Revelation 2:1-7 Key Verses: 2:4-5
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which 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 it’s place.”
Happy New Year! As you know, the disciple, John, is the writer of this book, the revelation, including John’s gospel and three epistles. After serving the church in Ephesus, he was living in exile on the island of Patmos in his old age. While living there, John was commanded by the glorious Risen Jesus to write letters to the 7 churches of Asia Minor.
Jesus who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth sent this letter to the early Christians because he wanted to encourage them and to give them new life direction. I believe that the time of his second coming is near. Today I want you listen to his words to the church of Ephesus. Especially, let us think about his message to us, “repent and restore your first love.”
Part I: The Church of Ephesus
The church in Ephesus was the center and home base of the churches in Asia Minor. It was pioneered by Paul and by his coworkers, Priscilla and Aquila. (Acts 18-20) Paul had begun his ministry by teaching the Bible to several disciples in the synagogue. When the Jewish leaders in the synagogue rejected Jesus, Paul took the disciples and moved to the lecture hall of Tyrannus. During the three years Paul spent in Ephesus, the churches of Asia Minor were pioneered. They were pioneered from Ephesus. But in Ephesus there was also the temple of the Greek god Artemis, immoral Gentile god. But Christians in Ephesus loved God and fought idolatry and immorality with prayer and bold actions. The gospel took root and the Holy Spirit worked.
But the devil worked too. Paul almost lost his life in a riot started by Demetrius the silversmith who made and sold little idols of Artemis. But the name of Jesus was held in high honor. A great work of repentance erupted, and many people came forward and confessed their evil deeds. They burned about half a million dollars worth of books that taught sorcery and magic arts. In Ephesus, Paul saw a great work of God and he planned a mission strategy. He decided to go to Jerusalem with an offering from the Gentile churches, and then go to Rome, to plant missionary vision in the heart of the Gentile world.
Look at verses 1-3. "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: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”
Jesus who walked among the seven golden lampstands and holds seven stars in his right hand commended the church in Ephesus because of their hard work and perseverance and because they did not tolerate wicked men. Jesus was pleased with their spiritual discernment. They tested those who claimed to be apostles and found that they were false. In spite of having to swim upstream against a godless, immoral society, the believers in Ephesus persevered. They endured hardships for the sake of Jesus and they did not grow weary of fighting the battle of faith.
But one thing was lacking in them. What was it? Look at verses 4-5. “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which 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.” It seems as though they were lacking in nothing, but in Jesus’ eyes they had a serious problem. It was a problem that was so serious that it could result in disqualifying them as a part of the Church.
Jesus said, “If you do not repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from it’s place.” They had lost their love for God and for one another. Jesus’ word to them was “You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” What is our first love? We love God because he first loved us. When I look at Jesus hanging on the cross in my place for my sins, I cannot doubt or deny God’s love for me. In Revelation 1:5-6 Jesus is described as the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation to serve his God and Father.
Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment is to love God. We show our love for God by obeying his commands. Jesus gave us a new commandment: “Love one another.” If we love God, we must love one another. John writes in 1 John 4:7-9, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.”
Why did the Christians in Ephesus forsake their first love? They worked hard and persevered in the midst of many trials and problems. This was good, but sometimes they were overwhelmed. Maybe they became too busy doing God’s work and their own work. They were praised for not tolerating wicked men, but as an unwanted by-product, perhaps they became self-righteous and proud.
We fight sin in ourselves and in our children and sometimes become legalistic. They hated the politically minded Nicolaitans. Look at verse 6. “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Jesus praises them that they hated the political people. But when hatred comes in, sometimes love goes out. When one zealously defends the truth, it’s easy to forget about love.
Sometimes we disagree about small things with our coworkers; the trust relationship is broken; love grows cold. Broken relations among coworkers can lead to a broken love relationship with God. Sometimes sheep whom we loved and served with our heart leave without saying good-bye. It makes our hearts grow cold, but we persevere by our human effort. When hardships and suffering come, it’s hard to persevere–and we forget to love. Sometimes pride creeps in and love goes out. When one hates evil, love can grow cold. Jesus said in Matthew 24:12, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.”
Sometimes because of sin, love is forsaken. “Love is patient.” We become impatient. “Love is kind.” We say unkind things. “Love does not envy.” But we become envious of another’s job or car or children, etc. “Love does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking.” But we do all of these. “Love is not easily angered.” But I get mad. “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” But some hurts are hard to forget. “Love always trusts.” The trust relationship with fellow Christians must not be broken. When it is, love can’t live there.
Let us listen to Jesus’ warning. Read verses 4-5. “Yet I have this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which 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.” This is a surprisingly strong warning from Jesus. Having a church without love is like eating cold potatoes. It is clear that it is not acceptable to God for his people to live loveless lives. Jesus rebukes his church when love grows cold.
Part II: How can we restore our first love?
Let me ask you a question, what is your first love? Your wife? Your cat? Pineapple? Jesus said in verse 5, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” When we remember our first love, we first think of how Jesus loved us. Isaiah 53:5 says, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him; by his wounds we are healed.”
To restore our first love for Jesus we must remember who we were before we met Jesus and remember what Jesus has done for us. Paul never forgot that he was a sinner who had persecuted God’s people. (1Ti 1:15-16) He remembered that he was the chief of sinners. He confessed in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” When I remember God’s grace, love is kindled in my heart.
Before meeting Jesus, my life had no meaning or purpose. I did not know who Jesus is. I was lonely and miserable. But Jesus visited me and forgave me when I repented all my sins. I found true peace for the first time. I stop smoking and drinking and following girls. I was an unlovable person, but he loved me. I learned the meaning of the children’s song, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Jesus who loved me gave me his work to do. Jesus helped me to teach the Bible to those who were around me. God even blessed me to marry the most faithful woman of God and come to America as a missionary. Jesus showed me his love and grace throughout my missionary life in America.
But my love relationship with God became cold, not by a big sin, but by just becoming too lazy to spend time with God in prayer. So I became critical and negative and unhappy. How can I restore my first love with Jesus? To restore my first love, I must repent.
King David’s love relationship with God was broken when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed in battle. He repented and asked God to forgive his sin. (Ps 51) He later wrote, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” (Ps32). To repent means to confess honestly to God who seeks truth. It means to turn from sin and self and the world and turn to God.
If difficulties come to us, we must see them as opportunities to glorify God. We must repent of our complaining hearts. We should not blame others for our failures and defeats. We must not allow a victim’s mentality to keep us from coming to God. This is the time to remember Jesus’ love and his suffering for us on the cross. When we rejoice in his suffering, we can grow in perseverance, character and hope. Hope does not disappoint us because God pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
In order to restore our first love with Jesus, we must do the things that we did at first. Jesus said in verse 5b, “Repent and do the things you did at first.” We must read the Bible daily as we did at first. We must worship God from our hearts as we did at first. We must obey him daily as we did at first. And we must be thankful in all circumstances as we did at first. We need God’s help to live a life of love.
Then, what promise does Jesus give to those who repent and restore their first love? Look at verse 7. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” If we listen to him and restore our first love, Jesus promises that he will give the right to eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God. This is the wonderful goal of our earthly pilgrimage. It is a challenge to live the life of love by faith from first to last.
Jesus loves the church in Ephesus despite its weaknesses. The church in Ephesus is the home base of the church in Asia Minor. The other churches were pioneered from there. It seems to be the strongest, but it is most in danger of having its lampstand removed because it has forsaken its first love. We also must repent of our failure to live lives of love. We must overcome selfishness and restore our love relationship with Jesus and with each other and eat at the tree of Life in the paradise of God.
Jesus wants all American churches to repent and restore their first love with Jesus. Then he promises spiritual blessings and victory. He knows the strengths and weaknesses of DuPage UBF. He wants us to repent and restore our first love for God and for each other. We must spend time reading the word of God. We must spend time with God in prayer. We must be full of thanksgiving instead of complaints. Our love relationship with God is restored when we repent and turn to God. Our love relationship with God is restored when we obey him and love one another.
Shepherdess Jae Eun Cho’s key verse is Genesis 12:2; “You will be a blessing.” She suffered from attacks of medical disorder of her brain when she was in high school. But when she and her mother prayed, God healed her. She married by faith in UBF and served God as a campus shepherd in SNU III. There were many ups and downs in her life, but she held on to her key verse and God made her a blessing. Her husband went to heaven at a young age, leaving her with 4 children. She committed them to God, held on to God’s word and continued to serve campus mission. And God continued to make her a blessing. She is a woman who loves God and who has not forsaken her first love. So God loves her and has made her a source of blessing. Just before Dr. Lee went to America, he told her “Even if UBF should disappear, you must hold on to your first love for God and be faithful to Jesus.”
Living in a mission field of a different culture, struggling with a different language, concern about self-support, children’s education, and future security-–these things rob us of joy, but because we love Jesus we persevere. The church in Ephesus also persevered. We should not give up, but do the things we did at first. Remember how joyful we were when we first met Jesus! We were full of thanksgiving and love for Jesus. We trusted him absolutely. And we loved and trusted each other without criticism. We can come to Jesus again with all our problems. We can still trust him and love him and his people.
*Conclusion: As we begin the year 2009, let us begin with repentant hearts as we come to Jesus, asking him to restore our first love and help us do the things we did at first. May God help us to overcome difficulties and love God and one another! May God bless us to have 60 1:1s and 40 worshippers and 12 disciples of Jesus by restoring our first love this New Year!