When Love Grows Cold

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Revelation 2:1-7 | September 11 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
September 11
When Love Grows Cold | Revelation 2:1-7
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

We never want to be a church that’s just gathered together because like-minded people who like to think and talk about the same ideas. Well, you might like to talk about all sorts of other ideas and it just happens to be that you like to talk about Bible ideas. Well, that’s good. We need people who are unafraid to take unpopular stands. We need people vigilant for what is right. But if I can steal from Pilgrim’s Progress, we need valiant for truth to meet up with Mr. Great-heart.

May it be true of each one in this congregation that meeting in Christ Covenant, valiant for truth and Mr. Great-heart. Because of course we see in the Lord Jesus Christ our example. Not just our example, but the very embodiment of love. How could we not love one another when we have been so loved by God in Christ?

Father, as we come to Your Word we pray once again you would speak by Your Spirit that we might grow in holiness, in discernment, in courage, and in love. Give us ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches, what the Spirit is saying to our church through Your Word, for Jesus’ sake we pray. Amen.

You heard Eric mention in the prayer I was in Detroit over the weekend speaking at a conference and had the privilege of preaching at one of my former associate pastor’s churches, who was sent out from my last church before I came here, to a church in Detroit. He’s also a really good friend of Eric and his family, and it’s really exciting what the Lord is doing in the PCA all over this country, even up in Yankee land up there. They had a goal, I think maybe 10 years ago, with this Detroit church planting project to have 10 PCA churches in the Detroit area by 2030 and now seven years out from that they’ve recalibrated the goal to be 35 churches by 2035, because things are going, God’s opening all sorts of doors and churches are planting and multiplying, so it was exciting to be there and try to spur that on.

This particular church was a church plant and meeting in rented facilities and just a couple of years ago an old historic Catholic church. Mike Miller has been there and so have a few others, in the heart of Detroit. Nobody was worshiping at this church anymore and rather than have it destroyed or turned into a bar or something, they signed a 20-year lease with this PCA church. So it is one of the most beautiful and most Catholic PCA churches you could ever… They gave them permission to cover up some of the statues, but not quite all, but it is really a remarkable place for a church plant to be meeting in this sort of Romanesque, kind of gothic cathedral.

So it was good to be there and I got back last night, and good to be with you.

We come this morning to one of my favorite sections in the whole Bible because I think it’s so orderly, I like that, there’s a real rhythm we’ll see to it. And because it is so amazingly relevant to our world. The seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. These were seven real churches and also seven representative churches. Seven churches in Asia Minor. Revelation. There were more than just these seven, but think about Turkey, and in particular western Turkey. Some of you have probably been on a tour of some of these places. I’ve been to Ephesus, the church addressed here this morning. I haven’t been to most of the other ones.

But it’s remarkable to think of the Church as being here 2000 years ago and the problems that they faced are the same problems that we face. The same issues found in these ancient churches are the ones we find in our contemporary churches. We find that though technology has rapidly changed and medical history has rapidly changed, all sorts of changes in 2000 years.

You know what’s the same? People. Human nature. And when you get a bunch of human beings together, saved people but together, you have the same sorts of strengths and the same sorts of weaknesses. Jesus hasn’t changed. People are still people. Jesus is still Lord. The Church is still the Church. And there are still congregations like each of these seven congregations. Rich, apathetic churches like Laodicea. Small, persecuted churches like Philadelphia. Fancy, shallow churches like Sardis.

That’s why this is one of my favorite sections in the Bible, because it’s not hard to find contemporary application, and because in the Lord’s wisdom, He gave us seven different churches with seven different kinds of struggles.

If we just had one church of these seven, we’d be tempted to think ah, that for all time is the problem that’s plaguing the church. They don’t love people, or they don’t have good theology, or they’re too compromising, or they’re not accommodate enough, and we’d think that there was just one narrow set of problems.

This is often what happens in our internet age when you can speak about everyone, to everyone, and so we tend to think that the problems we see, or the problems that feel scariest to us, are the problems that bedevil every church. But you realize, no, some churches are strong over here and weak over here and some churches are just the opposite. By moving through all seven of these letters, we see the sorts of issues. We won’t find all of them here, but perhaps we can find temptations to all of the weaknesses and can find some evidences of all of the strengths, even at Christ Covenant.

We start, then, in Revelation chapter 2, hopefully you’re there, to this first church, the church in Ephesus.

Verse 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. 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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’”

Here at the first church let me give you some introductory information about these two chapters and these seven churches. These seven letters follow a very definite pattern. There are eight parts which appear in most of these letters.

First, an introduction to write to the angel of the church in such and such a place. Scholars debate whether the angel was some representative angel or many people think that the angel, and it’s just the Greek word for messenger, that the angel here is sort of a spiritual name for the earthly office of the past and that these letters are going to the human pastoral leaders in these congregations. Instructions to write to the angel.

Second, we then have a statement about Jesus which matches the problem in the church. So the description of Jesus is often to mirror something about maybe the strength or the weakness in this congregation.

Third, there’s often a section of commendation. It usually begins by saying “I know, I know, and here’s a list of some things you’re good at.”

Then there is an accusation, “but I have this against you.”

Fifth, there’s a call to change and repentance – “Therefore strengths, weaknesses, do this.”

Sixth, there’s a statement of what the Lord will do. Sometimes an offer of encouragement if they press on, sometimes it’s a warning of judgment if they don’t turn around.

And then seven, there’s a promise to him who overcomes.

And eight, there is an invitation, “He who has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

That phrase there, “He who has ears,” is a take on Jesus’ saying. He often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The idea is not everyone will have this spiritual sensory perception to understand this, to hear it aright. Some will be like Isaiah 6:9, ever hearing, never understanding; ever seeing, never perceiving, but those who have the mind of Christ will hear the Spirit of Christ and will obey. The central aim is that they would become overcomers.

You’ve probably heard me say this before, but if there’s one word that summarizes the theme of the entire book of Revelation, and I know it’s a difficult book and I’m just taking the easy sections here, all the hard stuff comes after chapter 5, but if there’s one theme, and it’s here in the opening chapters and throughout the 22 chapters, it’s a word that all of you already know. It’s the Greek word nike, ni-ke, nikao. That’s the Greek word for victory. It’s translated here with each of these seven churches to him who overcomes, to him who conquers. That’s the Greek word nike. So each of the letters were sealed with a swoosh as they went out to the ancient world.

Nike. These letters are written to churches who have obstacles to overcome. For some of them, they’re sin issues, for others they’re weaknesses, for others it’s opposition pressing in on them and they need to keep going despite the persecution. But each one of these churches is facing an obstacle and the question is whether they will be overcomers or succumb-ers, whether they will conquer and be victorious, or whether they will give up and capitulate.

These seven letters conform to this definite pattern, but within this definite pattern, each church is different. They have different sins, they have different strengths.

Ephesus is theologically, morally sound but deficient in love.

Smyrna is vibrant but fearful.

Pergamum is witnessing but undiscerning.

Thyatira is loving but over-tolerant.

Sardis is impressive on the outside but dead on the inside.

Philadelphia is struggling but strong.

Laodicea is affluent but apathetic.

Just from that quick summary you can understand how these are real churches but also representative churches. These are the very same issues that churches have today.

Two churches have nothing bad said about them, Smyrna and Philadelphia. It’s no coincidence that the two churches that have nothing bad about them are the struggling churches facing outward opposition. They may be small, they may be struggling, they may be persecuted, but Jesus here has nothing negative to say about them. Their struggle is to keep pressing on in the midst of suffering.

Two churches have practically nothing good said about them, Sardis and Laodicea, and they’re really the opposite of the struggling small churches. These are the churches that seem to have a great reputation for looking very fancy but on the inside they’re not.

And then three of the seven have a mixture of good and bad, that’s Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira.

The underlying struggle for each of the seven churches is the same – How are we to be overcomers in a hostile, pagan world?

So we start with this church at Ephesus, one of the leading cities in the ancient world, estimated population at this time around 250,000. That’s a massive city for the ancient world. It fell along three major trade routes, was influential in commerce, in exports. It boasted a major marketplace, a stadium, theaters, one seating 25,000 people. The religious atmosphere in Ephesus was diverse and idolatrous. There were imperial cults, that is, worship of the emperor, they were common. You have the famed temple to Artemis, which we read about in Acts 19 when the people gathered all day to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.”

You’ve heard of the Parthenon. Well, the temple of Artemis was four times larger than the Parthenon, considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

So this was a pluralistic, pagan, religious place. But in the midst of this great city, with all of its religious pluralism, there was a church in Ephesus. It was started by Paul and his associates, pastored later by Timothy, and according to tradition, John himself, John is the one receiving this revelation, this last book of the Bible, according to tradition John himself was an overseer there. There was a relatively brief but a strong tradition of Christian witness in Ephesus.

Notice from the letter here this church in Ephesus had many strengths. It was excellent in many ways. They were hard workers. They are bearing up, verse 3, “for My Name’s sake.” Verse 2: “I know your work, your toil, your patient endurance.”

The Lord doesn’t want lazy followers. Paul, in defending himself to the Corinthians, said “I have worked much harder than all of them, yet not I but Christ who works within me.” Paul said, “I am working my tail off here” and this same attitude characterized the Ephesian Christians. They were not just talkers, but doers. They didn’t wait for someone else to fix the problem, they fixed it themselves. They kept going. They pressed on. They were disciplined. They stayed up late to get it done, they woke up early, they had a Protestant work ethic before they even knew the word Protestant. They were there, getting it done.

Steadfastness. Active steadfastness in that they labored, but also a passive steadfastness in that they endured suffering, hardship. The world they lived in was hostile to their beliefs, certainly the world they inhabited was much more hostile to their beliefs than even our increasingly post-Christian society might be hostile to ours.

You see verse 2. There’s a play on words in the Greek. It says, “I know your deeds and your toil,” or your hard work. The Greek word is kopos. Then in verse 3 He says, “but you are not growing weary,” kopiao. I know you’re kopos, but you’re not getting kopiao. You can put it in English, “You are laboring hard, but you’re not getting labored.”

Verse 2 says you cannot tolerate, or bear, with wicked men. The word is bastaso. And in verse 3, “You are enduring hardship, bearing up, same word bastaso, for My Name.” So you might say in English, “You don’t put up with wicked men, but you put up with a lot for My Name’s sake.”

These Ephesian Christians, I liken them in my mind to the World War 2 generation, that greatest generation, they’re called. Work hard, roll up your sleeves, get ‘er done. Suffer long. Maybe sometimes that generation, of which some of you are a part, has not been really good at kind of expressing what’s going on inside, but what you have been good at, don’t gripe, don’t complain, it’s the way things are, life is hard, press on, work hard.

That was this church. And they’re commended for their toughness. More than that, more than just being tough, hardworking, notice they’re doctrinally sound. It says, “You do not tolerate wicked men.” Verse 2 says, “You have tested those who call themselves false [sic] apostles and are not and have found them to be false.” So these are discerning Christians. There’s false teachers roaming around and they’ve got best-selling books and they’ve got a big following online and they’ve got popular conferences, and the people discern and realize, nope, that’s not true.

Perhaps they were especially vigilant because Paul told them to be vigilant. You may recall Acts chapter 20. Paul is sailing away from Miletus and he gathers there the Ephesian elders, the men who would shepherd this congregation. And do you remember what Paul told those Ephesian elders? “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the Church of God which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock, even from your own number. Men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard.”

That’s what Paul told them. And here in those intervening decades, they had done just that. They had been on their guard. Perhaps it was Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Remember, Timothy also is in Ephesus, and he was charged, 1 Timothy 1:3: Command certain men not to teach false doctrines anymore. Paul even named names. Sometimes you have to name names. Now, don’t name names if nobody knows the names, but if everybody in the church is following some false teachers and everyone’s wondering what you think about it, then you have to name then.

So Paul says beware of Hymenaeus and Alexander, I handed them over to Satan, not to blaspheme, have nothing to do with these false teachers.

Ephesus had gotten a lot of good instruction and here they were, in the latter years of the first century, if we take the late date of Revelation, John is writing this around 90 A.D. in the reign of Domitian, who was one of the bad emperors, which was why lurking in the background of this entire letter is persecution and the threat of opposition from Rome. But they had maintained their steadfastness. This was a theologically rock solid congregation. They knew what was right. Heresies about Jesus – get ’em out of here. Legalism – nope. Antinomianism – spotted a mile away.

A few years after this book of Revelation, the Church father Ignatius wrote to Ephesus and praised them because he heard the report that no heresy or sect or false teaching could even gain an audience in the Ephesian church. They were taught so well. Their reputation stretching even in to the next century was “no bad books get in your book nook, no false teachers are on your sermon list.” These were doctrinally sound people.

And not just that. Ethically sound. In fact, the false teaching, and we can see this in the other letters to come, but likely the false teaching that was threatening was not so much a point of esoteric doctrine as it was an ethical matter. How do you live? If you follow Christ and you’re saved by grace, can you live any way you want? Maybe it’s the case that the body is so bad and the spirit is good that what you do with the body really doesn’t matter.

We’ll hear again about this group, the Nicolaitans, you see them in verse 6. Not the nicotines, that’s a different kind of, you know, danger, but the Nicolaitans. We don’t know exactly who they were but it seems that they were following Balaam’s error, as we read about later in Revelation 2 and 3. Balaam was the prophet that was hired by Balak to curse Israel, but he ended up blessing Israel, but later in the book of Numbers we find that Balaam eventually was the instrument of leading the people into sexual sin and idolatry. So the Nicolaitans somehow are associated with this error of Balaam. They were the “anything goes” crowd. What we read over and over the false teaching that is most tempting to the people is the teaching that says, “Go ahead and compromise with the food sacrifice to idols, compromise with idolatry, and compromise with sexual immorality.” It doesn’t really matter. You can have a compromise with your worship and it’s okay, you can have compromise with sex. It sounds sort of relevant. These were the people who probably said, “You’re free in Christ. Why don’t you live like you’re free in Christ? Don’t you believe in God’s grace? Don’t you believe that God is a God of love? Wouldn’t God want you to be happy? Wouldn’t God want you to be satisfied?”

This was the error, and the Ephesians had none of it. They were not drawn away like some of the other churches were being drawn away. They were not drawn away by such notions.

It’s interesting here, the church at Ephesus is commended for two things that we would rarely hear churches commended today. Look at verse 5. He warns them, as we’ll see, “and I may remove your lampstand,” but then He comes back in verse 6 to tell them something good, “Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” And up in verse 2, “You cannot bear those who are evil. You have not grown weary.”

That word “bear” with those who are evil could even be translated “you do not tolerate those who are evil.” In other words, you’ve got two things – “Ephesus, way to go. You hate and you’re not tolerant.” Whoa, really, Jesus? That’s what you want to commend them for? I thought those were the two worst things you could be, intolerant and filled with hate.

Well, yes, of course, those are bad things if you hate people. Those are bad things if you are intolerant of things that you ought to tolerate. But here in this context, Jesus says, “You don’t tolerate wickedness? Good for you. You hate the teaching of the Nicolaitans? The works of the Nicolaitans?” Notice what Jesus says – “I also hate that.” right there. This is Jesus, remember. Jesus is the one giving these letters. Jesus hated the works of the Nicolaitans. So make sure you don’t have a cartoon version of Jesus. Jesus says to the church at Ephesus, “I commend you. You don’t tolerate false teaching and you hate immorality.”

This church was your exemplary, let’s just put it in contemporary sort of language, I know it’s anachronistic, but this was your exemplary conservative church. Close eye on theological orthodoxy. Jesus might say to them today, “You’re a faithful people, you read the right books, you declare truth in an age of error, you haven’t compromised with the world, you can spot false teaching, you don’t follow it, you’re hardworking, you’re truth-defending, you’re immorality-hating, you’ve not compromised with sexual sin. I commend you for that.”

You know that “on the other hand” is coming, and we’ll get there, but before we get there, just notice Jesus genuinely commends them for that. He doesn’t say, half-heartedly, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. You’ve got good theology and you work hard and yeah yeah yeah…” as if He’s just clearing His throat so He can then just blast them. No, Jesus says, “I know you have a lot of good things about you.” Jesus does not tell them to be less of what they are in order to become more of what they are not.

This is how it often works in our day. People will look at, oh, there’s a conservative church and you’ve got all your doctrine, it’s you people, it’s with your doctrines, it’s with your morality, it’s all of that. That’s what’s getting in the way.

Jesus doesn’t say that’s getting in the way. He says, “Good on you, mate. That’s exactly what I want to see. I know you’re working hard. I know you don’t tolerate wickedness. I know you’re discerning people, you’re theologically sound. You’re ethically sound.” He does not chide them for their strengths. He doesn’t say doctrine’s the problem. He doesn’t say morality’s the problem. He doesn’t say hard work is the problem. He says, “I commend you genuinely, these are exemplary… ”

“However, these exemplary things in your church,” Jesus says, “are not the only things that matter in the church.” Not all is well in Ephesus. “Yet I have this against you, that you have abandoned your first love,” verse 4.

See the church had a lot of strengths and it had one big cancerous problem. They didn’t love. At one time they were marked by love. We know that because Paul wrote in Ephesians chapter 1:15 and 16, he said he was giving thanks unceasingly for the Ephesians because of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints. So they had been marked by great love, which is why Jesus says to them, “You’ve lost something you used to have. This used to be you and it’s gone.”

Some people think it means love for God that they lost. Notice there’s no object. We don’t know what love were they missing. Was it love for God? Was it a feeling of emotion in worship? Well, in the Old Testament whenever God’s people are said to forsake their love for God, they’re pictured as adulteress and idolatrous. That’s just the opposite here. They’re not spiritual adulterers, they’re not spiritual idolaters, so I don’t think that the love here is that they failed to love God.

I think it’s not so much the first table of the law as it is the second table of the law. Not the first great commandment, but the second great commandment. They loved God, they worshipped him, they were in spirit and truth. But something happened and their love for their neighbors was leaking. They stopped loving one another in the church. Maybe they had keen minds, busy hands, and shriveled hearts. It’s a classic case of what we already read earlier in the service from 1 Corinthians 13 – If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I have not love… If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries, but have not love… If I give all I possess to the poor, surrender my body to the flames… ” Or Jesus might say here to Ephesus, “If you keep out the false teachers, if you walk on the straight and narrow path, if you work hard for My Name, but you have not love, you’re a clanging cymbal.”

And worse than that, He threatens that they’ll no longer be a church. That’s what it means when He says “I will remove your lampstand from you.” If you don’t repent from this, verse 5, “I’ll come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent.” Only the first and the seventh churches are threatened with actual destruction. Laodicea because it had grown lifeless and Ephesus because it had grown loveless.

Maybe the people cared about being right and they didn’t care about each other. Maybe they had a careful eye for theological and moral error and it had become a critical eye in finding fault with one another. This is always a great danger for sharp, steadfast, careful churches.

Now I am not preaching this thinking that this is Christ Covenant. I think you love each other well, give to each other well, are eager to care for one another. So don’t here and there, “ah, we must, Pastor must think we’re this conservative theological church that doesn’t love anymore.” By God’s grace, I don’t think that’s us. But, with so many of the strengths, I think, of this church, we must be careful and be on guard against the weaknesses of this church.

Perhaps Ephesus was quick to judge and slow to forgive. Perhaps their keen minds meant they analyzed everyone and everything. Maybe they were so used to fighting the world that they got bored with fighting the world and they started fighting each other. There are certain people… They always need to be against something.

I’ve heard it said before about some Christians – they’re good in wartime and they’re bad in peacetime. Meaning they’re good when you’ve got to have them in the trenches and they’ve got to fight off the theological, and they’re good, they’re courageous, and they’re there with you. But they never quite learn how to be at peace. They don’t learn how to live and settle down. There’s always the next person to tackle. There’s the next issue to conquer. There’s the next person to defeat. Always against something, someone.

This is why many denominations end up splitting again and again and again, fighting gets in their blood and lack discernment, fighting for the right things or for the wrong things.

I learned, at least I hope I learned, this early in ministry that it wasn’t enough that I was against all of the right things to be against if I wasn’t for anything. It’s often the problem today in politics, isn’t it? You just, each party just sets themselves up just, “What are you about?” “Not being them.” “What are you for?” “I’m against that.” Nobody knows exactly what you’re positively offering or for, it’s just “they’re bad and I’m not them.”

The Lord’s point to Ephesus is this – You hate what I hate, that’s good. But do you love what I love?

You can build a church, or at least a following, by gathering people together who all hate the same things. People are drawn to listen to those who hate what they hate, and even better yet to hate the people who hate them. You can get a following of people. In fact, it’s a lot easier than to get a people together who love all the same loves, because love takes a while to grow and to percolate and you have to sacrifice for one another and you have to put up with things. Hate comes quickly. Man, you get so upset. And it’s a quick bond with someone – you’re upset with the same things I’m upset about? We’re friends. You hate what I hate? Mm, we’re together.

And Jesus says, “Good, you should. There are things out there to hate.” And Jesus Himself hates evil. How could He not? He’s too pure to look upon sin. But He says to Ephesus, “It’s not enough to hate what I hate. Do you love what I love?”

Too often churches lose sight of love, love for their neighbors outside the church and love for neighbors inside the church. Perhaps it was a love for outside for witnessing that may be part of it, but if that verse from Ephesians 1 is any indication, they used to be noted for their love for all the saints, that that’s the love that has grown cold.

Jesus says consequently, “He who walks among the lampstands.” Do you see that, verse 1? “Him who holds the seven stars… who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” Remember I said the description of Jesus is given to match the problem that He’s going to see in the church, so the picture is of Jesus walking among the seven golden lampstands and He wants to see with Ephesus, “Do you have a light anymore? Remember I said My disciples would be salt and light? Are you burning bright or are you just burning each other up?” They defended the light, but were they shining in dark places? Were they bearing witness to Christ? Their love for Christ?

Jesus says, “If your lamp doesn’t shine a light, I’ll take it away.” That’s what you do.

We have so many rooms in our house that my wife is always saying, “We need more lights in this room. It’s so dark. We want lamps, lamps, lamps” and we buy those things and I don’t know if it’s something about having a baseball team worth of children around, but they’re always breaking. It’s not just the lightbulbs, but the lamps. So many of those glass globes have fallen and broken and eventually though you spend a bunch of money it, just out.

What good is a light if it doesn’t emit light? You get rid of a lamp that doesn’t have any light. Jesus says, “I’m walking among the lampstands and I don’t if there’s any light left.” It’s a scary proposition.

Now this doesn’t mean every time a church closes that it’s the Lord’s judgment. Churches close and disappear for many different reasons. But the reason this church was threatened with destruction was because the light of love was growing dim.

Some of you have toured Ephesus. I’ve been there before. It’s amazing to walk and think of where Paul was and where the church might have been and see the ruins there, and you realize there is no church.

There’s a book based on this letter with the appropriate and provocative title, Love or Die. It’s true. You’ve heard “live free or die.” This is love or die, when churches don’t love, they die.

What we need is a church that’s not simply the gathering of people with the same sort of temperament. You see, to have a church where everyone is soft and nice and tolerant and rather indifferent about doctrine, that doesn’t take a work of the Spirit. That just may be your personality.

And on the other hand, to have a church filled with people who are very smart, and they’re defiant, and they will tell it like it is, and they’ll work hard. That church by itself does not take a work of the Spirit. That may just be your temperament.

But to have a church that is the constellation of all of these diverse excellencies, to walk in and say you people absolutely, you care about your theology, you care about the truth, you care about not compromising with the world, you hate what Jesus hates, and you know what? You’re actually good people to be around, and you care for one another. That only comes by the work of the Spirit.

What does Jesus tell the church to do at Ephesus and what would He tell any of us if we find ourselves with a love growing cold? He gives three commands – Repent, remember, return.

Repent from this lovelessness, He says. Remember, verse 5, what you used to do. And then return, that is, do that thing you used to do. Love your brother, love the one who frustrates you because Jesus died for him. Serve your sister who’s never treated you as well as you think she should have, because Jesus is her shepherd, too. Bear witness in a dark world. Some of those sheep will hear the Master’s voice. Jesus said the reward, if you overcome this temptation to lovelessness, is to grant to eat of the tree of life.

The fight to overcome is not just a fight to endure suffering, it’s not just a fight for purity, it’s not just a fight to withstand compromise. We’ll see that in the other churches, but it is also a fight to love.

So all of us would do well to consider have we had love flowing through our veins, or have we contented ourselves to be right about many things and to not live a life stained by the world? Jesus says you will inherit eternal life and the paradise of God if you exhibit spiritual life in your love now. Whether you think they deserve it or not.

Wasn’t this the genius of the civil rights movement at its best in the 50s and 60s? Is that at its best African Americans and many others with them said we will show dignity to those who do not show us dignity. We will keep on loving even when they don’t deserve to be loved.

So, Christians, we will have the opportunity in our day to treat with dignity those who may not treat you with respect, to love those who may not be loving to you. And within the church to serve and minister to those, even who may frustrate you. Contending for the faith is necessary. Being passionate for the truth is good. Holiness is worth fighting for. We don’t want one iota of compromise on the truth. We need courage for these days, but we also need love.

We never want to be a church that’s just gathered together because like-minded people who like to think and talk about the same ideas. Well, you might like to talk about all sorts of other ideas and it just happens to be that you like to talk about Bible ideas. Well, that’s good. We need people who are unafraid to take unpopular stands. We need people vigilant for what is right. But if I can steal from Pilgrim’s Progress, we need valiant for truth to meet up with Mr. Great-heart.

May it be true of each one in this congregation that meeting in Christ Covenant, valiant for truth and Mr. Great-heart. Because of course we see in the Lord Jesus Christ our example. Not just our example, but the very embodiment of love. How could we not love one another when we have been so loved by God in Christ?

Think of those famous words from 1 Corinthians 13 and how we see everything that we ought to be in Jesus. Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus does not envy or boast. Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on His own way. In fact, He lay down His life for His enemies. Jesus is not irritable or resentful. Jesus never rejoices at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bore all things. He believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things, for us.

So we have in Jesus forgiveness for our sins and we have the embodiment of the God who is love and walked among us.

May it be so of Christ Covenant.

There is a story according to church tradition that the Apostle John, who wrote this book, was for a time the bishop of Ephesus. He was a great model for everything that Ephesus needed. He was an apostle of love and he was a son of thunder. There’s a story handed down that on one occasion John was in a bathhouse in Ephesus and he heard that the heretic Cerinthus was in the same bathhouse at the same time, and John said to his companions, “Let us fly lest even this bathhouse shall be struck down because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside.” John said, “I’m not going to be in the same gymnasium with this guy because the house is going to fall, he’s such a heretic.”

Yet it’s also said that at the end of his life, John’s sermons were essentially over and over this one line, which we actually find in his epistles, “Little children, love one another.”

That’s the model for us. Of course, we see it in Jesus, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, would You so work in these people here in this beloved church, that we may grow in all that was strong about the church at Ephesus and You would keep us from all that made them weak. Give to us love. Where it is lacking, may we repent and remember and return, that we would love, having been so greatly loved by Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.