Elon, North Carolina
What does Jesus think of the church? What would Jesus say if He stepped inside some churches in Alamance County on a Sunday morning? What would He see? What would He say?
What does Jesus think about Lamb’s Chapel? What would He say if he wrote a letter to our church? It is a question every church should ask.
The important question is not, what do I think about our church? It is not, what do you think about our church? It is not, what do the Baptists or Methodists think of our church? It is not, what does the community think of our church?
The only thing that really matters is what Jesus thinks of our church. He is the only one we should try to please. We should not care what other people think about us.
Paul said, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.” (I Corinthians 4:3 NIV).
For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 HCSB)
The only thing that matters is what Jesus thinks of us and He does not think the way we do.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
The things that many people think are important in a local church (famous pastor, a fancy building, huge membership, a big budget) are not necessarily what God thinks is important.
We think that the big, wealthy, prestigious churches are successful. Jesus gave His highest praise to the small, poor, persecuted churches in the community.
Jesus wrote letters to seven churches in John’s day. We don’t even write letters that much today. They seem a little outdated. We just send emails, but Jesus sent a personal letter to each one of these churches and told them what He thought of them.
The last words of Jesus to the church are not the Great Commission. The last words of Jesus to the church are the letters that He wrote to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation.
What do we know about these seven churches that Jesus wrote letters to? They were seven literal churches. All of them were located in modern day Turkey. You can visit the cities today. Ephesus is in western Turkey.
They were literal churches that existed at the end of the first century. They were also types of churches. There are many churches today just like each one of these seven.
Are they the only type of churches? Are there only seven types of churches in the world today? No. They were not the only types of churches in the first century. Other churches, even in NT times, had some different problems.
The Church of Corinth had the problem of lawsuits. Christians were suing other Christians. None of these seven churches had that problem.
The Church of Galatia taught a false gospel. They had people who taught works salvation. They taught that you had to keep the Law of Moses to be saved. That is not an issue in any of these seven churches.
Churches today in the modern world have some different problems as well but there are some lessons that all churches can learn today from these seven letters.
Jesus wrote to seven churches. By writing to seven churches, Jesus is writing to all churches. These seven letters apply to all churches in every age. That is a symbolic way to write to them all. Seven is a symbolic number.
Today, we are going to see what Jesus thought of the first of these seven churches, the Church of Ephesus. Jesus gave that church a report card. Why did Jesus start with the church of Ephesus?
It is the church that was closest to the island of Patmos. It was also where John’s congregation was located. It the most important city in the Roman province of Asia.
What Jesus said about this church is a message that many churches today need to hear. Many churches today are just like the church of Ephesus. What kind of a church was it?
It was a loveless church. It was a cold church. It was a church with a cold heart. It was orthodox but cold. It was doctrinally pure but cold.
We have all visited cold churches. The people were not very warm. They are not very friendly. No one talks to you. No one seems to care about you. They are negative, critical and judgmental.
It is actually a sign of the last days. Jesus said, “because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12 NKJV). That is true even in some churches.
Jesus gave this church an ultimatum. The ultimatum was to love or die. This was the only one of the seven churches that Jesus threatened to remove its lampstand.
He does not say this to the church of Laodicea. He does not say it to the church of Sardis. He does not say it to any other church. He only gives this warning to the Church of Ephesus.
If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:5 NIV)
When I first became a Christian in the 1970s, I was told by friends that you can lose your salvation. One used this passage as a proof-text.
If you read the context, this was a warning, not to an individual, but to a church. The seven lampstands represent seven churches (Revelation 1:20).
Jesus warned if they did not repent that He would come in judgment and remove the lampstand. He was going to turn the lights out and close the doors of the church. The church is not just going to die. Jesus is going to kill it. No one wants Jesus to close their church down. It is a scary warning.
You can’t lose your salvation but can lose your local church. A Christian cannot become unsaved, but he can become unchurched. Did you know that every year thousands of churches close their doors. Forty-five hundred closed their doors in 2019.
Let’s look at what Jesus said to the Church of Ephesus. In the last chapter John saw Jesus standing in the midst of seven golden lampstands and in the first verse we see Him walking among the lampstands (Revelation 2:1).
Jesus is in the midst of every single church. He is in the midst of our church. He inspects each one. He knows them perfectly. He does that today. He knows their good points and your bad points.
The Church of Ephesus had a lot of strengths. Jesus was honest about its strengths. When many people do an evaluation today, it is often biased. Whenever Jesus judges, His judgment is perfectly fair. It is not biased. He has these eyes of fire. He sees everything. He knows everything.
Jesus started positive. That is a lesson to anyone who ever had to give a word of rebuke to someone (a child, a spouse, a friend). Jesus did not start off criticizing this church. He started off praising it for the good things it did before He began to criticize it.
A Super Church
1) The Church of Ephesus was a historic church
Paul started the church. This was a church that was founded by an apostle. How many churches can say that? Paul was there for three years. We know that from the Book of Acts.
Paul was there. Apollos was there, Aquila and Priscilla were there. Timothy was there. The Apostle John was there.
This was a church that had great role models and good leadership. It was a church that had an amazing history. It was a church that had a rich heritage.
2) The Church of Ephesus was an orthodox church
It was not a liberal church, like the Church of Thyatira. The Church of Ephesus was a conservative church. It was a Bible-believing church.
That is not surprising because this church was exposed to some of the greatest Bible teachers of the day. They had the Apostle Paul preaching in their church for three years.
The church was theologically sound. It was doctrinally sound. In many ways, it was way ahead of many churches today.
Many churches today do not teach the Bible and the average Christian in the church doesn’t know the Scriptures. Some churches have bad theology.
They have genuine Christians in the church, but their theology is all messed up. They have not been taught sound doctrine. They believe some goofy stuff.
This was a truth church. Truth churches emphasize Bible study. They emphasize teaching. They emphasize doctrine. They believe in expository preaching.
This church had solid doctrine. They knew that was true. They knew what was false. They knew the Bible. How well do you know what the Bible teaches?
3) The Church of Ephesus was a discerning church
Not all churches today are discerning. Not all Christians are discerning. We should be discerning Christians. We should know the difference between truth and error. Are you a discerning Christian?
In order to be discerning Christians, we have to know the Word. We have to be able to distinguish the spirit of truth from the spirt of error (I John 4:6).
“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.” (Revelation 2:2 NIV)
There are people today who claim to be apostles today but are not. They have no special authority. If someone claimed to be an apostle, this church applied some tests to that person. They did not take them at their word.
The Church of Thyatira let anyone in. They let anyone teach. They had false teachers and false prophets in the church. That is where Jezebel was. This church kept false prophets out. They did not tolerate evil people who came in and tried to lead the church..
That sounds a little intolerant. We live in a day when tolerance is in. We look at tolerance as a good thing. Jesus praised this church for its intolerance. There is a tolerance that is good and a tolerance that is bad. There are some things we should not tolerate.
The Church of Corinth had a man living in open sin in the assembly and the church did not have a problem with it. Many churches today would not have a problem with it.
Most churches today do not practice church discipline. Paul said that you should not tolerate it. They should have removed the man from the church.
We should not tolerate false doctrine in the church. We should not tolerate it if someone preaches a false gospel in the church. We should tolerate other Christians who disagree with us on minor doctrines.
There are essential doctrines and non-essential doctrines of the faith. We have to know the difference between the two. Some Christians fight over everything.
4) The Church of Ephesus was a godly church
This was a church that hated sin. Jesus said, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
What were the deeds of the Nicolaitans? The Bible does not say. We do not need to know. All we need to know is that they had bad deeds and this church hated them and Jesus hated them as well. This is not the Jesus most people think of. We think of a Jesus who loves. The real Jesus also hates some things.
You say, “Aren’t we supposed to love everything?” Is hatred a Christian virtue? Are churches supposed to be hate groups? No. This church did NOT hate the Nicolaitans. It hated their deeds. Hatred should not be directed at people but their works.
That raises a question. What deeds today do you hate? Is there anything going on in the world today that bothers you? Are there some things going on in some churches that bother you? The Bible says that we are to hate evil.
You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. (Hebrews 1:8 NIV)
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9 NIV)
Let those who love the Lord hate evil. (Psalm 97:10 NIV)
5) The Church of Ephesus was a working church
Jesus said, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance” (Revelation 2:2 NIV). It was a hard-working church. This church labored to the point of exhaustion.
They had all kinds of different programs and ministries going on. It had all kinds of outreach. This was a busy church. Are you serving the Lord or praying for an opportunity to serve Him in some capacity?
A Fatal Flaw
This church seemed to do everything right. It seemed like the perfect church. It seemed like a model church. This church was started by an apostle.
They believed right. They lived right. They hated evil and they worked hard. Their theology was good, and their life was good.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 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.” (Revelation 2:4-5 NIV).
This church had a fatal flaw. What Jesus says here has the potential to change your life. Jesus said to the Church of Ephesus these words: “Yet I hold this against you.” Would Jesus say this to us? No Christian would want to hear these words from Jesus and no church would want to hear them either.
How do most churches go bad? They start out great. They are on fire. Then, eventually, the church becomes liberal and apostate. It compromises with the world on sexuality, marriage and gender. That is one of the signs of the last days. Paul told Timothy about this.
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (II Timothy 4:3-4 NIV)
That is not what happened to the Church of Ephesus. This church was completely orthodox. It believed the Bible completely and it still had a fatal flaw that would destroy the church, if it continued. What was its problem?
Jesus said, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” (Revelation 2:4 NIV). This church had a love problem.
They lost their first love. Jesus doesn’t say, ‘You have no love.’ He says, ‘You have abandoned the love you had at first.’ Their love was not what it used to be… They still loved the Lord, but not like they did at first.”
What is first love? You start a brand-new job, and you love it. You can’t wait to go to work. After a few years, it just becomes a job. You get married and afterwards go on a honeymoon.
Every couple has a honeymoon phase. You think your partner is perfect. You do not see any flaws in your husband or wife. You do not want to spend any time away from that person. It is a magical time.
Marriage experts say that the honeymoon phase only lasts a year or two. After twenty years, you can’t stand the person. You fight. You argue. Your spouse gets under your skin. You no longer think he or she is perfect.
In fact, sometimes you can’t stand the person. How many couples live together in the same house, but the fire is gone. There is no love. There is no spark. There is no passion. There is no excitement like they once had when they first got married.
That describes the Christian life. Paul said that a husband and wife is a picture of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:25-32). Compare new believers to old believers. New believers have a sense of wonder and excitement. They are just learning what it means to be saved and what the Bible says.
They are full of joy. They are in love with Jesus. They love to go to church. They love to worship. They love to pray. They love to share their faith. They love to read the Word. Twenty years later, they are still saved but they often do not have the same fire and the same passion. Does that describe us?
Jesus gave this church good news and bad news. The bad news is that they have a serious problem which will eventually destroy the church. It can destroy a marriage. The good news is that the problem can be solved. Jesus tells them exactly what they need to do to.
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. (Revelation 2:5 NIV)
Regaining Your First Love
Jesus tells the church to do three things. These are three steps to regain first love. It can work with a marriage. It can work with your love for Christ. The steps are remember, repent and repeat.
If your relationship to Christ is not what it was, the first step is to remember the way things used to be. For those of us who have been married for a while, we need to remember what our relationship used to be like.
This is what the prodigal son did. He took his inheritance, left the family, and foolishly spent all of his money. He lived in poverty and then he remembered something. He remembered what his life used to be like.
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! (Luke 15:17 NIV). If you don’t take this first step, things will never change.
Jesus told this church to repent. How many Christians in church today need to repent? Immorality is rampant in some churches. We almost never hear any sermons in church on repentance.
If we do hear it in church, it is always a message for unbelievers, not believers. In this passage, Jesus calls upon Christians to repent. Do you need to repent?
Why would they need to repent? You only need to repent over sin. Losing your first love is a sin. Not loving people is a sin. Not loving God is a sin. What are the two greatest commandment? Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40).
It is not enough to say you are sorry. You have to change your behavior. Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (I John 3:18 NIV). First love is restored by doing first works. Do what you did to get where you got.
Do some of the same things you did when you first became a believer. You say, I don’t have any feelings for my husband or wife anymore.
“Go back and do the things you used to do, and you will feel the things you used to feel.” Some couples may need a second honeymoon.
A Special Invitation
Whoever has an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:7 ESV)
This is interesting. After talking to the church as a whole, Jesus talks directly to the individual members in the church. No matter how bad a church is, Jesus has a message for you personally.
He still speaks to you. He has a message for you. You may not hear His voice in church, but you can hear it from Him. Hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The Spirit has something to say. Are you listening?
When the Spirit speaks, it is not some spooky, mysterious thing reserved just for the super-spiritual who watch those special programs on cable TV. The Spirit says what Jesus says here. The Spirit says what the Bible says.
It must be very important, because Jesus said this to every single of these churches. In fact, “Whoever has an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” is the most repeated exhortation of Jesus in the Bible.
It is something that Jesus says seven times (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). In fact, you don’t have to have two ears, just one to hear Jesus. Whoever has an ear. The Greek is singular. Do you hear what the Spirit says to you?
A Special Promise
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7 ESV)
It is a promise to the overcomer. Are we overcomers? The word means to conquers or be victorious. In this context, you overcome by loving God and loving people. What is promised to the overcomers?
The overcomers will be able to eat from the tree of life. That is the tree that Adam and Eve never ate from. They were kicked out of the garden before they got a chance to eat from that tree but if we are saved, we will get a chance to eat from that tree.
Is this teaching salvation by works? Is it teaching salvation by love? No. It is not telling how you get to heaven but who will be there. John tells us in I John that if you do not love people, you are not saved.
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death (I John 3:14)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (I John 4:7-8 NIV)
Paul tells us that if you do not love Jesus, you are not saved. If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. (I Corinthians 16:2 NKJV).
An overcomer is not a special group of Christians who have victory over their sins. John tells us that every believer is an overcomer.
“everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (I John 5:4 NIV). In Revelation 2, we learn that if you do not love, you are not an overcomer.
Genuine believers will overcome. This is not a special promise for some Christians. Jesus is not saying that the ones who really love me will get a chance to eat from the tree of life in heaven.
At the end of the book, we find out that the tree of life will be in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2) and we are told that the tree will bear twelve crops of fruit on it. Every believer will have access to that tree.
Why does Jesus give this exhortation and promise? Apparently, not everyone in the church was saved. Most churches have saved and unsaved people in them. Many have religion but not a relationship. Many do all kinds of good works and are not saved.
Many serve in church and are not saved. Many attend Bible studies but are not genuinely saved. We need to make sure that we are saved. Are you saved? One sign is that you love God and love people.
 Vance Havner, Repent or Else, 9.
 Strauch, Alexander. Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church (Lewis & Roth Publishers) Kindle Edition).