Agonizomai: Rev 2:4-5 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church<br>Complacency and the Loss of Zeal

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rev 2:4-5 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church
Complacency and the Loss of Zeal

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4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 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.

To have the Lord have something against us is something that bears thinking about. What can it mean for this to be so? Can it mean loss of salvation? Can it mean loss of reward? Are these the things that true Christians first think of when they suspect that they have offended Christ?

Well, it seems to me that to offend the One Who emptied Himself for me that I might be saved from the power of Satan and be transferred into His glorious kingdom of light - the One Who bought me, having loved me with an everlasting love from of old - to offend Him ought to be the thing that devastates me, and not any loss which I myself might experience on account of it. To offend Christ is to offend against supreme love, holiness and power. It is to kick God. It is to slight infinite goodness and mercy. It is, as Christ says here, to fall.

Christians can fall. Christians need to repent when they do. Our falls can be sudden or they can be gradual. Either way, sudden or gradual, they are on account of our neglect. Everything that is necessary for life and godliness is ours in Christ Jesus, but we fail to abide in Him as we ought. We are like the man who marries a beautiful woman, but who begins to neglect her as the bloom comes off the rose. We fell in love, but we failed to love as God loves. We spoke commitment but took that commitment lightly. We were betrothed to Christ for good or bad, for better for worse, in sickness and in health until death, but we began to be careless about our word. Instead of understanding that it was incumbent upon us to love as an act of obedience demonstrated in the outworking of a pure heart, we began to see that our concept of love was not about our duty to God, but about our expectations of Him.

Duty is a dirty word to many. If we do something out of duty, it is thought, then there is no love in it. It is contrived, dead and forced. That is a wrong idea of Christian duty. It is based on the idea that we must act based upon our feelings of love towards God, and that only love springing from a feeling is real love. Love must be spontaneous. It must thrill our souls or, rather, it must wait until our souls have been thrilled and then pour out of us. But I say no. It may be that we sometimes feel wonderful things as we act upon God’s word. It may sometimes be that as we are experiencing a sense of the thrilling nearness of God we are moved to act on something.

But it may be (and I suspect that it is like this most of the time for most people) that God requires of us that we act consistently in obedience to His word (which is love) regardless of how we feel at any given time. In fact, it is obedience when we feel least like obeying that displays the greatest evidence of faith, and brings the greatest assurance of our salvation.

But we arrive at the place of displeasing He Who is our chiefest joy, the apple of our eye, the bridegroom of our souls by our own disobedience and neglect. We become familiar. We let down our guard. We take for granted. We disdain Christian duties that demonstrate our love for the Lord, such as prayer and study. Little by little we fail to notice the ebbing of our passion because we think our passion is self-sustaining. We fail to understand that we have a duty to sustain it through acts of obedience and devotion. And our bridegroom receives slight after slight. He Who is the keeper of our household and the Lord of our existence is usurped by the self. Fast or slow, we fall. Hopefully, His mercy and care allows us to fall hard enough to awaken us to our condition.

Here, the Lord speaks to the angel of the church at Ephesus. Patience and duty alone are not enough. It must be a patience and duty that abides in a constant remembrance of the glories and mercies of our Lord and Saviour. The bride must keep in the forefront of her mind the magnificence of the bridegroom on the day they were first betrothed. We are reminded of the words of that hymn written by John Newton, as follows...
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
The Christian would do well to keep in constant remembrance, therefore, all that Christ has done to redeem him. With the unfolding of every revelation of God’s Spirit to his heart of the utter depravity from which God has saved and is saving him, the saint ought surely to take that realization back to the life and death of the incarnate Son of God and see with fresh wonder and awe the cost to God that He willingly paid for the eternal life of His own children.

Not only this, but whenever there is the slightest, or the greatest slippage of which we become aware we ought to immediately cast our minds upon the cross of Christ in the full realization of all that is implied. Eternal Son of eternal God came to live and die to take away our sin so that through faith in Him we would come to live with Him forever. Delivered from the powers of darkness, from the Prince of the power of the air, the liar, the murderer, the accuser of the brethren and the great opponent of all that is God’s. Pulled out of a well of infinite depth and utter blackness where there was no hand-hold for us to escape of ourselves - no rope, and no fellow prisoner who could offer the slightest hope with a leg-up. Not only this, but spared from the wrath to come at the thought of which our hearts should faint with a terror made bearable only by the God-given assurance of our escape.

In fact, the truth is that if we were on guard - if we were watching and waiting as we are commanded to be - then the whole of this realization ought to permeate our thoughts constantly. We ought to be found abiding in the thrilling knowledge of our utter deliverance from eternal torment and damnation by the infinite cost of the life of God’s dear Son. Do we do that? Do we understand that loving the appearing of Jesus involves abiding in the present moment in His unbounded, infinite, eternal love for us, as expressed in all that was paid for our deliverance from Satan, from the world, from sin and from ourselves?

Note that this message is to the angel of the church (at Ephesus), and that the angel is the pastor. The lampstand is not the Spirit of God, but the church itself. What the Lord is saying is that the church itself - the flock - will be removed from the pastor who fails to repent of losing his first love. Perhaps this might be by removing the pastor from the church or by removing the church from the pastor - but, in any event, it will be the severing of the under-shepherd from the flock.

God deals with each member of the flock as He sees fit and each in their own walk with Him. But the letters are not to the churches - they are to the angels of the churches - the messengers, the pastors. God is a God of order. What befalls the leaders befalls the flock. There is cause and effect in God’s universe. Just as all of Adams’s offspring are under the curse and separated from God, so all those under the care of a pastor are subject to the effects of his love and obedience to the Lord. If he does not bring the truth the sheep will suffer loss of God’s Word. If he does not walk in the truth the people will be affected by his sin. If he ceases to preach the wonders of Christ in the gospel the flock will grow cool and dispassionate.

God’s way is a marvel because, rather than putting all on the pastor, if looked at properly it puts the onus upon the sheep to hold up, to exhort, encourage and even reprove him in love. The message is two fold. The pastor is accountable to God and the sheep are to keep him in that frame because their spiritual health is intimately tied to his obedience, purity and love for God. The removal of the lampstand is God’s resort if the messenger does not repent and return to his first love. It is a mercy to the church that God ultimately removes failing pastors. He may do that by collapsing the congregation or He may do it by removing the pastor. Both are culpable, but the greater responsibility is with the one charged with keeping the flock.

Finally, see that God is longsuffering, though that longsuffering does have an end. It is a picture - a microcosm - of the final judgment of God. He has patience with the world, but there will come that moment when the heavens roll back like a scroll and the trumpet sounds. He has patience with individual sinners, but there is a moment in each life when God gives men up to the consequences of their rebellion. The bad news is that God’s patience has an end. But the truly good news is that He is longsuffering and that He stands ready to bless those who repent, regardless of how much they may have strayed.

Surely this is the gospel in miniature! God will forgive anything (except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) - even the blackest of sinners can come to Christ with no fear of rejection, be he a thief, adulterer, murderer or worse. Pardon is there for any who will come. But only those who truly understand that their sin has put them under the terrible judgment of Almighty God and liable to an eternity of suffering and punishment in hell will flee to Him for the mercy that is in Christ. How can a soul be saved? The cross of Christ cannot be embraced by the natural man, to whom it is foolishness or offence. But to those who are called it is the wisdom of God in which His wrath and His love meet in the person and the body of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

Will God then not, in the same way, restore any one who, having grown cool in his ardour, comes to repentance? Is not the love of God for the pastor and for the flock under him large enough to bless and to restore those who humbly come for forgiveness and who have turned back to Him? Only let them not just mouth repentance - not just apply the formula of repent and be forgiven because God is "obliged" to do so on account of His word (see, for example 1John 1:9). This is not repentance. Repentance is humbling oneself before Him in abject sorrow for having sinned against His loving purity and holiness - and turning around as an act of the will to amend the behaviour, proving true repentance by the fruits which spring from it.

Nevertheless, true repentance can hardly spring unaided from a hardening heart. We need to cry out to God that He might, perhaps, grant to us the kind of repentance that produces fruit. Only let us be ready for what that may entail.


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