I am currently involved in preaching a series of sermons entitled “Awakening.” These messages deal with the idea of personal renewal or revival or as the subtitle of Awakening reads, “Life as it should be.” Before I dive in to deeply, let me offer some preliminary thoughts. I believe revival as it has traditionally been called, it not about a series of revival meetings. Secondly, I suggest that revival, from a biblical perspective, is predominantly focused on the lives of believers and their personal walk with the Lord Jesus. And finally, I believe revival/renewal must first be desired in the lives of individual members of a congregation. Church revival begins in you and me!
This week I want us to focus upon a familiar text from Revelation chapter 2.
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. "'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.' (ESV)
Allow me to begin by asking, how do we know a person is in love? Our answers will vary, but I believe we can agree that love between two people is more than just a statement such as I love you. Love is truly an action word!
As we approach the biblical text, we will see that Jesus rebukes the church at Ephesus because they “have abandoned the love they had at first.” You might read in your copy of God’s word that they had lost their first love.
So before Jesus addresses the issue of love, He commends this congregation for a few things. In verses 2-3, this church is commended for their works. Now please don’t assume that these are plans which they have devised. Works refers here to tasks. These works are tasks that the congregation has committed themselves to accomplish and they keep their word. They are affirmed for their labors. Literally they toil until they can’t do it anymore. The church at Ephesus doesn’t stop serving when they reach a certain age. They are wholeheartedly committed to being the church that God desires. Maybe.
They are commended for their patient endurance. They are a people who don’t give up even in the middle of tribulation. They don’t give up when things don't go as they want. In addition, they don’t bear with those who are evil and those false apostles (lying preachers). And while the commendations are wonderful, Jesus says, “I have this against you.”
In His rebuke, Jesus not only says they have abandoned (fallen from) their first love, He tells them to remember. He says, “Remember from where you have fallen.”
This past week my family and I took one last summer excursion to the western NC mountains and during our time away we visited Grandfather Mountain. If you know me, I’m afraid of heights. So my suggestion that we visit this mountain is a little strange. The last time we visited, I had a full blown panic attack upon our arrival in the parking lot atop this mountain. It was bad. But I decided this time would be different. Yes, I actually walked across the mile-high swinging bridge. I even got my picture made as I stood upon the mile-high marker on the bridge.
Now if I had fallen from this bridge and somehow survived, I really do believe I would remember the fall. If I fall off a ladder, I believe I would remember. But Jesus tells the Ephesian church to remember from where they had fallen. Why in the world would they not remember, I ask?
i submit that any loving relationship must be nurtured if it is going to last. A “love in action” must be practiced. i’ve known instances where two people who are in love, stay together for a time and because they did not nurture their love for each other, the relationship didn’t last. The same can be true as it relates to our personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
For example, you have a salvation experience. You recognize the Holy Spirit of God at work and you recognize your need for a Savior. You make a decision to receive His forgiveness and you are elated. You’re overflowing with excitement because you are forgiven and set free. You now can live for Jesus. But over time, the excitement wanes. And if not dealt with, you discover that there is little if any Bible reading. You discover your quality time with the Lord in prayer is no longer a necessity. You have walked away from the church and pretty much living your life according to your desires and plans.
Please note with me… Ephesus was commended for some good things. But they were no longer in love with Jesus! You may recall the story of Martha and Mary as noted in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus has visited their home and Martha has decided that a delicious meal is in order so she finds herself in the kitchen. Martha becomes frustrated because her sister, Mary is in the living room worshipping at Jesus feet. Why Mary ought to be helping me, Martha perhaps thought. But Jesus addressed the situation and said to Martha that Mary had chosen the best thing. Listen, Martha wasn’t doing anything bad, but Mary was focused on the best thing.
It is very possible for any Christian to forsake their first love. It happens slowly over a period of time thus it is difficult to recognize. Perhaps the Lord would write in His letter to you and me… “My child, you’re involved in some good work, but you now love the work or activity more than you love me.” Has anything overwhelmed your love for Jesus? What things are competing for your love at this time in your life? What adjustments is the Holy Spirit directing you to make? Jesus’ answer to the dilemma facing the Ephesian church and you and me today is this: Remember, Repent, and Return.
Carlyle Hall, Jr.