Keeping Our Lampstand
“Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity. Recent studies have brought the trend to light. Among the findings released in 2009 from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), one stood out. The percentage of Americans claiming "no religion" almost doubled in about two decades, climbing from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. The trend wasn't confined to one region. Those marking "no religion," called the "Nones," made up the only group to have grown in every state, from the secular Northeast to the conservative Bible Belt. The Nones were most numerous among the young: a whopping 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. The study also found that 73 percent of Nones came from religious homes; 66 percent were described by the study as "de-converts."
Other survey results have been grimmer. At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, top political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell presented research from their book American Grace, released last month. They reported that "young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30 to 40 percent have no religion today, versus 5 to 10 percent a generation ago)."
[Drew Dyck, "The Leavers,"Christianity Today (November, 2010), p. 40; excerpted from Generation Ex-Christian (Moody, 2010); http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2010/november/1111510.html].
What we see with this report is that for some young people, they have forsaken their first love. They are “de-converts.” They are abandoning what they grew up learning and understanding. There are probably multiple reasons why that is happening and perhaps it is based on what was happening in the Ephesian church during John’s time. In our attempt to preserve the truth (orthodoxy) we have lost the importance of love (orthopraxy), which results in a false religion [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 117] that drives the younger generation away.
Love for Christ
Judy and I have always prioritized church attendance, since we have lived away from family for so many years
Even while in college, we made it a priority to get involved in a church
It has always been more than just attending church, but also volunteering (youth, stewardship committee, board of administration, Sunday school teacher, small group facilitators, etc.)
I know for me personally, there have been times when I have served with the wrong motives – it was more out of duty than out of love
Truth without love
When we were searching for a church home in California, we tried several churches before finding Calvary Chapel of Temecula Valley
We attended one church for several months and had started to get more involved there
One Sunday we were surprised by what was said in Sunday school by one of the assistant pastors and then the same idea was shared during the sermon by the senior pastor
The basic concept was that their denomination and beliefs were right
They were bashing every other denomination
In their pursuit of truth and being right, they had lost their love for other believers
We decided that day that we could no longer continue to attend that church
Doing something without love
Perhaps we can all think of a time when someone did something without love
Maybe it was at a previous church
It could be within our family – this one happens frequently, because we are most comfortable around our family
Friends at school can do or say things without love
Coworkers or supervisors, when they are being pressured from management, can react without love
When things are said and done without love, we are often hurt by those words or actions
In some cases those relationships do not withstand the hurt and they die
We’ll see in the letter to the Ephesian church that Jesus tells them and us that . . .
BIG IDEA – Truth without love is death.
GOD (Revelation 2:1-7)
Easley provides a beautiful outline for this letter to the Ephesian church [Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, Revelation, 33-34]. I’ll be using his outline headings as the main points this morning
Characteristic of the Sender (v. 1)
We first see that the letter is written to the angel of the church in Ephesus
Whether it is an actual angel, the pastor/leader of the church in Ephesus, or the spirit of the church as a whole is debated and defended by Biblical scholars
As mentioned in the last weeks message, what is most important is that Jesus holds/possesses and protects that individual or entity – they are in His control and under His authority
This aspect of the letter, characteristic of the sender, will be found in each of the seven letters and will refer back to one of the characteristics/attributes of Jesus Christ found in Revelation 1:5-18
Jesus refers to Himself in this letter as the One who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands
Holds the seven stars in his right hand
This characteristic refers back to 1:16, In his right hand he held seven stars
The only difference from 1:16 and 2:1 is that the verb is now a present active participle, which means that Jesus is continually holding on to the “angels”
The angels of the seven churches are continually in His control
This would have brought comfort to those churches who were experiencing persecution
This should also bring us comfort, knowing that Jesus is continually in control of what happens within our church
Walks among the seven golden lampstands
This characteristics refers back to 1:12-13, And I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” . . .
The only difference here is that in the vision in 1:12-13, Jesus was among the golden lampstands
Now He is walking among the seven golden lampstands (the seven churches)
This verb is again in the present active participle form, which tells us that Jesus was continually walking among those churches
Jesus is continually aware of everything that is happening in His churches
ATTRIBUTE – Jesus is omnipresent
This should be an encouragement to us as followers of Jesus Christ and as a body of believers here at Idaville Church
Jesus is aware of everything that is happening in our church, because He is walking among us through the Holy Spirit
Jesus is not only omnipresent, but He is also omniscient (all-knowing)
This is how Jesus begins the section where He compliments the Ephesian church
Compliment to the Recipients (vv. 2-3, 6)
Twice in verse 2 Jesus says, I know
ATTRIBUTE – Jesus is omniscient (all-knowing)
This compliments His attribute of being omnipresent
Since He is walking among the churches, He knows everything that is going on
For us, Jesus knows the vision God has given us
He also knows the attitudes of everyone’s heart as it pertains to that vision
Nothing is hidden from Him
Since He knows everything about us, He knows how to guide us
We see the things that Jesus knows about the church at Ephesus
This is a general description of what the Ephesian believers were doing, with the next two nouns providing further information about those deeds
Here we see it referring to the entire spiritual walk of the believers in Ephesus
This is the active side of the spiritual lifestyle the Ephesians had
Mounce says that they toiled to the point of exhaustion [Mounce, New International Commentary on the New Testament, 68]
The same term, “toiled” or “hard work,” was used by Paul in describing what he did to support himself
1 Thessalonians 2:9, Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.
2 Thessalonians 3:8, On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.
While hard work was the active side of their spiritual lifestyle, there was also a passive side
That’s what we see with the term “perseverance”
Mounce continues by saying that the Ephesians were very patient with those in their city who were hostile and against their goals and efforts [Mounce, 68]
Hostility from those in Ephesus was not something new, Paul dealt with it when he was there
There were unbelieving Jews who opposed him (Acts 19:8-9)
The artisans who produced the shrines of Artemis were led by Demetrius to begin rioting as a result of Paul’s preaching (Acts 19:23-41)
We see in verse 3 that they persevered and endures hardships for the name of Jesus
“The Ephesian Christians faced special challenges. Because they refused to bow the knee to the goddess Diana or the images of the emperor, they found themselves maligned, slandered, boycotted, and abused. Not unlike Jewish merchants in Berlin in the 1930’s Christians in Ephesus would have been the objects of physical violence, social ostracism, and economic repression. Yet they endured. They bore up under the load. Clearly, Ephesus had been taught well by its predecessors, Paul, Timothy, and John. (Insights, 38).” [Swindoll cited by Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition, Exalting Jesus in Revelation, 34]
They did this without growing weary
“Actor Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in the movie The Passion of the Christ, suffered during filming. He was struck by lightning more than once. Carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, he fell, separating a shoulder. The harsh Italian weather, grueling days on the set, and hours in the makeup chair every day, contributed to his battles with pneumonia, and hypothermia. During the brutal whipping scene, the actors playing Roman guards accidentally missed the board protecting his back—twice—causing severe pain and wounds.
During the filming of the crucifixion, Caviezel hung on a cross, buffeted by stiff winds. The cross swayed as much as three feet in either direction, aggravating his shoulder injury. That was when Caviezel wondered if he had made a mistake.
‘For the first time, I started questioning whether I had done the right thing. More important, I wondered whether it would be possible to finish the film.
I actually had the thought that this cross is killing me…. It wasn't funny at the time. I was in pain and I was freezing. Then something happened. It's hard to explain, except to say it might be what an athlete goes through when he seems to be thoroughly beaten and defeated, and then he finds the strength within him to overcome and win.’”
[Barry Koltnow, "'Christ' Tested Caviezel's Resolve," The Cincinnati Enquirer (2-25-04, F 7); submitted by Matt Neace, Silver Grove, Kentucky; http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2004/march/14888.html]
The Ephesian believers, during the writing of Revelation, were still having to persevere through the hostilities of their culture
We may be seeing the beginnings of that kind of hostilities that the Ephesians faced, but my guess is that we really haven’t had to endure many hardships for the name of Jesus
Cannot tolerate wicked men
Jesus knew that the Christians in Ephesus were committed to correct teaching and doctrine – their orthodoxy was solid
Part of the hard work that the Ephesian Christians were doing, had to do with testing those who were claiming to be apostles
We see two active responses
They could not tolerate wicked men
It was something that bothered them as they were pursuing a pure doctrine
The Ephesians continued the practice of pursuing pure doctrine years after Revelation was written
“Ignatius, leader of the church in Antioch, wrote them, ‘You all live according to truth, and no heresy has a home among you; indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone if they speak of anything except concerning Jesus Christ in truth.’ (Letter to the Ephesians, 6).” [Easley, Holman New Testament Commentary, 34-35]
These believers were using Scripture to guide their moral behavior instead of the culture and those claiming to be apostles [Akin, 33]
It appears as though the Ephesian believers took to heart Paul’s parting words to them
Acts 20:29, I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.
We see that Paul’s prophecy had come true
The Ephesian believers seemed to be ready for these “savage wolves” and took the time to test them
They tested everyone who made a claim to be an apostle
It is highly likely that John had instructed the Ephesian believers in how to determine the legitimacy of someone claiming to be an apostle
He had written his first Epistle sometime between AD 85 and 90 from Ephesus, and it is in this Epistle that we find these instructions:
1 John 4:1-3, Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
Akin gives some examples of what the “theological test” may have encompassed [Akin, 34]
What do you believe about Jesus – His person and work?
What is the gospel, and how are people born again?
Do you believe a holy life should complement our confession of Christ?
Do you teach anything contrary to or in addition to the Word of God and the witness of the 12 apostles?
These questions are applicable for us in the modern era – we can and should be asking these same questions of those who are claiming some special position within God’s kingdom
PRINCIPLE – God is pleased when His people work hard, persevere and endure hardships, and strive for doctrinal purity.
My prayer is that Jesus would say the same things about Idaville Church
We have to ask ourselves if we are toiling hard to the point of exhaustion so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread throughout our community
The old adage applies to us – 20% of the people do 80% of the work
We need 100% of the people doing 100% of the work
There are volunteer opportunities available
There are individuals who need to hear the saving and transforming message of the Gospel
My Next Step Today Is To: Commit to work hard at Idaville Church so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ can be shared with those in our community.
We have to determine if we are persevering and enduring hardships for the name of Jesus Christ
As we continue to follow God’s Word, we will experience persecution and hardships
We may lose people when they begin attending other churches
There will be people who criticize various aspects of the worship service, children’s ministry, youth ministry, other ministries in the church, and the vision
If we are focusing on Jesus Christ in those areas, we will be able to persevere and endure
My Next Step Today Is To: Persevere and endure any persecution or hardships through the power of Jesus Christ.
We have to make sure that we are testing those who desire to teach, preach, and serve in leadership, to make sure they have pure doctrinal beliefs that match God’s Word
Every one of us should be diligent in this area
It is our responsibility to guard and protect God’s flock
Practices of the Nicolaitans
In verse 6 we see one additional thing that Jesus compliments the Ephesian Christians about
They hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus also hates
Important note – Jesus and the Ephesians do not hate the Nicolaitans, but rather their practices
This is important for us to understand
We should never hate an individual or a group of people
We can and should hate the practices of individuals or groups
We don’t really know who the Nicolaitans were – they appear again in the letter to Pergamum (Revelation 2:15)
What were the practices of the Nicolaitans?
The best evidence we have for what their practices were is found in Revelation 2:14, which says that individuals in the church at Pergamum were practicing idolatry (eating food sacrificed to idols) and immorality (sexual in nature)
We see these same practices in the church of Thyatira (Rev. 2:20-21)
The Ephesian believers were doing some really good things in their city, but Jesus had one thing against them and we see that in verse 4
Criticism against the Recipients (v. 4)
They had forsaken their first love
There is debate concerning what their first love was
Some believe it was their love for Christ
Others see it as love for fellow believers
But, Jesus doesn’t separate love for God and love for others
Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Ephesians’ push for doctrinal purity had taken priority
The reason behind why they did what they did was no longer based on their love for Christ – it had become a duty, a chore, a task to maintain right teaching
“I once heard a preacher refer to people whose theology was ‘clear as ice and just as cold.’” [Easley, 35]
“A cooling of personal love for God inevitably results in the loss of harmonious relationships within the body of believers.” [Mounce, 70]
In the process of maintaining right teaching they had sacrificed love for each other
Perhaps they were suspicious of one another – “Is Stuart one of those savage wolves that Paul warned us about?”
“There were in danger of a legalism that in time would be their death. They were still doing all the right things, but sometime in the past they had forsaken the right motivation. They didn’t have a head problem but a heart problem. Obedience out of duty had replaced obedience out of love for Christ. The difference between the two is massive. It is the difference between ‘I obey and Jesus accepts me’ and ‘Jesus accepts me and I gladly obey.’” [Akin, 36-37]
Truth without love is death.
We can easily fall into the same pattern as the church in Ephesus
The motivation behind pursuing right doctrine can be void of love
In our attempt to maintain a pure doctrine, we can treat others in a way that is not loving – simply focusing on truth without love
The Ephesians had a problem, but Jesus didn’t just criticize them and leave it at that, He offered them a three-fold solution to the problem
Command to the Recipients (v. 5)
The Greek word is in the present tense, which means that the Ephesians needed to “keep on remembering” – it wasn’t a once and done kind of thing, but a continual action
They needed to remember what they did when they were first saved
Do you remember what it was like when you first became a Christian?
There was a fervency there – a desire to learn more about God and Jesus Christ (going to church, Bible study, praying, and reading God’s Word brought you great joy – it wasn’t a task or burden)
You were uninhibited and excited – you couldn’t wait to share your transformation experience with others
Your faith was openly displayed – you didn’t care what other people thought
Are you still that way today?
If not, you need to “take an inventory and evaluate where you are now compared to where you were then. Go back to the time when your love for Jesus was a burning passion and all that mattered. What was it like? What is missing now?” [Akin, 38]
They needed to remember what it looked like when the church in Ephesus was first formed
There was a oneness because of a common experience, salvation through faith in Jesus Christ
Idaville Church was founded over 120 years ago
None of us were here to experience the joy, excitement, and oneness that the original members felt as they started meeting for the first time
We can get a sense of what it was like when the very first Christian church was formed
Read Acts 2:42-47
There was joy, excitement, love, and oneness
The exciting part of that passage for me is that when the church was functioning properly, the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved
That is love for God and love for others in action
Remembering is important, but we can’t stop there
When we recognize where we have fallen from, we have to repent
The Ephesian believers had to repent of their loveless attitudes toward God and others
Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of our attitudes and actions
It is a 180 degree turn from what we have been doing to what we should be doing
1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Once we remember, and repent, then we have to return to the things we did at first
As a church we have to do ministry and corporate life together with the correct motivation – love
We have to serve others out of love instead of duty
We have to worship God out of love and not obligation
Perhaps you need to take an inventory and evaluate where you are now compared to where you were when you were first saved
Are there attitudes and actions that you need to repent of?
Are you worshiping God out of love for Him or obligation?
Are you serving others and the church out of love or duty?
My Next Step Today Is To: Remember where I have fallen from, repent of any wrong attitudes, and return to my first love.
Consequences of not repenting
The Ephesian believers had a choice, they could repent or not
Not repenting meant that Jesus would come and remove their lampstand
This means that they would no longer provide spiritual light in the dark and evil world in their city and surrounding villages
If they ignored the warning and command from Jesus to be motivated by love in their worship and service, then the church there would die
Truth without love is death.
We run the same risk as the Ephesian church, if we reject Jesus’ command for us to be motivated to worship Him and serve others out of love, then Idaville Church will die
The final thing that Jesus communicates to the believers in Ephesus is a commitment to those who remain faithful
Commitment to all who Overcome (v. 7)
Here is the first time we read the words, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches
This phrase is repeated at the end of all seven letters
The fact that the plural form of church is used means that all seven letters were intended for the seven churches
It is also indicative of the fact that these letters are applicable for us today as a body of believers
“All who read this letter are to ask whether their church fits this situation and whether they too should ‘listen’ and ‘repent.’” [Osborne, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Revelation, 122]
To him who overcomes
All seven letters have a commitment to those who overcome
Sometimes it comes before the phrase about listening to what the Spirit says and other times it comes after
The Greek word for “overcome” also means “conqueror”
It is historically an athletic and military metaphor, which represents both superiority and victory over a defeated enemy [Osborne, 122]
It comes from the Greek nikaō, which is where we get our English word “Nike”
So, Nike’s tag line, “Just Do It” is really meaning to conquer whatever you are doing in their shoes (basketball, running, tennis, hiking, etc.)
PRINCIPLE – God rewards His people who are faithful to Him.
We see that the reward for any church, in the 1st Century or today, that conquers the drift away from their first love, is the right to eat from the tree of life
The tree of life was originally part of the Garden of Eden
It was there with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were removed from the Garden of Eden, and cherubim and a flaming sword were put in place to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:24)
The tree of life is found again in Revelation 22:1-2, Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
This metaphor is talking about receiving eternal life
That is the reward for those who overcome
Is God pleased with your deeds?
Are you working hard for him?
Are you persevering and enduring hardships without growing weary?
Are you testing those who are preaching, teaching, and leading, against God’s Word?
Have you forsaken your first love?
Do you need to remember where you’ve fallen from?
Do you need to repent of any wrong attitudes?
Do you need to return to your first love?
We have to ask the same questions as the body of believers at Idaville Church
We have to determine if we are pursuing truth without love
“Tell me what you think about, and I will tell you what you love. Tell me what you talk about, and I will tell you what you love. Tell me what excites you, and I will tell you what you love. My prayer for you, as well as for myself, is that the answer will be the same for all these. May the answer always be Jesus.” [Akin, 40]