Revelation Lesson 04 - Rekindling the Coals of Love
The Church at Ephesus got so many things right. Their theology was sound, their discipline of sin was admirable, and their fervor was unquestionable. But in this message Stephen brings us the troubling truth that a Church who gets so much right can still get so much wrong.
Rekindling the Coals of Love
You’ve probably become aware of what an advertising agency launched in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It launched a billboard campaign that included 17 messages from God. An anonymous client paid for a massive campaign to deliver messages from God to motorists on America’s highways.
Perhaps you’ve seen one. The entire billboard is black, with white letters and underneath the name, God.
The first one I remember seeing said “Let’s meet at my house Sunday before the game.”
Another one said, “Have you read my #1 best seller? There will be a test!”
I saw one that read, “What part of ‘Thou Shalt Not’ didn’t you understand?”
Another one went like this, “Loved the wedding . . . now invite me to the marriage.”
It makes me think . . . if I were God and I wanted to deliver a unique message in the 21st century to the Christians living in Kentucky, or California, or Cary . . . what one sentence would I write on a billboard.
Surely the Chief Shepherd of the Church wants to communicate to His bride – especially those hurtling down I440.
Darius, the Persian emperor was so concerned that news could travel quickly around the kingdom that he built a network of roads, paved and level that crisscrossed between his major cities.
They were called “highways” because they were literally higher than the ground around it, due to the elevation of the road by blocks of stone.
The Romans would later perfect the road system with their own network and it was so extensive that the saying, “all roads lead to Rome” was literally true.
In Darius’s day, and in Rome’s, the common people weren’t allowed on the highway unless they could pay a toll – and if they couldn’t they used the low way instead. The low way was called the byway or the hedges and it was simply a cart path that ran alongside the highway . . . unlevel and difficult to manage – often having to veer away because of rocks and trees.
I have read that it could take someone driving a cart on the low way 3 month to cover what a horse and rider could cover on the highway in 1 day.
By the way, when Jesus Christ told his followers in Luke 14:23 to invite everyone from the highways and byways to the Kingdom feast, He was actually saying that we are to invite both rich and poor – the well connected and the poverty stricken are equally invited to the table of Christ.
The Persians also designed a postal system that was complex yet effective. The Persian courier could cover 250 miles a day with postal stations every 15 miles where he could get a fresh horse and continue galloping toward his final address.
Herodotus, the Greek historian was so impressed by the Persian mail system that he coined the well known phrase that is engraved on the General Post Office in New York City. It goes like this: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
By the first century, the postal system of Rome was so developed that a courier could cover nearly 500 miles in 24 hours.
In the days of John the Apostle, there were 7 postal districts in the province of Asia. And in each district there was a church that was about to receive a unique and surprising letter from God.
Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume One (Moody Press, 1992), p. 93
And He wasn’t going to write it on a billboards.
It would be delivered by divine transmission to the Apostle John, exiled on an Island, then sent by messenger throughout the postal district of Asia Minor.
The order of these letters written follow the circular path of the 7 postal districts in 1st century Rome. All of these letters could arrive at these 7 churches on the same day.
Before we open the first letter and read it for ourselves, let me make some observations about these 7 letters.
- First, these are open letters.
In other words, although they were specifically written to a particular church, every church could benefit from them and every church would in fact study them and every church could apply their truths.
And that’s true to this day.
Colonial will discover herself in Ephesus and Pergamum and Smyrna and Laodicea. We can be encouraged by these first century letters and we are to be warned.
- Secondly, you need to know that these are not anonymous letters.
There is no question Who delivered the content to John the Apostle.
Each letter begins with the signature of Christ. Notice verse 1. of chapter 2, The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this…”
If you work backward into chapter 1 you discover as we already have, that this is the person of God the Son.
Notice verse 8b, “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this.”
Again – Jesus Christ signs his name to the letter.
These letters are not hit and run incidents. This is not some ornery anonymous mail that you read and try to forget because you can’t respond to the author.
I regularly receive anonymous mail . . . from people who hate the church, or hate some stand we’ve taken; every once in a while I get mail from people who don’t like me . . . if you can imagine that.
Before I even open the envelope I can tell it’s going to be anonymous. Plain envelope, no return address, plain white paper . . . and always typed.
I am encouraged to remember that Charles Spurgeon the well known pastor of London in the 1800’s received by courier every Monday morning a letter, anonymously written, criticizing the sermon he had delivered the day before.
D. L. Moody the founder of the Bible Institute and a great church in Chicago where thousands of people attended was once sitting on the platform during a morning worship service when an usher came and delivered to him a folded piece of paper. He opened it and it simply read one word in large letters – FOOL. He folded the letter back and sat there until it was time for him to preach. He got up and opened the note and said, “I have just received a note from someone today which simply reads ‘Fool’. The audience gasped. Then Moody went on to say, “I have often received mail where the person has written me a message without signing their name; however, this time, someone has signed his name without writing a message.”
In a matter of 24 hours, these 7 churches will receive the letter of their lives . . . a letter signed by Christ Himself.
- Number 3, each letter follows the same pattern.
First, they all begin with a characteristic of Christ;
Next, there is a compliment or two from Christ;
Third, there is criticism from Christ.
Finally, there is correction, or a challenge from Christ.
You can almost think of Christ having his own personal style of writing personal letters.
It’s a great pattern to follow by the way when you review your employees or your children. It’s compliments before criticism. And don’t forget clear corrective measures for them to take.
One more observation:
- Even though these letters are addressed to churches, they are for the self-examination of every Christian.
After reading the letter to the Ephesian church we shouldn’t say, “Yea, that church sure lost its love for Christ,” but, “Lord, have the coals of my heart’s love for you grown dark and cold?”
After reading the letter to the church in Sardis our question should be, “Lord, am I awake and alert?”
After reading the letter to Laodicea we should ask, “Lord, have I become so captured by my culture that I’ve actually become comfortable with sin?”
These letters have both church-wide implications and personal applications.
Look at verse 7 of chapter 2. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
By the way, don’t miss the fact that this revelation has now been attributed to God the Father (1:1), God the Son (1:18) and God the Holy Spirit equally (2:7).
The triune God is involved in His church.
And the Spirit brings the invitation at the end of each letter.
This phrase appears in every one of the letters, (2:11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13 and verse 22). “He who has an ear, let him hear.”
What an odd phrase to the English reader.
He doesn’t say, “He that hath good hearing . . .”, but “He that hath an ear.”
You might have rushed here from home this morning – you got the kids ready, shoved ‘em into the minivan, hopped in and half way here realized you’d forgotten your Bible . . . maybe you forgot to shave.
Last Sunday I was late getting here myself and when I went to hook on my microphone I realized I had forgotten my belt. There are reasons I button my coat.
Maybe you came in here and realized you’d forgotten your glasses, or your contact lenses . . . maybe you forgot your teeth, probably not.
But we normally don’t forget our ears. They have a way of sticking with us, right?
This is the Biblical way of asking, “Are you listening?” Not so much, do you have ears, but are you using them? In fact, it isn’t really referring to hearing with your physical ear but with your spiritual hearing aides . . . a submissive heart and a willing mind.
And these letters will test that kind of hearing.
Every letter will end by delivering a personal challenge that you and I are to take to heart, not just as members of a local body, but as individual members of the Body of Christ.
These letters are a special delivery . . . sent by way of heaven’s inspired delivery service – from the heart of Christ to yours.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this mail is for you and me . . . from God.
And to the church in Ephesus Jesus Christ will begin with five wonderful compliments.
Before He tells them what they are doing wrong, He tells them what they are doing right.
Try this pattern out at home . . . at work . . . in the classroom where you teach. Commend first, then correct.
Here are at least 4 things you are doing right in Ephesus.
- First of all; their diligence
Christ says, “I know your deeds.”
The church in Ephesus was energetic and active.
It was bustling with activity.
It matched its dedication to the dedication of the citizen of Ephesus to Diana, the goddess they worshipped.
Her temple was one of the 7 wonders of the world.
Alexander the Great had offered all his wealth from his military campaigns if he could only have his name inscribed somewhere upon it, but even he was refused.
The temple stood on a platform measuring over 100,000 square feet – twice the size of a football field. The temple was supported by more than 100 pillars. Unlike many columns in ancient days that were constructed of several blocks of stone stacked on top of each other to form a column, all 127 of this temple’s columns were single stones – 55 feet tall.
Edward Hindson, Revelation: Unlocking the Future (AMG Publishers, 2002), p. 35
At one end of this magnificent temple, overlaid with gold and jewels and intricate carvings, was an inner shrine where the goddess statue was kept. Behind her were vaults which served as the bank of the ancient world.
Historians called this temple was the 1st Century Bank of England.
William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches (Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 15
Everything revolved around the temple to Diana. People came from all around to purchase Ephesian letters – little charms that they believe contained magical, spiritual powers. Much like people today buy crystals and hang them on their rear view mirrors, believing that magical energy flows through them.
We are no less superstitious a people than the Ephesians.
You may remember the trade unions rioting when Paul delivered the gospel in to the Ephesians and many were converted. A leading craftsman named Demetrius said, “Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence. (Acts 19:27)
That started a riot and the city piled into the outdoor theater which sat more than 25,000 people and they chanted for 2 hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”
They were committed to their religion.
And now, Paul, who stayed in Ephesus longer than any other city, won many of them to Christ. Timothy will later on pastor these people and John the Apostle will write, according to tradition, the Gospel of John while working in this church, later as pastor, before he is exiled to Patmos.
These new believers filled the ranks of the church and they were as committed and dedicated to Christ as they once had been to the goddess Diana.
Jesus Christ commends their diligence.
Secondly, He commends them for their:
I know your deeds, and your toil and perseverance.
The word toil is from kopos (kopos) and it refers not just to work, but working to the point of weariness and exhaustion.
Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 815
The word for perseverance is a word that refers to bearing up under difficult circumstances.
Jesus Christ says, “Listen, I know everything about all the difficulties you’re facing.”
I see your determination to press on for Me and I commend you for that!
Further Christ commends them for disciplining the unrepentant sinner and the false teacher.
Notice further in verse 2, “. . . and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles and they are not.”
How Paul would have been thrilled to hear this commendation from Christ.
The church had kept their theological truths intact. They had kept the faith undiluted and unpolluted.
Paul had specifically given the church at Ephesus this warning before he left them and later died. He wrote, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert. (Acts 20:29-31)
Now, 60 years later, Christ commends the church for their discipline of the immoral man and the charlatan. The depraved are removed for their unwillingness to repent of sin and the deceiving teachers are removed for the desire to teach things people want to hear to draw them after themselves.
Later in this letter, the Lord mentions another purifying activity, in verse 6, Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Notice, you do not hate the Nicolaitans . . . you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans.
Who were they?
Some scholars believe they were followers of Nicolas, one of the seven men chosen to oversee the distribution of food in Acts 6, presumably among the first who would become deacons.
Whatever the origin, what they believed was well documented. They basically compromised their faith in order to indulge in sinful practices of Ephesian society. They argued that the believer could dabble in idolatry – buy the charms and visit the temple as well as participate in Caesar worship as no problem for the believer. And they also allowed for sexual activity outside of marriage.
Adapted from Life Application Bible Commentary: Revelation (Tyndale, 2000), p. 23
Basically they said they were Christians but they lived and acted like their world.
Do you know someone who says they’re a Christian but they pursue the idols of our culture in its lust for power and material things and they compromise and defend their sexual activity outside of marriage as something that certainly doesn’t mean they’re not a Christian?
Look here – Jesus Christ commends this church for hating that lifestyle and He adds, “I hate those things too.”
Can you imagine doing something and hearing Christ say, “I hate that.”
This letter was written to you – to evaluate your own life.
Clement of Alexandria, a church father living 75 years after this letter was delivered to Ephesus said, “The Nicolaitans abandon themselves to pleasure like goats . . . leading lives of self-indulgence.”
John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 61
Jesus Christ goes on to praise this body of believers, not only for their diligence, determination and discipline, but for their:
John records the words of Christ in verse 3. And you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.
You haven’t quit. Why? For My name’s sake. Not for your name’s sake. Not so that everybody would know about your church - you’re that church. You are the church founded by Paul and pastored by Timothy and John’s a member of your church and he’s the great author of the Gospel . . .
You are the only church in the New Testament to which two apostles addressed letters . . . you are the church of the day.
John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1991), p. 41
No . . . you’ve done all this for the name of Jesus Christ, the One who is the first and last, the One who was dead but is now alive, Who has the keys to death and the grave.
Now, after all of that . . . commending them for their diligence and their determination and their discipline and their devotion, Christ says in verse 4. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
That’s all He says. What does He mean?
A clue is provided later in verse 5 where the Lord provides correction. Here’s what you are to do – three actions on your part: First, remember from where you have fallen and secondly, repent and thirdly return – notice, and do the deeds you did at first. That word first – first deeds – is the same Greek word for first love.
Do the deeds like you did and first and love like you loved at first.
What was the church in Ephesus like in the beginning days?
Paul writes to them in those early years and commends them in chapter 1 of the Book of Ephesians with these words, “I have heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which exists among you and your love for all the saints.” (Ephesians 1:15)
The early church in Ephesus was known for its testimony and work of faith and its love for Christ and one another.
Listen, a church which ages is most likely to resist taking steps of what? steps of faith. It can also cool in its zeal and love for Christ and one another.
And the church here is now 60 years old.
I was very interested in reading what Ray Stedman had to write on this paragraph. He pastored Peninsula Bible Church for over 40 years. He writes, How easy it is over time to become mechanical . . . routine . . . dull. You listen to the Word of God or to a powerful sermon or to the testimony of a fellow Christian, and you feel you’ve heard it all already. You become critical of others. You become complainers. You become more selective in your friendships, singling out only those who match your thinking, your level and your status. You needs become more and more important in your thinking and the result is division and schism. We become focused on ourselves, our own agenda, our own programs and our own interests. The frightening thing is that there is nothing particularly unique about the Ephesian crisis. We have all been “Ephesisn” in our faith at one time or another. And the light of the church flickers, falters and fails.
Ray C. Stedman, Understanding Revelation: God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 29
What’s the answer?
Jesus Christ provides it in three verbs in verse 5.
Remember. The problem began with our minds straying from the truth, so begin the battle in the mind. Remember.
Remember who you are in Christ. Remember the power of the gospel which saved you. Remember your perverse heart and the need to depend on Christ. Remember!
Listen, this is great and godly advice not only for the church to rekindle the coals of love for Christ and the saints, but for a husband and wife.
Wives, remember what life was like without him. You’re thinking peaceful. No you’re not tracking here.
Remember what caught your attention . . . remember the gift she was from God. Remember how you made it through those early years without 2 nickels to rub together.
And now you have 2 nickels and that’s all, right?
Remember what mattered most then.
Second verb – Repent!
Stop wandering. Turn your back on sin. Stop calling it something else, like the Nicolaitans.
Refuse to ignore pride or excuse lust. Walk away from the material pursuits of your Ephesian culture.
Take your hand off the back door . . . refuse to accept any rationale for divorce. Stop flirting with adultery.
Refuse to cheat on your tests or cut corners on your business expense reports.
Repent – which means, do an about face. Walk in the opposite direction.
Third verb – Do . . . do the deeds you did at first.
Pursue your relationship with Christ . . . make Him the priority in your thinking . . . begin a conversation with Him that goes on and off and on and off throughout the day.
Return to some of those activities that made a difference in the life of your spouse or family.
Here’s the warning to the church in Ephesus – verse 5 includes those ominous words, “or else” . . . do these things or else I will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.
Simply put . . . no love . . . no light.
The candlestick represents the testimony of the church shining into the community.
While Christ has promised to build His church universal, (Matthew 16:18) He does not guarantee any individual congregation some kind of permanence and effective ministry.
Listen, today there is little to no evangelical witness from a church in Ephesus.
We happen to have thousands of towns in America today without one effective church preaching the truth and reaching their community with the light of the gospel.
There are church buildings and congregations but no light. There are budgets and potlucks but no love for Christ and His gospel . . . and no love for one another.
They will meet today in this city – in this county. They will turn on the lights, but they will have no spiritual light. Their lampstand was taken away some time past.
- Maybe it was a board meeting where evangelism got nixed as too controversial.
- Maybe it was a congregational meeting where the members voted out the pastor for preaching salvation through Christ alone.
- Maybe it was a pastor who preached that it was time to open the membership of the church to practicing homosexuals.
- Maybe it was the ladies meeting that sat and gossiped about the newest family in the church. Maybe it was the teen leader who took his kids to the beach where he and several kids got drunk.
These are all real situations that threaten the lampstand of the church being taken away.
- Maybe it was one of a thousand churches surveyed some time ago, when asked, “What is the mission of your church,” 90% of them responded with answers that basically and categorically declared, “The church exists to take care of my family and the needs of my family.”
In other words, “The church exists for me.”
Our first love for Christ has turned inward.
Our first deeds for others have turned inward.
We now love ourselves and serve ourselves and Christ says, if you won’t remember and repent and repeat, “I’m coming to take away your lampstand.” You can carry on without me.
I don’t hear Christ speaking with anger here . . . I hear grief in His voice. I hear great sadness.
I wonder how long the average church would operate before realizing the Holy Spirit no longer had anything to do with their church.
Today, nothing is left of the church in Ephesus but a memory . . . and a letter . . . and a warning.
Adapted from Lehman Strauss, Revelation (Loizeaux Brothers, 1964), p. 39
Do you have ears to hear? Are you listening . . . are your ears spiritually tuned to hear the Savior?
Christ closes in verse 7 with a reminder that for those who love Him and repent, they are the overcomers – a term for believers. Their inheritance is heaven – which includes a new earth – a return to a Garden where we will enjoy the fellowship and intimate communion with God that Adam and Eve once had, eating from the tree of life which will yield its fruit every month (Revelation 22:2)
Let me make some closing observations from this letter to Ephesus and us.
- It is possible to be busy for God without being a blessing for God.
In other words, it’s possible to have religious efforts without redemptive effects; it’s possible to have sacred activity without any lasting spiritual value.
- It’s possible to be persevering for orthodoxy and not have the power of deity.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, If I have the gifts of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith and I give my possessions to feed the poor and I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. (13:2-3)
Defend the faith. Hold strong your doctrine and know that all the while the Lord may be saying to you, “I am coming to take away your lampstand, not because of what you believe, but because of how you behave . . . you behave without love.”
- It’s possible to have a lofty reputation outside the church without loving relationships inside the church.
And might I add, it’s possible to hide behind a reputation and a smattering of good deeds . . . but Christ began this letter with those words, “I know.” “I know all about you.”
I found it interesting to read how a few years ago, on New Year’s Day, the annual Tournament of Roses parade was being telecast to millions of viewers, as always. Suddenly, a beautiful float sputtered and stalled right in front of the cameras. The designers and workers had created this magnificent float – caring for every detail, meticulously, but one – gasoline in the tank. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a gas can and solve the problem. Millions of people saw it all.
And the irony of it all – this float represented the Standard Oil Company. There it was, with the company logo, representing incredible resources, and the truck pulling the float had run out of gas.
We represent the blazing light of glory . . . we represent the light of the world. We belong to the Shekinah glory!
And our light flickers and fades out of view. Is this an issue of salvation? No.
It’s possible to have a redeemed soul and a wasted life. It’s possible for a church to have an effective past, without a productive future.
What do we do?
Remember . . . remember! Remember the priority of your love. Rekindle the coals that lie dormant from lack of attention and discipline and conviction. Remember where you left them.
Repent . . . do an about face. Admit your need for a rekindled fire of devotion for God. Repent – get rid of stuff that pours water on you’re the coals of your heart for God. Take steps today . . . burn some bridges in your life that just might start a fire again in your heart.
Repeat . . . start over where you veered off the track. Track your way back . . . solicit the help of godly friends. Trace the foot prints that lead you back home.
And start over again.
It struck me that Christ did not reproach them for having to start over.
I am convinced that the Christian life is filled with starting over again and again.
Remember . . . repent . . . repeat.
It just might save your marriage. It just might save your testimony.
It just might save your church.
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