Rev 2:4                A Church in the Beginning of Decline                    3/6/2005         ßà   

  • Letter to the Church at Ephesus (Rev 1:20, 2:1-7)

 

 

 

 

#1.       I Know Thy Works (Rev 2:2,3,6)

 

 

 

 

  • Abounding in the Work of the Lord (Rev 2:2,3)

 

 

 

 

#2.       Thou Hast Left Thy First Love (Rev 2:4, Heb 2:3)

 

 

 

 

  • Remember from Whence Thou Art Fallen (Rev 2:5, Rom 10:17)

 

 

 

 

#3.       Words of Comfort (Rev 2:1,7)

 

 

 

 

  • The Tree of Life (1Cor 11:25, Prov 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, 15:4, Rev 2:7)

 

 

Please open your Bibles to the Prophecy of Rev 2:1 (2X). We are continuing our travels through this last message of God to the last of the living Apostles. We are now in chapters 2 and 3, containing the seven letters to the seven churches. The seven churches of Asia represent the external church on this earth, declared holy, but still imperfect, earthy, and characterized by many imperfections and sins. As long as the local church contains a few truly saved believers she is still considered a legitimate church. But when we speak of the Bride of Christ we are speaking only of the eternal church, which is the worldwide church made up of only truly saved believers, the saints. These people are the candlestick of the church. The Lord Jesus said in Rev 1:20, “The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches”. Therefore the candlestick of a church is not a mysterious spiritual object somewhere in heaven but the nucleus of saints in a church are the candlestick of that church. Therefore if God wants to remove the candlestick of a church then God removes that nucleus of saints out of that church. Let us read:

  • The Letter to the Church at Ephesus (Rev 1:20, 2:1-7)

Re 2:1 ¶  Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

Re 2:2  I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

Re 2:3  And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

Re 2:4  Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

Re 2:5  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Re 2:6  But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Re 2:7  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

What are the various elements in these letters to the churches? First there is a self-designation of the Lord Jesus; here the self-designation is in verse 1, which is different for each of the seven churches. Secondly, the Lord Jesus says, “I know thy works”, and then follows a list of works that are approved or disapproved. Thirdly, there is a call to repentance. Fourthly, the ending of the letter has the statement, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”, and this is accompanied by a promise. In this letter to the church at Ephesus one statement stands out as requiring our immediate attention. Verse 4, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love”. This was a characteristic of the church at Ephesus, and this is a characteristic of many churches today that are in the beginning stages of apostasy. Therefore the title of this sermon is, A Church in the Beginning of Decline (2X). Before we dig into this sin of leaving her first love, let us first look at what is good and approved of this church. The Lord Jesus said:

#1.       I Know Thy Works (Rev 2:2,3,6)

Re 2:2  I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

Re 2:3  And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

This was an amazing church, full of good works. How could there be anything wrong with them? This was one of the strongest and most flourishing churches of that day. And no wonder. The Apostle Paul had labored there three times, for a total of about three years. His spiritual son Timothy also had ministered to the church at Ephesus. And the Apostle John had spent many years there, faithfully laboring among the Ephesians. As a result they were strong in doctrine. The Lord Jesus said of them, “thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars”. These words suggest that they were sound in doctrine. There were people who called themselves Apostles claimed to be divinely inspired. They demanded unconditional acceptance of their teaching. But they taught a false doctrine, and for it they claimed apostolic authority. It was difficult for the church at Ephesus to figure out what is true and what is false. They did not have a Bible like we have. They only had the OT. But they were successful and they excommunicated these false apostles. The Lord Jesus commended them for that. We can look at the church today and we could wish that they had such determination and such diligence as the church at Ephesus had. Only those who are themselves sound in the truth can expose the error wherever it presents itself. But where knowledge of truth is lacking, the church is helplessly exposed to every wind of doctrine. This is one of the reasons why the church of today is in such a bad shape. There is no knowledge of the truth, no love for true doctrine, and no instruction in the principles God proclaims in the Bible. There is no real Bible study. Most of the time they will read a book about the Bible, but the Bible is not opened. Most people do not want to know what God said. “Just let the pastor search it out, and let him tell us”. And so, the church today is easily seduced to speak in tongues, and the church today is easily tossed about with every wind of doctrine, because the pastor has not searched it out. If an average chemical engineer knows more than the pastor where he goes to church, then that church is in really bad shape, because the pastor should be the expert in Biblical matters. But not so with the church at Ephesus There they were able to discern between truth and false doctrine. They were also able to identify as evil the deeds of the Nicolaitans. We do not know much about the Nicolaitans, except that they had infiltrated the church at Pergamos, and there they brought the church into apostasy. Moreover the Ephesians were:

  • Abounding in the Work of the Lord (Rev 2:2,3)

God says of the church at Ephesus in verses 2 and 3, “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience,… And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted”. This is a beautiful testimony, especially taken with the fact that this church was also sound in doctrine. In our day there are many who clamor for a so called “practical Christianity”. They want the church just to labor and toil in the world to make the world a better place. But they are absolutely indifferent to the matter of doctrine. They do not care who they associate with, or with whom they make alliances, as long as you are willing to work and to serve. But not so at Ephesus. They kept an eye on those who labored and made sure that they also knew their doctrines. Today there are churches which are characterized by cold and dead intellectualism and orthodoxy. They emphasize the necessity of soundness in doctrine, but they are lacking in the application of the truth to their daily life and zeal for the work of the Lord. But not so at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus has labored and toiled, and she did so for Christ’s name sake. This does not refer to just any kind of work, but to the work that is in harmony with the command of Christ to “let their light so shine that others may see their good works and glorify their Father which is in heaven”. They were preaching the Gospel within the church and outside the church. And even if their faithful confession caused them inconvenience, and reproach, and contempt of the world they remained faithful. For the Lord Jesus commended them that they were patient, and they have not fainted. At the time Jesus dictated this letter to John they were still strong in doctrine, faithful in the exercise of discipline, zealous in the work of the Lord, and willing to suffer with Christ patiently. What in the world could there be wrong with them? But this church received a very serious rebuke:

#2.       Thou Hast Left Thy First Love (Rev 2:4, Heb 2:3)

Re 2:4  Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

This was a serious defect in the church, and if this defect would not be removed it would lead the church to utter ruin. The very life of the church was ebbing away. What was this problem? The Lord Jesus refers to love in the deepest sense; to the true love of God in Christ as the very life of the church. This love, as it first had filled the church at Ephesus, had been forsaken. If it was not remedied the church would die. For the love of God in Christ is the deepest root of all our spiritual life. If a church leaves that love, the spiritual fountain of her life will dry up. But, you might ask, how can this be? And now we may be getting a little nervous, because this church at Ephesus is so much like our church: Sound in doctrine and abounding in the work of the Lord. Could it really be that the Lord Jesus Christ is addressing OUR CHURCH? Are we abounding in good works? Well, this small congregation is heard throughout Southern California, all the way from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border. This small congregation is heard through shortwave radio all over Europe and the Middle East, and we are heard through the Internet all over the world. This is not just the Pastor who is doing this. The Pastor cannot do this on his own. The entire congregation together has been instrumental to bring this to pass, and to finance this, by the grace of God. And so, are we abounding in the work of the Lord? I would say so! And are we sound in doctrine? I can vouch for that! Have we lost our first love? How is that possible Pastor; this church is only 8 years old. That is most certainly possible. Look at the church at Ephesus. It may have been less than 8 years since the Apostle John was taken away from them, and they had already skidded into this condition of having left their first love. Certainly 8 years, or 4 years, is enough time to slide into a state of having lost our first love. Let us take this admonition to heart. Perhaps we can learn from this letter to the church at Ephesus. This is not a letter written to people who lived long, long ago in a land far, far away. This is the Word of God to US, here in Bellflower. In the abandoning of her first love we must recognize the beginning of all apostasy of the church in the world. The church which abandons its first love ultimately loses all her spiritual treasures. Let us remember that outward purity in doctrine is not enough, and that it must itself be rooted in the love of Christ. Let us watch and pray, therefore that we may preserve the purity of the truth and that we may remain rooted in the love of God in Christ.

You may ask, “How is it possible that a church abandons her first love? Is not the love of God poured forth and shed abroad by the irresistible operation of God the Holy Spirit? How then can this love be abandoned?” You must remember that God’s language to an individual believer is different from God’s language to a church, or to a congregation. If I may paraphrase, to an individual God says, “I have sent My only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die for you on a cruel cross, I have purchased you, I am your Redeemer, you are mine forever, I will cover you with My wings and I will protect you until the day that I will take you up into My holy heaven, you can never slip out of My hands”. But what is impossible for the individual believer may happen to a church in the world. We can take the letters to the seven churches in Asia as an example. If I may paraphrase, to a church God says, “Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent, or else I will remove thy candlestick. Repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly. Repent, or else I will come unto thee as a thief. Repent, or else I will vomit thee out of My mouth. Shape up, or I will ship you out”. These threats are not just to a NT church. In the OT when God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, God was angry at that congregation because they tempted God and tested God in unbelief, even though they saw His wonderful works for 40 years. The result was that God swore that they would not enter into His rest, referring to His rest in heaven. And after many apostasies during many hundreds of years God abandoned them and God sold them into the hands of the Babylonians, because they continued to provoke God with their idolatries. Likewise in the church at Ephesus initially the whole church was rooted in and motivated by the love of God in Christ Jesus. But all this had changed. They left their first love. Not as if the real love of God had died out in the hearts in which it once glowed. No, but the constituency of the congregation had changed. And the church had not been watching. The church neglected to stress the necessity of personal faith and love in the Lord. And the church had grown into a state where they could speak of the truth objectively, but their heart was not any more in it. And this element had increased. They were not as enthusiastic about the activities in the church any more. And a growing fraction of the congregation was just going through the motions without having their heart in it. But if that was the case, how could the Lord still bear such a beautiful testimony concerning the church at Ephesus. How could she still be sound in doctrine, faithful in discipline, and abounding in the work of the Lord without growing weary? You must remember that this was a church in the beginning of decline. There were still many living members. The love was still present here and there. There was still a momentum of tradition in the church’s operations. And so, it is still possible to have a church faithfully operating, but without the motivating power of her first love. It is a church in the beginning of her decline. Let us now do the uncomfortable thing, and let us see how this might apply to OUR CHURCH. I remember that not many years ago our Sunday morning Bible study was packed. We had at least 90% participation. Likewise there were many who stayed for lunch and stayed for the Sunday afternoon Bible study. Many years ago we had a Sunday evening Bible study, which was well attended, so that Annie’s living room was full. But attendance deteriorated so much that we moved the Bible study to the Sunday afternoon. And initially that worked, and we had many in attendance. But not now! A number of adults are attending the children’s Sunday School, where they actually are not needed. Years ago some could not stay because the children were too small and needed an afternoon nap. Now the children have grown up and they still do not come. More and more people find that they have something else to do on Sunday morning as well as on Sunday afternoon. I understand that each one has a legitimate excuse. But what I can clearly see is that the initial enthusiasm has worn out. That is why I want to sound the warning. If we only attend an hour of the church service on Sunday, we are missing the boat. Remember “Behold He Cometh”.  If we really knew that the Lord Jesus was coming tomorrow, is this how we would spend our Sunday? When we meditate on Christ crucified, and when we realize that He gave all that He had, and He even was willing to endure the equivalent of an eternity in Hell in our place, how can it be that we are not willing to give everything we have, including our time. Is our love for Christ not so deep? I always remember the words of Heb 2:3, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation”. And therefore Christ says to us:

  • Remember from Whence Thou Art Fallen (Rev 2:5, Rom 10:17)

Re 2:5  Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and DO the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

We may come up with all kinds of excuses, which are all legitimate, and we can say to ourselves that we cannot increase our love, because that is a work of God the Holy Spirit. But notice what God says here: “Repent, and DO the first works”. We should not wait until God does something conveniently, but God says “DO the first works”. There is an action item here. We should not worry about what God can do, or what God may do, but we need to do something. And then God will bring the increase. God promised that “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. If we want our faith to increase, then we should be more in the Word of God, and God will increase our faith. That is His promise.

Remember, and repent, or else this will be the beginning of the decline of this church. First we must wake up and recognize that we already are in spiritual decline. If we do not see that then of course we will

have nothing to repent of. The Lord Jesus has not only a word of rebuke, but also:

#3.       Words of Comfort (Rev 2:1,7)

Re 2:1 ¶  Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;

There is no seminary that can furnish the church with a minister of the Word of God. The Lord alone holds the seven stars in His right hand. He alone determines who my successor shall be, if there is any. Moreover, Christ walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks. The church has her life in Him only. It can be a light in the darkness of this world only through His Spirit and grace. Without Him she is nothing and can do nothing. Therefore it is essential for any church to stand in living fellowship with Christ. She must not leave her love. She must understand that there is no life for her in separation from Christ. This self-designation of the Lord already contains a solemn warning to the church which left her first love.

Re 2:7  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

He that hath an ear”. Now this is addressed not only to the church at Ephesus, but to all believers in all the churches in the world. Not all have ears to hear spiritual things. Only they who were effectually called out of darkness into His marvelous light can spiritually hear and discern the words of Christ. Only they that have an ear to hear will obey His words and repent and do the first works. This will not be easy. They must expect opposition, even from the carnal elements in the church. They must expect scorn and derision and contempt from family members. But “to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God”. Do you remember the Tree of Life from Genesis chapters 2 and 3? What is the meaning of this promise of Christ? Let us study for a few minutes:

  • The Tree of Life (1Cor 11:25, Prov 3:18, 11:30, 13:12, 15:4, Rev 2:7)

What does the Tree of Life represent? It is commonly taught today that if Adam would have performed the ceremony of eating from the Tree of Life after he had sinned, he would miraculously have obtained eternal existence in the sinful state wherein he was, and then no one could become saved. That is plain nonsense. We may not assign magical powers to the Tree of Life so that anyone who eats from the Tree of Life shall live forever. That is nothing less than sinful superstition. The same kind of power is attached these days to the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper. Believing that partaking of the Lord’s Supper in some way guarantees our entrance into eternal life is just as sinful a superstition as believing that partaking of the Tree of Life would guarantee life everlasting. And so, this is wrong. No one can change his eternal destiny by performing a ceremony, any ceremony. This applies to the OT time as well as to the NT time. It is also dead wrong to believe that the Tree of Life represents the Lord Jesus Christ. I have spoken about this 5 years ago, but most of you do not remember that I have addressed this problem. It is not possible to harmonize all the verses in the Bible if we believe that the Tree of Life represents Christ. What then does the Tree of Life represent? Please turn to the Proverbs of Solomon 3:18 (2X). You find Proverbs in the middle of your Bibles, just after Psalms. God did not give the Tree of Life its name for its magic powers to give eternal life to anyone who eats from it. But God gave that tree its name in order that it might be a symbol and a memorial of the life a person has already received from God. It is somewhat similar to the Lord’s Supper, which is also a symbol and a memorial of the life eternal that a partaker has already received from God. Just like God prevented sinful Adam and Eve from partaking of that Tree of Life because they had forfeited the right to partake of it, so Christ commanded His church to guard over the Lord’s Supper, so that no one unauthorized may partake of it. God’s plan was that man, as often as he tasted the fruit of that tree, should remember from where he received that spiritual life, in order that he might acknowledge that he lives not by his own power, but by the kindness of God alone. And so, the Tree of Life in the midst of the Garden of Eden was a symbol of God’s Covenant with Adam, because Adam could freely partake of it when he was still a spotless child of God. Likewise the Lord’s Supper is a memorial and a symbol of God’s Covenant with us, as also the words of Christ testify when He said 1Cor 11:25, “This cup is the new Covenant in My blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of Me”. Let us see what these references God has given us in the Bible reveal to us about the Tree of Life. God says in Prov 3:18, “She (wisdom) is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her”. Here in Prov 3:18 God speaks about wisdom, and God equates this wisdom to a Tree of Life. What kind of wisdom is this that is so precious? It is not wisdom in worldly matters, but it is the wisdom of knowing God. It is the wisdom of hearing and believing the Gospel of salvation above all the other gospels that are in the world. It is the wisdom of believing and understanding the Good News of Christ crucified for me. This is the wisdom that God equates to a Tree of Life. However, it is not man’s action that receives the glory, but it is the gift of God that allows man to act in this way, and to understand the ways of God. Therefore, this wisdom, or this understanding, is only an outward sign and a memorial of the spiritual life a person has received from God. Please turn now to Prov 11:30 (2X). This is one of the verses where it is impossible to equate Christ with the Tree of Life. God says in Prov 11:30, The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise”. God equates the fruit of the righteous with a Tree of Life. What kind of fruit is this? The context indicates that this has to do with proclaiming the Gospel. The result of bringing the Gospel is that salvation has come to a soul whom God intended to save, and to this soul faith has been given, and to this soul his faith is like a Tree of Life. What has this person heard? This person has heard the Good News of Christ crucified. He or she has understood and believed that this Gospel is true, and that it has been fully documented in the Bible. Such total faith and trust in the Bible as God’s Word is a sign of salvation. It is not the cause of salvation, but it is the sign that God has given to let us know that we have been saved. Moreover, the actions of the evangelist and the responses of the recipient are not intended to glorify man, since all these are gifts from God. Only through the work of Christ on the cross and the actions of God the Holy Spirit has faith come to this soul. And so, faith is the outward sign of God’s Covenant with that person. In this way all the glory of this miracle of salvation goes to God. Please turn the page to Prov 13:12 (2X). Here is another mysterious verse about the Tree of Life. God says in Prov 13:12, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life”. What hope is this? Hope has to do with the certainty of future life with Christ in heaven, or in the NH&NE. When someone is not sure of his or her salvation, then that person does not have a hope such as is described in the Bible. For example, a besetting sin is in the way, and this shakes his faith. The Law is in the way. His hope is deferred, or his hope is postponed until some uncertain future date. This is a terrible feeling for the person who doubts his or her salvation. It makes his heart sick. But when the desire has come, it is a Tree of Life. What desire is this? It is the desire to do those things that are pleasing in the sight of God. It is a desire to serve God, and it is a conviction that grows out of faith; the faith that was given to him from God. This person may not have the intellect to formulate his faith, but he has a fervent desire to serve God. Therefore, this desire to do those things that are pleasing in the sight of God has become the sign of his salvation. This desire has become a Tree of Life to this person, because it has become the evidence of being in God’s Covenant. In the same way in Prov 15:4 (2X) a wholesome tongue can become a Tree of Life when it is being used to bring the Gospel to unsaved souls. Time is running short, and so I will not touch on all the Scriptures relating to the Tree of Life. But what have we learned so far about the Tree of Life? From Gen 3:24 we have learned that God jealously guards the way to the Tree of Life, which represents the sign of God’s Covenant with everyone of His elect. The true meaning of this Tree of Life includes that God must give it; man is not allowed to take it for himself. That is the nature of God’s Covenant. The Covenant is not a two way contract between two equal parties, but the Covenant is an agreement that God has made within the Godhead, of which the elect of mankind is the beneficiary. Therefore only the elect will receive the faith to believe it; only the elect will understand the meaning of the Tree of Life. It is a memorial to the God who gave us spiritual life. Therefore it is a memorial to Christ who has been crucified for us, in our place, and so He purchased us. But only those to whom wisdom has been given by God are able to see this Tree of Life. Only they have been given the understanding of the relationship between the outward sign, the memorial, and the inward blessing of eating from this Tree of Life. God opens up the way for us to the Tree of Life by giving us faith in Christ, and faith in the work Christ has done to cleanse our souls from sin. And all this likewise applies also to the Lord’s Supper today. Only the elect have been given the understanding of the relationship between the outward sign, the memorial, and the inward blessing of eating and drinking from the Lord’s Table.

Please turn again to Revelation 2:7 (2X). Let us now apply this understanding of the Tree of Life to the passage at hand. What was God jealously protecting in the Garden of Eden? From the picture of Gen 3:24 we see that God was protecting the way to the Tree of Life. Presently God is jealously protecting the purity of the Gospel by protecting the sign of His Covenant. What is that Gospel that God is so jealous of? It is the Gospel whereby His honor and His glory are held high. It is the Gospel whereby God will receive all the honor and all the glory for everything God does, including our salvation. No one should dare to steal away one of the credits of God’s work and assign that credit to man. It makes God very angry when people say that salvation is like a check on which two signatures are required: God has signed the check, but in order to receive the gift we must also sign the check, thereby giving our approval to what God has done. That is not at all the Gospel of the Bible. God has done 100% of everything, and God wants all the credit for everything He has done. That is His only way of salvation, and our God will guard the way until all His elect will come to know the truth. God says in Rev 2:7, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God”. Who are those that overcome? Who are those that will persevere to the end? No one is able to do that on his own strength. Only by the grace of God will we be able to stand firm and faithful until the end. Only those who are God’s elect will be able to do so, because only God’s elect will receive God’s grace to persevere. They only will be given the honor to eat of the Tree of Life. Today we already have a foretaste of that eating from the Tree of Life in our partaking of the Lord’s Supper. But in the future we will spiritually eat from the Tree of Life in the NH&NE as we can read in Rev 22:2. There we will be reminded, by the memorial that the Tree of Life represents, that the reason we are there is through the Lamb of God, whose blood was shed on our behalf so that we became the adopted children of the Covenant of God. Soon the dark night of suffering and battle is past. And then we shall be perfected and we shall behold the beauty of the Lord in His temple. And forever we shall be satisfied with the pleasures which are at His right hand, eating from the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. And He that promised is faithful.                        AMEN.

Let us turn to the Lord in prayer.