For fair warning, this will be difficult for many to read.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These things says the One holding the seven stars in his right hand, the One walking in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands, “I know your works and your labor and your endurance, and you are not able to tolerate evil [ones], and you have tested those claiming to be apostles and are not, and you have found them false. And you have perseverance, and have endured for my name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have against you that your first love you have abandoned. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the first works. If, moreover, not, I am coming to you and will remove your lamp stand out of its place, if you should not repent. But this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. The one having an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one overcoming, I will give to him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
Right away we find a passage that should be familiar to all of us. These in Ephesus were hard pressed to ensure that no false apostles could rise up. Ephesus also endured persecution. In fact, we read from the text that they seem to rejoice in being counted worthy to bear reproach for the name of their Savior. We know this from the fact that they don’t grow weary. It takes a certain kind of empowering of the Spirit to be able to endure suffering and not grow weary. With this being said, Jesus is acknowledging that the Church at Ephesus is not wicked. The problem He brings against them is not being backslidden. In fact, I would look at the good things they do and wonder why the rebuke could result in them loosing their place before Him.
I imagine that what is being communicated is deeper than backsliding. We can easily write off backsliding as something that they do, but we’ve kept the faith and continued to persevere. After all, we’re being persecuted, right? The deception comes from thinking that we have obtained to something. When we are first saved, there is passion to conform every aspect of our lives to being Christ-like. Our hearts desire for everyone we know to also come to Christ.
You see, we say as Christians that we care for the poor, the oppressed, the lost, the sick, the widows and orphans, etc, but by our actions, we show that the exact opposite is true. We knowingly let them die so that we can have bounty and be comfy. We average about 2% in our giving, and of that money ($250 billion), we spend over 95% of it on ourselves. Less than 0.01% reaches the least reached people on this planet. That would be why we’re hated as Christians. We say that we care, and then we spend our money on ourselves.
I would suggest consulting the book World Christian Trends AD 30 – AD 2200. It was published in 2001, written by David Barrett and Todd Johnson. Here are a few of the details mentioned in their list within the first few pages of the book:
-Emboldened by lax procedures, trusted church treasurers are embezzling each year $16 billion in church funds, but only 5% only get found out.
That is more than the entire cost of foreign missions worldwide. We lose more to people inside the organization than we spend on foreign missions. That is what Deuteronomy 28 calls “a purse with holes in it”. It is a curse from God.
-Christians spend more on the annual audits of their churches and agencies ($810 million) than on all their workers in the non-Christian world.
-Each year 600,000 full-time ordained Christian workers (missionaries, clergy, ministers, etc) reach retirement age. 150,000 then discover that their employers provide no old-age pensions.
-Some 250 of the 300 largest international Christian organizations regularly mislead the Christian public by publishing demonstrably incorrect or falsified progress statistics.
Do you know how bad that is? What is Jesus going to say about that? Do you have any clue as to which ones those are? Are you feeding money into that? Do you even know how they are falsifying their information?
The truth of our condition is that we really don’t care. There are homeless in our city, and we spend our money on television, cable, internet, bigger homes, bigger ministries, larger beds, fancier stuff, bigger yards, newer cars, computers, porn, cigarettes, alcohol, fast food, candy, toys, and vacations that we don’t need. What could be more important than feeding the hungry and clothing the naked? What could be more important than donating our extra money to the college student who can’t afford their tuition? What could be more important than taking into our extra rooms the kids who have no parents? What could be more important than spilling out all of our extra time to reaching those who we know are in need of wisdom, growth, a friend, Bible knowledge, prayer, a shoulder to cry on, or generally anything that we have the ability to do? Obviously what is most important to us is moving out of the crummy apartments and into the uptown ritzy section of town.
While Jesus sits with the poor, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the drug addicts, and the kids who have been abandoned, we’re too busy having our nice Christian culture filled with nice book clubs called “Bible study”. When Jesus comes back, are we going to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant,” or are we going to hear, “Because you did not do it unto the least of these my brethren, you did not do it to me”?
9/10 missionaries go out to countries already heavily contacted with the Gospel, and in some cases already heavily Christian. This pattern is being repeated by non-denominational missionaries, and also non-Western missionaries. The result is that 95% of all Christian missionary work is pointed only at Christian world.
Every day, we open 500 new worship centers (buildings). Every other day, we start a new denomination. We build three service agencies a day. We create one new foreign missionary sending agency a day. There is $5.5 million embezzled from the church – ecclesiastical crimes – every day. The personal income of church members (combined) is $1.5 billion a day, $66 million of that being given to Christian organizations every day. The church income is $22 million a day. Now, this is good in comparison to the non-Christian world. We average about 2% in giving; they average about 1%. There are seven new commercial book titles per day, 167,000 Bibles printed per day, 334,000 New Testaments printed per day, and so on.
While all of this is happening, we’re arguing about whether we should use a drum set in our worship service or not. We’re telling people with different colored hair (like blue), tattoos, piercings, who rode to church on their skateboard, and all they know is that they’ve given everything to Christ Jesus that they aren’t welcome without covering up their tattoos, taking out their piercings, getting rid of the “heathen” haircut, dressing more appropriately, and listening to Hillsong United.
We might be proud that our church has a food pantry, we’re arguing about doctrinal stances and whether the Baptist church down the road is really saved like this Baptist church that we’re currently in. We’re opposing one another as denominations, as ministries, and as individual congregations. To have a specific congregation that you go to, and you neglect all other Christians in your town, you have forsaken fellowship. You have taken a wedge and jammed it into the Body of Christ to build up the dividing wall of partition that Christ broke down in His body. All of this is done without even blinking an eye. We don’t even have that moment when we look around and ask, “What in the world are we doing?” We don’t even realize that the great commission wasn’t given so that we could build organizations and charities to donate to. The point of the great commission was that we are supposed to do what we can with what we have, and in that, reach the lost, take care of our brethren, go where the Lord might send us, take up the cause of the oppressed, and live in daily fellowship with the saints.
What does it look like to forsake our first love? If it doesn’t look like this, then I don’t know what it looks like. Ephesus is that church that is indeed being persecuted, and they are indeed told that there are good things that they are doing, but ultimately, because of their abandonment of their first love, they have become a system that pays homage to itself without affecting the world. We’ve taken the call of Christ and made it a mockery. We’ve taken the message of the Bible and scoffed. We’ve taken the mandate given by Christ, and the love that has been revealed through Christ, and we have hogged all the glory. We have buried our talents in the dirt so that when Christ – our hard master – returns, we might give Him the one talent that He gave us. You might want to read Matthew 25 real carefully. Jesus doesn’t have a very “nice” response.
Maybe this is why the reward of overcoming this mindset and rut is to eat of the tree of life in paradise. The tree of life is a representation of the resurrection. The tree itself is a cross to bear, the fruit bringing forth death. But the seeds of that fruit – if we’re willing to take of the whole thing – is resurrection life. Jesus tells them that there is no more reason for a rut – resurrection is obtainable. If resurrection is obtainable, then I want it. I want to show the world that Christ is alive, and that He truly does care, and in order to do that, I’m going to give everything – my time, my mind, my heart, my soul, my money, my home, my family, my car, my future, my plans, my energy – in order to love those who Christ loves. I will work myself until I have nothing left to give in order to simply display the love of Christ to even the least of these.
Before leaving Ephesus, I want to now run back through and pick up some of the pieces that were untouched.We find that in all of these messages to the churches, the way that Jesus addresses himself to them, what he finds right, what he finds wrong, how to overcome, and the reward of overcoming all connect together. Jesus refers to Himself as “He who has the seven stars in His hand, and who walks among the burning candlesticks”. Why? Later we find Jesus giving a punishment if they don’t repent. The punishment is to take away their candlestick from its place.
In 2013, a man actually waged war against the whole of the Charismatic and Pentecostal denominations. He called them demonic and accused them of bringing false fire to the altar of God. Now, as extreme as these accusations might be, this is a man that leads a campaign to try the apostles to find if they are true or false. In their zeal, they are upholding the standard of God: be ye holy as I am holy. In their zeal to expose the false, they have forgotten to uphold the very things that Christ has told us to be and do.
In this manner, they have left their first love. They are full of knowledge, but void of heart. Like the woman in Song of Solomon 5:2-8, they have heard the knocking of the Lord, and have battled in their own hearts as to whether or not to open up for him. When at one time, they would have ran to the door, they now debate as to whether it is worth getting their feet a little dirty. Is it worth putting on a coat now that I have changed into my evening clothes? To he that overcomes, Jesus will grant the right to eat of the tree of life. That tree of life is found in the paradise of God, just like the woman in Song of Solomon found her lover in the Garden. The Garden is the place of devotion – specifically, the place of intimacy. This is why God tells the church in Ephesus that they will be able to take of its fruit. They who overcome will once again find that first love – the place of intimacy with Christ. He who has ear, let him hear.