means to change our direction, to go a different way. It is an urgent appeal for instant change of attitude and conduct, before it is too late. Do you remember your first works? How you used to spend time in His Word? How you used to pray? The enjoyment in getting together with other Christians? How excited you were about telling others about Jesus? These are the basics we must get back to— the very first things we did when we first fell in love with Jesus. Don’t let Satan do his masterful job in creating a sense of general dissatisfaction with these first works.
- What does an overcomer overcome? We usually think of overcoming in dramatic terms of overcoming sin and in spiritual warfare, but here Jesus seems to speak of overcoming of their coldness of heart and lack of love marked by leaving their first love. The overcomers in Revelation are not those who have conquered an earthly foe by force, but those who have remained faithful to Christ to the very end. For who is an overcomer? “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5). All true believers are overcomers, who have by God’s grace and power overcome the damning power of the evil world system. We know that the God of love hates sin and wants His people to also hate sin. While love is the typical Christian attitude, love for the good carries with it a corresponding hatred for what is wrong. For the Christian life is a warfare against sin, Satan, the world and the flesh. We must never yield to our spiritual enemies, and then we shall have a glorious triumph and reward. All who persevere, shall derive from Christ, as the Tree of life, perfection and confirmation in holiness and happiness, not in the earthly paradise, but in the heavenly.
- Are you letting the sermon you hear reach your heart and allowing the Spirit to enlighten? Consider what H.W. Beecher said, “The churches of the land are sprinkled all over with bald-headed old sinners whose hair has been worn off by the constant friction of countless sermons that have been aimed at them and glanced off and hit the man in the pew behind.” The Spirit’s role within the community of Christ’s disciples is to remind them of God’s love and truth in order to convict them of their sin and to bring about their repentance in the light of God’s truth (John 16:13–15).
- Are you in danger of a certain amount of false teaching in what someone says or some so-called Christian writing? For John warned of the “many deceivers [who] have gone out into the world” (2 John 1:7) and cautioned believers, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring [true biblical] teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting” (2 John 1:10). Paul confronted false “apostles” in Corinth and unmasked them with this description: “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore, it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Ephesus Historical Background
It is appropriate that the first letter should be sent to Ephesus. It was the most important city of proconsular Asia. Situated at the mouth of the Cayster River on a gulf of the Aegean Sea, it flourished as an important commercial and export center for Asia. The traveler from Rome landing at Ephesus would proceed up a magnificent avenue thirty-five feet wide and lined with columns that led from the harbor to the center of the city. Ephesus was part of the kingdom of Pergamum, which Attalus III bequeathed to Rome in 133 B.C. By NT times it had grown to more than a quarter of a million in population. Its commercial importance was heightened by the fact that three great trade routes converged at the city (from the Euphrates by way of Colossae, from Galatia through Sardis, and from the Maeander valley to the south and east).
Although Ephesus was not the titular capital of Asia (Pergamum retained this honor), it was a city of great political importance. As a free city it had been granted by Rome the right of self-government. It also served as an assize city in which the Roman governor on a regular schedule tried important cases and dispensed justice. It boasted a major stadium, marketplace, and theater. The latter was built on the west slope of Mt. Pion overlooking the harbor, and seated some 25,000 persons.
The imperial cult was not neglected in Ephesus. Temples were built to the emperors Claudius, Hadrian, and Severus. The major religious attraction, however, was the Temple of Artemis (Diana in Latin), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. About four times the size of the Parthenon, it was adorned by the work of many great artists. After a devastating fire in 356 B.C. that destroyed the first temple, it was rebuilt, with Dinocrates (who later built Alexandria) as architect. Pliny the elder gives the dimensions of the temple as 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high. He also notes that the 127 pillars were of Parian marble, with thirty-six of them overlaid with gold and jewels. Artemis herself was originally an Anatolian fertility goddess, but under the influence of Greek culture she had become the focus of an extensive religious cult.
The worship of Artemis was unspeakably vile. Her idol was a gross, many-breasted monstrosity, popularity believed to have fallen from heaven (Acts 19:35). The temple was attended by numerous priests, eunuchs, and slaves. Thousands of priestesses, who were little more than ritual prostitutes, played a major role in the worship of Artemis. The temple grounds were a chaotic cacophony of priests, prostitutes, bankers, criminals, musicians, dancers, and frenzied, hysterical worshipers. The philosopher Heraclitus was called the weeping philosopher because no one, he declared, could live in Ephesus and not weep over its immorality (William Barclay). Paragraph excerpt from John MacArthur’s Revelation Commentary.
The Christian faith came to Ephesus perhaps with Aquila and Priscilla about A.D. 52 when Paul left them there enroute from Corinth to Antioch (Acts 18:18–22). On his next missionary journey, the apostle remained in Ephesus for more than two years (Acts 19:8; Acts 19:10), and some time later Timothy ministered there (1 Timothy 1:3). It was the apostle John, however, who is most closely associated with the city.
(From New International Commentary – NT)
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