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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 7, 2007
A Foundation for Prayer
This morning I will begin a series on a topic that I hope will be helpful to all of us in increasing our intimacy with our Lord. We will be spending the better part of the next couple of months talking about prayer.
This morning will be an introduction to the subject in that it will be dealing with the basic motivation that should cause us to pray. A basic motivation that causes us to want to live the Christian life. Without this motivation, the Christian life will not only become prayerless, it will also become frustrating, painful, and full of guilt which will result in depression. With this motivation the Christian life is prayerful, satisfying and joyful in all circumstances.
This morning we are going to talk about the motivation that comes with a deep and abiding love. Turn to Revelation 2:1-7 where we will find not only the importance of loving the Lord Jesus Christ, but also how to regain that love if it has diminished over the years.
The Book of Revelation is as its title. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ as given to John the Apostle while John was in exile on the Isle of Patmos (c. 95, 96 A.D.) during the reign of Domitian. John is later set free and returns to Ephesus where he died during the reign of Trajan c. 98-117AD.
Verse 1 tells that the purpose of the book is “to show His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place.”
In chapters 2 & 3 are a series of seven letters written to seven churches located in the western part of Asia Minor within about a 100 mile radius from Ephesus. These letters are from God through Christ by an Angel to John who then wrote down what he was told (vs. 1:1;11; 2:1). Therefore, these letters are not the thoughts of John, but are what Jesus Himself wants to tell these churches. Keep that in
mind as we examine the first of these letters which is addressed to the church at Ephesus. This is what Jesus wanted that church to know. This is emphasized in Verse 1 by the fact that this is the message that Jesus wanted to give to the church in Ephesus. “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven starts in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:”
Jesus is the one holding the seven stars and the seven candlesticks (1:17-20). And while Jesus has a specific message for the church at Ephesus, this letter also tells us what Jesus thinks of similar situations. If we have fallen into the same error as the Ephesians did, then the principles found in this letter apply to us as a group or as individuals.
The first thing that Jesus says to the Ephesians is that they have done well in certain areas. Jesus commends them by saying, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.”
In order to fully understand this commendation, we need to understand a little more about Ephesus and what the church there faced. Ephesus was located where the Cayster River met the Aegean Sea on the cost of what is now western Turkey. It is due east of Athens and was founded sometime between the 12th and 10 century B.C. by the Son of Cordus, the last king of Athens. The site was near the shrine of an ancient Anatolian goddess whom the Greeks associated with and called after their own goddess Artemis (or Romanized – Diana). Ephesus was the worldwide center of the worship of Artemis. This was due to it being the sight where a meteor stone fell. In Acts 19 Demetrius calls this the “image which fell down from Jupiter.” This brought many religious pilgrims/worshipers to the city.
Artemis was worshiped with carnal fertility rituals, orgiastic rites, and religious prostitution. Croesus, (R. 564-546 BC) of Lydia constructed the temple to Artemis at Ephesus. At the time it was the largest of all the Greek Temples. A new, larger temple was built in 334 BC (the time of Alexander the Great) and it became one of the seven wonders of the Ancient world. It was about four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. This also attracted travelers and tourists. As a port city and one of the larger cities of that time, Ephesus was also an important banking and trade center. In summary, not only was Ephesus an important business center, but it was also the stronghold of a widespread heathen cult.
In many ways we could compare it to any of several major cities in the U.S. including New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. There was a lot of business, trade, shipping that went through it. It was the center for a major cult along with many other pagan cults of the Greek & Roman deities practiced along with Ceaser worship. These are things we find in our own major cities. There is much commerce, trade, business along with an attraction to cult groups of every kind. L.A. for example, is the headquarters for several major cults with about every other cult group having some kind of presence. Add in the immoral lifestyle practiced in our cities and you have a good idea of what it might have been like in Ephesus.
In the middle of this very pagan, immoral city, God planted a church and Jesus commends them in verses 2,3 saying, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary“.
In Acts 19 we are told much about the deeds and toil of the Ephesian church. Vs 18-20 says, “Many came to know the Lord, they confessed their sins, repented of their former ways so that the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” In the speech of Demetrius the idol maker, he claimed that not only had this church seriously affected their idol business, but, “not only in Ephesus, but in almost all Asia, people have been persuaded and turned away – saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all” (vs 25-27).
In Ephesians 1:15, Paul said to them, “I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints . . .” The Ephesian church had a strong faith and a strong love for each other.
In addition, they could not endure evil men. The word here translated evil (kakoV / kakos) means base, bad in the moral sense, or “good-for-nothing” in regards to what a person should be good in. They practiced the Biblical command to admonish one another (Rom. 15:14; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:15) just as Paul had taught them (Acts 20:31).
They would “put to the test those who call themselves Apostles.” The Ephesians were putting into practice what the Apostle John wrote to them in 1 John 4:1 “Beloved, 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.” Paul warned them in Acts 20:28-30 to beware of “wolves,” a reference to false teachers and leaders, that would come in among them.
And finally, though there was opposition and persecution, the Ephesian church persevered and endured for the sake of Christ’s name. They did not grow weary. They had learned to put on the whole armor of God which Paul told them to do in Ephesians 6.
Wouldn’t it be great to hear these things from the Lord about Grace Bible Church? You have good deeds and toil. You have done great work. You are careful about doctrine and you do not tolerate sin but lovingly admonish those in error to bring them back into righteousness. You persevere and do not become weary for my sake. Wouldn’t you love to hear Jesus say to those things to us – “Good job Grace Bible”?
One of the reasons the Ephesian Church was so strong was its spiritual heritage. Paul came through on his second missionary journey and left Priscilla and Aquilla there (Acts 18). Apollos then came and was taught by Priscilla and Aquilla. On Paul’s third missionary journey he spent 3 years at Ephesus ‘not ceasing day and night admonishing/teaching them with tears.” When Paul departed, he left Timothy to continue the work (1 Tim 1:3). Later, Paul sent Tychius to help (2 Tim 4:12). The Apostle John arrived there towards in the later part of the century and ministered there until his death.
The New Testament books of Ephesians, 1 John and Revelation were all written to that church. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Second and Third John were written to specific people in that church. No less than Seven New Testament books were directly written to her or those in her. The Ephesian Church had a very strong spiritual heritage.
Their Failure & Warning
Yet, there was something wrong, for Christ says in verse 4, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” He then warns (v.5) that unless they repent, He would remove their lampstand. This was a very serious charge. It was not something they could brush aside and forget about. They could not rest on their laurels, their past deeds and great heritage. Unless they returned to their first love they would no longer exist!
But what does in mean to leave your first love? How does that affect you and me personally? How can this passage be applied to my life and to your life?
Jeremiah 2:1-5 gives us a good illustration of Israel leaving their first love. “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, The love of your betrothals, Your following after Me in the wilderness, Through a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, The first of His harvest: All who ate of it became guilty; Evil came upon them, declares the LORD.'” Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the LORD, “What injustice did your fathers find in Me, That they went far from ME, And walked after emptiness and became empty.”
Vs. 1 – There was a time that Israel loved God and followed after Him. Vs. 2 – The LORD remembered the lovingkindness of their youth, the love of their betrothals, and their following Him in the wilderness. Vs. 3 – Israel was Holy to the LORD. Vs. 5 – Yet, without finding any fault or injustice in God, they went far from Him.
The love of the engagement period is a good illustration of first love. There is true devotion and care. What pleased you most was to please your fiancee. Your desire was for their good even at your own sacrifice. The reward of seeing that special person smile and know that he/she was pleased with you was motivation enough to take on the whole world. There was no pettiness. There was no self-seeking. 1 Corinthians 13 described the nature of your love. It was kind, patient and not jealous, bragging or arrogant. You did not act unbecomingly, seek your own or become provoked. Wrongs would be overlooked. That first love was understanding and forgiving. It would rejoice in truth and bear, believe, hope and endure all things for the sake of the one loved.
What happens though when that love begins to fade? The flame of love dies down and self-centeredness enters in. You begin to wonder what your loved one is doing for you? You begin to seek your own and become provoked by them, often by the very things you used to find attractive. You begin to act unbecomingly, lashes out with unkind words and actions while holding grudges. You no longer bear their idiosyncracies or believe them. Your hope and endurance fade. The relationship is dying and you are not sure what happened or what to do. Those of you who are married or have been in serious relationships know what I am talking about. What happened to the honeymoon? What happened to the joy you used to have in just being together? Some of you have learned how to rekindle the flame of your love. Others of you long for its return. Some have lost hope and are thinking about quitting and others have already quit.
The same loss of first love can occur in your relationship with Jesus Christ. It first becomes evident in a loss of the fruit of the Spirit. It begins with a loss of the joy of your salvation. Your salvation from sin is taken for granted. Then the other fruits start to fade. Instead of peace and patience there develops turmoil and irritability. Instead of goodness, kindness, and gentleness you become indifferent leading to coldness and harshness. Self-control departs and you become impulsive and respond to circumstances instead of acting purposefully.
As the slide away from your first love continues it affects more than just attitudes and emotions. Behavior changes too. Joy is lacking in your study of Scriptures and in prayer resulting in them either being done mechanically or stopping altogether. Sharing Christ with others becomes foreign. The desire for Christian fellowship slides from desire, to indifference, to a duty, and then it becomes inconsistent, sporadic, and finally non-existent. Thoughts about God descend from excitement, to nonchalance, disinterest, and apathy and then to discord, antagonism, and hatred.
Two verses will make it clear if you have left your first love.
1. I John 4:19,20 “We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” You cannot say that you love God and hate your brother. If you hate your brother then you have left your first love of Christ.
2. John 14:21 Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.” – vs 24 “He who does not love Me does not keep My words;…” You cannot claim to love Christ and disobey Him. If you disobey Him and are not grieved over it then you have left your first love of Jesus.
Your true spiritual condition will be evident in your prayer life. Do you truly pray? Is it really for God’s will to be done or for your own? Does your heart reflect the heart of God in what you pray for? Does your prayer life reveal a true heart of prayer that is rooted in the Scriptures, revealed in confession, responding in supplication and receiving answers?
Want to quickly find out if you have left your first love of the Lord? Compare yourself to a brand new Christian. Are you as excited about Jesus Christ as they are? You see, past good works are not enough. Having correct doctrine with all the “t”s crossed and “i”s dotted is in not enough. Being a good spiritual watch-dog is not enough. Having a good spiritual heritage is not enough. Your love for God must be strong and continue on?
The good news this morning is that even if that level of love has been diminished or lost, you can regain it. Verse 5 gives us three steps its restoration. “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.”
1. Remember 2. Repent 3. Redo
1. Remember – The first step in restoring your relationship with the Lord, or for that matter any person, is to remember where your relationship had been and recognize to where it has fallen. In other words, you have to recognize that your love is not the same as it was previously before it can be restored.
Do you remember what is was like when you were first saved? I am not referring to just the emotional response because that will vary a lot depending on individual personality. Some people are very expressive outwardly of their joy while others weep in gratitude and still others remain very reserved in their outward actions. Don’t compare your emotional response to that of others as a measure of your love for Jesus. I am referring to the changes made because of your understanding of the great truths of the gospel and especially that Jesus Christ took upon Himself the punishment of your sin so that you are no longer under God’s condemnation but are made righteous before Him and adopted into His family. Those truths lead to a love for Jesus Christ as a response to His great love (1 Jn. 4:19). This is then demonstrated in striving to know Him better and follow Him to the best of your ability. A desire grows within you to know the Scriptures and find ways to serve God and this corresponds with a desire to be with people that believe the same things. There is a willingness to change things in your life in order to please the one you now love. All these things increase as you mature.
While the level of ability to do these things will vary from person to person, all true Christians are disciples, i.e. followers, of Jesus Christ. These desires will be present within them and they will strive to fulfill them. If that has never been true for you, then you need to consider what you actually believe about Jesus Christ and whether you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). Talk with myself or one of our church leaders and let us help you figure out where you actually stand with God. There can be nothing more tragic than to think you belong to Christ and then have Him say to you “Depart from Me, I never knew you” (Mt. 7:23). If there is any doubt, get it resolved today.
If those were your desires in the past but you recognize that they have diminished, then you have made it to the first step to restoration. You have to recognize that there is a problem before it can be fixed, and that leads to the second step.
2. Repent. Remembering should bring you to repentance. Repentance means to “change the mind” concerning something, and if the mind is changed then the behavior and direction of life will also be changed. Remember and recognize what your first love was like and what it should be now and change your mind about how you are currently living. With this comes confession of your sin to God as well as confession to one another of any sins you have committed against them. Remember that confession means “to agree.” God is right and you are wrong.
But repentance cannot be left as just a mental exercise. Tragically there are many that do want to leave it there. True repentance also results in a change of actions in keeping with the change of mind. To repeat an illustration I have used many times before, if you are heading south to New York City and get a call telling you to go to Albany instead, it does not matter how much you claim to believe the message and agree that Albany is the place you should go instead of New York City, there is no true repentance (change of mind) until you turn your car around and head north. This is the third step of restoring your first love.
3. Redo – Once you have remembered and have repented then you must go back and start doing again what you used to do. This is one of the things I tell people I am counseling that have marital problems. A. Remember why you married and recognize how far you have departed from why you married (or at least your stated reasons for marrying). B. Repent of what you have been doing. That will include going to your spouse and apologizing and asking for forgiveness. C. Then you must go back and start doing some of the same things you used to do when you fell in love. You cannot just generate feelings of love out of nothing, but if you carry out the actions of love then the feelings of love can follow. (Agape love precedes phileo love). Go on dates, spend time together, talk, share your dreams, show appreciation for each other, serve each other.
This has to be done sometimes in your relationship with Jesus. You must remember from what He has saved you from. Remember what is what like when you first came to Him. Recognize how far down you have slid from that. It is not Jesus that changed, so you must repent from your departure from Him. Go to Him and confess your sins and then change the direction of your life. Redo again those things you did when you first became a Christian. Notice that the command here is not directed to your emotions. It is not about trying to regain some emotional high but about repeating the actions you used to do. Again, it is actions of love that will lead back to feelings of love. If you wait for feelings to somehow appear then you will never regain your first love. It is going back to redo the things you used to do. Get back into the Bible. Pray again in an effort to know Him and His will. Get back involved with true Christian fellowship. Serve Him with your spiritual gifts. Tell others about the good news of who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them.
It is our love for Jesus Christ that motivates us to pray and to pray properly. If your first love for Christ as waned, then that love must be rekindled in order for your prayer life to also be properly rejuvenated. Unless Jesus is your first love, then prayer becomes and remains a dry, empty time with no answers.
Are doctrine and moral deeds important? Yes! Jesus commends the Ephesians again in verse 6 in that “they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” But Jesus also warned them in verse 7 – He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.”
The great tragedy is that the Ephesian Church did not listen and that church no longer exists. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” Are you listening?
If you have never had Jesus as your first love, you can today. Talk with me or one of our church leaders and we would be happy to introduce you to Christ. If you have left your first love and would like to go back but you need some help, that is what the Church body is for. To encourage you and hold you accountable that you may accomplish the desires God places in your heart. Talk with one of your friends here or if you don’t know who to talk to then see me and we arrange for someone to work with you.
Don’t leave today with out making sure your relationship with Jesus is right, and if it is not, make the first steps toward making it right.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Count the references to “love” in the sermon. 2) Talk with your parents about the difference between performing actions of love and feeling love.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
How is your prayer life? Describe your love for Jesus Christ? What is the purpose of the book of Revelation? What was the purpose of the Seven Letters recorded in chapters 2 & 3? What was the city of Ephesus like? What was its importance in the ancient world? The church at Ephesus is commended in Rev. 2:2,3. What were there “deeds and toil”? What was their “perseverance”? They did not “endure evil men” – what is the proper Christian response to those who do evil? Explain. They tested those who claimed to be apostles – why was that important to do? Is that something that should be done today? If so, who should be tested and what test(s) should be given to them. What was the failure of the Ephesians? What does it mean to “leave your first love”? Explain. What is the evidence of someone who loves Christ? What is the evidence of someone who has left their first love of Christ? What are the three steps to restoring that first love? Explain each. What is repentance and what is the evidence that it has occurred? What is the difference between “being in love” and
“being loving”? What is the relationship between the two? Which is the most important? Why? If your love for Christ has waned, what specific things can you do to restore it? Will you commit yourself to doing them? Who will encourage you and hold you accountable?
Sermon Notes – January 7, 2007
A Foundation for Prayer – Revelation 2:1-7
Their Commendation (vs. 2-3)
Their Failure & A Warning (vs. 4-5)
Evidence of a Loss of First Love
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