I. Important Teachings in Revelation
I have mentioned before that the book of Revelation is a difficult book to look at. It is full of confusing and difficult sayings and many a Christian has found him or herself falling off track as they try to figure out what Revelation is about to the point of ignoring the other, important teachings of the Bible. That being said, there is an important section of the book of Revelation, that moves away from the apocalyptical writing and basically talks to real people struggling with real issues as they are parts of real churches. I believe that Revelation 2 and 3 are the real power of the book of Revelation, not because they avoid apocalyptic writings but because they are surrounded by apocalyptic writings.
Revelation 2 and 3 spend time talking to seven churches that were going while Revelation was being written. And these chapters look at these churches and commend what they are doing right and correct when they are off track. In taking time to look at the problems and joys in these individual churches in the midst of a book talking about the end times, God is making it very clear where his priorities are.
Now I, like many Christians before me, believe that these were letters written to specific churches with specific problems that are being addressed. But I also believe that they have greater truths that speak not only to the church receiving the letter but to all Christians. So I believe that it is worthwhile to look at these letters to the angels of the seven churches to see what they say to us. Some of these will speak more to us than others. Some will show us that we, as a church and as Christians, are on the right track and we can rejoice in that. Other letters will challenge us where it hurts and help us to realize that we are falling short in our call to follow God as his people. Whatever we get from these letters from Jesus to these early churches, we know that they will not hit us all at the same place. But when we look at what Jesus rejoiced about in his early church and what he was disappointed by, we can better understand how to be a part of his church today.
II. The Ephesians
The first letter that we come across in the book of Revelation is to the church in Ephesus. This is a church that we know something about, after all, we have a letter to this church from Paul.
And here, like with Paul, the letter begins by commending the people of Ephesus. They have been faithful, they have worked hard at their faith, they have stayed true to good theology. You see, in the early church, much like today, there were different ideas going around about what it meant to be a Christian. There were different leaders who focused on different things. For some one thing was more important, for others something else was. And some Christian leaders, even back then, would head off on the wrong track. They would head in a direction that was taking them away from the faith. The Nicolaitans are mentioned in this passage. They were people who wanted to make Christianity too much like the culture around it. They felt that it was fine to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols, they felt that it was okay if you went ahead and denied Jesus verbally, because what really mattered was what was in your heart. They believed that the Christian faith could accommodate the culture around it to the point that it didn’t look any different from the culture around it. But the people of Ephesus rejected this teaching. And they are commended for it.
The truth that we find here is that we are called out as Christians to be different. We cannot allow ourselves to accommodate to what we think the world around us wants us to be. No, we have to stay true to what God is calling us to be, even when this means hardship for us. Even when this means that we might not be treated in the same way as those around us. We aren’t offered food that had been sacrificed to idols anymore, and we might wonder why this was a problem in the early church, but when you realize that the restaurants all served food that had been sacrificed, and when you realize that that was where people would go to do business, all of a sudden you realize that the people weren’t able to do business the way that those around them did, they were giving up something important so they could stay true to what the Gospel asked of them.
The Ephesians were doing the right things. They were testing those who came to them, they were making sure that their theology was on track. They were studying not only God’s word but also the teachings of the apostles. And the Ephesians are commended for this. They are on track. They are heading in the right direction. But they are missing something. There is something lacking in their faith, in their walk with the Lord.
III. Your First Love
What is it that is missing? It is put so eloquently in verse 4. “You have forgotten your first love.” What is the first love that Jesus is talking about? I believe that it is twofold. The first love is the love you have for God when you really understand what it is that he has done for you. And the first love is also the love that you have for things of God like church and missions and doing God’s will. Jesus goes on to tell the people of Ephesus to remember the heights that they’ve fallen from. And I think it is worthwhile for us to remember what our faith used to be like.
Remember how excited you used to be about the gospel? Remember how you just devoured scripture because it was new to you and you couldn’t get enough? Remember what it felt like at camp when you walked down that isle to accept Christ into your life because you realized that you wanted to take the next step? Remember when you lost track of time because you were worshipping God and you had caught a glimpse of heaven? Remember when you looked forward to every opportunity you had to get together with other Christians because there was something exciting about talking about God with others.
But that excitement, that joy, that exuberance doesn’t seem to last and we end up finding ourselves going through the motions. We end up having to drag ourselves to church because we’d much rather sleep in. Some people blame this loss of the excitement on the church and they will try a different church that will be new and exciting once again, but that doesn’t last, either. Others dismiss their excitement for the Gospel and the things of God as youthful exuberance. They dismiss it as something that they cannot ever get back. They’ve had their honeymoon with God and now the relationship has moved past that stage.
But in his message to the Ephesians, Jesus tells them how to remember their first love. He doesn’t just tell them to do it, he tells them how. He tells them to do the things they used to do. It’s the way we’re built. Our emotions, our feelings are affected by what we do. We like to look at it the other way and we like to allow our actions to be decided by our emotions, but it can happen the other way around. People who feel like their relationships are going downhill and don’t see much joy in them anymore often allow their emotions, their lack of love, to keep them from working towards growing those relationships. And yet, if they started doing things that would help the relationships grow stronger, they would find that their feelings would follow. We often wait for our feelings, when what we need to do is start living as if our feelings were different and we would find them changing.
The summer between high school and college, I was working at a grocery store as a box boy. It was a good job that I quite enjoyed, though I’ve got to say that you can only talk about the weather so many times a day as you take people’s groceries out to their cars. One day I came to work very upset and very depressed. My girlfriend had broken up with me the night before. But my job was such that I had to smile and make light conversation with strangers, though I didn’t feel like it at all. At the beginning of the day, I felt that I had a fake smile plastered on my face when I was around people, and it would disappear when there was nobody around. But as the day progressed the fake smile became real, as I made the effort to be friendly and have conversations with people, my heart started warming up.
I think this can be true in many ways with our relationships. When we don’t feel like things are going well, we can start acting as if they are and discover that things can and will turn around. And I believe that this can happen in our relationship with God. We need to rediscover our first love. This doesn’t mean that we have to wait until we hear a song we like. It doesn’t mean that we need to find a church that matches our worship style. What it means is that we need to begin treating God as if he were first in our lives again. And we just may discover that when we begin to do this, God will take that place in our world and in our lives once again.