March 25, 2011 on 11:40 am | In REVELATION FOR BEGINNERS | Comments Off on THE MISSING INGREDIENT, Rev. 2:1-7

Have you ever made a recipe and then realized you had left out something critical? I have made oatmeal mush only to discover I had forgotten to add salt. That really made a huge difference–it tasted pretty blah! We’ll see something similar in the description of this church, but first note what our approach will be.

As we begin our journey through the seven churches, keep in mind we are looking for three types of application. 1) It would be relevant to the local congregation itself–they would recognize themselves in this message 2) This congregation would serve a symbolic role to describe the Christian church’s general characteristics during a particular era of history and 3) There are spiritual lessons to be learned from each congregation that are relevant to us today. In one sense, while exhibiting the qualities of the church characteristic of this era, God’s followers today are also to some degree a composite of all that have gone before.

In the previous posting a basic paradigm, pattern, or outline for each of the church descriptions was listed. Here is how it would look for the church at Ephesus:

He holds the 7 stars in His hand and walks among the 7 golden lampstands.

I know your works, labor, patience, you can’t bear those who are evil,
you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars, you have persevered, have patience, have labored for My name’s sake and not become weary, you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate

You have left your first love

Remember from where you have fallen, repent and do the first works, (or else I will
come quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent), hear what the Spirit says to the churches

Covenant (promise):
To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

What is the point of all this? Why is it all included here? Jesus had promised in John 14:1-3 that He would come back again to take His followers to heaven to be with Him. But He also knew that they would face many trials and challenges before that time should come, so He wanted to prepare them to “endure to the end.” As He walks among the 7 golden lampstands–representing the 7 congregations/churches–in one sense it is almost like an inspection of the space shuttle before launch when the inspectors want to make sure there is nothing that would destroy the shuttle during the stressful trip about to take place. We know from experience how critical that is. The whole idea is not a final judgment to destroy but an evaluation to enable a successful mission. Jesus has an intense desire to see His church successful.

It is important to note that the first item in this outline is a picture of Jesus. We see that specific characteristics from Christ’s description in chapter one have been selected, and as we go through the outline, we will see that those specific characteristics are the very ones the particular congregation needs to meet its deficiencies and needs. Isn’t that just like Jesus?! He has a solution to every problem before we realize we even have a problem. It is also encouraging to see that Jesus looks for things He can praise the church for before He gets into the problems it has. And then He has sound advice for the church, which if followed, will resolve the problem. And finally, every church, no matter how problematic it is, has the possibility of change and a wonderful promise to those who respond. None are automatically cast out as long as they meet the conditions, not even Laodicea. And that is important for us as individuals as we are not saved by church or denomination, but as we individually have a saving faith relationship with Jesus.

Looking at the description of Christ, why are the 7 stars in His hand significant? Note the problem of the church–you have left your first love. Apparently the church was really in love with Christ and zealous for Him, even being very careful to have sound doctrine and reject those who were false professors. But evidently, while they held to straight doctrine, they lost something they once had–their first love experience. Perhaps it became just routine, they went through the motions without love. Christ makes it plain that while He commends their faithfulness to the truth, love is not optional. Consider 1 Corinthians 13 where the apostle Paul states in verses 1-3: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” We know that Paul was also a stickler for true doctrine, but He makes it clear that without love it is all meaningless. The author of Revelation, the apostle John, adds that “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:8

I remember reading a story one time about a couple who were having some difficulty. The husband traveled a lot and the relationship left much to be desired. One Monday morning a local florist delivered a box of a dozen roses to the wife from her husband, who was out of town. She was thrilled. Then the next Monday there was another box of roses. Again she was delighted. The next Monday there was another, the next Monday another, etc. Finally she called the florist about it and was told her husband had left a note to deliver a dozen roses every Monday till further notice. After awhile, the wife came to hate Mondays when the roses were delivered because she came to realize there was no love involved. He didn’t even have to think about her. Apparently God had a similar experience as told in Isaiah 1:10-15–He came to hate all their sacrifices and religious ritual, even though He had told them to do such things. He told them in verses 16-20 what He really wanted from them–true heart service. It is still our hearts and committed service He desires today.

What do the stars in the hands symbolize here? If the members in Ephesus had remained “in Christ,” they would have maintained their first love experience, they would have been allowing Him to keep them in His hands, they would have been abiding in Him. Jesus promised if they would do that, “neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:28 So Jesus wants them to come back to that intimate relationship they once had. In Job 38:31 it talks about God holding the 7 stars in His hands, referring to the Pleiades. He is in control of the heavenly bodies and just so He wants to be our guide, to control us according to His benevolent will. And so He wanted to hold the church leaders in His hands, so to speak.

We have more information about the church in Ephesus than some of the others because the book of Ephesians was written to them. The first three chapters talk all about the close relationship God plans for His followers by being “in Christ.” The last three chapters discuss how that impacts everyday relationships–in the home, in the church, in the workplace, etc. Perhaps we can take a closer look at that book at a later time. It mirrors the two great commandments–love to God and love to man. If the Ephesians had taken the counsel in that letter to heart for the long term, perhaps we would not be reading about them losing their first love experience.

You may be wondering who those Nicolaitans were. As near as I can discover, they were a heretical sect in the early church. Their beliefs apparently included dismissing the law as a guide, i.e. they believed deeds had nothing to do with salvation so you were basically free to do anything you were inclined to. Perhaps they carried the love idea too far–i.e. just love and do as you please? Jesus certainly didn’t approve of their practices.

What about the 3 levels of application? I think you can see from what has been covered so far how the congregation in Ephesus (which was in what is present day Turkey) would find the message to them very relevant for their immediate challenges. Secondly, this church, according to historicist interpreters, would also become a symbol for the Christian church in the apostolic era (to about 100 A.D.–the dates are approximate and not really critical for the interpretation). The early church was in its “first love” experience but in danger of losing it. And thirdly, what lessons are we supposed to learn from this? Actually, the last-day church–Laodicea–seems like it is in need of a good dose of “first love” experience, for it has become very lukewarm and somewhat apathetic. If you are a Christian, perhaps you can remember when you first came to the Lord and how on fire you were, but now you may have lost that early fervor. It is easy for our experience to become like that described in Jesus’ parable of the soils. “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22

So what is the remedy? Jesus said the need was to repent–ask for forgiveness. Then go back to basics, back to the last place you saw the light, when your experience was on fire. Seek to know Jesus personally, study His life in the gospels again, talk to Him about anything on your mind, learn to recognize His voice and trust Him implicitly. Let Him live out His life in you through the power of the Holy Spirit and put your energies on His side to cooperate with Him. Seek His counsel and as He Himself said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” not as a means to gain salvation or favor, but as an outgrowth of a relationship with Him. After all, if Jesus is living in you (see Galatians 2:20–“Christ lives in me”), what kind of a life will He live? Will He lead us to be obedient or disobedient? But most of all, let’s allow His love to be the controlling force in our lives personally and in the way we relate to others. The counsel to the Ephesians is good for us too.

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