Too Busy For Your First Love

Eric Russ, Speaker

Revelation 2:1-7 | June 18, 2023 - Sunday Evening,

Sunday Evening,
June 18, 2023
Too Busy For Your First Love | Revelation 2:1-7
Eric Russ, Speaker

Good evening, fam. How you doing? Hope you’re having a good Sabbath day of the Lord.

Just for some of you guys who don’t know me, my name is Eric Russ, I’m one of the pastors here. I would like to let you know if you’ve been looking at the bookmark, it tells you that we were going to look at Revelation chapter 20 tonight as we talk about not wasting our summer, but actually tonight will be Revelation chapter 2, just apologizing for you type A people like myself as you see that and just think I’m insane. I’m not. The Lord just allowed me to think that maybe this might be a better text based on some of our goals tonight.

With that said, family, as you’re turning, if you would bow your heads and let’s just ask the Lord to guide this conversation all for his glory.

Dear Lord, thank You for the honor, the absolute honor to open up Your Word in a country that lets us read the truth of God, in a place where we can gather together as a people of God and remind ourselves that You are real, that You are intimately involved in our lives, and that You are to be our greatest treasure. So Lord, we ask Holy Spirit bring glory to Christ as I share. Would You speak through me, Lord? Would You use this time to make us more like You, edify Your church. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

We’re looking at Ephesians chapter 2, family. Talking about not wasting our summer. Great text so far. If you’ve been with this series, it’s just for a month in July, we’ve talked about prayer, we’ve talked about Sabbath rest, and tonight we’re looking at the church of Ephesus, verses 1 through 7. We’ve got a lot to talk about so we’re going to jump right in, make a few comments, and hopefully we will all be encouraged in our faith as God speaks to us from His Word, family.

It starts off: ““To the angel of the church in Ephesus write.”

Just to give you a little background, Ephesus was kind of like the New York or the Paris of the day in Asia Minor, which is now known as modern-day Turkey. So picture this with me. This was a place where culture was being formed, where things happened. I don’t know how you guys are into sneakers or not, but if the new J’s were to come out, they would come out first in Ephesus. You know what I’m saying? Taylor Swift would probably begin or end her concert in Ephesus. So this was a happening spot.

It was in this place where Paul planted this church. If you want to learn more about that, I’ll give you the address, Acts chapter 19. Read that chapter and it gives you some insight into what was going on during this time.

So Paul plants the church and then Timothy actually is the pastor of the church. This is the place we’re talking about. So when it says “to the angel of the church at Ephesus, write” it continues on. If you look down at your text there, it says “he writes the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the seven golden lampstands.”

So we have this angel, or aggelos, the word means “messenger,” is holding in his right hand, which shows you basically the sense of describing the place of importance. Now some scholars would say that this is kind of a spiritual description of a pastor or an individual who was delivering the message. The main point in this segment is that the message is being delivered, but it’s being delivered by this person under the importance of the power, protection, and the comfort and the rule of God.

The point is that God’s truth was to be received by this messenger and then it was to be proclaimed… All right, God’s truth was to be proclaimed to God’s people. This is how he starts the message. Look at verse 2.

He says I know you. I know your works. He says I know you 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 themselves to be false.”

Verse 3. “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

He says, listen, you’ve been patient. You’ve been enduring. Patient and enduring is like you’ve toiled. He’s like, you’ve not only worked but you’ve worked hard, you’ve worked late. He says that you’ve been tireless in ministry activity, enduring and bearing up. You’ve been serving.

Skip down to verse 6. He says, “Yet this I have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

He says you hate those who abuse grace. All right. The Nicolaitans were individuals who would say you know what? Let grace abound. I can do whatever I want. He says you agree with me, you hate that.

So you’re patient, you’re enduring, you’re working hard for the church. He says, but, in verse 4, “but I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” You have abandoned the love you had at first.

I translated this from the Greek and it’s literally that you departed from your first love. Wait a minute. So we’re saying here, according to the text, fam, you can be a consistent member of night church, an elder, you can be enduring and sacrificing, you can be an orthodox Christian, and have lost your first love, according to the text here.

According to God’s Word, it says you can be doing all the right stuff and be in wrong fellowship with God. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? All the right stuff, and yet for some reason God saw these individuals as not in proper fellowship with him. Now don’t miss something. The issue was not, according to the text, that they didn’t love God. You see that? Look at the text. That wasn’t an issue. The issue was that they didn’t love Him first. You see that?

Now this is important to understand. What does he mean? This is interpretive key here. Okay, I love God, love Him first, what does this mean? To love God first?

Well, some scholars would say that maybe we’re talking about losing the love that you have for your brother, because the Scriptures talk a lot about that, how to love your brother. But based on the evidence of this text, I think that assertion is possible but it’s not probable and here’s why I’m persuaded in this manner.

So there’s two aspects to this text that he’s talking about when he says I want you to not lose your first love. Here’s what he’s talking about.

First, I would say, he’s talking about simply a plain reading of the text. He’s saying you’ve lost your first love and he’s presenting, what is he doing? He’s presenting an exhortation to you and me, an exhortation for communion, allegiance, devotion, with Jesus.

So where do you get that? Well, the meaning for this expression “first love” definitely has biblical precedence, doesn’t it? Right? We see it commanded explicitly in the Scriptures. He declares both in the Old and the New Testaments. What does He say, fam? He says to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Right? So it would be odd for Jews or Gentiles to hear this and not think that he’s not talking about God first, especially because God says Himself that He’s first.

So it seems that this sense of allegiance, of devotion, of communion, of God being first, is extremely important. It’s paramount to the Lord. He’s saying for whatever reason you’ve lost that, church of Ephesus. You didn’t think about the three commandments, we just read them earlier. Think about the commandments. I mean, my goodness, He started the first three commandments making it really clear of how preemptively He should be. Right?

We have one God. He starts it off there’s one God, all other gods are false. There is one God. I’m to be first. If you don’t like that, He says one God, no idols. So He says you shouldn’t be worshiping any other god because there’s one God.

But then He says some of us are so crazy, we even worship fake stuff. Those are called idols. So He says guess what, if you understand the true God, but if you still want to worship fake things, don’t do that. No idols. Right? That’s the second commandment.

So if you’re going to worship the true God, you’re going to worship me. If you’re going to worship fake things, don’t do that because those are idols. Then He says hallowed My name. He says My name should be respected.

Colossians 1:18. What do the Scriptures say, family? It says and He is the head of the body, the Church. He is the beginning, the first born from the dead that in everything He might be what? Preeminent.

This is normative. This language is consistent in the Scripture that God sees Himself as being the finest thing, the leading thing, the greatest thing, the chief thing, the most outstanding thing. He is first. Author of the Bible.

This is important, fam. The reason why this is so important for you and I even as we begin to look at this text is because when we say that God, or we try to depict or we model in our lives whatever reason that God isn’t first, what we’re saying He’s not worthy.

But instead He demands, He demands our affection. He demands to be first because He is.

When He’s no longer first, that’s called idol worship. There’s several ways that you and I can do this this summer and that’s why I’m glad we’re having this conversation from the text.

See, if you’re barely walking with the Lord, family, don’t miss this, if you’re barely walking with the Lord but you find yourself in a small group, in choir, serving our kids, if you’re doing Christian stuff but you’re not enjoying God Himself, you’re not spending time with God, you’ve missed it. This pastoral team, all our people who serve in this local community, I want you to know something – we are not here to use you. We are not trying to forsake you for the mission. We want you to have a vibrant communion, walk with the Lord, and out of a passionate pursuit of Jesus, walking with your Savior, out of that are we allowing and desiring for the works to flow. That’s our desire.

I think it’s pretty clear here that’s the Lord’s desire for us, is that the things that we can do will not replace that focused relationship with the Lord.

Now, a key, hey, family, a key to know if this is a struggle in your life, right? Is when you find yourself a key, when you find yourself, you have time for all these other things but you have to make time for God. That’s when you know Christ might be second. He might not be the preeminent thing in your life. So I want to encourage you, don’t have time to hike, ride your bike to Collective Café, you know what I’m saying? Swim at –Windrow. Don’t have time for all this stuff and then try to figure out what to do with Jesus.

My prayer for myself and for you is that we would see making time for Jesus as extremely, as paramount, for everything that we do in life. Making communion a priority. Word, prayer, fellowship, singing, being a consistent diet.

Now my prayer is for you and me to kind of in our hearts say, “Lord, would You give me that grace to this summer not have an ‘I’ll get around to it’ relationship with Christ?” We’ll talk about what that looks like in a moment. But store that in your heart.

Notice, though, so that’s the first piece of understanding the exegesis of this text. It seems what Jesus is talking about is a sense of devotion, of communion, of allegiance to Him that He wants back from His people. However, in addition to that, there seems to be something connected to that. There seems to be an indicative that He provides. There’s an increment attached to the text. Look at the text, that you must not miss. It provides further insight on how to determine how you’ve lost your first love.

The interpretive key is found in verse 1 and in verse 5. Verse 1, it says Jesus walks amongst the lampstands. You see that, family? Lampstand being the key word and the same word and concept was used in verse 5. So what is Jesus and His connection to lampstands?

A bit a go, we talked about this a while ago, but when you look at the churches in chapter 2, what happens in chapter 2, guys, you can do this on your own time, check out the churches. You will see Jesus describes usually the problem of the church, you’ll see the problem, and then what He does is He describes Himself as a mirror to either the strength or the weakness of the church. Okay?

So for example when he talks about Pergamum. Jesus is described as a two-edged sword when He speaks to them holding fast to what is a false word. Right? Because they’re holding fast to a false word. So He describes Himself as a double-edge sword, saying that’s what you’re doing, I’m the true Word. He says check yourself because this true Word’s going to come and judge you for having that false word. So that’s what’s happening in the text in chapter 2.

In the same manner here, He describes Himself as the One who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. So lampstands are what? They gave light day and night, you see that in Exodus 27. They’re the only source of light. What was the light supposed to do all throughout the canon? The light was supposed to point to who? Christ. So being the light of the world, now you’re going, yeah, this little light of mine. So you’re thinking about… So that’s what is supposed to happen.

When you look in John chapter 8, verse 12: “I’m the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Even more substantial, look in John chapter 5, verse 35. Scriptures read, “He was burning and shining and a shining lamp and you were willing to rejoice for a while in His light.”

So what is this talking about here? This is part of the interpretive key. What he’s talking about here, this is, actually John the Baptist, he’s talking about John the Baptist here. So Jesus is talking about John the Baptist doing what? Bearing witness. Ah, so now we get to learn a little more. Okay, lampstand, lampstand. So the canon, the people of God were always the light pointing to the Savior and now we see even in this text John was not, they weren’t to look at John but they were supposed, he was a light to point to the Savior. So he’s bearing witness to the focal point of the passage Jesus, and this is you, several times in the chapter. Write the address down.

This is so important. John’s context is using language that is recognizable and it makes sense that in this passage here he’s using the same kind of language. So he must have the same kind of thought process as it were.

So how does all this fit together? The idea of this passage, family, is that the church of Ephesus was not longer, former, operating in zealous love for Jesus, which was an indicator by the fact of their devotional love being displayed through their witness of the world. Right? They witnessed who Christ was to the world. So for whatever reason Jesus is saying you’ve lost your first love. How’d I lose my first love? You showed for whatever reason your allegiance, your community with me, has become severed in some way and the reason why I know that is because I’m watching your witness of Me and it seems to be kaput. It seems to be hushed out. It seems to not be in existence.

So there’s a connection, which by the way, this is wonderful for an outreach pastor. Right? I tell you, I didn’t really try to do this because I’m an outreach pastor, I’m not trying to sleight of hand, make the text talk about outreach, but I was really excited when I felt like it was talking about being a witness. Think about that. There is something to be said, I don’t know the extent of it, but there’s something to be said about Jesus saying you’ve lost your first love, and one of the ways I know that is your witness is blurred.

Satan, he spends overtime trying to mess this up in us, family. I propose to you, I think it’s a reason why the text doesn’t give us specifics on exactly how their witness was blurred. Do you notice that? This tells us, this uses concept of the lampstand that we understand is a witnessing tool. We understand Jesus is upset when it says Jesus should be preeminent and He’s saying that for whatever reason you’re not being a light. I wonder if He’s doing this because there’s a myriad of ways that you and I find ourselves having a blurred witness.

If I go around this room right now we can all hopefully have the hearts to honestly confess and repent, “Lord, here are the ways that I don’t make much of You. Here are the ways where I do not stand outside the camp with You.”

Family. What do we do? What are ways to battle against this? Look at verse 5. He says, “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen. Repent and do the works you did at first.”

He gives us three things, family. You see that? Remember, repent, and do.

Remember is quite simple. It seems that he’s talking about this sense of in the past they planted this church, these individuals as new believers, and man, I mean, there was something that was beautiful about them experiencing the release… You remember that, guys? The release of the guilt of sin. Of realizing that, man, the very Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in you?

As a guy who goes to share his faith, I’ve always told you this, I love sharing with new believers. I love going out with new believers. It blows me away because when I go out with new believers, this is exactly the case with a lot of college… If you come to Christ in the college ministry, Lord help you, right? Because I did. I love it because we come back, we are the most, new Christians, you become saved in college, usually, especially myself, we are so judgmental. I mean, I walked around and just told everybody they’re going to Hell. I was so excited about Jesus, I wanted everybody… I mean, every time someone said something to me, I made it about the cross. I mean, people, I lost so many friends during that time.

But you know what. I look at myself and I’m like, you know what? I look at young believers when I go out with them and I think to myself wow, I acknowledge the bad doctrine, but I love the new heart. I love the heart. Just say, you know what? I don’t know much. I got two verses. I think I lived on two verses for a year and a half. But I used those verses every time. People coming to me, acting like I’m deep, and I just used those verses. I know, I know, I know, right? That’s deep.

That’s not a commercial to have bad doctrine. That is a reminder to just remember when you didn’t care, you just wanted Christ to be made known. You wanted your friends to be believers. You didn’t want your family members experiencing life without God. So you didn’t know all the Christian lingo and what to say but you just wanted to say “I love Jesus and you should, too.”

It seems like He’s saying, “Let’s get back to that grimy, down and out ready to just tell anybody about Me.”

He says repent. I love that this concept of first love showing itself through a faithful witness. We usually can make something like this as just a problem, “Pray for me, I’ve got __ time with the Lord.” He says repent. When you repent of something, that’s a sin. So I just want to recognize the seriousness of whatever’s going on here. He’s saying you need to remember and repent.

So several of us need to sit back and say, “Lord, I need to repent from hiding You, hiding the light in a bushel.”

Then He says “do.” It just seems that He’s asking the church to recapture the sense of community. Here’s what it looks like for us. If I can give you two practical things that I will say, it’s like, 1, 2, and there’s always a 2a with me, so maybe 1, 2, maybe 3. Okay?

The first. When we think of doing, I want to encourage you when you go home, even tonight, would you make a plan to consistently avail yourselves to the ordinary means of grace? You go, “What is that?” Some of you, if you’re new here, what is ordinary means of grace? This is theologians looking at the Bible and seeing all the ways that God uses, what He uses in order to make us more like Him, to exhort us in Christ, to teach us, to disciple us, to bring us into communion with God.

So a quick little Cliff-note verse would be Acts 2:42, that you would find yourself and you would say, “Lord, give me the grace to make sure that I’m a man or woman being in the Word daily, that I’m experiencing and being a man or woman in prayer, that I want to have and be with the fellowship of the saints, be with the people of God who agree with You, of the risen Savior and who He is.”

Put yourself in an environment where you get to sing out loud and you get to make melody because God has saved you and He reigns in this world. Avail yourselves to the beautiful acknowledgements and the taking of and the witnessing of the sacraments. Ask the Lord to give you that grace to fight hard to experience that and be here every Sunday, for those means so you can experience those things.

So God supernaturally, we don’t know how He does it, but He takes those things and what He does, He makes us more like Christ.

I want to encourage you do it Sunday, but guess what? Reading the Bible, this is the primary place where it happens, but He demonstrates those means of grace all week in your life, if you avail yourself, family.

Secondly, consistently allow God… So my prayer is that you would write those things and you would say, “Lord, I want to be in Your Word. I want to be a man or woman of prayer.” Secondly I want you to consistently ask the Lord to allow you to display a clear, courageous, consistent, faithful witness of Christ to the world. Ask the Lord, “Holy Spirit bring glory to Jesus through me.”

Two ways you can do that. The first I want to ask you please don’t underestimate the ministry of presence. That’s the first way. What do you mean? Ministry of presence? I mean being a Christian in public. When someone has an issue, ask to pray for them. When someone asks you a question, allow them to see that you answer it from a biblical worldview. Allow people to see how you fill yourself up.

I know you can’t preach the Bible at your work, but you can read whatever book you want. Be a Christian in public.

Secondly, I want to ask, especially in our body, I want to ask you to avoid spiritual constipation. What I mean by that is we get a lot of food in our local community. All right? You Sunday morning, you getting it from __, mm hmm. Night time. This is… [sound effect] All right. You eating and eating and eating and I want you to every once in a while [sound effect] All right? Don’t just be in taking, in taking, in taking.

This Tuesday we have O Nights at 7 o’clock. You can come. We’re going to have, this fall we’re going to have a great outreach and we’re asking our whole body to partner so that we can introduce to the world, to this community specifically, that we love God and we love them.

Now this is a weird dance. Right? Because half the time I’m saying it’s not what you do, because God wants to have communion with you. Then I go on and say, hey, but you got to do this stuff. That’s the Christian life. It’s an interesting dance. It’s a beautiful dance. But as we’ve talked about over and over again, you’re not doing this stuff to be loved by God. Because we are loved by God, the indicative is oh, my goodness, we demonstrate clearly the imperatives.

So we demonstrate and obey the imperatives because of the fact of what God has done in our life.

Ephesians, the church of Ephesus, the call of Jesus to them was to immerse themselves in a consistent dose of communion with God and hope that it would spill over to contagious, biblical, radical faithfulness that ministered to a lost world, family.

Look what he says in verse 7: “He who has ears to hear, let him ear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

This is such an important text, family. Here’s why. Because Satan, he really would love for Christians to minister in our own strength. He loves that stuff. When we kind of just learn stuff to do and we just do it and we kind of put Jesus in a straitjacket in an insane asylum. He loves that. He loves when we try to accomplish the mission without the Master. He’s even okay when you have a little connection with Christ, just as long as you keep Him second or third.

That’s why, by God’s grace, Jesus is saying to these people, “No, I deserve to be first.” Why? Because He wants to do something radical through our body this summer. He wants to do something radical in your or my life. When I say that, I’m not talking, let’s be very clear, I’m not talking about emotionalism or experientialism, I’m talking about faithfulness, obedience. You and I learning through the power of the Spirit to see something as mundane as Bible reading and consistent prayer and being other centered as good, as sweet. Those are beautiful religious affections.

See, it seems that Jesus wants us to know that. He wants us, as it were, He wants us in the deep waters and the deep waters are actually the remedial things. That’s the beauty of the Gospel. Don’t let the world fool you and don’t let bad theology fool you to think that you’re really doing something for Jesus when you’re on the cutting edge and you’re always finding yourself almost hanging off a cliff. It’s a lie.

You are spiritual when you are obeying the Lord.

It reminds me, my wife and I, our second year of marriage we spent a year in Uganda. We were serving in missions. We had an opportunity to raft the Nile River. During this experience, we go up, there’s a beautiful, go up to this mountain and you can see the Nile and it was amazing. It was beautiful. You see it and the people, everyone’s looking at it, and then they say, “Hey, you know what?” You couldn’t hear it, but you could see it. Right? So then we go down and then some people just stayed up there, because the Nile River, what’s dangerous about it is you won’t hurt yourself or die because you hit your head on a rock like whitewater rafting here in America, the shallow water. Well, the Nile is extremely deep. What happens is people drown because it’s so deep. It’s like being in a huge washing machine. There’s not a lot of regulation.

We were on the grade, right after this grade, the other grades were unraftable. So you’re like, yikes. So the people stayed up there, they’re like “I’m going to stay up here.” then you go down and it’s already beautiful, but man, when you went down, wow. It was different. It wasn’t just beautiful. At this point, now you’re in the water and you can hear the roar of the river, this roaring. Then all of a sudden you’re in this raft and it’s hitting you and not only is it hitting you and you’re hearing the roar now and you’re seeing the beauty of it, but now the water’s splashing in your face.

You see, when I was up in the mountaintop, all I could do was just enjoy the view of the Nile. But something happened when I actually got in the boat. You understand me? When I got in the boat, all of a sudden I found myself in a different experience, and now something was happening. It was doing something to me. You understand? It was moving me. It was shaking me. I was actually getting drenched by it at some level.

But that wasn’t it. They said, You know what? This right here, that’s a safe boat. You’re in there, you’re getting a little rocky here and there, but actually this boat takes you in the rapid. They said but if you get in this boat, you definitely need to strap on tight, put on that helmet, and you need to know that probably 98% of you are going to fly off the boat. We had a friend tell us you fly off the boat, you got to just trust that the powerful rapids of the Nile will be the only thing that can save you. What you’ve got to do, as you’re bouncing around in there like a little sock in the washing machine, you just better hold on and say, “Lord, let me come up one day” and trust that the power of the Nile will draw you to safety.

So we got in it and all of a sudden pow! Everyone’s all over the place. You should have seen it. The boat’s popping around and we are drenched and we are experiencing, and I’m thinking okay, I didn’t know I was going to go out like this, but I want to trust, I want to remember, and see the power, I want to experience this power, I want to go and see this raft take me to safety by the power of the Nile.

See, there’s some Christians who are just content with seeing God from the mountaintop. They don’t want to hear from God, they can’t hear from Him. They’re not, it’s not changing them at all, but they’re just okay with just the little glimpse, “Hi, Jesus.” Then there’s other Christians who are like, “You know what? I want a little more than just that little glimpse. I want to experience a little more.” So they don’t get in the boat, but they’ll get in the safety boat. Then they’ll encounter a little bump here and there and a little water here and there to sprinkle them. But they’ll make sure that they stay safe, so they’ll keep Jesus here and there, I’ll interact with You when an opportune time, but I’m not going to get fully wet.

Then there’s some Christians who say, “No, no, no, no. I want to be strapped in, man. I want to have a hat on. I want you to strap that thing on me. I want to go right into the heart of this. I want to experience the full power of this thing. I want to go bouncing in, pop me out, __ me up, take me like a sock, and I’m hoping one day, I’m trusting you to provide me all __ safety in this road.”

The question I would ask, family, Christ Covenant, which Christians will we be? I hope we’re not trying to be the safe Christian who is just up on the mountaintop, just kind of wanting to see Jesus from a distance. I’m hoping that you and me, we wouldn’t be the individual who says I just want to stay in the little safe boat, get my job, do what I do, have a little Jesus on the side and also have a moralistic compass in my life. My prayer for you and me that God would give you and me the grace to come down from the mountain, family, not be satisfied with the little rowboat but want the full power of consistently communing with the living God, and from there experiencing our first love so that we can result in a clear and faithful witness to this world so that when any person comes on this campus they are to experience the living God from Christians who say I don’t want to be in the safe boat, I want to all that Jesus has for me.

My prayer for you and me is that we would never lose our first love.

Will you bow your heads, please?

Lord, I ask, in Your kindness, would You allow each one of this summer to take the necessary steps of first and foremost diving and experiencing and enjoying those graces You’ve made clear and You’ve given to us to experience You and in communion with You, Lord. I ask that You would allow each one of us to be convicted to be in Your Word, to be in prayer, to intentionally get to know and enjoy and partnership with other believers. Koinonia, Lord. Would You allow that to be the case? Would You allow us to fight hard, to be with the people of God in worshiping You on Sunday? Would You allow the most ordinary means, those remedial means, those elementary means, to be paramount for you and I, Lord, and we pray, Lord, by Your kindness, by Your grace, will those things allow us to transfer to being men and women who preach the Gospel in our communities as a clear and faithful witness. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.