“But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4, ESV)
I was reading a book the other day and a comment was made regarding the condition of the church in america. The argument basically said that we do not understand church, that we have many unbelievers mixed with believers in our churches and thus looking like the world around us has a lot to do with those who claim to be Christian but are living like the world. The argument also claims that the real believers are humble and broken and in the grand picture the whole church is the remnant of true believers.
I partially agree, but also disagree with the assessment. I do agree that because we employee a method of casting a large net into the world and bring as many people to church as we can so they can hear the message and get saved that we do bring in many no-believers. Those non-believers may hear a message that tells them to say a prayer and they can get to heaven. No repentance, no commitment, just say the prayer and you will be saved. These people then are told your in the club and your trip to heaven passport is stamped. Then they go out and live just like they have been living except now they have the Christian label. These misguided people do reflect in those statistics that say the church is like the world. But, I don’t think that is the only reason and that true followers are guilt free.
If we look at revelation, we find churches that have problems, and these churches are only 70 some odd years removed from the resurrection of Yeshua.
What kinds of things did the Spirit say to these churches? Let’s do a quick recap.
The Church of Ephesus – “you have abandoned the love you had at first”
What does it mean abandoned the love you had at first? Maybe there is a clue in Jeremiah 2:1-8 :
“The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the firstfruits of his harvest……What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells?’ And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.” (Jeremiah 2:1–8, ESV)
Just a little bit farther down in Jeremiah the Lord says something that should sound familiar: “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.” (Jeremiah 2:11, ESV)
If Romans 1:21-23 came to mind, you are correct: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:21–23, ESV)
So, to leave there first love was to leave the devotion to the Lord, to forget about the love they had as a new bride, and for those who where in leadership to not handle the word of God properly anymore. The result was the exchanging of the glory of God for things that are worthless.
The Church in Pergamum:
“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Revelation 2:14–16, ESV)
Here, idolatry and immorality have become a problem in the church. Those who heard the message could reflect back on Numbers 31:16 and those of us today can also reflect also on 1 Cor 10:8
“Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.” (Numbers 31:16, ESV)
“We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.” (1 Corinthians 10:8, ESV)
The Church of Thyatira:
“But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:20–21, ESV)
Again we see sexual immorality and idolatry.
The Church at Sardis:
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:1–2, ESV)
Wow, this is a church that thinks it has it all together, and even has a reputation in the community of being alive. But, the Spirit calls them dead. This seems to be an issue of pride.
The Church at Laodicea:
‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15–17, ESV)
It would seem that their actions did not align with their faith as James outlines in his letter:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14–17, ESV)
All of these passages in Revelation are churches, and the people that God is speaking to are believers. Now 2000 years later, do we really think we have it all together here in america where the temptations are all over the quick media we have before us? Are we so prideful that we think our huge mega churches are a sign of God’s approval. Or that we can throw workers at community problems and say it is all God? I see lots of non Christian groups doing the exact same things. I am not saying that God is not moving in those places, God is active all throughout His creation at all times and his grace and mercy I believe are delivered both from the body and from whoever He chooses to use to accomplish His purposes, even a donkey. What I am saying is that we need to listen to what the Spirit said to those churches and what he is saying even today through many good preachers…
“Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5, ESV)
“Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 2:16–17, ESV)
“Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come.” (Revelation 2:22–25, ESV)
“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.” (Revelation 3:3, ESV)
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19, ESV)
The message is clear, we need to return (repent) to the pure devotion of the Lord, we need to love Him as a newly wed bride, and we need to come back to handling the Word of God properly.
The Body of Christ is the Temple of the living God, and we love to quote 1 Chron 7:14, but keep in mind the whole context of that passage. It is a request of God to Solomon when the house of the Lord was completed…
“Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.” (2 Chronicles 7:11–15, ESV)
Lord, help us to have a humble and broken spirit, and repent and return to a life that is of pure devotion and a love that is like that of a newly wed. Help us to understand the idols and sexual immorality that is in our mist and as a body, turn from these sins and even our tolerance of them. May your word penetrate our hearts and stir us to good works that are holy and acceptable to you our Savior. AMEN!