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 Ephesus - Efforts are no substitute for Love

Revelation 2:4

John Hoole February 19, 2006

Today we are continuing our study of the 7 churches of Revelation. For the benefit of those who have come into our class more recently, let's review where we have been thus far. We know that the apostle John was banned to the island of Patmos because of his testimony and the Word of God. He was exiled there mostly likely by Emperor Domitian. Domitian reigned from 81 to 96 AD, and he was the one that started emperor worship in Ephesus. This required subjects in the Roman Empire to pay homage to their leader. Domitian chose Ephesus to begin this practice, and here is a picture of some of the ruins of his temple in Ephesus.

Most likely John was released from Patmos in 96AD. Most political prisoners of this type were released after the Emperor who initiated the exile was dead. The other factor that may have played in John's release was the emperor that replaced Domitian. His name was Marcus Nerva, and his reign last only two years (96 - 98).

Edward Gibbons, who wrote the famous six volume, "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," stated there were 5 good Roman emperors and Marcus Nerva was the first good one.

While on Patmos, John was visited by Christ, as well as an angel from God. He was told by Christ to write what he saw in the vision, and send it to 7 churches in Asia Minor, which today is western Turkey. These letters are included in the Bible Book called The Revelation.

Following Nerva, Trajan was emperor from 98 - 117AD. Here is a picture of the ruins of his temple in Ephesus (A Fountain). It was probably during his reign when John died in Ephesus.

With John being exiled, he wouldn't be able to deliver the record of the visions God gave him. Letter carriers were called tabellari, and most often would be a slave - one that had some degree of freedom. The tabellari would take the writing of John, and make the trip some 40 miles by boat to Ephesus. Ephesus was the closest of the seven churches to the island of Patmos. And the order of the seven are given in the order a tabellari would take using a postal route between the cities. The postal route makes an irregular circle clockwise.

The letter carrier would arrive at the harbor, much the same way that the apostle Paul did on his 2nd journey coming from Corinth. All visitors coming to Ephesus by boat would walk up the wide Harbor Road towards the huge theater. We do not know where the church was, if in fact there was one.

Let's refresh our minds again by reading the entire 7 verses that make up the letter to the believer in the city of Ephesus. And let me once again use the pattern that Christ used throughout all 7 letters.

Revelation 2:1-7 NKJV

1 "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:
2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.
4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent.
6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."'

For the last couple of weeks, we have been examining verse 4. This verse contains the one criticism Christ has of this church. There may be only one criticism, but it is a huge one. Amidst all their good deeds, they had allowed themselves to leave their "first love." Their service and hard work for the kingdom of God had replace their devotion to the King Himself.

Again and again, the New Testament reiterates its emphasis on the pre-eminence of love. The Bible specifically says that Love is superior to "faith." The same biblical passage says it greater that "hope."

1 Corinthians 13:13 NKJV

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Professor Henry Drummond uses this passage to title his book: "The Greatest Thing in the World." That is a reference to Love.

In Matthew 27:37-38, Jesus said that all of the Old Testament Law and also the Prophets were summed up in loving God and others. In Romans 13:10, the apostle Paul mentions something similar by saying, "love is the fulfillment of the law." Paul also states, in 1 Corinthians 8:1, that love is greater than knowledge, even knowledge of God. It reads, "...knowledge puffs up, but love builds up."

Knowledge can inflate a clever person with wind, whereas love develops a solid character. Also, knowledge concerns things, while love concerns persons - including the person of God. Knowledge of a biblical doctrine is a one-sided static affair, but love is reciprocal and growing.

1 Corinthians 8:2-3 NKJV

2 And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.
3 But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him.

The church in Ephesus had left her first love. Their efforts and good works began slowly to take preeminence. Their devotion to, and love for, God begins to take a back seat.

I want to take you to the shores of the Sea of Galilee for a moment. Come with me to a little town called Tabgha. It is located 2 miles southwest of Capernaum, and is believed to be where Peter and others kept their fishing boats. Tabgha is not mentioned in the Bible, and the word is believed to be an Arabic contraction of HEPTAPEGON. That word means "7 springs."

Here is a picture showing the fertility of the land due to the springs, many of which are still pumping water today. It was along this sea shore that the account of John 21 occurs. If the Lord Jesus Christ were to come to your house or mine and sit down with us, what do you think He would say? I believe one of the first things He would ask is, "Do you love Me?" That is the question the resurrected Christ asked Simon Peter three times.

Feed My Sheep

I see one of the truest test of first love in the words of Christ to Peter. It is recorded in John 21:15-17.

15 So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs."
16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep."
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep.

Some have surmised that Jesus asked Peter "Do you love me" three times, because Peter had denied Him three times. We don't really know for sure. But Peter had denied Christ just before the crucifixion, and he needed to be restored.

Jesus undertook that restoration by bringing Simon Peter back to the basic issue: "Do you love Me?" The Savior wasn't satisfied until He had zeroed in on the issue of Peter's love for Him and gotten the correct answer. Only then did Jesus release Peter for ministry: "Feed My sheep!" The lesson Jesus taught Peter - and the lesson the Holy Spirit wants to teach us - in this passage, is the fundamental fact that devotion must precedes duty. The reason this is important is that we so often get the order reversed.

If we had been in Jesus' place that morning by the seashore, most of us would have asked Simon Peter an entirely different set of questions. We probably would have asked him if he was truly sorry for what he did in denying Christ, and we would ask him if he had confessed his sin and been forgiven. Or we might have started off by asking Peter if he was still serious about being a disciples, and if he still wanted to be a member of the team. The more devotionally minded among us would have quizzed Peter about his personal life, making sure he was spending time daily in prayer and study of the Scriptures. And the service minded among us would probably have made sure Peter knew what his spiritual gifts were and was plugged into a ministry in which he was exercising those gifts.

But Jesus did not ask Peter about any of these things. Did Jesus not care about Peter's spiritual condition and future ministry? Of course He did. But Jesus knew that unless Peter's service was motivated by intense love for Him, it would lead to duty without devotion and practice without passion.

By the way, that is also true for you and me. Our love for Christ is so foundational that Jesus Himself called it our "first love" in Revelation. Jesus is telling the people at Ephesus that all their hard work and doctrinal purity could not compensate for what they had left behind: their "first love" for Him.

The first time Jesus asked Peter if he love Him was different from the other two. Instead of, "Simon Peter, son of Jonah, do you love me?" He said, "Simon Peter, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?"


There are at least three possible answers to what the word "these" is referring.

1. Do you love me more than these other disciples love me?

2. Do you love me more than you love these other disciples?

3. Do you love me more than these things? (that is, the fishing boat, nets, and gear)

Any one or all of these is really appropriate. If I were pressed to pick one of the three, it would probably be number 1.

Go back to the night before the Crucifixion - in the upper room. Christ had presented to the disciples the Last Supper. Judas had left and would betray Jesus. They sing a song and walk to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a walk of some 500-600 yards. It is here that Christ warns Peter of his own denial. You will find the account of this in several of the gospels. One place begins in Matthew 26:31. Peter responds by saying "Even if all are caused to fall away…I never will." Who are the "ALL" who will fall away? Most likely he includes the other disciples.

In effect, Peter is saying, "I love you more than any other person, including the other disciples," and in verse 25, he says "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." How would the other disciples now feel about Peter at this point? And now, beside the seashore, Jesus asks Peter, "Now can you say that you love me more than they love me?" That's one scenario.

The next question that one must consider in this account by the seashore is this - Who were the "sheep" Peter was supposed to feed? They are all those who have come to the Good Shepherd. "And, for starters, Peter, you can begin with these other disciples sitting here." "Let your love for Me be such that it will feed them. Let it feed their hope and their needs." They had possible been hurt by Peter's actions?

The church needs more examples of totally devoted lovers of Christ upon which to feed. These who provide spiritual food for the hungry are those who have not left their first love. They have made him the highest priority in their lives, such that their love for Christ feeds those around them. Their love for Christ is so beautiful that it affects me. It feeds my hunger for God. I feed on holy men and women of God.

And I believe Christ is saying to us, like He said to Peter, demonstrate your first love for me in feeding my sheep. And in speaking of feeding His sheep, He is not necessarily talking about preaching and teaching. It's about living and showing our love for Him in a multitude of ways. That is one of the reasons Christ tells us to come together as a body.

Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

When we as His body come together in a meeting, he doesn't mention preaching to the sheep, although I am sure He has no problem with that. But first and foremost, we are here to encourage and feed one another. And that admonition is given to all of us, not just to those who are visible in their ministries. And we should be doing this more as we see the coming of Christ grow closer.

In church, our focus should not be so much on how much we are being fed, as on how much we are feeding others. Jesus is the Bread of Life. When you love Him with "first love" you will quite naturally be the feeding kind. He who loves me as a brother is the one who loves the Lord with all his heart.

To Ephesus and to New Life Church, Christ the Bridegroom seeks to woo his bride back to her first love. The Divine Lover still sorrows when his love is unrequited. He pines for our continuing, deepening, maturing adoration. "First love" looks at mountains of troubles and sees them as hills to conquer in the name of Jesus. "First love" looks at grief and worry and says, "that's nothing. I can make it through with God." "First love" looks at stumbling blocks and sees them as stepping stones that show the power of God. First love cries out, "Give me something to do to prove the greatness of God."

"First Love" is the first mark of a true and living church. Indeed, I believe I can accurately say, "it is not a living church at all unless it is a loving church." A moment ago we looked at how Jesus told Peter that service to Him must be preceded by love for Him. Our work for our Lord must be driven by our love for Him. It just won't work the other way around. The church at Ephesus had let that fact slip away. They once loved Him, and were very active for the kingdom of God. But slowly, over time, their efforts took on greater significance, and they slowly left their "first love" for Christ.

It is so easy for ministry to become mechanical, for relationships to become routine, and doxology to slip back into cold orthodoxy. A person can have a lot of activity FOR Christ, but little intimacy WITH Christ.

All of us need to keep this in mind. We cannot substitute our own efforts for love of Christ. It is commendable to have an abundance of gifts and abilities and to perform exemplary deeds. But without love, there is no real spiritual profit nor lasting effect on people.

It is amazing how we rationalize our lack of love by emphasizing our works. Churches can appear outwardly to be all God wants them to be and do, but inwardly be cold and indifferent toward the Lord Himself. Where are you or I on this issue? Have we left our first love?



1 The joy of the Lord is weakened

If Jesus hasn't got first place in our love, we will have less joy than when He is above all else. At first, this symptom is visible only the individual. Their walk with the Lord becomes humdrum and routine. You begin to feel like you have heard it all already. Even the church services lose their impact. We become dry, and though we may be active, our actions have less impact on others because are efforts are powerless. It may at first be observed only by the person themselves, but, in time, it becomes visible to others.

2. Their ability to love others takes a dip

One of the great revelations of Scripture is that the reason we love others is because we have first been loved ourselves. When we lose the consciousness of the wonder of Jesus' love for us, we also lose our awareness of others and find our love for them fading.

3. We slowly get into religious bondage

The person doesn't recognize this at first. And neither does that person make a conscious decision to fall into bondage. Over time, like the church in Ephesus, our works take on greater importance, and crowd out our devotion to our Lord. And, in time, our efforts and works for God begin to hold its grip on us, instead of doing good works because we love Christ so much.

4. Lack of secret prayer time

When Christ hasn't the first place, we are less motivated to spend time with Him. And a prayerless life is a helpless life. And not only is it helpless, it is powerless. We absolutely must spend time with our Savior. Few symptoms are as dangerous to the believer's life than neglect in this area.

5. We become critical

When Jesus does not have first place in our life, it is so easy to criticize everybody in the world. If Christ is not on the throne of our hearts, we will by default end up on the throne ourselves. And when anyone gets on their own throne, we will criticize everybody that doesn't measure up to our ideal.

6. We lose interest in studying the Bible

When our Lord does not have the preeminent position in our life and heart, we will, over time, lose interest in the Word of God. Oh, we might still read it daily, but it has become a chore, not a delight. The Book almost becomes sealed to us. When Christ is not at the forefront of our thinking, the treasures will at times remain hidden from us. We spend so many hours reading and watching other things. We do that because they interest us. If Jesus is preeminent, it will be a delight to read his love letters to us.

7. We spend less time in God's house

If Jesus is not first in our lives, it is easier to stay away from church activities like, prayer meetings and Bible studies. And the time we once spent in those activities are replaced by hours of pleasure of our own choosing. We begin to look after the affairs of this life, and less about the affairs of the life to come.

8. We lose interest in holiness

When Jesus hasn't first place in our affections, we will lose interest in experiencing holiness. We tend to look on it as a luxury of the Christian life rather than something critically essential in our walk with our Lord.

9. Lack of watchfulness on our part

When Jesus has been removed from first place in our life and love, we are less watchful of the ways the world is creeping into our everyday experiences. We begin to become more tolerant of the old world from which our Lord had earlier saved us. In time, we and the world become so much alike, that the people in the world won't be able to tell us apart from the world.

10. We will tend toward greater selfishness

When Christ has not been allowed to stay in first place in our life, we become more important than Christ in our decisions. Instead of what the Lord want and what will please Him, we begin to think of what we want and what pleases us. A by-product of this is seen in having less of an interest in lost souls. We can be very active in church activities, and yet, have little or no compassion for the eternal destiny of the lost. When we are so myopic about ourselves, we will, by default, become more critical of others. And when a number of people in the church begin to be more interested in themselves, it will most likely result in division and schism among the members.

Those are at least some of the marks of the loss of first love. And many of these were evident in the church of Ephesus.

After preparing this message, a few more symptoms came to my attention. Let me also share them without you without comment. The probably speak for themselves.

11. If my delight in the Lord is no longer as great as my delight in someone else, then I have left my first love.

12. When I inwardly strive for the acclaim of this world rather than the approval of the Lord, I have left my first love.

13. When I refuse to give up an activity which I know is offending a weaker brother, it indicates I have left my first love.

14. If I become complacent or tolerant to sinful conditions around me, I have left my first love.

15. If I am unable to forgive another for offending me, I have left my first love.

Before continuing, I need to make a statement. All of us, myself included, have seen some of these symptoms in our lives. When we do see them, that is God's warning signal. He is trying to woo you back into an intimate relationship. We all need to take stock of our relationship with Christ. We probably need to do that often.

I am really glad that Jesus did not stop speaking to the church at Ephesus at the end of verse 4. He is not content to leave the church of Ephesus, nor any church, nor any of his children wandering in the deserts of lovelessness. The Great Physician, our Savior, issued a prescription to this congregation that would, if followed, cure their spiritual malaise. He never points out our faults without providing a remedy.

If you or I sense that we have left our "first love" for our Lord, the prescription He gives to this church can apply to us as well. He prescribes what I will call "The 3 R's to recovery."

The 3 R's to recovery

Let's read verse 5 and on.

Revelation 2:5-7 NKJV

5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent.
6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."'

The 3 R's to recovery are:

1. Remember from where you have fallen.

2. Repent

3. Repeat what you used to do - do the first works again.

We will cover these in our next lesson.

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