By Chuck Smith
The final messages of Jesus to His church are found in Revelation, chapters two and three, as Jesus addresses Himself to the seven churches of Asia. Over and over as He addressed Himself to the things within the Church, He exhorts, “He who hash an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” Perhaps some of the most important things for the Church to know and to understand today are these messages of Jesus to his Church.
As we look at the church in Ephesus, we find that it had a lot of things going for it. Jesus, first of all, speaks of its works and labors. It was a church of bustling activity. A lot of works in the name of the Lord were being wrought in Ephesus.
Ephesus was, no doubt, a well organized, well functioning church. They probably had their witness teams, visitation teams, pulpit committees, church growth committees-and all of them were functioning well. The Ephesians were a model of organization and structure, but they had one big problem. Though they possessed a well-ordered machinery, God never wanted machines to do His work.
God never wants your work for Him to be mechanical. If God had wanted machines to do his work, he would have created machines to do his work. If God wanted your service to be mechanical, he would have created robots, and they could have done a better job than you’re doing. God isn’t interested in mechanical responses. God is interested in a loving response from your heart and from your life.
The second characteristic of the church of Ephesus was its patience. Now, throughout the New Testament the churches had been exhorted towards patience, waiting upon the Lord to accomplish His work and to fulfill His promise.
Patience is certainly a desired virtue. How I wish I had more of it! How often I am impatient with the things of God. He isn’t working quite as rapidly as I’d like Him to work, so I get in and try to help Him out, always with disastrous consequences.
Throughout the New Testament the Church was exhorted towards patience in waiting for the coming of the Lord. I wish the Lord would come soon. I look around, and I have to confess I’m excited; because I realize that the things happening in the world today could very well trigger the whole end times finale. The worldwide economic system is becoming computerized. ID numbers will be tattooed on your wrist. Iran is falling apart and has taken an anti-Israel stand. The Soviet Union seems to be gearing up for a big move in the Middle East, with its takeover of Afghanistan. The whole thing is coming together!
I get impatient waiting for the Lord. “Lord, this is a great opportunity to return. You’ve got the whole thing lined up. Why don’t You go for it?” And yet, the Lord has His perfect timing. James said, “Have patience, brethren, to the coming of the Lord. Establish your souls. The husbandman is waiting for the complete harvest.” There is yet a harvest to be reaped for the Kingdom of God. He is waiting for it. All I need is patience, as He waits for His complete harvest. I often get so impatient with some of the stubborn�headed people who are holding things up. I wish you’d get it on, so the Lord would get things over with!
The church of Ephesus had patience, an admirable quality. Not only that, the church wouldn’t tolerate evil persons. The Lord said of the church, “How that you cannot bear those that are evil.”
One of the great weaknesses of the Church today is that the Church so often will tolerate evil people just because they’re wealthy. Churches are often seeking to win the favor of the rich, and they’ll sometimes tolerate evil people who are rich, or they’ll allow the evil ones to become part of the fellowship because they’re famous. But there is always a weakening whenever evil or evil persons are tolerated within the Church.
When a church body becomes so weak that it can no longer purge itself of the poisons in its system, that body will soon die. The Church always needs to be strong. It needs to be able to purge the evil from its system, lest it die. The church of Ephesus had that quality. There was a certain purity there. They wouldn’t tolerate those who were evil.
Finally, on the plus side, the Ephesians had a discerning spirit. The church could pick out those men who came along claiming apostleship, but were not apostles. The Ephesians wouldn’t allow pretenders in the pulpit. John Todd would never have had a chance in Ephesus. (See Christianity Today, Feb. 2, 1979, for expose on Todd). He’d never have gotten in the pulpit there, because the church had a discerning spirit.
In spite of all of the good and positive aspects of the church, one negative aspect was so great that it nullified all the positives. The Lord said, “Nevertheless, in spite of all these positive factors, I have this against you, because you have left your first love.”
You see, it is quite possible for a church to continue with all the motions, but be lacking in the chief emotion of the Christian experience. We must be careful, because the Lord is far more interested in what motivates our activity than in the activity itself.
Jesus tells us to take heed to ourselves, examine ourselves, and be careful when we do our righteous deeds so that the motive isn’t to be seen by men, to be a people-pleaser.
So often in our service for God we’re concerned about what people might think of us. Sometimes we’re motivated by the desire for people to know how talented we are. I’ll sing for the Lord or play an instrument for the Lord, so that people will see how talented or how sweet and good I really am. I want people to think well of me. I’ll do certain things for God, so people will think that I’m just a fine fellow.
Our motivations are often people-oriented rather than God-oriented. I should be far more concerned about what God thinks of what I do, rather than what people think of the things that I do.
Jesus gave us a good test in the Sermon on the Mount: What do I do when nobody’s looking? Do I only pray when people are watching? Do I only give when it can be observed by others? If my motives are right, 1’11 be praying in secret and giving in secret. I’ll be doing things for God without fanfare or bringing any attention to myself. I’ll be serving the Lord just as easily and readily when nobody knows and nobody sees, because my motivation now is God-oriented. As Paul spoke of his own prayer life, “God bears me witness.”
God wants only one motivating force in your life, and that is love. If you cannot and do not serve God because you love Him, then don’t serve Him. If you. don’t give to God because you love Him, then don’t give. The last time the plate went by you, you may have thought, `I don’t want the people in the pew to think I am a skinflint. So, I’ll put something in.” If that was your attitude, then for God’s sake get your money back, because God doesn’t want anything done for Him except out of the love of your heart for God. Whatever you do�whatever you give of service, time, or goods, if you aren’t giving out of a heart filled with love, then don’t give it at all. God doesn’t want it. In fact, it’s an insult to God.
Any time you go around moaning about what you’ve given up for God, what you’ve given to God, or what you’re sacrificing for God, then you’re insulting God. And he says, “Keep it! I don’t want it!” He doesn’t want you going around complaining about what He requires or demands of you. If you can’t do it with a heart of love, it’s much better that you don’t do it at all, because you’ll find yourself in the place of Ephesus. You’ll be doing all kinds of work for God, but you won’t have the right emotion. You’ll be going on in works, but God won’t recognize them. God doesn’t even want them.
Paul the apostle said, “For the love of Christ constrains me.” If your works don’t come with God’s constraining love in your heart, then surely you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, even if you’re doing it in the name of Jesus. Anyone doing anything for the Lord must examine the motives of his own heart. “Why am I doing this?”
Paul said, “If we will judge ourselves, then we will not be judged of God.” We’re told that in the day of judgment “our works are going to be tried by fire, to see what sort they are.” What motivated me to do it? Unless the motivation was my love for Jesus, then the works that I’ve done will be burned. No credit, no reward.
This issue is so important that Jesus told the church that unless there were some immediate changes in Ephesus, he would come quickly and move the candlestick out of its place.
Now, what was the place of the candlestick? “These things saith He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.” The candlestick was in the presence of Jesus. Jesus is saying that though a church may do all kinds of works, may have great patience, may purge itself of evil, and be able to discern the false apostles if they’re not motivated by love, Jesus said, “I’m leaving.”
The Lord isn’t interested in all the hustle and bustle and activity of a church. He’s interested in the love that comes forth. Only those works and gifts that are prompted by my love for Him will He accept at all. You may find many churches today with all kinds of social activities and concerns, worshipping in elaborate buildings with glorious choirs, and presenting tremendous lectures. But when you look around you won’t see Jesus, except as He is depicted in the stained glass windows. The Lord has long departed their fellowship, and the people are worshipping in a tomb; cold, dead, religious forms, lacking the vitality of the love and life of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “Unless you turn, I’ll leave. I’ll not stay around, unless the love is there.” God doesn’t want anything from you apart from love. Love has to be the underlying motivating factor of whatever I do for God. Jesus first wants me to give Him my love. Whatever else comes must come as a result and in response to the love that I have. Otherwise there is no value to it whatsoever.
The call of Jesus to His church was first of all to remember from whence they had fallen. Remember the first love that you had for the Lord? Remember those days when you first found Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and realized that your sins had been washed away? Oh, how excited you were! You wanted to go out to the beach, out in the streets, everywhere to tell everybody about the love of Jesus. You were ready for any kind of a sacrifice and challenge, because the love of Christ was burning in your heart and soul. Jesus said, “Remember from whence thou art fallen.”
It’s always a tragic and telltale sign of spiritual decay if you can remember a time in your life when you were closer to the Lord than you are today. It means that you’re on the spiritual decline.
“Remember from whence thou art fallen, and repent.” To repent means to turn. Turn away from your cold indifference, mechanical responses, dead works, and let your love for Him again fill your heart to overflowing. Fall in love with Jesus all over again!
He said, “Do thy first works over.” Remember, repent, repeat. Go back to that first love, back to those first works prompted by love, back to that reckless and careless abandon for Jesus Christ. It doesn’t make any difference what they say. It doesn’t make any difference what it costs. Ah, just the opportunity to serve the Lord�and my love for Him burning within, driving me, pushing me into those sacrifices and labors of love.
Unless the love took first place in Ephesus, the Lord said, “I’m leaving.” You may stick around in a loveless church, but He won’t. He wants your love more than anything else. If you can’t give Him that, don’t give Him anything.
Maybe it’s time to say, “0 God, I’m sorry!” Repent! Turn and offer yourself again to serve the Lord. Maybe the serving you’ve been doing has become old, stale routine. There’s no life and joy in it anymore.
If your excitement and joy of serving the Lord has left, it’s time to repent, time to go back to zero and start over. Return to your first love, that first excitement of relationship, that first overwhelming love and desire for Him. And may the things that you do for the Lord be prompted by a heart that is overflowing with love!
This article “Return To Your First Love” written by Chuck Smith is excerpted from Answers For Today written by Chuck Smith pages 109-115.