My First Love
(excerpt from the sermon)
Sermon Series: Heart Check
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 people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered, endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far 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. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."
What is my faith really costing me? The Ephesians paid a high price. Economically speaking, their children were often isolated from other children. They were denied education. They were prevented from buying and selling in the marketplace. They were shunned, they were marginalized, they were persecuted, they were often ridiculed, and more often than not, they were used as scapegoats for anything and everything that went wrong in Ephesus. Earthquakes were the Christians’ fault. Floods were Christians’ fault, economic hardship…. It's those Christians, who refused to worship the gods. All the Christians had to do was burn the incense and go through the motions in the temple. But they said no. That was non-negotiable.
I asked myself lately, do I have any non-negotiables in my life? I mean real non-negotiables. Because with the advancement of secularization, past Christian non-negotiables seem to have faded away. Those of you who are my age will remember in the seventies and eighties, we were told that we had to burn all our records because they were non-Christian. So we all went out to a bonfire and we burned classics like the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, and Dire Straits. I know we went too far because there's no real such thing as Christian music, just Christian lyrics. But we've moved from that to where we are now, where we have absolutely no filter at all. To where we don't govern anything. If we like the music, we listen to it. No matter what it teaches, no matter what it says, we don't govern what our children listen to. We don't govern what we listen to and we're not even really offended. When I start talking about this, someone will say, "Well, you're becoming a legalist," really, I'm a legalist because I tell you to filter what it is that you take in. When I was growing up, we wouldn't shop from stores that were open on Sundays. Yet, even Christian businessmen and women now open their shops on Sunday not just to survive, but because it's lucrative. I'm not saying it's right or wrong to open a shop on Sunday. I'm not that smart. This is a very difficult issue. I just know that we're not even asking the questions anymore. We used to pray at school. Now we don't even pray at home. We used to silently boycott stores that sold pornography. Now we don't even ask the question and I'm talking about myself and us. The only non-negotiables I seem to have in my life are comfort and convenience.
Yet I read that if my faith is real, it's gonna cost me something, a circle of friends, entertainment, luxuries, popularity, buying & selling to some degree, convenience, fame, acceptance and some costs, are willing. They're called sacrifices. Others are placed upon us and that's called persecution…. Yet, Jesus said right out of the starting gate when he started his public ministry, "Blessed are you, when people insult you, persecute you, falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." JC Ryle wrote, "If you choose to become a Christian, you must count the cost. Your faith will cost you four things.'' In summary, the first is your self-righteousness. All your pride is gone now, you are saved by grace through faith. We lack losing that, But you also need to lose your sins, that is the second. Yes, Jesus saves you from them, but every habit in your life, the life that is wrong must be fought, quarreled with, and crucified. Three, it'll also cost you, Ryle says “Your love of ease.” Because when you become a Christ follower, trouble is coming. Finally, you will lose the favor of the world. Ryle says, "You must make peace with being despised and rejected." That's why even James said in James 4:4, "Friendship with the world becomes an enemy with God''.
Now I have to ask those questions and I have to ask what changes I need to make. I have to ask the spirit of God to expose my heart to tell me what I am really like. What am I really for? Who am I really deep down inside? As good as the Ephesians were in all these areas, that's the primary point of the passage. What is the primary point? He says, "I hold this against you. You have forsaken your first love." First love. This is such a serious warning, Jesus says, If you don't repent, I will come and remove your lampstand. What is the first love? Do you know what Jesus tells the church in Ephesus? He says, “I know about you. You know the right doctrine, you're theologically correct. You identify false teachers. You stand against idolatry, you shun sexual immorality. You refuse to compromise. You do not tolerate wickedness. You expose false prophets and apostles and you persevere under extreme circumstances. But there's one thing I have against you and unfortunately, it's a big thing and if you don't rectify it, I will remove your lampstand from its place.” What is it? He says, “You've got a loveless labor. You do what you do, not because you love me, but because you love yourself.” Now pay attention, Jesus followers have always faced this temptation. All of us want to be significant, you might say unique. We want to be noticed, we want to stand out and the more Christians become distinct, the more unique they become as well. Which is good because they're supposed to be salt and light in the world. However, this uniqueness I'm talking about can become a false God as powerful as the emperors and the goddesses.
What is it? I shared with you a couple of months ago before covid, we were doing six services on the weekend every weekend and I ended up in the hospital and I remember praying one night, "God, why can't you take care of me physically? I'm not doing well, but you know God, I'm doing this for you." At that moment, I can hear the voice as clear as a bell. God said to me, "You're not doing this for me. You're doing this for you. You're not doing this for my glory. You're doing this for your glory. You want to be able to brag about how many services you're doing, how hard you work for me. So that people will say, `Wow, what a servant he is.’” The spiritual achievements of Ephesus were famous among the churches. Yet, Jesus says, "Yeah, I know. I know about your accomplishments. I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance. I know that you can't tolerate weakened men, that you've tested those who claim to be apostles but aren't. I know that, everybody knows that. Everybody knows your reputation, but I know your heart. I have eyes of fire and you don't do these things because you love me or love others. You do these things to increase your reputation, to satisfy your passion for self-righteousness.” The Ephesians were isolating themselves to such a degree that it had become about them versus us and their righteousness. That kind of righteousness doesn't lead to compassion, it leads to isolation and separation from those who needed you most. That's how you know it's self-righteous. But Godly righteousness always leads to compassion for those on the outside. That's why when Jesus was asked, What is the greatest commandment in the law? Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and then he said, “The second one is likened to it. Love your neighbor as yourself.” When you love God, I mean when you truly love God, when you truly love Jesus, the natural ramification is that you're going to love people.
If you're not careful, you can begin to believe that your goodness sets you apart and earns you the right to be loved, adored, and respected. Your first love, Jesus, whom you once knew has now become secondary to your own personal righteousness. So that church work, everything you do that's good and it looks good and it is good, has now been motivated by the desire to be known. To be noticed. To be righteous. You begin to look down on those poor centers and you create holy huddles and you live in a kind of contemporary monastery where your focus is on rituals and regulations that set you apart without inspiring you to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
There are a few things worse than an arrogant, erudite Christian who thinks he knows everything that has very little time for any real compassion. What is Christ's message to Ephesus? When our love for ritual and law keeping become the primary means of achieving meaning and significance our love for Jesus becomes secondary and we lose two things, one, intimacy with Jesus. That's what self-righteousness does, you start thinking that you don't need him anymore which means less dependency on Jesus, and more confidence and arrogance in yourself. This leads to the second, you lose a passion for others. You begin to think that others are beneath you. That any time you spend time in compassion, that's taken away from things you really want to do and that's puff yourself up with greater knowledge and greater righteousness. And according to the Bible, Jesus says, "If you don't return to your first love, I'm going to remove your lampstand." Return to your first love. Jesus says, "Love me. Seek me not your own righteousness. It's good that you've remained faithful, but don't put your trust in that. Put your trust in me. Pursue me. Pursue knowledge and intimacy with me." If you do that, it will inspire compassion for everyone, and that truly is the law of God…. To love those and to bring those far away near.
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