Revelation 2:1-4 ESV
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Jesus is in control. He’s the One holding the stars, He’s the One walking among the lampstands and He’s the One speaking the directives. Jesus. He’s in control.
Before you let the scholars of Revelation deplete your hope in the future, please understand God has never left any generation without a stellar promise (Je 29:11). It is possible to listen to these end-times-crazies and feel little else other than despair. The sky is falling, rations are the future and no one is getting out alive. I get it. Emotions are high, economies are low and even a cursory view through the text supports over-the-top speculations. Except.
GOD IS IN CONTROL
When, exactly, the trumpets blast, when the dragon is cast down and when Jesus returns to make all things new is within the providence of God. So, maybe we need to temper our predictions concerning what is only in the hands of God. You’re not going to figure it out. However, there are some very pointed aspects of the end for which we are responsible.
For one, we are granted influence over where the lamps get to stay. Among us or not? That is the question. And that is the greatest uncertainty for which to concern ourselves.
We must (MUST) work- toil even, and never bear with those who are evil. We must test leaders, ideas and motives to determine what is true and what is false. We also must endure whatever for Jesus’ sake and amazingly never grow weary. I’m already tired. Then, when we have somehow dodged exhaustion from the fight we are supposed to act just like we did at the beginning.
There is no mention of storing MRE’s, building a bunker, moving to the hills or collecting arms. Just bear, test, endure and keep that spark. Isn’t that enough?
WHAT ABOUT US
The promise is only extended within those commands. If we continue to do what we are doing and add the thing we are not we get to keep our lampstand. That lampstand is a huge deal. It gives us light to see where we are going and light to hear who is talking so we might have ears to hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us. No light…no anything.
While Jesus controls where He sets it, we control where it stays. We are accountable.
So what about their first love?
The answer here partly depends on where you find yourself camping. One tribe would say Jesus. Another tribe would say people. Here is the conflict with either view. Jesus already commended them for bearing up for His Name’s sake. Their love for Him and pressing into Him allowed for this battle without fatigue (Is 40:31). How can you wait on the Lord so much that you experience supernatural strength for the fight and literally stand under the pressure for Jesus…and not love Him? Seems unlikely. What about works? Jesus offers another blatant attaboy for their efforts. He even goes as far as calling it toil (much stronger word than works). But what else could it be?
What’s nice about these Ephesians is that we actually know how they behaved at first. Acts 18, 19 walks us through their journey of faith. We see the Apostle Paul show up, teach and leave. We see Apollos show up, teach and leave. Nothing too mentionable happens from either of those interactions. However, Paul shows back up, meets 12 disciples and asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed (Acts 19:2)?” These 12 men were believing disciples. Christians. But they had no idea who the Holy Spirit was/is (Acts 19:2) so Paul prays for them and the “Holy Spirit came on them and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying (Acts 19:6).” From that moment extraordinary miracles follow, many believers committed to obvious life change so the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily (Acts 19:20).
The first works were miraculous. The first works changed the culture of the city. And their first works resulted from their experience of the Holy Spirit.
Every work that followed began to lose its power as their dependence and love for the Holy Spirit diminished. 45 years after that first experience, the influence of the beginning was starting to wane. Jesus wanted them to go back to the beginning.
Here’s our takeaway- the church has become much richer in works and yet fallen deeper into poverty because we are doing the works without the power. We will not be ready for the end-times without power. Store all the food you want. Install shutters to cover the windows. Whatever. It won’t matter without power.
GOOD TO GREAT
Let’s leverage sociology for a moment. We say people need to see the church do good. Good in most contexts is doing something for those who can’t. It’s good- scriptural, even. So, a decade or so ago the church began to rally around the goal to eradicate poverty and care for the poor. And it’s working!
For the first time in the history of measuring extreme global poverty, the number has dipped below 10%. In 1993, the US poverty level was 15.1%, today it is 14.5%. Economists estimate that number is as low as 4.5% if entitlements, supplements and tax breaks are considered. However, in the last 7 years, while poverty was decreasing in our country (and the world) the amount of people who deny Jesus has increased from 16 to 23%. How can this be? How can we be doing more and gaining less ground for the Kingdom of God? Simple. We have left our first love and chased after works without power.
We absolutely should stay in the fight against poverty. We should feed the hungry, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless. We should be willing to sacrifice for the good of all. Absolutely. But not without power.
Why should people choose Jesus over the government? Why should they choose Jesus over the benevolence of a few billionaires? Because we’ll feed you and set you free. We’ll give you clothes and healing. We’ll put a roof over your head and peace in your mind. That’s why!
Good works aren’t enough- it’s time for us to return to the power of God.