A few weeks ago, we looked at the 3 R's required to recovery our First Love of Christ. The 3 R's to recovery are:
1. Remember from where you have fallen.
3. Repeat what you used to do - do the first works again.
Last week we considered the fact that the Ephesians had two alternative responses. They could obey and repent, or they could decide not to repent and continue along the path of forsaken love. With each choice is found a consequence for that choice.
1. Not to repent would cause the Lord to remove the church from this city. Not to repent brings a 4th R - Removal of the lampstand
2. To those who repent and follow the prescription, God gives a promise. It is a promise to eat from the tree of life in the midst of the Paradise of God (verse 7). To obey and repent brings a 5th R - Restoration or Revival.
Revelation 2:5 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.
Today we also have the same choices and the same consequences. Each of us must ask himself/herself: "Have I left my first love?" If there is any hint of that possibility, we must also follow Christ's prescription. I pray that I, as well as you, will seriously examine ourselves. I want to eat from "the tree of life."
Today, we move on to verse 6 of chapter 2.
Lets read Revelation 2:6 NKJV
6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Here we are introduced to a heretical group known as the Nicolaitans. In this passage, they are only named, not defined. I am not going to say much about the Nicolaitans here. They come up again in Pergamum, the third of the seven churches in Revelation 2:15.
Ephesus is commended for their stance against this group. But Pergamum had compromised and let this group into their church. It may not be possible to identify exactly who these people were. But Christ uses some very powerful words. He said that he hates their deeds, and commends the church at Ephesus for also hating their deeds.
One could raise the question: "why didn't Christ mention this commendation along with the 5 commendations given in verses 2 & 3?" Why does He wait until verse 6 to mention this one.
The verse begins with the word "BUT." What does that indicate? The word "but" is a conjunction, linking what had just been said with what follows. In the previous verse - verse 5 - we find the "3 R's of Recovery of First Love." For some reason, Christ links their hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitans to His prescription for regaining their "first love."
WHY DO YOU THINK HE DID THIS?
I am not sure I have the total answer, but think about this. When you love someone passionately, you won't stand for anything or anyone bringing disrepute to their person or their name. Could He be telling them that their road to recovery can start here. This is the one place where their passion for Christ was not all gone. It was the one thing they still retained of their first love for Christ. In this one area, they would not let Christ's name be tarnished. To say it another way, it may seem strange to attribute hatred to the Risen Christ. But if we love anyone with passionate intensity, we will necessarily hate anything which threatens to ruin that person.
As I stated earlier, I will cover this group of people when we get to the church at Pergamum. Let me make just a few more statements that are pertinent to Ephesus. We do know the Nicolaitans appear to have married their Christianity with the sexual and immoral practices of the Temple of Artemis. Their claim was that they were not destroying Christianity, but presenting an improved version.
It also appears that we will meet the same problem at Thyatira. There we will meet the wicked Jezebel, who caused some Christians to practice immorality, and to eat things offered to idols.
At the end of Paul's second missionary journey, when he met with the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, he warned them "that savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock." Now the wolves had come. Sinister false prophets were teaching their dark and dangerous doctrines as God's truth. This church sifted what they heard and "tested the spirit" behind it. Then they did what Paul instructed them to do:. They absolutely rejected what the Nicolaitans taught. They remained faithful to the Lord.
I once again quote Ignatius, who said, "You heed nobody beyond what he has to say truthfully about Jesus Christ……I have heard that some strangers came your way with a wicked teaching. But you did not let them sow it among you. You stopped up your ears to prevent admitting what they disseminated."
We will cover this group more thoroughly when we arrive at Pergamum. He Who Has Ears To Hear
Go with me now to Revelation 2:7 NKJV
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 Bible places importance on listening or hearing - especially to God and His Word. God speaks much more about hearing and listening than He does about talking and speaking
Listen 149 times in the Bible (In NKJV)
Hear 687 times
Ear 196 times
The specific phrase "Hear the Word" occurs 44 times. 24 of those times it is rendered "hear the Word of the Lord."
We also find a number of other comments or phrases. "Incline your ear" is found 14 times, and "give ear" 28 times and "be attentive 4 times." The words "today, if you will hear his voice," are found 3 times in the Book of Hebrews (Hebrews 3:7, 15; 4:7) and once in the Old Testament (Psalm 95:7)
One person has said, "if God gave us two ears and one mouth, He meant for us to listen twice as much as we talk." Although that statement may be faulty in its theology, it does illustrate our propensity to talk rather than listen.
James 1:19 (NIV) tells us,
19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
Proverbs 22:17 NIV
17 Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach,
When one little boy became old enough to leave Junior Church and sit with his parents in the "Big Church," he told his parents he thought he'd like to become a preacher. When they asked him why, he said, "I figure it is a lot more fun to stand up and talk than to sit still and listen." I agree this story is humorous. But I also hope we all understand that a sermon is not so much a talk about God but an opportunity for God to speak to us.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." I mentioned during the introductory lessons on the 7 churches that this is a phrase that is repeated to each of the 7 churches. And in each case the Spirit speaks to the "churches" - plural. That indicates each message or instruction is to all churches. Every church needed to hear this message. It also applies to each church today.
More than once Jesus said these words. This phrase or something similar are found eight times in the Gospels. Since it is possible that a single event can be recorded in more than one gospel, I believe there were actually 6 occasions where Jesus speaks these words. We are reminded again and again that it is not enough just to have ears. It is necessary to use them.
A similar phrase is also used in the book of Revelation 8 times. As you know, the phrase is used near the end of each letter to the seven churches of Asia. The fourteenth and final occasion for the use of this phrase is Revelation 13:9. Let me read it and include the previous verse.
Revelation 13:8-9 NKJV
8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear.
WHO IS THE "HIM" MENTIONED IN THIS PASSAGE?
Revelation 13 is a chapter that gives us considerable detail about Satan's two sidekicks. The Antichrist and the False Prophet. Satan and these two make up an unholy trinity that are a counterfeit to the holy Trinity. Because I love to teach on end time prophecy, it would be easy for me to get sidetracked here. But I will limit myself to one paragraph with regard to this final use of the phrase we are examining.
The other seven times the phrase is used in Revelation, it is followed by the phrase, "what the Spirit says to the churches." It is omitted here in this chapter. Chapter 13 is speaking about a time close to the midpoint of the future 7-year period called The Tribulation. As most of you know, I believe and teach that the Church will be taken to heaven prior to this Tribulation. The omission of that phrase - "what the Spirit says to the churches," in chapter 13, suggests the absence of the church on earth at that time. That is not a strong argument on its own, but when coupled with many other Scriptural evidences, it makes the overall combined argument stronger.
Let's return to Revelation 2 & 3, where we find the 7 churches of Asia. In our introductory lessons on the 7 churches, I mentioned that several phrases are use with each of the letters. The phrase, "I know your works" is seen near the beginning of each letter. Near the end of each letter we find the phrase "He that overcomes." Following that phrase a different reward is promised to each congregation to those who overcome.
Then we have the phrase, "he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches," spoken to each church. The "He that hath an ear" clause precedes the promise to the overcomer in the letters to the first three Churches of Asia. And it follows the promise to the overcomer in the last four letters.
The Parable of the Sower
In one of His parables, Jesus links our ears to four kinds of soil. He told about a farmer who scattered seed which He later interprets to be symbolic of the Word of God. The seed falls onto four types of soil.
IF THE SEED IS SYMBOLIC OF THE WORD OF GOD, WHAT ARE THE FOUR SOILS SYMBOLIC OF?
Could it be that the four types of soil represent four types of ears. The farmer throwing out seed is interpreted by Christ to represent the preacher or teacher, or any other person who spreads the Word of God. Then the Word of God is heard by the hearer. And, possibly, the four soils represent how the Word of God is heard. Let's look at one of the passages which give us this parable of Christ.
Mark 4:3 NKJV
3 "Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.
Notice the first word - Listen! I know this word is not part of the actual parable. The word "listen" is used to get their attention. But it does show that Christ wants them to use their ears in what He is about to tell them. He goes through this parable describing the four types of soil. And then at the end of the parable, He says in verse 9, He who has ears to hear, let him hear." The next verse finds the disciples asking for an interpretation of the parable.
In verse 14, Christ tells us, as I stated earlier, that the seed is the Word of God. The sower is the one who spreads the Word. As Christ interprets each of the four soils, here is what He says in the next verse.
Mark 4:15 NKJV
15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word...
Satan comes to these people to steal what they heard when the Word of God was spoken to them. Now, I purposely left off the last 6 words of this verse. I did it to make a point. Earlier, I asked if the four types of soil could represent 4 types of ears. I know that it is possible for two people to listen to the same sermon, but each actually hear different messages. And because of that, they respond differently to what was said.
I also know that you and I can actually hear with more than our physical ears. We can actually hear also with our eyes and our heart. Every conversation, every sermon, every instruction has non-verbal communication that are perceived and received by the eyes. In the case of hearing with our heart, I am not talking about the physical heart. I am talking about the real you inside your body. The "heart" in a biblical sense represents the center of all operations of human life. It is where one's affections are present.
So, when it comes to the four types of soils, it is probably most accurate to say it is a reference to four types of hearts. But that does not take the eyes and ears out of the picture. The eyes and ears are really the gateways to the heart in many cases.
Paul alludes to this in Philippians 4:9. He tells the congregation at Philippi to do the things they had heard (ears) and seen (eyes) in him. He adds that if they do, the God of peace will be with them. Their eyes and ears are pathways to their heart.
Again I say, when it comes to types of soil, it is probably more accurate to see that as a reference to the heart. And that we can verify when we add the last six words to the verse we just read. Let me read it again in its entirety.
Mark 4:15 NKJV
15 And these are the ones by the wayside where the word is sown. When they hear, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.
Christ's interpretation of the parable of the sower ends with verse 20 (NIV), which reads,
20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop - thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
We find the phrase "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," again in the very next parable. I want to read the parable in its entirety.
Mark 4:21-23 NIV
21 He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don't you put it on its stand?
22 For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.
23 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear."
I am not going to examine this parable at this time. I use it as another example of the statement that Jesus made to each of the 7 churches in Revelation. But, I really want to have you consider the very next verse. After teaching them two parables where one's ears are an important part of the narrative, He makes this statement:
Mark 4:24 NKJV
24 Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.
Luke's word about this same incident says, "Take heed how you hear."
NASB "Take heed what you listen to,…"
NIV "Consider carefully what you hear,…"
NRSV "Pay attention to what you hear,…"
NJB "Take notice of what you are hearing,…"
Living "Put into practice what you hear,…"
The expression, "take heed," is of special importance. Earlier I mentioned that the eyes and ears are two gateways to the heart. This verse links the eyes with the ears. But you have to get behind the words to understand that. "Take Heed" comes from a single Greek word - Blepete, which is a derivative of Blepo, and has the primary root meaning of "To Look." Metaphorically, it means to see with the mind's eye - to understand, to perceive. It is a fairly common New Testament word, occurring 136 times. The same Greek word is translated in other passages as:
o Looks - Matthew 5:28 - Whoever looks on a woman to lust after her...
o Sees - Matthew 6:4 - And the Father who sees in secret will reward you...
o Seeing - Acts 12:9 - He (Peter) thought he was seeing a vision.
o Perceive - 2 Corinthians 7:8 - Paul said I perceive the same epistle made you sorry.
In every case it has to do with understanding. It never speaks of a casual glance. It does not include witnessing something with the spirit of indifference. In the passage we read in Mark 4:24, Jesus is urging His disciples and us to comprehend what we hear. He desires them to understand the words and the message to which they are exposed. It is clear from Christ's words that we are held responsible for opportunities of learning. When the truth of God falls on our ears, an obligation comes along with it. No word that is given to men by God is intended to remain a mystery to those who believe it. But then Christ instructs them, "With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you - and to you who hear, more will be given." (Verse 24)
WHAT DOES THAT ALL MEAN WHEN IN COMES TO BEING CAREFUL WITH WHAT WE HEAR?
This verse tells us about our responsibility in hearing the Word of God. It is the measure that we use in our hearing that determines the measure we receive in understanding. We also know that the Scriptures links our hearing with our understanding. If you carefully consider what you hear so your can fully understand it, then more understanding will be given to you.
Speaking metaphorically, if I put one ounce of myself into listening to the Word of God, I will not receive a pound of benefit from it. If we do not give ourselves to the work of understanding the Word of God, we should not be surprised if we remain fundamentally ignorant of it.
We sing a chorus, "Fill My Cup Lord." The words tell how we are asking Christ to fill it up so our thirst for Him will be quenched. Now, having studied this lesson, I think I want to take a larger container to Him. I cannot come to Jesus with a thimble to receive what He wants to share with me, and go home with a barrel filled with blessing. Whatever measure I bring to hear the Word of God, is the measure that will be filled. But if we bring a small container, indicating only a passing interest in the Word, then our understanding of the Word will be small. The next verse indicates that if we have no interest in understanding the Word, then any understanding we had prior will eventually be lost. If you and I don't use what we have been given, we will lose it.
Listening to God requires a heart committed to understand His message. God often speaks to us in visual images. Consider the example of the prophet Habakkuk. The prophet longed to hear from God. He was so determined that he was willing to stand and wait in one place as long as it took.
Habakkuk 2:1 NKJV
1 I will stand my watch And set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected.
Isaiah 55:2-3 (NIV) adds
2 Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live...
When He says eat what is good, He is instructing us to digest what we hear.
Listening to God is foundational to our faith. While we are indeed to speak and to proclaim God's Word, we can only do this authentically and with integrity when we have first listened and are continuing to listen.
I want to return and summarize Mark 4:24.
24 Then He said to them, "Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.
I want us to take away 3 things from this verse: A Precept - A Proverb - and A Promise.
I. PRECEPT. "Take heed what ye hear." (Luke 8:18 reads: Take heed how you hear.")
1. Hear with discrimination, shunning false doctrine (John 10:5). This is precisely what the Ephesians were commended for.
2. Hear with attention; really and earnestly hearing (Matt. 13:23).
3. Hear for yourself, with the intent of personal application (I Sam. 3:9).
4. Hear retentively, endeavoring to remember the truth. (Psalm 103:18)
5. Hear desiringly, praying that the Word may be blessed to you (Psalm 119:76)
6. Hear practically, obeying the exhortation which has come to you (James 1:22).
II. PROVERB. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
In proportion as you give yourself to hearing, you shall gain by hearing. This is practically illustrated in the result of preaching the Word.
1. Those who have no interest in the Word find it uninteresting.
2. Those who desire to find fault, will always find enough faults.
3. Those who seek solid truth learn it from any faithful ministry.
4. Those who hunger find food (Matthew 5:6). I really take issue with a phrase I hear now and then by church-goers. "I'm not being fed." A person can only be fed if they are hungry. And if they are hungry, God promises they will find food.
5. Those who bring faith receive assurance.
6. Those who come joyfully are made glad.
III. PROMISE. "Unto you that hear shall more be given;"
You that hear shall have,....
1. More desire to hear.
2. More understanding of what you hear.
3. More convincement of the truth of what you hear.
4. More personal possession of the blessings of which you hear.
5. More delight while hearing the glorious gospel.
6. More practical benefit from what you hear.
God gives more to those who value what they already have.
For practical application let us say:
Hear. It is to your benefit to know what God says.
Hear well. God's teaching deserves the deepest attention. It will repay the best consideration.
Hear often. Seek to hear God's Word often.
Hear better. You will find heavenly joy by hearing with faith.
Some 15 to 20 years ago our daughter Jackie took a class in calligraphy. She wanted to show what she had learned and gave me this plaque. Using calligraphy, she wrote part of Zephaniah 3:17, (Living Bible) and gave this to me as a gift. "Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song."
Don't move too quickly through that verse. Read it again and prepare yourself for a surprise. "Is that a joyous choir I hear? No, it is the Lord himself exulting over you in happy song." Note who is active and who is passive. Who is singing, and who is resting? Who is rejoicing over his loved one, and who is being rejoiced over?
We tend to think we are the singers. When we come to worship, we often sing as a part of it. And the audience is not the people around us, but rather, it is the Lord we are singing to. And all that is good. But apparently there are times when God wishes we would just be still and listen as He sings over us. What a stunning thought. He wants you to stop long enough to hear Him rejoice over you with song.
"He that has an ear, let him hear, what the Spirit says to the Churches."