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November 5, 2023
Everything but the One Thing
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Revelation 2: 1 - 7

Purchase the CD of this sermon.


This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.

More From This Series


Well take your Bible and turn to Revelation 2:1-7. We’re wrapping up our series on the Book of Ephesians. Now we did work our way through the letter and we finished at 6:24, but there is one more letter addressed to this church. Paul wrote the first letter and the Lord Jesus wrote the second letter and we find it here in Revelation 2:1-7, a message I’ve called Everything But the One Thing.

We’re going to see something very tragic regarding the church at Ephesus. They had everything but the one thing that made everything valuable. They were lacking in their love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and we want to be challenged by this message I’ve called Everything But the One Thing, Revelation 2:1-7. Next week we’ll do a single standalone message and then I want to put you on notice. The week after that I intend to jump in to a new series called Things to Come. I’ve been exercised by what’s going on in the world.

I’ve been exercised by the ignorance in the church regarding the Second Coming. I’ve been exercised about the silence of American pulpits on the blessed hope of the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior. So for about 12 to 14 weeks, no more, I’m going to take you through the great turning points of the future. We’re going to be biblical. We’re going to be balanced. But we’re going to look at the Rapture. We’re going to look at a time that Jesus talks about called the Great Tribulation. We’re going to talk about the rise of a figure in the future the Bible calls the Antichrist. We’re going to look at the battle of Armageddon. We’re going to look at the return of Jesus to reign on Planet Earth and bring peace and prosperity, and we’re going to look at our eternal future. So buckle up. It’s going to be good. I haven’t addressed this in a while, and so that will start not next Sunday, but the following Sunday.

Revelation 2:1-7. You can remain seated, follow along as I read. “To the angel of the church at Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands. I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil, and you have tested those who say they’re apostles and are not and have found them liars, and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for my name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless,'” Now, this is a big nevertheless.

“‘Nevertheless, I have this against you that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, repent, and do the first works or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent. But this you have, you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.'”

A couple of weeks ago when I was in Houston, I got to play one of the courses at the Famous Champions Golf Club there in Houston, and while I was there, and I was thinking ahead to this Sunday morning in this sermon, I was reminded that that was the golf course that was to be the final destination of Payne Stewart on October the 25th, 1999. Payne Stewart was a famous golf player. He was a US Open winner, and that morning he was due to jump on a private jet, a Learjet, and leave us home in Orlando and turn west and fly to Houston, Texas, where he was to play the last championship of that tournament year at Champions Golf Club in Houston.

But 14 minutes into the flight, ground control lost all contact with the aircraft. Instead of making its westerly turn, its left turn towards Texas, it continued up in the northwest direction and it continued to fly, actually for some four hours until it crashed in South Dakota. By this stage it was breaking news on CNN and Fox and every national news broadcast. By this stage, two jets had been scrambled and had come alongside the Learjet, two F-15 jets, and they reported the tragic news that the windows of the jet were all frosted, which was a telltale sign that the flight had decompressed or never pressurized, and all on board had died of apoxia or lack of oxygen.

And if you remember that day, I do, for several hours, that plane continued to fly. Everything about the plane was operative. The aviation was working, the navigation system was working, the engines were roaring, but the one thing necessary for life was missing. Oxygen. In fact, Gary Inrig, in telling this story, says this, “Everything necessary to safely reach the intended destination was present except oxygen, but as results show, nothing else matters if oxygen is missing. They had everything but the one thing necessary.”

Now, there’s a spiritual counterpart to that tragic story and it’s this. A life of love is the only life that pleases God. Nothing else matters if our love for Christ is missing or diminished. We see that, don’t we, in Paul’s writing to the Corinthians in his first letter? Chapter 13, he basically says it doesn’t matter what’s present if love is absent. Faith can be present, faith that can move a mountain. Knowledge can be present, it can unravel the mysteries of God. Altruism can be present where you give what you have to the poor. Sacrifice can be present where you give your body to be burned as a martyr for Jesus Christ, but none of those things matter if love is absent.

None of those things matter if love is absent because, you see, love is the one thing that adds virtue and value to everything else. Love is the force multiplier of the Christian life, and we see that in the letter we’re about to look at in Revelation 2:1-7. We see that reality played out in the life of the church at Ephesus, who had many things going for them and Jesus will list the things that He commands them for. They had everything but the one thing that added value to everything else. Sadly, there was spillage. Sadly, there was slippage in the area of loving Christ and that became critical regarding the health and wholeness of this church.

This letter was written 30 years after Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. They had many things going for them but the one thing that brought meaning to everything they were and everything they did. Let me put it like this. The church at Ephesus had busy feet, broad shoulders, clean hands, a strong backbone, a sound mind. They were theologically astute, but they had a cold heart. They didn’t love Jesus the way they once did. They were missing a step in their devotion to the Lord Jesus. They were busily falling out of love with the Lord Jesus they professed to serve. We’ll see that they were willing to draw doctrinal red lines and yet while they were great fans to truth, they were becoming strangers to love. Jesus commands them for hating, yes, hating the right things, which are the wrong things, but they forgot to love Christ as much as the things they hated and Jesus chastises them for it.

So let’s jump right in, everything but the One Thing as we wrap up our series of expositions on the Book of Ephesians. Several things we’re going to see. The first thing is the contemplation. That’s verse one, the contemplation. Each letter begins with revisiting an element of the earlier vision of the risen, radiant, and returning Lord Jesus Christ. If you go back to 1:13, John is giving a vision of the Lord Jesus in the midst of the seven lampstands. One like the son of man clothed with garment down to his feet and girded in the chest with a golden bond. You’ll see that John falls down as a dead man before him, but Jesus tells him not to be afraid.

And so every letter that is addressed to the churches in Asia Minor in chapter 2 and 3 begins with a slice or a segment of that early vision that’s applicable to the life of the church. Now there is a question that verse one raises and I’m not going to spend a lot of time on to the angel of the church at Ephesus write. Who’s the angel? Now, there are different views? Some believe it’s the pastor. Some believe it’s the apostolic messenger that was perhaps delivering this letter. The word angel can mean messenger. Some believe it’s a personification of the church and others believe it is what it says. It’s an angel, a guardian angel, an angel attached to a local church to watch over it.

If I was pushed this morning, I’d probably go with a guardian angel because nowhere in the Book of Revelation does the word angel ever get translated as a human messenger. It’s always an angelic messenger, and just based on the grammar of the text of the Book of Revelation alone, I would lean that way. But I’m not going to get into the implications of that, simply to acknowledge that what interests me is the vision of the Lord Jesus Christ watching over the church and walking amidst the church. Did you notice that, as we look at this vision of the Lord Jesus holding the seven stars in His right hand and walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, which according to verses 19 and 20 are the seven churches? You’ll notice that He watches over the church and He walks amidst the church. Look at that first thought. Jesus watches over the church.

He’s watching over us this morning. He loves us. He’s concerned for us. He seeks our wellbeing as the head of the body. He directs the church, He graces it and He protects it. That’s a wonderful truth. This is as a present tense. The one who holds the seven stars in His right hand continues to hold the seven stars in His right hand and always will. The right hand is a place of strict accountability or a place of strong protection. Remember what Jesus promised His disciples, John 10:28, “No one will pluck you out of my hand.”

You and I live in the hollow of God’s hand, metaphorically speaking. That’s a place of accountability for sure, but it’s a place of wonderful protection and I think that’s a message that was being communicated to the church here who were living under the persecution of the Emperor Domitian. In fact, it’s interesting. When Domitian’s younger son died in AD 83, he proclaimed his son to be a God and coins were minted throughout the Roman Empire that showed his mother Domitia as queen of heaven and the child sitting on a globe, listen, playing with stars. Jesus is reminding his little flock there in Asia Minor that the one who plays with the stars, who holds the planets, who holds ultimate authority, is Christ and they are secure in the palm of His hand.

But more importantly, Jesus not only… I’m not sure more importantly, but from another angle, Jesus not only watches over the church, He walks amidst the church. Did you notice He’s walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands? We’re drawing back from 1:13. The word “Walk,” again, is present tense. This is something He’s continually doing. He not only watches over us in terms of protection, He watches us in terms of supervision. He assesses what we’re doing. He audits what we’re doing.

Christ is not some absentee landlord. Christ is not some disinterested deity. He’s interested in the quality of life and the quality of work that goes on within the church and His [inaudible 00:14:51]. In fact, it’s interesting, John talks about the golden lampstands. The metal of gold in the Bible often speaks to purity. Jesus is the chief bishop of the church and He is supervising it and He is surveying it. That’s sobering. He’s not only watching over us, He’s watching us. He’s watching to see if our hearts are to tune with His will, if our motives and attitudes match our actions.

Sam Storms, in a book on the Seven Churches of Revelation, says this. “He guards and protects and preserves the church. He’s never, ever absent. No service is conducted at which He fails to show up. No meal is served for which He does not sit down. No sermon is preached that He does not evaluate. No sin is committed of which He is unaware. No individual enters the auditorium of whom He fails to take notice. No tear is shed that escapes His eye. No pain in His felt that His heart does not share. No decision is made that He does not judge. No song is sung that He does not hear.” That’s a little bit of what Art of Fathers called the fear of God. That when you and I come, we need to be conscious of the one we are standing before and the one who walks amidst us. And the knowledge of that, the knowledge that the Lord Jesus Christ is auditing our Sunday services and our midweek groups and everything we do in His name is sobering and challenges us to a greater quality control regarding what we do.

I remember the first time I preached in my home church. It was a big night for my mom and dad, as you can imagine. It was a big night for me. It was a wonderful privilege and I was sitting in a little room just off the pulpit, the vestibule, and as I was waiting for to be led out by one of the elders up into the pulpit, was just to the left of the door we would go through, I noticed on the wall the text from Genesis 16:13, “Thou God seest me.” What an interesting verse.

I think it was meant to comfort me as I thought about my own inadequacies, I thought about, “I don’t know if I can do this.” As anxiety gripped my heart, it was a reminder God will help and the spirit of God will undertake. But it wasn’t just there to comfort me, it was there to challenge me, that as I looked down upon the sea of faces and the people I loved and who loved me, I needed to remember but there was an audience of one to whom I was accountable. It was the Lord God himself, and that I shouldn’t enter that pulpit lightly, but with fear and reverence. It was intended to put the fear of God in me, which it did as I mounted the steps and stood behind the sacred desk. “Thou God seest me.”

The head of the church walks amidst the lampstands, assessing, evaluating, measuring, and in a day when so many churches focus on cultural relevance, in a day when so many churches are worried about audience receptivity, we would do well as the church to remind ourselves that we serve before and we preach before an audience of one. There’s only one person we’re trying to please, and it’s not the seeker, and it’s not the unchurched and it’s not the unsaved, it’s the Lord of the Church.

Church growth experts tell us that the key to church growth is to ask what guests see and feel and encounter when they visit your church, and I’m not discounting that, but that’s way down the list. The real key to ask is what the Lord sees, what the Lord feels, what are the Lord’s takeaways as He walks through the church? The contemplation, secondly, the commendation. Christ’s active engagement regarding the life of this church is coupled with an intimate knowledge. We read in verse two, “I know your works.” He does, because He’s walking amidst the lampstands. He’s auditing the church, and so Christ has a knowledge of what they have done for Him and what they are within the culture for Him and He appreciates it. He commands them. He’s thankful.

Now He will rebuke them, verse four, “Nevertheless, I’ve got this against you,” but I do want you to notice the balance and I do want you to notice the order, and this is a good word to parents or counselors or if you’ve got to confront a friend. The Lord Jesus saw the good as much as He saw the bad. He does not begin by focusing on their weaknesses. He commands them for their strengths. He approves before he accuses. He’s positive before He’s negative. He commands before He condemns. You might want to take a leaf from His book on counseling and confronting people.

Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, said regarding the discipline of children, “Keep the apple near the rod.” The Lord Jesus did that in disciplining His spiritual children here at Ephesus. Now there’s three things He commands them on. Not going to spend a lot of time on it, but certainly we want this to be true of us. If Jesus is walking amid the lampstands and He’s surveying and He’s supervising, I hope He sees the three things that He sees here. He sees their deeds, their determination, and their discernment. Their deeds. “I know your works, your labor, your patience.”

This church was a beehive and an anthill of gospel activity. They had taken to heart, what Paul said in Ephesians 4:12, that God gives pastors as a gift to the church to help the church discover its gifts so that as the pastor ministers, the church will minister, and this was a church that ministered. This was a church full of ministers. The word labor means to toil to the point of exhaustion. They rolled their sleeves up, they put their shoulder to the wheel, and they got to work for Jesus Christ. I hope that’s true of you. I hope you’re busy serving the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope you find a slot, a lane, a place in our church to help move this ministry forward.

This was a congregation that didn’t wear loafers to church. They came in working boots and they got about the business of the kingdom. My friend HB Charles notes, “No church gets to succeed on spare time, pocket change, a nominal commitment.” Amen? And amen. Not only do we see their deeds, we see their determination. This was a resolute bunch. Look at verse two again. Jesus acknowledges their patience. This is a word that carries the idea of endurance. It’s a Greek word that means to remain under pressure, under a burden, under a load of responsibility.

You don’t give up and walk away. That’s our word. These people stayed by the stuff. He picks that up again in verse three. “You have persevered and have patience and have labored from my name’s sake and have not become weary.” Isn’t that beautiful? They weren’t weary and well-doing, to borrow the language of Galatians. They were a resolute bunch, and they had Jesus by the way and the Apostle John as a model. Back in 1:9, “I, John, both your brother and companion in tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” They plowed forward despite hardship, intimidation, little resources, and discouragement.

Satchel Paige was an MLB pitcher many years ago, very famous if you follow baseball, and he was not only known for his sports acumen, he was known for his one-liners. He had all these little pithy statements, and there’s several I like. One of his famous ones was this. “Age is a matter of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” That’s pretty good. He also said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” That’s good. His pitching philosophy was simply this. “Keep the ball away from the bat.” It’ll take some of you a while to work that one out.

But here’s the one I like. “You win a few, you lose a few. Sometimes you get rained out, but you have to dress for them all.” That’s good. It’s true of life. You get rained out. You lose the enthusiasm that got you going at the start of something. Problems pile up, but the true disciple of Jesus Christ dresses for them all, shows up for them all. Not only did Jesus command their deeds and their determination, He commands their discernment. This deserves more treatment than I’m about to give it, but I want you to notice that this church had a low toleration for false doctrine.

The contemporary church could do with listening to this commendation because Jesus says, “Look, I love the fact that you work hard for me, that you’re resolute in your commitment. I love the fact that you give no time to evil. I love the fact that when false teachers get within a mile of your fellowship, the walls go up because there are those who call themselves apostles and are not and you’ll find them out to be liars. I love your discernment. I love the fact that you’re not theologically gullible. I love the fact that you’ve got doctrinal red lines, that you expect orthodoxy of leaders. You expect biblical knowledge of members, that you believe there are limits to love.” Look at verse six, “But this you have, you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Jesus hates certain things, and one of the things that Jesus is falsehood and false doctrine and false teachers, and He loves the fact that they also hate that.

In a day when we’re told that love has no limits, that’s not true. It’s not true morally and it’s not true theologically. The Christian is never called to unlimited love and the Christian is never called to unsanctified mercy to the detriment of the gospel, to the detriment of the holiness of the church. This was a church that was black and white, cut and dry. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, 1 John 4:1 commands us to test the spirits.

Remember Paul had warned them at the beginning of his ministry in Acts 20:28 that wolves would dress up in sheep’s clothing and come inside the church and do damage. In his letter to them, he tells them not to be blown about by every wind of doctrine. Jesus commends churches that love the truth, that have got some doctrinal red lines, that have got some theological tests for people. You see, Jesus understood and the church at Ephesus believed, and so must we, that bad theology hurts people. False gospels dumb a people. They understood that there’s a limit to love and that there’s a morality to mercy. They guarded the front door of the church.

I like the story of AW Tozer when he pastored in Toronto in Canada. Early on in his ministry he said that a young, attractive, cultured woman asked to meet him and he set up an appointment, and as they sat and talked it became clear that she was troubled about a homosexual relationship she had fallen into with her roommate. She had already talked to others. She had gone to professional counselors and Tozer had the distinct impression that they had given her permission to continue in the relationship and he got a sense that she was expecting some kind of endorsement or understanding from him. But after he lovingly listened, he resolutely responded, “Young woman, you are guilty of sodomy and God is not going to give you any approval or comfort until you turn from your known sin and seek His forgiveness and cleansing.”

Now, you know what? She didn’t storm out. She didn’t become angry. According to Tozer, here’s what she said. “I guess I needed to hear that.” Be thankful for pastors that tell you what you need to hear, even when you don’t want to hear it. Be thankful for parents that set limits to their love and have got a morality to their mercy and who tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. Be thankful for friends that get into your grill and call you to repentance and to turn from your wicked ways.

Jesus commends them, but then Jesus condemns them. We’ve looked at the contemplation, we’ve looked at the commendation, now we’ve got the condemnation. Verse four. We kind of pulled up short here. “Nevertheless.” It was all going good up to this moment, wasn’t it? This one’s a great church report. “Nevertheless, I’ve got this against you. It’s a big black steam on your church report. You’ve left your first love.” They were diligent in service. They were patient in suffering. They were orthodox in doctrine, but they lacked the one thing, remember, that determines the quality of the other things. It doesn’t matter what’s present if love is absent, and it doesn’t matter what’s absent if love is present. Love is the one thing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and in Colossians 3:14 where Paul says, “Above all, put on love,.” Nothing substitutes for love. Not service, not patience, not orthodoxy. What is a Christian? A Christian, according to Ephesians 6:24, is someone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ. Now they love to serve Him and they love the truth that helps them to understand Him, and they love to stand for Him resolutely, but it’s always Him at the center of that. It must be. Those things must never become an end in themselves.

A couple of questions here. Who, what, when. Who. Who’s the subject of this abandonment? Now the text doesn’t tell us, but I think it’s fairly easy to deduce it’s the Lord Jesus. They’ve left their first love for Jesus. Now you could argue it could be love for each other. It could be love for the lost who don’t love the Lord Jesus, but of course it could be any of those, but if it always begins with Jesus, then that’s where we begin. Certainly it has to begin with love for Him. If we’re going to love each other the way He has loved us, we’ve got to love Him to do that. If we’re going to love the lost who don’t love us or love Him, we’re going to need His love to be patient and gracious and kind towards them, so it’s got to be the Lord Jesus. They have left their love for Jesus. They were serving Him, they were doctrinally orthodox, but they had left their love for Jesus.

Mark 12:29-31 is my argument, isn’t it? “You’ve got to love God with all your heart and and then you’ll be able to love your neighbor as yourself.” The who, the what. What is this statement? What is first love? Well, first love is that first flesh of faction that binds the hearts of a boy and a girl together and leads towards marriage. Our relationship with God is often described as the love between a husband and a wife, and you see it here in Revelation 2 and you see it in Jeremiah 2:2. If you go to that prophecy, I’ll go there for you.

God wants Jeremiah to take up a lament and in an indictment against the people of Israel and He says in 2:2, “Go cry in the hearing of Jerusalem. Thus says the Lord, I remember you, the kindness of your love and the love of your betrothal when you went after me in the wilderness.” God is saying through Jeremiah, “I remember when you loved me in the past more than you love me in the present.” That betrothal love, that love between husband and wife, that honeymoon love, that puppy love. It’s that early chapter in the love story in which the exchange of affection between the man and the woman, the boy and the girl, it’s personal, it’s fresh, it’s uninhibited, it’s exciting, it’s exclusive. That’s what we’re talking about. The time when the hours together seemed like minutes, when separation was agony.

I remember when June and I were dating, the day before, you know, texting and iPhones, we would get a once a week call on the telephone. We would share letters once a week. I couldn’t wait for the letter to come, although I told her to cut out the perfume stuff that was bothering me and the boys were picking on me. “Okay, send me the letter. Don’t douse it with perfume. That’s just a little bit too much.” But in all of that, right? When you’re separated, there was agony. The thoughts of being with that person dominated, and when they asked you to do something for them, it was not an inconvenience. It was that love that Jacob had for Rachel back in Genesis 29:20. Remember how Laban, Rachel’s father, apprenticed Jacob for seven years to win his daughter’s hand? But you know what the Bible says? “Those years seemed as nothing because he loved her.”

That’s the love we’re talking about here, and you and I know in life, in marriage, and in our relationship with Christ, that love can wane. There can be spillage and slippage, but that’s the love we’re talking about here, the love that a young man enjoyed with his girlfriend. He told his father one night that he was going to marry her and the father asked him, “Well, how do you know you’re ready? He says, “Dad, I know I’m ready. Last night when I was kissing my girlfriend goodnight on the porch of her home, her dog bit me in the leg and I didn’t feel it until I got home.” That’s first love. That’s betrothal love.

And the sad thing is you can lose it. The divorce courts tell us that. Marriages that have ground to a monotonous halt tell us, that and it’s true spiritually. It’s a sad day when grace is no longer amazing. It’s a sad day when prayer is no longer a privilege. It’s a sad day when the call to worship is no longer music to your ears. It’s a sad day when we neglect so great a salvation for some passing pleasure. When? This was a love that died by stages. Look at verse five. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” They had left their first love and they’re told to go back to the point of departure.

Now it’s interesting, the Greek here is a perfect tense which indicates that it’s a considerable amount of time has passed. This is way back. They fell a long time ago. This slippage, this spillage happened a long time ago, and they’re to remember that and they’re trace the time of departure and they’re to claw their way back to those early days of love for Christ. But the point I want to make is this, that their departure was not measured in feet, it was measured in inches. Their departure was not measured in weeks, but in days, not in days, but in hours. It happened incrementally over time, maybe even imperceptibly.

It’s true. I’ve seen it. I’ve counseled situations where it’s sad. Just a couple wake up one morning and realize the love is gone and they didn’t lose it the day before or the month before or the year before, it’s been a creeping separateness where you no longer do the first works, will you no longer watch your tongue, where you no longer show uninhibited affection, where you no longer make the sacrifices you were so willing to make, and it all accumulates until the love is dried up.

In fact, there’s a wonderful… Not a wonderful, that’s the wrong word. There’s an interesting insight to this. If you go back and study the city of Ephesus, it was a port city, probably in modern Turkey, and it was a hub of culture and commerce, but over time they had a problem. The harbor began to build up with silt and the ships could no longer get in. In fact, my friend Mark Hitchcock, I haven’t done the journeys of Paul with you, which I hope to do in the near future, but my friend Mark Hitchcock has done that and we were talking about it and he said, “Philip, when you get to Ephesus,” hopefully on the trip, “You’ll go down a street called Harbor Street. When you get in the end of Harbor Street, there’s no harbor.” The ocean’s five miles beyond that point because over time silt built up and the waters receded.

And that’s the picture. It all happened beneath the surface, beyond the eye, imperceptively, gradually, but to a point where it became deadly. And what’s true of marital love, creeping separateness, is true of our spiritual walk with God where we begin to cut corners, where we begin to become presumptuous, and over time there’s an erosion that takes place that becomes deadly. The correction? The correction, look at verse five. The diagnosis now is followed by prognosis. Having diagnosed the problem of spiritual cardiomyopathy at Ephesus, Jesus now prescribes what will restore the blood flow to the heart of that damaged relationship, and the remedy comes in three terse commands. Notice, remember is the first one, repent is the second one, and doing the first works is the third one. That’s the remedy. That’s the path to recovery. Three steps. Remember, repent, repeat.

Let’s spend a few minutes on this. Remember. This is a call to keep going back. It’s present tense verb. To where? Remember what? I think it’s remember the night you got saved. Remember how the beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ began to take shape before you through the work of the Holy Spirit in your heart, because up until that point there was no beauty that you desired him, but God began to take the scales from off your eyes and unstop your ears and break that stony heart. Go back to that moment. Go back to the beginnings of grace when your heart fluttered at the sound of His name, the joy of worship, the inhibition in witnessing for Jesus Christ. When you were swept off your feet and brought to your knees and adoring acceptance of the gospel. Be provoked by the memory of better days, the memory of sweeter fellowship, the memory of freer worship.

See, there’s a looking back that’s not good and the Bible warns us not to do it. There’s looking back where you lust for things you once had or for the things of this world that you’ve lost. That was the mistake of Lot’s wife. But there’s a looking back and a measuring of God’s goodness and kindness and providence that stirs up a renewed love for Him. Isaiah 51:1 tells us to “Remember the hole from which you were dug and the rock from which you were hewn.”

Isn’t it amazing where you are today because of God’s goodness and mercy? Look at the paths some of your friends have taken, the disasters they have encountered, the heartache they have gone through, and God in His grace spared you. He spared your soul, spared your heartache. It’s a good thing to do that. The Ephesians would be encouraged to remember that they were once dead in their sin, Ephesians 2:1-5, and they once walked according to the course of this world and they were once under the par of the evil one, but now they’re made alive in Jesus Christ.

Haddon Robinson tells the story of a man going through a divorce under his direction. He comes back to the house to clear things out and in clearing things out in the attic, he comes across a box of old check stubs. As he sits there, he just flicks through them and he sees the first mortgage payment they made. He sees the first vacation him and his wife took during happier times. He saw the check that he wrote for the first college payment for his first child, and as he went through these check stubs, the memory of these events stirred him and rekindle a love for his wife and family and a desire to repent of his hardness of heart and to turn back from the path he had them on. Memory can do that. Memory’s a powerful weapon as it rekindles the thoughts of former glory, God’s goodness and mercy.

Spend some time remembering. Spend some time repenting. Verse five, [inaudible 00:45:27] signifies a single action of lasting value. Is that interesting? It’s very interesting because it took them a while to get where they’re at having lost their love for Jesus, but Jesus is looking for a decisive, deliberate turnaround where they repent, where they stop doing the things that have them stopping loving Christ. Repeat. They were to get back to the basics. Get back to the beginning.

First words, verse five. They were to get back to the substance and spirit of the things that marked and sparked the life of the early church. That would be Acts 2, wouldn’t it? Verse 42 the day of Pentecost where you find the church praying, studying the word, heartfelt worship, profound thanksgiving, singleness of heart, fellowship, sacrificial love, fervent worship. They’re to do those things fresh, with some fresh impetus of love and dedication to Jesus Christ.

But the emphasis, by the way, is on doing, isn’t it? It’s interesting. They’re called to rekindle their love for Jesus, but part of the solution is what they do, which is a good reminder, again, to quote HB Charles in a message I listened to him preach on this text, “It is easier to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action.” You need to write that down. When you’re cold of heart, the thought is, “Well, I just got to sit around and until I get spiritual goosebumps or I get zapped by the Holy Spirit or something.” No. Act your way into the feeling rather than feel your way into the action. Do what you ought to do and ask God to give you in the doing of it a fresh joy and an encounter with Him. Repeat. Do those first things. I even say to our senior saints, “Don’t fall into the trap, ‘It’s the younger generation’s turn.'” Where did you get that? You’re called to do the first works. You’re called to serve the Lord right up to the end as much as you did at the beginning.

Old Jim Rosscup that used to be a member here told a story when I was in a class at the Master Seminary when he was a student at the Dallas Theological Seminary. He was swamped by just all that he was learning. It was so fresh to him, so new to him. He had no gospel background. He didn’t come from a Christian home. He was sitting in a class with guys who were running rings around him theologically, asking all these astute questions. There was a profundity to their engagement with the professor, and he was rather bothered by it. And so after one of the classes he went to Howard Hendricks and he sat down. He said, “Dr. Hendricks, I’m struggling,” and he told him what I just told you. And he said, “It’s just all so new.” Dr. Hendricks put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Jim, let’s hope it never becomes old,” and he never forgot that. Can you remember when it was all so new, all so glorious, all so wonderful? Remember, repent, repeat.

Quickly. Time is gone. The caution. Look at verse five again. This is staggering. “Or else.” So you need to remember, you need to repent, and you need to do the first works or else I will come to you quickly. And that’s not a reference to the Second Coming. That’s a reference to the one who walks amidst the candlesticks, whose feet like burnished brass and whose eyes are like a flaming fire. The one who assesses and judges the church and where necessary will discipline the church. And He will discipline them, notice how he’s going to do it, by the removal of their lampstand from its place unless you repent.

“Pastor, am I reading that right? Is Jesus threatening to close the church at Ephesus?” Yes, you are. That’s a threat. That’s a threat from the Lord Jesus. Their lack of love for Him was not a sniffle. It was a soul sickness that could spell the death of this church. Jesus will not suffer a church that fails to love Him. Let’s just let that simmer and settle. Let’s remind ourselves of that. Jesus will not suffer a church that fails to love him. You want kindred to exist, flourish, blossom. Let’s keep loving Him. Let’s keep loving each other. Let’s keep loving those who don’t love Him yet, who are very unlovely. What use is Christianity without a devotion to Christ?

Every saved person has eternal security, but the local church doesn’t have eternal security. Churches close. Denominations die. We can go to England today and it’s shocking where churches have become mosques, restaurants, cultural centers. At some point they stopped loving the Lord Jesus, loving each other, and preaching the gospel to the lost. The greatest threat to the church, can I remind you, is not outside. It’s inside. Churches are more likely to die by suicide rather than by murder. The culture’s not going to murder this church. The only way this church dies is when we stop doing the first works and when we stop making Jesus first. He’ll shut it down. Don’t worry about the culture.

What about the consolation? Verse seven. Boy, this deserves much more, but I want you to understand something that will tee us up for our series on prophecy that’s just around the corner. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. ‘To him that overcomes, I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.'” Now I’ll just give a broad interpretation of that last phrase. The paradise of God is a Greek word that spoke of the garden in which the Persian king would walk. Beautiful place where his friends and family would spend time with him, and this is the image of Genesis. The tree of life takes us back to Genesis and how man, through his rebellion lost with God, had wanted him to enjoy forever but through Jesus Christ we get to enjoy that again in the future in a restored paradise, in a revisited Eden, and Jesus is dangling that carrot in front of this church. Each letter ends with a promise related to some aspect of the life to come.

I keep hearing people say that prophecy is so impractical. It’s not. It’s so practical. The Lord Jesus addressed every letter with a call to focus on the eternal, the Tree of Life, escaping the second death, authority over the nations, reigning with Him in the millennial kingdom, the morning star, our names written in the Book of Life, our name in the new Jerusalem. Jesus believed that those who thought most about the next life did the most in this life. I agree with that, and my friend, we need to be challenged to be faithful, to continue to love the Lord Jesus, serve the Lord Jesus, be resolute in our commitment to the Lord Jesus, to fight the good fight of faith upheld by an animating prospect of His return.

Let me finish with this. John Hooper, one of the Protestant martyrs under Bloody Mary in Britain during the English Reformation, he was facing martyrdom and the night before his burning, a friend pleaded with him to announce his Protestant faith. And they said, “John, life is sweet, death is bitter.” But his friend said, “Oh, please remember, eternal life is more sweet and eternal death is more bitter.” And Jesus is reminding the church at Ephesus to claw their way back to that first flush of love for him where sacrifices were made, where boldness marked their commitment, where some of them pay at a cost to love him but he wanted to remind them that in the end, it would be worth it because eternal life is more sweet and eternal death is more better.

Lord, we thank you for our time in your word this morning and we pray that it would act as kindling on the fire of our devotion for you. We recognize we live in a day that seeks to dampen our dedication and devotion to you. Jesus warned us in the last days, the love of many will grow cold. We live in a very enticing world that appeals to our flesh, that removes the thought of death, that mocks the thought of eternity. The house is living just for the moment, the feeling, the experience, the comfort, the pleasure.

Lord, help us to fight that world. Help us to reject those broken systems. Help us to return to you in our first love commitment. Help us to make a fresh start today. Help us to make promises to you today that we’ve been breaking. Help us to guard our hearts in prayer and study of your word. Help us to act sacrificially. Help us to act our way into a feeling, not feel our way into an action. Help us to be very much aware that in all our doing, our being is most important. Help us not to substitute the out word for the in word. Help us to remember He grows sweeter and sweeter as the days go by. Oh, what a love between my Lord and I. Lord, help us to enjoy that sweetness ever more sweetly for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, for a few moments we’re going to get to express our love for him. We don’t need to preach, we don’t need to add anything to what we have just read and said because in remembering, we are going to remember what He did for us. And someday you and I will get to enjoy the Tree of Life, eternal life, but it’s because of another tree, a cross on a hill called Calvary where Jesus gave himself for us in atonement, paid for our sins, has offered us His forgiveness, and has promised us life with Him forever.

If you don’t have the emblems and you know and love the Lord Jesus, just put your hand up and our ushers will get them to you. If you’re not a Christian, we encourage you just to witness and listen and learn and be challenged to come to love the one who we so deeply love. Just keep your hands up and our ushers will get to you.

Well, let’s give thanks for the bread which speaks of that broken body. Lord, we can think of no better way to finish the service than this simple but profound act of taking these physical symbols and adding to them profound thought with spiritual reality so that we might indeed confess our love for you once more. We love you because you first loved us. Lord, we marvel at your willingness to die on the cross for our sins, to endure that suffering, to absorb that pain, and to bear the wrath of God on our behalf. Oh, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God.

Lord, we have been greatly loved. Forgive us for forgetting that, feeling sorry for ourselves. Why? Nothing will separate us from your love. You’ve loved us, you always have and you always will, and we just want to love you back with something that’s sincere and heartfelt and meant and uninhibited. And so as we take this bread, it reminds us of the broken body of the Lord Jesus Christ. May we express afresh our desire to love you more, to get back to loving you the way we once did for Jesus’ sake. Amen. Let’s take and eat and give thanks.

Lord, as we worship you and we memorialize that great moment in history when you imputed our sins on your son so that someday you might impute His righteousness to us by faith as a gift, we are mindful of the words of the old hymn. Where is the blessedness that first I knew when first I met the Lord? Where is that soul refreshing view of Jesus and His word? Lord, if we’re honest, there is much about our love for you that is being diminished and it is not what it ought to be. Help us to love you by loving your commandments, by loving your church, by loving your people, by loving the world you died to save. Help us, Lord, to find a renewed vigor and your blood, may your life given for us be an impetus for that. How can we hold back when you spared nothing? How can we give so little when you gave so much? So we thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.