In the earliest chapters in the book of Revelation, letters were written to seven churches and, like the title of the book, they indeed were letters of revelation.
The revelation these letters have exposed readers to over the past two thousand years is what these seven churches had been doing behind closed doors.
The Lord correctly said that what we do in private will be proclaimed from the mountaintop, lest we repent; and there is no greater mountaintop than having your actions proclaimed in the biggest selling book of all time.
In these letters, it is clear that some churches we not ashamed of their private practices, and yet should have been.
It would have been more profitable to make peace with the Lord, through repentance, than to have revealed to the world what you were doing.
The first letter to the Church at Ephesus, titled The Epistle of Paul The Apostle to the Ephesians, highlighted a series of matters quite different to this short revelatory letter thirty three years later; about the same time as Christ was on this earth.
Initially Ephesus was a robust church with many good behaviours and a deep passion for the Lord. We see this by the depth of the letter written by the Apostle Paul, and the wonderful things he shared.
However, over time and for whatever reason, things changed. As time progressed the church structures remained but their passion waned.
From the outside, the Church at Ephesus would have looked to be very much in touch with the Lord. However, with this church, it was only the Lord who could reveal errant issues that had arisen within, identifying the true root cause and manner of true correction. We see he also instructed them regarding the short time frame to correct them.
This is nouthetic counselling at its best. That is, confrontation counselling: the type that commonly happens face-to-face (although, in this case it was via letter, as, nobody can see the face of God and live whilst in human form. It is done out of loving concern for the person, and with the purpose of bringing about the change God desires.
From the outside, and I mean from the perspective of those who do not have access to the deeper chambers of the Board or inner circle, this church appears to have looked as sharp and blessed as any church close to the heart of God.
What did it look like from the inside? God had shown us!
You see, as Christians we all need the internal perspective more than the external. External appraisals for this church would have been favourable, allowing the Board to bask in the glow of lofty references; however, like a larvae –ridden apple, that is highly polished on the outside but when bitten reveals the corruption within, it was only after the bite that a new perspective would have been noticed.
Some of us might be like that. Every person can put on the spiritual face for church or others, but, if there is conflict within, the Lord will reveal that to us if we’re open to listening. Then the timeframe to correct it begins.
Let’s have a closer look at the Ephesus letter as was written and delivered:
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
This is what some of us as Christians might look like from the outside and the inside!
This is also what some marriages might look like.
Taking a look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church 33 years earlier, which was also about love, we can see the varied manners of love within each chapter.
As we abbreviate the chapters, let us look at them from that angle, knowing they had left it!
CHAPTER 1 THE LOVE OF GOD TOWARD US
The predestination of our adoption…and our inheritance in Him, redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sin, and the riches of his grace;
CHAPT 2 THE LOVE OF CLARITY AS A BASIS FOR MOVING FORWARD
We were once dead in sins, but by the Grace of God we are saved and quickened (made alive). We are fellow citizens of the household of God
CHAPT 3 THE LOVE OF THE WONDERS OF THE MYSTERY, LOVE FOR SPIRITUAL COMPREHENSION AND FOR HIS LOVE
We now have access to the unsearchable riches of Christ. And he has made known to us the fellowship of the mystery of his kingdom; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love….that we may be able to comprehend with all saints and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
CHAPT 4 THE LOVE FOR UNITY THROUGH HUMILITY
I beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
APEPT For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
The love for humility & graciousness
That we put off the former conversations, and Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
CHAPT 5 THE LOVE OF A TRUE HUSBAND FOR HIS WIFE
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. 28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
CHAPT 6 THE LOVE FOR PARENTS, CHILDREN, AND YOUR BOSS
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. 2 Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; 3 That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth. 4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; 6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; 7 With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: 8 Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.
The love for suitably armoured warriors
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Praying always for others
THIS IS LOVE – IN THE FIRST DEGREE.
Some of those chapters may not have looked like ‘love’ chapters, but in the truest sense they are indeed.
True Godly servanthood, which is exactly what is asked in those chapters, is undertaken in love. It is a sacrifice of love, and something into which we grow, if pride doesn’t get in our way.
God sacrificed his only son, the one who carried out that servanthood to the very end, so we would get the picture and continue that servanthood, to our very end if necessary.
When we ask the Holy Ghost to come into our lives, he comes in ‘earnest’ (Gk: a deposit), and we grow him within us until he comes to full stature within us, if we let him.
Much of the foundation of that stature is humility. Not fake humility. Growing without humility is like pitching a tent on the sand beside a river and not accounting for flooding. Our attempts at anything grand will be washed away in the first or second downpour of life. God said he gives grace to the humble but resists the proud.
Therefore, if our humility isn’t all it should be, God may be resisting us and we may not know it, because life still goes on.
Interestingly, we can actually check how our humility is going, if we are serious. Humility may be as equally familiar to us under its other name of meekness, as is written in the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. 5:22-23
Similar to using one of those online personality tests, we can test if our humility is on track with God’s requirements, or if we need to modify our conduct.
Humility doesn’t simply mean we walk around with our head bowed looking humble.
We can ask ourselves some hard questions, like these:
Do we put ourselves above others when we have been insulted?
To measure this, we need to use the helicopter view — remove ourselves into the third person, above our situation, to see how we are handling it presently, and change our behaviour if necessary, before we damage a relationship.
How often do you let people off for sins or breaches against you? Humility is related to clemency.
How do you react when you have arguments with people?
More importantly, what are you thinking at that time or shortly later? Are you angry? Do you scoff in your mind at the time because of how wrong they are? Do you mutter to yourself later of how wrong they were and how right you were? Or tell others of what happened and how wrong the person was and how right you were?
Or do you feel a strong desire — a deep need, to repair the rift for the sake of God’s desire for unity?
Most of us at some stage think the wrong thoughts and use the wrong words, but it is the type of ‘stuff’ we would want to drop off as we walk closer to the Lord!
We all suffer from a touch of verbal incontinence at some time, and the sooner we own ours the sooner we become more vigilant over our thoughts and their outlet, our mouth!
As it is written, the wrong kind of flame can be ignited with some people that may not go out for many years, simply because of words. This phenomenon is so bizarre isn’t it? But sadly that is the case.
Often we can think we are expressing what is too often termed righteous anger; but I wonder what Jesus would really do or say if he were in the same situation.
I can see him firstly thinking before he spoke; then choosing words that will create a Godly result; an objective result rather than a subjective one; a result that didn’t necessarily make him right (although he would be), but that would have a sweet not bitter conclusion.
Another way to recognise danger signs (the truth of which is found deep in our hearts) is found in Ezekiel 8, which is then coupled with Psalm 1:1.
What we see are three clear steps or degrees, and the concluding one is scoffing. When we get to that degree, we have sufficient pride within us to separate us from God.
Whether we think it is for God or against him, scoffing is not required nor wanted in the Kingdom.
The Ephesian leaders may have got to the stage of scoffing. Maybe scoffing at humility? Possibly scoffing at the congregants who kept telling them they are on the wrong path? Someone in the Church must have noticed.
When we look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and then look at the letter in the Book of Revelation to the same church, we see Jesus asking, why did you leave me? What did I do wrong?
We also see him saying, I am your husband and I am giving you ONE more chance to come back, but only as one in love.
This letter to the church is about cheating. Trying to look married on the outside, but having someone else on your mind on the inside, even if it is yourself.
Christ said to all husbands to lay down their lives as he laid his own down for his wife, the Church, and in fact gave it up so his wife could live.
He called for a denial of oneself to ensure the wife KNEW without a shadow of doubt that her husband would not betray her; and yet, in essence, that is what the Ephesians did to their saviour.
Losing your first love in a marriage can happen slowly. The Ephesian Church had been married to Christ for around 35-40 years. Some marriages go cold after this amount of time, to the point where one or both partners can find themselves simply going through the motions. In the case of Ephesus, it was the wife who distanced herself.
There are certain things that must be done for a spouse to give the partner the secure feeling that a long and fruitful marriage demands. There are certain things that must be done for your spouse to ensure (positive duty) the fire is aflame to the end.
Many long-married couples testify to all sorts of issues over 35-40 years, and what they do to keep their marriage alive so it doesn’t die and they don’t leave their first love – each other.
Likewise, as we mature in our relationship with our living saviour and his Father, we may find it necessary to put constructive practices into place, and remove destructive practices from their place, to ensure our love is lifelong and remains hot, not tepid or cold.
Somewhere, at some time, and probably over a long time, the Ephesian Church let the flame go out. They spent less time with their first love on a daily basis and grew apart. It still looked like a marriage from the outside; all the motions were there; the structure, the daily & weekly routines; the church still functioned and, from the outside, they looked the same as they had ever looked.
But, like the old believers in Nehemiah’s day after they had rebuilt the temple, who wept because it did not resemble the greatness of the first temple; similarly, we can have a marriage that looks like a marriage to newcomers, but those of old who saw the original passion and desire and zeal for unity, cannot call it a marriage…not one like God designed.
Not unnecessarily did the Apostle Paul need to write in Hebrews 4:1-2 saying, Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.
In this short passage, the Lord through Paul was talking to the Hebrews, or Jews, but, looking at the manner in which it was phrased, he could very well have been speaking to the church at Ephesus.
Of all the seven churches, Ephesus was the only one to whom the Lord had written previously, and with such deep wisdom, knowledge and hope. No other of those churches had that distinction; and yet it still slowly and unsuspectingly wandered away, to extinction.
Wandering away sneaks up on us. For the Ephesians, the last thing they would have expected from the Lord is the short note they received; seven verses only, highlighting an emergency situation where they found if they didn’t act quickly, He would.
Rev 2: 1-7. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
We also note the writer has employed the term thy candlestick. As with anything else from the Lord, this also was on loan to be put to correct use for illumination. We too often think that gifts are free, but that is a simplistic and quite arrogant view. In our servanthood agreement, signed in the Lord’s blood, our gifts are like tools for our personal use — in his service.
They are to be used, and there is an expected return on investment for that use. Called, Chosen, Faithful.
The Lord invests considerable time training his servants, yet we can think it all happens miraculously and he doesn’t care either way if we use that training or not. In fact, we might even misguidedly think it is ourselves who have trained us and it therefore should not matter if we use it or not.
To see it from his perspective, no boss invests in a worker simply to see that investment disregarded or see the worker leave the company; and the Lord has made it abundantly clear in the parables of non-investing servants that disregard will not be accepted.
The candlestick without the oil (the oil being our zeal for him and his work) became nothing but an ornament. It was no longer a lampstand but a coat stand, and it was time to consider removing it.
If utilised it was theirs to use. If not, if they had no further reliance upon the illuminating light of the Holy Spirit, then unsurprisingly, and just like a tool hire company not being paid as per the hire agreement, the Lord would return his precious tool to the store.
What a shock it would have been to them to be on the receiving end of that note, especially after all their good works; and what a shock it would be to us had we received it.
Seemingly we are one day with the lord, and the next we are not. Seemingly we are one day in his favour, and the next we are not. Seemingly we are seen fellowshipping with ardent followers, and the next day we are not.
But we all know it doesn’t work like that.
Looking back after we have drifted, it really comes as no surprise. We can see where we have begun moving away from our first love. We have to be honest here. We can see where we have given permission for subtle changes to enter into our life, which took us down a different path to that of righteousness; into that land so familiar to the flesh but not the spirit; to the land often filled with anguish and tears for the Christian; to the land of corn husks that we think are cuisine.
It is not recorded if the Ephesian church thought they were off course or working in the flesh and not the spirit, but it is clear when reading the seven verses that they were.
Our role in our life with God is to be forever assessing our own spiritual walk and improving it. It is a life of continually improving our relationship with him, and we can only do this by making simple changes toward our saviour as life moves on. Slight behavioural modifications (and sometimes big ones) within us will reduce the not-so-good and increase the good, and we keep doing that until we can say, I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
As we can see from this key scripture, it is our individual course. So we have a course and we have training, then we put that training into practice. Hopefully at the end of that we have our successful departure from this life and entry to the next.
It’s simple when looked at like that, and runs parallel with just about everything we do here on earth.
Along the way we have encouragement from the Lord. Through time and life’s issues we may feel like it is all too much, which is why the Lord said in Hebrews, “Now no chastening (training) for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised (practiced) thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.”
We see that putting our training into practice in preference to letting it fall to the ground, lost, bring us the peaceable fruit of righteousness instead of a return to that same training to do all over again, which has a demoralising flow-on effect within us.
The first few verses of Proverbs 1 are about training and putting it into practice. You will now see it all throughout the Bible.
God wants us to be at peace with him, but the only real peace we can expect to have is within righteousness, where its fruit is peace.
Seeking peace with God by any other approach, perhaps by trying to keep things in our life that we know shouldn’t be there and thinking God will let it through because God is love, or simply because it happens to be you and you think you have a special relationship with him that others don’t; or perhaps looking for the easy way out, you know, no work applied so you try to ‘wing it’ with God.
It’s like boarding a noisy train that has no destination, but merely keeps rolling on with no peaceful journey. The peace or rest we seek will never happen. It is not possible.
What is possible is seeking first the Kingdom and his righteousness, and then waiting patiently and faithfully for the effect of that in our lives — “all these things”.
In giving encouragement to keep going — to both the Israelites at the time and us now, the Lord said, “By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.”
At the moment, we may not yet see the full concept of the word ‘inherit’, but by one step at a time in the right direction our battles can be won; our overcoming can be successful; our natural can be defeated, if we persist in making the necessary changes!
How is your marriage to the Lord going?
How often have you monitored your time-spending habits and routines to see where you can make changes to get closer to your Lord?
What do you watch on tv? Could Jesus sit beside you on the couch and watch it?
What radio stations do you listen to in the car? Would he be listening and laughing along with you?
Could Jesus pick up any magazine or book around your house and read it?
Where do you go on Friday or Saturday night? Could you take the Lord there and still be comfortable?
Could he go through your internet history and be proud of what he saw?
Do you keep postponing time with the Lord? Putting him off for another hour or another day?
These seemingly trifling things, incidental at the time, have an immense impact on how your marriage is tracking now, and what it will ultimately look like in the future.
In many marriages, partners have little digs at each other for not spending enough time with them.
The Lord does the same to us using scripture and thoughts. Our conscience is pricked; but only if we have ears to hear — only if we have a conscience for the Lord and not against him. Otherwise we are relying on very little to highlight the typical obstacles in our relationship with him.
Small alterations in our life toward our saviour can reap huge results over time, and maintain a strong and healthy marriage unto the end.
Yet, by not making them, we run the same risk as the Ephesian church, and that is, we eventually, whether consciously or subconsciously, find ourselves leaving our chief mathematician, our Saviour, out of life’s foremost equations.
Finale for Ephesians