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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
October 10, 1999
The Heart of the Church
This morning I will complete my series on the purpose and nature of the church by talking about the "Heart of the Church." I am not referring to our emotions by that, but rather what is at the center of our lives as Christians and as a church. There should be a driving force, a motivation that causes us to want to live the Christian life and see the church, the Body of Christ, grow. Without this motivation the Christian life will be very difficult to live. It will be full of frustration, hurt, pain, guilt and even severe depression.
This sermon could be sub-titled; "What is the most important thing in your life? Or "What is your first love?"
Turn to Revelation 2:1-7. In this passage we will see in unmistakable terms what our hearts should be set upon; what should be at the center of our lives; what should be our first love. We will also see what happens if we leave our first love, and what to do to regain that first love.
The Book of Revelation is as its title. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ as given to the Apostle John while he was in exile on the Isle of Patmos (c. 95, 96 A.D.). during the reign of Domitian. [John is later set free, returns to Ephesus, and died during the reign of Trajan(98-117AD].
The purpose of the book according to verse 1 is "To show His bond-servants, the things which must shortly take place."
After the opening remarks in Chapter one, which sets the stage for the revelation that is given, is recorded seven letters to seven different churches throughout Asia Minor. These letters are given to John by Christ through the Holy Spirit through dictation – i.e. John wrote down what he was told (vs. 1:1;11; 2:1). Therefore, these letters are not John’s musings on the future, but are actually what Jesus Himself wants to tell the churches. We see this emphasized in the first letter which is given to the church at Ephesus in Chapter 2, vs. 1.
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars 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). This is Jesus’ specific message for that church. At the same time, the letter also continues to tell us, both as a church and as individuals, of what Jesus thinks of similar situations.
The first thing that Jesus says to this church is that they have done well in certain areas. Jesus commends them saying, vs. 2 – "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 about Ephesus and what the church there faced.
Ephesus was located where the Cayster River met the Aegean Sea on the cost of Western Turkey. It is due east of Athens across the Aegean Sea and was founded by the Son of Cordus, last king of Athens, sometime between the 12th and 10 century B.C. The city became an important trade center between Europe & Asia Minor (Greece & modern Turkey).
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 site of a meteor stone (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 (Time of Alexander the Great) and it became one of the seven wonders of the Ancient world – about 4 times the size of the Parthenon in Athens. This attracted travelers and tourists. The city was also an important banking and trade center. In summary, we could say that Ephesus was not only an important trade center, but was the stronghold of a heathen cult.
To say things were difficult in Ephesus is putting it mildly. In many ways I could compare it to where I come from, Los Angeles. Ephesus was one of the largest cities of its time, a lot of business, trade, shipping. Ephesus was the center for a major cult along with many pagan cults practiced including Caesar worship and the various Greek & Roman deities. All of that occurs in L.A. too. It is a major city with much commerce, trade, business. Many cults have their headquarters in the L.A. area along with about every other cult group having some kind of presence here. Add in the immoral lifestyle and there really is not much difference between the Ephesus and L. A.
Yet, in the middle of this very pagan, immoral city, God planted a church, and Jesus commended them saying in verses 2,3 – "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." Demetrius, the idol maker, claimed in his speech (vs 25-27) 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."
In Ephesians 1:15, Paul says to them, "I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints . . .". They 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 would admonish each other 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," the false teachers 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 check out doctrine and do not tolerate sin. You persevere and do not become weary for my sake. Wouldn’t you love to hear that from Jesus – "Good job Grace Bible"?
There was good reason that the Ephesian Church was so strong. Consider its spiritual heritage. Paul came to Ephesus on his second missionary journey and left Priscilla and Aquilla there (Acts 18). Then Apollos came (who was taught by Priscilla and Aquilla). On Paul’s third missionary journey, he spent 2 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 after that and ministered until his death.
The books of Ephesians, 1 John and Revelation were all written to the church at Ephesus. 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and 2 & 3 John were written to specific people in that church. No less than 7 New Testament books were written directly to her or someone that was part of her. The Ephesian Church had a strong spiritual heritage.
But 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 the laurels of 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? And 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 betrothal/engagement is a good illustration of first love. How do a man and woman treat each other during engagement as they prepare for marriage. There is true devotion and care. What pleased you most was to please the other person. Your desire was for their good even at your own sacrifice. The reward of seeing that special person smile and know that he or she was pleased with you was motivation enough to take on the whole world. There was no pettiness, there was no self-seeking. First Cor. 13 described your relationship. You were kind and patient. You were not jealous or bragging or arrogant. You did not act unbecomingly and did not 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. It would not fail.
What happens though after marriage and the years flow by? What happens when that love begins to fade and the spark dies down as self-centeredness enters back in and the prevailing question becomes, "what is he or she doing for me?" True love diminishes and you begin to seek your own, you become provoked and act unbecomingly. You lashes out with unkindness and hold grudges. You no longer bear, believe, hope or endure. Your love is failing and the relationship begins to die.
Those of you who are married or have had serious relationships know what I am talking about to one degree or another. What happened to the honeymoon? Some of you have learned how to rekindle the flame of love while others of you long for it again. Some of you may have lost hope and quit.
The same loss of first love can occur in your relationship with Christ. It first becomes evident in a loss of the fruit of the Spirit starting with a loss of the joy of your salvation. Your salvation from sin is taken for granted. Then the other fruits start to fade. Peace and patience become turmoil and irritability. Goodness, Kindness, and gentleness become indifference that leads to coldness and harshness. Self-control departs and you become impulsive. You respond instead of acting purposefully. As the slide away from your first love continues then attitudes, emotions & behavior changes. As the joy of Scripture study and prayer departs, then they are done either mechanically or stop altogether. Telling others about Christ becomes foreign. The yearning for Christian fellowship goes from desire, to indifference, to duty, and then becomes inconsistent, sporadic, and finally non-existent. Thoughts about God descend from excitement, to apathy and disinterest, to antagonism, and even hatred.
Two passages 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, you have left your first love.
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 love Christ and disobey Him at the same time. If you are characterized by disobedience to Christ, you have left your first love.
Your true spiritual condition is also evident in your prayer life. Do you truly pray? Is it really for God’s will to be done, or your own? Does your heart match the heart of God in what you pray for? Does your prayer life reveal a True Heart of Prayer like that of Daniel in Daniel 9. His prayer was Rooted in Scripture, Revealed in Confession, Responded in Supplication and Received Answers?
What is your first Love? Is it really Jesus? Or is it something else? Your job, your children, family, money, car, house, bank account, yourself?
Want to quickly find out if you have left your first love? Compare yourself to a brand new Christian. Are you as excited about Christ as they are?
Past good works are not enough. Correct theology with all the "t"s crossed and "i"s dotted correctly is not enough. Being a good spiritual watch-dog is not enough. Having a good spiritual heritage is not enough. What is your first love?
What can you do if you have left your first love?
Verse 5 gives us three steps. "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 with 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 there is a problem and that your love is not the same as it was before.
2. Repent. Remembering should bring you to repentance. Repentance means to "change the mind" concerning something. And if the direction of the mind is changed then unquestionably the behavior and direction of life will follow. Remember and recognize what your first love was like and what it should be now. Then change your mind about the direction of life you are going and turn around and go back to the path you left. Confess your sin to God and to one another any sins you have committed against each other.
3. Redo. Now that you have remembered and have repented go back and start doing again what you used to do. If I am counseling a couple with marital problems, this is one of the things I tell them to do. A. Remember why you married that lady and recognize how far you have departed from why you married her (or at least your stated reasons for marring her). B. Repent of what you have been doing. That will include going to her and apologizing and asking for her forgiveness. C. Go back now and start doing some of the same things you used to do when you fell in love with her. Date her, spend time with her, tell her of your dreams, tell her how much you appreciate her, etc.
That is what you must do with Jesus. Go back and 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. Repent. Go to Him confessing your sins and change the direction of your life. Redo. Go back and do again those things you did when you first became a Christian. Get back into the Bible. Pray again with that hungering desire to know Him. Share with others the good news of Jesus Christ has done in your life. Get back involved in using your spiritual gifts for Him.
Are doctrine and moral deeds important? Yes! Jesus commends the Ephesians again in vs 6 because "they hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." Biblical doctrine is important for it separates truth from error, right from wrong, God’s will from man’s will. Without correct theology we would flounder and be lead astray. But correct teaching is not enough. There also has to be a central driving force, a internal motivation to carry out the truths taught for the correct reasons. The Ephesians had stepped off into cold theology and left the warmth of a love for Christ behind. They spoke the truth, but the love was missing. They hated the deeds of the Nicolaitan, they could not endure evil men, they tested those who claimed to be spiritual leaders, they labored, toiled and persevered, but they did not do these things out of a love for Christ.
This same danger exists for us. We place great stress here on the teaching of the Bible, of knowing doctrine, and having correct theology. We view ourselves as those who "hold fast to the Word," and are "defenders of the faith." We mark out those who teach error. We refute those who contend against the Scriptures. We toil hard in the work of the Lord and persevere in an increasingly perverse society. But what is our motivation? If it is not a love for Jesus, to see Him glorified & His name praised, if we are not living sacrifices for His sake, then we are in the same danger as the Ephesians.
Jesus warned the Ephesians 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 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?
The warning is clear, either we keep Jesus as our first love, or He will remove our Lampstand. Our deeds and toil will not matter. How correct our doctrine is will be immaterial. How steadfastly we contend for the faith against those who contradict will be insignificant – if our motivation is not right. If our heart is not set on Jesus Christ, if he is not the reason for the things we do, then we will not be able to fulfill God’s purpose the church. Our worship will lack, our evangelism will be academic, our fellowship will be shallow, and our edification will make us like each other rather than like Jesus. We will become ineffective for the cause of Christ.
Jesus is to be our first love. If you have never had Jesus as your first love, you can today. Talk with me or any of the church leaders today and we would be more than pleased to personally introduce you to Him.
Maybe the Holy Spirit has convicted you this morning that you have left your first love. If so, follow the instructions in this passage and Remember, Repent & Redo. Get your heart back on track. If you would like some help in doing that, just ask. That is one of the reasons for the body of Christ. We are here to humbly help one another walk with Christ
Sermon Study Sheets
Sermon Notes – 10/10/1999 a.m.
"The Heart of the Church"
Commendation of the Ephesian Church (Rev. 2:2,3)
Deeds & toil
Acts 19:18-20, 25
Not enduring evil, testing them
1 John 4:1
The Ephesian Heritage
Condemnation of the Ephesian Church (Rev. 2:4)
1 John 4:19,20
Counsel to the Ephesian Church (Rev. 2:5)
Citation of the Ephesian Church (Rev. 2:6)
Caution to the Ephesian Church (Rev. 2:7)
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.
Who wrote the book of Revelation? Why was it written? What was ancient Ephesus like? Are there similar places today? How do you think you would do if you lived in such a place? What are your deeds? What is your toil and perseverance where you live now? What was the spiritual heritage of the Ephesian church? What is your own spiritual heritage? Would you receive the commendation given to the Ephesians? Do you tolerate evil? How would you test those who claiming to represent Jesus? Do you get tired in your service for the Lord? What was the problem with the Ephesian church? How could you tell if you had the same problem? Do you? How will you correct it? What was your spiritual life like when you were first saved? What is it like now? Does it need to change? What were your desires and activities when you were first saved? What are they now? Does that need to change? What is the danger of leaving your first love? What is the reward for heeding the warning? Married couples – does the love level with your spouse need a boost? Then Remember, Repent and Redo!
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) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term "love" is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about how your love for Christ.
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