First Love

Sunday, August 18, 2013, 9:09 a.m. – When I sat down to have my quiet time with the Lord Jesus this morning, he put the song “Draw Me Close to You” in my mind. Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Revelation 2:1-7 (NIV):

The Words

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.

There are differences of opinion as to who or what this angel represents, i.e. is he a real angel who watches over the church, the pastor (senior minister) of the congregation, or is this angel a personification of the prevalent spirit, i.e. “the vital force that characterizes” (Encarta) the church as a whole? Since John is being asked to write to this angel, I would suggest that either this is speaking of writing to the head elder/pastor (minister) of the church, who represents the church, as a whole, or else this is speaking of directing the message to the character of the church as a whole, which the letter does, in fact, do.

What John was commissioned to write was the very words of God; of Jesus Christ, God the Son. He is the one who holds the spirits of these churches in his right hand, and he is the one who walks among the churches. In other words, Jesus Christ is intimately involved in our lives. His Spirit lives within those who are genuinely his by his grace through faith. He speaks to us just as though he is sitting right beside us. He knows us inside and out. He knows when we hurt, and when we are happy. He knows what breaks our hearts, and what sends us to the mountains rejoicing. He knows our thoughts, our moods, our motives, our attitudes, our emotions, and how we feel and think about him, too. He knows our deeds, as well. He is among us. He is in us. He holds us in his hands. He is not a distant God. He is our very best friend! And, these are his words, in Biblical principle, to us still today.

The Good

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

… But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate…

Obviously this does not apply to every Christian or to every Christian congregation. This was written to a specific church a very long time ago. Yet, the word of God teaches us that all scripture is God-breathed (it is alive) and it is useful (profitable) for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness, so that we may be prepared and equipped for every good work (see 2 Tim. 3:16). It also teaches that the word of God is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit… discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). In other words, where this applies to us, the Holy Spirit will make the application to our hearts, and we should then listen to and submit to the Spirit’s voice, for the Biblical principles still hold true today.

What this is saying, basically, is that this church congregation had a lot of things right. From all outward appearances, they may have even been a model congregation. They worked hard, they persevered, they didn’t tolerate people who acted wickedly, they tested those who called themselves apostles of Christ, but who flunked the test, and they even endured suffering for the sake of his name, and yet they did not quit. Those are admirable qualities, right? They hated the things God hated, too, i.e. they hated compromise with the world (with society) and spiritual libertinism, which gave people a sense that they could have faith in Christ and the hope of eternity in heaven, but they could still practice idolatry and immorality - That sounds a whole lot like the false grace being taught in today’s churches that teaches we don’t have to turn from our sin, and we don’t have to obey Christ. But, this congregation hated those practices. Sounds like pretty good people, right?

The Bad

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember 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. (NASB)

Even though they did all those things right, i.e. those were all good things, yet they lacked something critically important and foundational to their faith. They had deserted (forsaken; abandoned) their first love (agape). In other words, they were busy doing all these good and right things, but they were ignoring their personal and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. We can get so busy doing for God that we forget God in the process. We can get so involved in church work, and/or in Christian ministry, thinking we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, yet not have time to sit at our Lord’s feet each day, listening to his voice in those quiet moments, and letting him speak words of conviction, counsel, direction, instruction, nurturing, comfort, healing, correction, rebuke, encouragement, hope, and words that will edify, build up and help us to grow in our walks of faith in Jesus Christ.

When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we die. In other words, our lives are no longer our own. We are bought with a price. The “I” that was once on the throne of my life has now been replaced with Jesus Christ. He, by his Spirit, now lives in me and out through me. At least, this is the way it is supposed to be. We are to no longer walk according to the flesh and according to the pattern of this world, but we are to submit to God in allowing him to transform us in heart and mind and to make us more like Jesus Christ, bearing his character. And, we are to walk in obedience to Christ and his commands, by his grace, in his strength, and in the power of his Spirit working and living his life in and out through us. Coming to Christ is a whole lot like a union between a husband and a wife. The two become one, only in this case Jesus Christ is the one now living his life out through us.

Yet, not everyone gets this. A lot of Christians think they have to do things for God, or else they hope that if they do enough good things that God will be pleased, and they can still be the ones in charge of their lives. It doesn’t work that way, though. Jesus is not interested in our sacrifices, i.e. he doesn’t want all the things we are willing to do for him or give up for him. He wants our hearts – pure and simple – devoted, committed, loyal, faithful, submissive, humble and obedient. He just wants us to yield control of our lives over to him – “Not I, but Christ!” He wants to be the most important person in our lives; the one we lean on when we are weak; the one we seek for wisdom and understanding; and the one with whom we share our heartaches, our fears and our tears, as well as our joys and victories. And, he wants us to love him above all else, be willing to die for the sake of his name, and to be willing and moldable clay in his hands for him to make us and to mold us according to his image.

This is a love relationship like no other! He doesn’t want to be our part-time love, either. He wants us full-time, forsaking all other “loves,” i.e. our idols and sins. He died so we would be free from slavery to sin and living for self, and so we would be free to walk in his righteousness and holiness. And, he is a jealous husband, too. He doesn’t like the competition, i.e. he hates all that is evil and that which would distract us from our pure devotion to him, that which would lead us back into sin, and/or that which would distort our relationship with him or that would teach us that his grace means “carte blanche,” i.e. freedom to act as we choose. He so longs to have the kind of intimate relationship with us that his death on the cross provided for us. And, so this message from Jesus is a call to those who have drifted away from that personal relationship with Jesus Christ, i.e. who have forsaken their “first love.” The call is to come back to an intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ, yielded to the cross and to Christ; and surrendered to his will.

There is not only a call here, but there is a warning if we do not heed the call. The warning to the church which has forsaken her first love is that her lampstand will be removed if she does not repent (change; turn). The lampstands symbolized the churches themselves, and a church is a body of believers in Jesus Christ, so to have the church removed from its place could be a warning of impending persecution and dispersion, a removal of their effectiveness as ministers of the gospel, or it could involve some type of hardship and divine disciplinary action against them in order to get them to repent. Jesus said those he loves he disciplines. I believe we should take this warning seriously, for I believe it applies still to the church today who has forsaken her first love and who has run after other “loves,” i.e. gods.

The Victorious

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

The tree of life has to do with eternal life. The paradise of God appears to symbolize a return to a similar state of existence as that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden – a place without sin, sickness, pain, sorrow and death. It may be heaven, or it may be the time of the millennial reign of Christ on this earth, but one thing I know for sure is that it will be with Jesus face-to-face and there will be no more crying or sin there. Amen!

This eternal life with God in glory is promised to those who are victorious or who overcome. There are many scriptures in the New Testament that suggest that true faith is not only continuous, obedient, repentant, and submissive, but it is enduring faith to the end. Jesus said that those who obey him are the ones who love him, and he also said that those who obey him are the ones who will spend eternity with him in heaven. As well, he said that unless we repent of (turn away from) our sins, we cannot have eternal life. The Bible does not teach sinless perfection, but it does say that if we continue in a lifestyle of sin, we do not have eternal life. So, to overcome or to be victorious means we allow the Spirit of God to transform our hearts and minds away from lives of sin toward walks of obedience, and that we submit to Christ’s work of regeneration and sanctification in our hearts, allowing what he did for us on the cross, in saving us from our sins, to become a reality in our lives.

Draw Me Close To You / Donnie McClurkin

Draw me close to You
Never let me go
I lay it all down again
To hear You say that I'm Your friend

You are my desire
And no one else will do
'Cause nothing else can take Your place
To feel the warmth of Your embrace

Help me find a way
Bring me back to You..