I once deleted (what I considered to be) a really hot profile picture of myself.
Let me explain.
It was a photoshoot for a conference I was speaking at. Everything went right. The photographer just happened to catch my frame at the right angle. The midday sunlight hit my face at the perfect spot and my smile was on point. (Did I mention that I was also rocking a brand new suit with a purple silk pocket-handkerchief?)
I’ve never met a more perfect photo of myself.
But something was wrong.
The photo was of me, but it didn’t feel like me. I looked more like the version of myself I often imagine right after I win the lottery. I looked a little too shiny, too smooth and a little too well put together. A few friends saw it and jokingly asked if I’d receive a promotion or was planning to run for office.
I must confess, I bought into that manufactured image of myself for a few days… weeks… so much so that I had to fight back the temptation to make it the permanent public image people had of me. I eventually concluded that I couldn’t possibly live us to the expectation the dude in the picture was setting up for me.
The whole experience got me thinking about what Jesus really thinks when He looks into my/our life and how unimpressed He may be about the public image we often project. Knowingly or unknowingly, we all do it. We all have a public image we project that we want people to see. We also all have the private image only people closest to us know about. Then there’s the very personal person we truly are that Jesus alone will someday finally reveal and introduce us to.
It’s in such a scenario that the Christians in the city Ephesus find themselves in, in this 2nd installment of our blog series titled “7 LETTERS: THE BOOK OF REVELATION”
If you recall the events from part one of this series, the apostle John received the most unexpected visitation in the middle of his own private worship service. In Revelation chapter one, He’s in the middle of studying the scriptures, prayer, or worship, (or whatever the phrase “I was in the spirit” means) when he hears a voice that scares the living daylights out of him. When he turns in the direction of the voice, he beholds a sight so terrifyingly awesome that he falls unconscious. It turns out, the voice is that of the resurrected Jesus Christ.
Can you imagine that? You’re having your devotions, studying and praying that you would know Jesus more, then BOOM! Jesus shows up!
More important than His appearance, however, is the message/letters He instructs John to send to the 7 Churches in the region. These letters are not only intended for its initial recipients in those cities, but for every single Church and believer that has been planted since. So, one (or more) out of the seven letters we will dig into in this series is most definitely addressed to you and your Church wherever you may be on the globe and regardless of what denomination you belong to.
Jesus is about to reveal the true person you and I (and our Churches) are beneath our glossy profile pictures, starting with His note to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7, “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. 2 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. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far 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. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 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.”
WHEN JESUS SHOWS UP AT THE 10:00 AM SERVICE
What would happen in our Churches, if, in the middle of the third song (right before tithe collection) Jesus walked down the aisle and sat in the seventh row to listen in? (…and sat right next to you?). How might the tone of that worship service be different? How different would your attitude and attentiveness be through the rest of the service?
You wanna know what’s even more unnerving that that visual? The fact that it actually happens every Sunday in every one of our Churches! It’s what Jesus is getting at in verse one when He says He holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. If you recall Jesus’ words in the last verse of Revelation chapter one, He explains their mystery when He says, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (While some have suggested that the angels in reference are actual guardian angels watching over each Church, the context of the letters suggests that they represent the overseers/pastors of each of those congregations)
Nevertheless, Jesus’ choice of words conveys the idea that He patrols our worship gatherings every time we gather together in His name. He’s present when we sing and when we pray, He’s present during the sermon, He’s present when we tithe or give an offering, and He’s present afterwards when we hang out and chat over coffee. More importantly, He KNOWS every motive and intention behind every activity that takes place under our Church roofs! Remember John's vision of Jesus' eyes that were ablaze with fire? Though scary, it is a visual reminder that He has the power and authority to see through/burn past any facade we may put up!
So, why is Jesus so interested in our Church life?
Because He owns the Church and because she is near and dear to His heart!
Sure. Our Churches may be jacked up and judgmental. But that’s okay. Jesus paid the price for our ugliness and is in the business of shaping us daily to look more like Him. Despite its lamentable weaknesses and appalling failures (often masked by our glossy profile pictures), when Jesus looks at the Church He purchased with His own blood, He not only still sees a beautiful bride, but He still considers her to be as precious as gold to Him (hence the golden lamp stands). All that to say, stop publicly bashing and verbally hatin’ on other Christians and Churches! Jesus (not you) sees her true condition and is in the best position to discern how to dish out judgment on her (as is the case with the seven Churches of Revelation He sends letters to).
WELCOME TO FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF EPHESUS:
As a result of this Divine knowledge, when Jesus looks out and into the activity and motivations of the Church in Ephesus, He see’s a lot of good things going for them. First off, He commends them for being a hardworking Church.
If you walked into the First Baptist Church of Ephesus on any weekend, you would find every congregant faithfully engaged in the work of ministry. They were not a come-and-see spectator kind of Church. If you were there simply to “check out the preaching”, someone would quickly be in your face about signing up to serve with the parking team or on hospitality squad. They were aggressive and faithful in evangelizing the lost, handing out tracts, funding missionaries, and caring for the elderly in the midst of a dark pagan culture. Hence, in Jesus’ praise, He wanted them to know that He saw, and was well aware of their ministry efforts to the point of sweat and exhaustion.
But not only were they a hardworking Church, but Jesus also commends them for being doctrinally vigilant Church.
It appears that a heretical sect called, “the Nicolatians” had slipped into the Church claiming to be apostles and were spreading teachings contrary to what Jesus and His apostles taught. The Ephesians, however, proved resilient and committed to truth. Through searching the scriptures and prayer, they tested these wicked false teachers and exposed them to be frauds.
These guys were no joke. They were conservative, Bible-preaching, heresy-fighting Christians. They could spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing a thousand miles away, even on the Internet! They may have even taken some level of pride in being heresy hunters and considered themselves defenders of truth, which means they quite possibly didn’t take it too lightly on preachers who preached only the softer aspects of the gospel. Jesus actually commends them for sharing a mutual hate for the heretic sect, the Nicolatians.
So, from Jesus’ perspective, the Ephesians scored an A+ on diligence in ministry and commitment to Biblical truth.
It all seemed so right.
However, something went seriously wrong along the way.
Remember, Jesus sees past our glossy profile pictures. He sees the true condition of every man’s/woman’s heart and the true spiritual condition of EVERY SINGLE Church. Though the Ephesians were hardworking and doing everything right doctrinally, they were doing wrong the one thing that mattered most! Jesus reveals it in verse 4, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.”
This makes me ask, “How in the world can one be committed to faithful ministry service and Biblical truth, yet have forgotten their first love, Jesus Himself!?”
How can a Church that has strong Bible teaching and possibly produces new Bible commentaries each year; a Church that has an incredible track record of identifying and fighting off false teachers, all of which happens in the context of persecution from its neighbors - how can such a Church be accused of forsaking its first love?
The answer is actually simple and is applicable to individual Christians and whole Churches: ENGAGING IN LOTS OF CHRISTIAN ACTIVITY IS NOT THE SAME AS FAITHFULLY LOVING JESUS CHRIST.
The Ephesians were doing everything right except for what really mattered, which was to “love Jesus with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind ("this is the first and greatest commandment")". They had become so busy with doing the work of ministry that they had forgotten to stay glued to the LORD of the ministry!
Alarmingly, Jesus says they hadn’t just forgotten their first love, but they had “forsaken” Him. This speaks of abandonment without regard. The indication is that, in their zeal, they had focused so much energy on fighting off doctrinal error that the fight itself became greater than their love for Jesus Christ. Their identity had become wrapped around what they were against than on whose message they were trying to convey.
So, not only had their love for Jesus Christ run dry, but it appears that they had lost their love for the their community, for non-Christians, for their leaders, and even possibly for one another. They had become spiritually calloused, yet ironically, they zealously continued in their defense of truth and hard work in ministry!
From a distance, most of us would applaud this Church and give them a B+ for effort and zeal.
But Jesus wasn’t impressed with their public profile picture.
Because the intentions and motives of one’s heart matters profoundly to Jesus.
You can lead or attend all the Bible studies you want and quote every single word from the Old Testament book of Leviticus (not sure why you would), but if the love of Jesus and compassion for people far from God is not centerstage in your heart, then you are a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
So let me ask the hard question here. If you were to put your heart through a quick exam, what would it reveal about the true spiritual condition of your heart? Would it reveal a lot of Christian activity and next-to-nothing affections for Jesus Christ? Incidentally, you may be more involved in ministry now than you’ve ever been, but how’s your affection for the LORD of ministry? Has your life become so occupied with ministry duties that you’re no longer captivated by the love of Jesus Himself?
One indicator that you have abandoned your first love may be your tendency to start worrying a lot, or becoming insecure about every decision your make. I know this because I’ve had seasons in my faith journey where my love for the Lord waned. I found myself easily fearful and agitated a lot.
Might that be you?
If any of this rings true for you, then this letter to the Church in Ephesus has your name written in big print on the front of the envelope (or email, or text, or whatever... you get my gist). The good news here is that Jesus has already thought through your condition and has diagnosed a solution should you end up there.
It’s pretty straightforward: “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (verse 5)
If, like the Ephesians, you find that your “well has run dry” or your affections for Jesus has been waning of late, then the first step in reviving that relationship is recalling to mind and remembering the things you did with Him and for Him in the “better seasons” of your faith.
So think back to the early days of your faith, or to the seasons of your faith you would describe as most spiritually vibrant. What did you do then? How did you express you love for Jesus then? What excited you and how did you communicate with God in prayer?
Jesus is saying here, “I want you to do those things again!”
Simple enough, right?
Secondly, Jesus wants you to abandon and make a clean break from things in your life that are presently robbing you of you affections for Jesus. In other words, repent!
Between both of these actions (remembering and repenting), you will find your “well” gradually begins to fill up again and your affections for Jesus gradually increase! Before you know it, you’ll be singing with the Psalmist, “This one thing I ask, this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life and to gaze upon His beauty!”
It all starts with considering/remembering how far you’ve falling, repenting and doing the things you did at first!
To be clear, this isn’t just a suggestion from Jesus, it’s actually a warning because in the latter part of verse 5, Jesus says, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
It’s helpful here to call to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
So the idea here is that the Church (made up of individual Christians) is a lam/ light in its community because a lampstand lights up dark space, right? So then, for Jesus to threaten to remove a lampstand (Church) from the community He placed it in implies that Jesus will snuff out its light, or quite literally, shut down the Church.
It never really hit me what Jesus was threatening to do to the Ephesian Church if they didn’t turn around until I read of the Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll controversy from a few years back. Let me be clear on what I will say next: It is NOT my intention to smear the man or the work of ministry his Church has done, but to illustrate what I believe Jesus means when He says in Revelation 2:5 that, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Mars Hill, Seattle appears to have been built around the strong personality and charisma of Mark Driscoll. Ironically, Mars Hills (and Mark Driscoll) may have been in many ways like the Ephesian Church in that they passionately fought back against heretic teachings and teachers. It appears, however, that some in their leadership were lacking in the love and compassion department. Starting in 2013, trouble began for Driscoll as accusations of plagiarism, crudeness, a bullying management style, unseemly consolidation of power, and squishy book-promotion ethics plagued him and his Church. As a result, a Church that once tagged as the third-fastest growing large Church in the country, with 14 locations and 13,000 congregants in weekly attendance (along with a wide online global reach), closed its doors. Mars Hill (as a Church organization) no longer exists. Its global influence as a powerhouse of Gospel preaching has seized. Mark Driscoll Himself suffered the spiritual equivalent of a black eye through this experience.
Fellow Brothers and sisters in Christ, please understand that I take NO delight in recounting those events nor am I conveying it from a judgmental standpoint. I am simply using it as a vivid illustration what I believe happens when the Lord of the Church removes a lampstand from its place.
Fortunately, Jesus actually LOVES His Church, including the Ephesians, including Mars Hill, and yes, including Mark Driscoll (regardless of your opinion on the matter)! Remember, Jesus paid a high cost on the cross to redeem and reconcile all of them/us to God the Father. I point that out because, inspite of the fall of Mars Hill, God graciously orchestrated the controversy so that 11 newly independent Churches came out of it, and Mark Driscoll himself is back in ministry doing what His Savior gifted him and called him to do, preach the Gospel! I eagerly want to believe (and do believe) that Driscoll has considered "how far he has fallen, repented, and returned to His first love doing the things he did at first with Jesus!" Pastor John Piper made an interesting comment after reflecting on the events of Mars Hill. In an interview on the Gospel Coalition website, he says, “God must be the kind of general over his army that willingly accepts tactical defeats for strategic victories.”
How great is our God and how gracious is our Lord Jesus Christ!
Here’s the best news in all of this. Jesus offers a promise; dare I call it a, motivation? In verse 7, he says those who heed His words will be given the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
This promise is no small offer. Do you recall when this particular tree was last seen and mentioned in the Bible? It was in the beginning, in Genesis 2 when Adam and Eve were given an all access pass to go about the Garden of Eden as they pleased. Of course, after forsaking God’s instruction, they were barred from it and the tree was hidden from them.
Well, get this – THAT TREE STILL EXISTS TODAY!!!
Revelation 22 tells us that that tree of life is now situated on Main Street in the city of heaven planted on each side of the Water-of-Life River (there’s apparently more than one tree of life on this street, and their roots are watered by this special water flowing from God’s throne itself).
Note some fascinating features about this tree not mentioned in other accounts. These trees of life of which Jesus will give us the right to eat from if we heed His words, produce 12 different kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit for each month. Did you catch that? There’s no waiting for its fruits to ripen. They’re always ready and they’re always good to eat! More incredibly, however, is the little detail about the trees producing 12, that’s T.W.E.L.V.E kinds of fruit, one for each month.
That’s kinda odd, isn’t it?
Trees generally produce ONE kind of fruit throughout their enture life. So how beautifully strange this tree in heaven must be! Furthermore, it’s not just delicious to eat, but scripture says it is for the “healing of the nations”, a constant source of nourishment in heaven!
Someday, you, I, the Bible-thumping Christians in Ephesians, Mars Hill congregants, Mark Driscoll, and countless number of other believers will walk down those golden streets of heaven and share a meal from that tree – provided we consider how far we’ve fallen, repent, and return to our first love and do the things we did at first.
The first step for many of us will be to do away with any false image we may be projecting of ourselves to God and to others. I'm not speaking here of changing your online profile picture, but rather, having an honest open attitude towards your Father in heaven and with the men and women God has called you to do life with.
Perhaps if people see how human we are, and how in need of God's grace we are, they might be drawn to our Savior Jesus Christ so He can restore and reconcile them back to the Father.
Husband. Dad. Pastor. Nigerian American. Storyteller. Aspiring Prayer Warrior. Steak Lover. Follower of Jesus Christ reminding you that God the Father still loves you.