Revelation 2:4 – Where's the Love?
Sermon preached on May 29, 2011 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.
Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
One of the worst things about being a pastor, if one is married, is that you're married to a pastor's wife. It's really tough. I'm pretty sure this is true for all pastors who are married. Let me illustrate. This didn't happen to me, but it's a true story and I think it's fairly typical. Carl Truman of Westminster Theological Seminary writes,
"Talking to a colleague the other day, he told me how, on one Sunday, he preached an absolute stinker of a sermon. After the service, he said to his wife, 'That was the worst sermon I have ever preached.' 'No it wasn't.' she replied. 'Be encouraged. I have heard you preach much worse.'"
That's supposed to be encouragement? It's like kicking someone when he's down. Now, don't misunderstand me. Pastor's wives do encourage them at times—but it's a mixed bag. They're really good at it at times—but at other times you may as well not look for it because you're not going to get it.
That's much the way it is with Christians and love. It's a mixed bag. We know what love is and we sometimes give it, but at other times we fall far short. We don't love God the way we should and we don't love others like we should. Yet in spite of that, most Christians seem content with the level of love that they have. But do you love God like you should? Do you measure up with regard to the greatest commandment? (Mark 12:30)
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind
and with all your strength."
Many of us don't do that very well. Yet the really sad thing is that we're okay with that. It doesn't bother us enough to get us to really make some changes in our lives. How can that be?
Many Christians also seem to think that they do an adequate job of loving other Christians. But do we? Do we love others as Jesus loved us? Many times we don't come anywhere near that—and we're content with that! What about the love that is exhibited in our congregation? Is it anywhere near where it should be? Do we do a good job of loving one another? Do we love one another deeply, from the heart, as the Holy Spirit tells us through Peter? (1 Peter 1:22) Do we do a good job of loving people who are lost? Or are we content to see them walk toward destruction?
In our text we have a very great warning that every congregation should take to heart. Jesus said to the church at Ephesus. (Revelation 2:4–5)
"Yet I hold this against you:
You have forsaken your first love.
Remember the height from which you have fallen!
Repent and do the things you did at first.
If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove
your lampstand from its place."
The church in Ephesians had forsaken its first love. It was very serious defect, so much so that the threat against it was the removal of their candlestick—the removal of their church. If they didn't regain the love they had at first, Jesus was going to come to them in judgment and snuff them out of existence.
The great lesson from our text is how important it is
that we practice love!
It's almost impossible to overemphasize this. Jesus' threat against the church at Ephesus shows how important it is that we exercise love—to God, to each other and to those who are perishing.
Are we as a congregation going to survive? This is the key right here. Love is one of the essential ingredients to a congregation's existence. There are a lot of books today on church growth and on church revitalization. Christians are concerned about the future of their congregations. But unfortunately many of the books that are written on it today are almost worthless because they focus on other things and neglect to even mention a congregation's duty to love. Others pay lip service to it but our duty to love is certainly not a central theme of their books. These books don't tell or show us how to love God more and how to love other people better—instead they focus on methods, programs, worship styles, purposes and other non-essential things.
But love is one of the essential keys to a congregation's existence. If a congregation doesn't have love—it's useless to our Savior. No matter how good they are on doctrine, no matter how good they are in hating wickedness, no matter how good they are in discerning false teaching—if they lack love Jesus doesn't want them to be His representatives. It's God's will that they be snuffed out because they are so displeasing to Him because they have neglected love.
We need to pay good attention to this warning. Do we as a congregation show love? If we lack love we will wither and die. That will be a punishment from the Lord. The Lord will do it—not Satan. That's what Jesus said,
"If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove
your lampstand from its place."
That's an incredible statement. In Matthew 16 Jesus said that He was going to build His church. He said that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Yet, here He speaks of He Himself removing a candlestick. This shows us how important love is. It shows us that we need to be full of love. It is essential to our existence.
The great question that needs to be answered in our text is
what did Jesus mean when He criticized the church at Ephesus for forsaking their first love?
Commentators don't agree on this. Some believe that it means that they had forsaken their love for Jesus, that they had lost the original zeal and passion that they had for His glory. When someone has a conversion experience they are often so full of love and thankfulness for Jesus that they tell everyone they know about it and want others to come to know Him as well. Their love for Jesus overflows. Some commentators suggest that the Ephesians had taken their eyes off Jesus and their love for Him had grown cold.
Others see a wider reference, because love for God and love for others can't really be separated. G. K. Beale writes, (Revelation, p. 230)
"The idea is that they no longer expressed their former zealous love for Jesus by witnessing to him in the world."
Beale says that this is why Christ chose to introduce Himself as he does in verse 1—that He walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands—
"is intended to remind the introverted readers that their primary role in relation to their Lord should be that of a light of witness to the outside world."
What Beale is suggesting is that if they truly loved Jesus they would be loving those who were lost and doing everything they could to tell them about Jesus.
It is absolutely true that our love for God and love for others is related. You can't really have one without the other. If you don't love your fellow man, you obviously don't love God. We see this clearly from 1 John 4:20. It reads,
"If anyone says, 'I love God,'
yet hates his brother, he is a liar."
You can't love God if you hate someone. Love to God and love toward our fellow man go together. They are inseparable. If you don't love others, you don't love God.
The opposite is also true. If you don't love God, you really don't love your fellow man. 1 John 5:2 says,
"This is how we know that we love the children of God:
by loving God and carrying out his commands."
Loving other people comes from loving God and obeying His commands. As Christopher Plummer wrote, (Epistles of John, p. 111)
"love to God and love to the brethren confirm and prove each other. If either is found alone, it is not genuine."
So what we should understand about the Ephesians forsaking, or losing their first love is that the love in question was not narrow. It referred to love in its fulness, encompassing both love to God, to Christ, to fellow Christians, to those who are lost. They all go together and can't really be separated.
Consider what is required of you as a Christian.
First of all, consider how you are to love God.
I've already quoted from Mark 12:30. It says,
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind
and with all your strength."
Do you love God like that? How much do you love God? That's kind of an abstract question—but it's one that you need to consider. God knows how much you love Him. He measures it.
In Luke 14:26–27 Jesus said,
"If anyone comes to me
and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children,
his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—
he cannot be my disciple."
Jesus demands that we love Him more than anyone else. We are to love Him so much that no other love is allowed to compete with our love for Him.
What does it mean to love God? Obviously there's an emotional element to it. Perhaps the best description I have ever read of this is an account in the life of Mrs. Jonathan Edwards, in the revival of 1742. She describes Thursday night Jan. 28 as,
"the sweetest night I ever had in my life. I never before, for so long a time together, enjoyed so much of the light, and rest, and sweetness of heaven in my soul, but without the least agitation of body during the whole time. The great part of the night I lay awake, sometimes asleep, and sometimes between sleeping and waking. But all night I continued in a constant, clear, and lively sense of the heavenly sweetness of Christ's excellent and transcendent love, of his nearness to me, and of my dearness to him; with an en inexpressibly sweet calmness of soul in an entire rest in him. I seemed to myself to perceive a glow of divine love come down from the heart of Christ in heaven, into my heart, in a constant stream, like a stream or pencil of sweet light. At the same time, my heart and soul all flowed out in love to Christ; so that there seemed to be a constant flowing and reflowing of heavenly and divine love, from Christ's heart to mine; and I appeared to myself to float or swim, in these bright, sweet beams of the love of Christ, like the motes swimming in the beams of the sun, or the streams of his light which come in at the window. My soul remained in a kind of heavenly Elysium. So far as I am capable of making a comparison, I think that what I felt each minute, during the continuance of the whole time, was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure, which I had enjoyed in my whole life put together. It was pure delight, which fed and satisfied the soul. It was pleasure, without the least sting, or any interruption. It was a sweetness, which my soul was lost in."
She experienced an overwhelming view of Christ's love for her and she responded with an outpouring of love for God.
It would be wonderful to have an experience like that. Yet I'm not sure we should be focused on attaining something like that. Experiences like that are rare, special, not ordinary, given to only a few. Such experiences are given from God at His discretion.
So rather than focus on experiences like that, I want to direct your attention to much more every day experiences of how we show love to God. In 1 John 5:3–4 John wrote,
"This is love for God: to obey his commands.
And his commands are not burdensome,
for everyone born of God overcomes the world."
Loving God is equated with keeping His commandments, loving His commandments, delighting in them. If you love God you'll spend time in His Word and you'll love putting His will into practice in your life. You'll love gathering with other Christians to enjoy their fellowship. Those are some of the ways that loving God works itself out. If you love God, you'll become more like Him. You will grow in holiness and righteousness. You will live so that people will see Christ living in you. (Colossians 1:27) You will live in such a way that you will say with the apostle Paul, (Philippians 1:21)
"For to me, to live is Christ…"
The second kind of love required of you is that
you are to love others.
The love you are called to is incredible. In John 17:26 Jesus showed us the ideal by which we are measured. Jesus said to the Father concerning His disciples,
"I have made you known to them,
and will continue to make you known
in order that the love you have for me
may be in them and that I myself may be in them."
You are to love others like the Father loves the Son. That's an amazing statement. That's the kind of love we are to have for each other. Ask yourself,
"Do I love others the way God the Father loves the Son?"
How far short we fall! How can we be content with the amount of love we have for others when we fall so far short?
But that's not all. In John 13:34–35 Jesus said to His disciples,
"A new command I give you: Love one another.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples,
if you love one another."
Jesus died for us, when we were sinners in rebellion against Him. (Romans 5:10) He loved us even though we were unlovely. In 1 John 3:16–17 the apostle John wrote,
"This is how we know what love is:
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers."
We know what love is. Any of you who have children know that you would give your life for them. Those of you who are married would give your life for your spouse. But would you give your life for everyone else or even anyone else in this congregation? I once heard a preacher in a sermon say that he knew he would give his life for any of his children, but he didn't know if he would be able to give his life for people other than his family. He said that to indicate how far short of the ideal he fell.
Donald Macleod writes, (Shared Life, p. 72)
"Even when our fellow Christians are disappointing, even when they are hurtful, we are to love them in such a way that no sacrifice is too great and no kindness too extravagant."
What a poor job we do with love. Donald Macleod continues,
"No matter how deep our knowledge, how great our gifts, how stupendous our experiences, if we do not show this sort of love our Christianity is mere posturing."
In 1 John 3:17 the apostle John wrote,
"If anyone has material possessions
and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him,
how can the love of God be in him?"
This is how we know we are in the faith. In 1 John 3:14 John wrote,
"We know that we have passed from death to life,
because we love our brothers.
Anyone who does not love remains in death."
Christians, show your spiritual life by showing your love.
This has tremendous implications for us.
First of all, it means
we need to ensure we excel in love.
Someone, I think it was R.C. Sproul, once said something that showed that many Christians have no idea what love is. If my memory is correct he said that if a Christian ever comes to you and says,
"I'm going to tell you something in love."
—that the best thing for you to do was to turn around and run as fast as you can because one thing that was absolutely sure is that what that person would say to you wouldn't be in love.
Sproul was correct. Some Christians have no clue what love is. They actually think they are showing love when in fact they are, in fact, tearing other people down to the lowest. They're delusional. In the midst of saying hurtful, harmful and destructive things to someone—which they're not really saying to help the other person but to put him down—they think that they're showing love. How can it be? Yet that often happens.
As a congregation, as individuals, we need to excel in love. If we lack love, we essentially have nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1–3 says,
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have
not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries
and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move
mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender
my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."
Above all else we must love. In everything we must show love.
The second great implication we should see from our text is that
doctrinal purity is not enough.
For the past two sessions we've see how Jesus commended the church at Ephesus for their doctrinal purity. They could not stand wicked men. That was good. They tested those who claimed to be apostles and found that they were liars. They also hated the practices of the Nicolaitans, which was pleasing in Jesus eyes. We're not sure what the practices of the Nicolaitans were, we can only guess, but it seems obvious that it was something that the Ephesians judged according to the Word of God. They found that such practices were contrary to Scripture.
Not tolerating wicked men and testing those who claim to be apostles are characteristics that all churches should possess. They are important. To neglect them will lead to all sorts of trouble and sin in the church.
But what we must never forget is that there is something that is even more important than doctrinal purity—and that is love.
Those who know the most doctrine should be the best Christians. The more one knows about God, the more one should love God and love other people. This is obvious. But it doesn't always work out that way. So often we Christians are like the people who brought the woman taken in adultery to Jesus. They were trying to trap Him. To them it was all about correct doctrine. They said to Jesus, (John 8:4–5)
"Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.
In the Law Moses commanded us
to stone such women. Now what do you say?"
They didn't have any love, mercy or compassion for the woman. They didn't have any love for Jesus. Yet they were paying lip service to the law.
Christians, whatever you do, don't be like them. They missed the whole point of the Old Testament. I have known people who have spent a lifetime studying theology, seeking and striving to get it right—and yet, their practice of it fell far short. They didn't live their theology.
For example, I have known men who could tell you all about the theology of the Bible—yet they didn't treat their wives well. How could this be? One thing they didn't do was what Ephesians 5 told them to do, to love your wife as Christ loved the church. I've heard it said, and I believe there's a lot of truth in this, that you can tell how sanctified a man is by how well he treats his wife. Don't let anything like that happen to you. Live your theology.
One of the great criticisms of reformed churches is that they can be cold and unfriendly. Hospitality is virtually unknown. How can this be? They have a right understanding of Scripture, yet they don't to put it into practice. They really don't have love.
Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, what you should see from this is that
you're not getting anything right.
You don't love God and that means that you really don't love others. You're not doing anything to save from destruction those who you claim to love. In fact, your unbelief is a bad example to them and is leading them away from God.
You need to repent. You need to go to God and ask Him to change your heart, to help you love Him and your fellowman. May God give you the grace to do so.