SBTS chapel live blog: R. Albert Mohler Jr. – Rev. 2:1-7

Communications Staff — September 1, 2009

Preacher: R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Text/title: Rev. 2:1-7; The treason of lost love – Christ’s letter to the church at Ephesus

Introduction

Ephesus was one of the most important cities in Asia Minor. It was geographically strategic, right at the opening of a river with a natural harbor.

At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, it is estimated that 250,000-500,000 people resided there in a space not much larger than several of our campuses strung together: it was an urban center.

It was politically important: Caesar Augustus made Ephesus one of his four main cities of emperor worship. It was religiously pluralistic.

Paul spent two years in Ephesus, ministering there. We learn from Acts 19 and 20 that Paul had a minister of exorcism there. In 19:17-20, we see something of the evangelistic harvest there: the Word of God continued to increase and prevailed mightily.

The epistle, the letter, to Ephesus contains a great body of Christian teaching. Paul notes that in love God predestined people for adoption as sons. Paul prays for the body of believers there, giving thanks to God for their faith and love toward all the saints. The letter includes with Paul saying, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Eph 6:24).

Letter to Ephesus in Revelation

This letter was written to the church in Ephesus, not to the city. It was a letter that was intended to be overheard, for it is a call to all of the churches to hear what the Spirit writes. In speaking to His church in Ephesus, Jesus Christ speaks to His church everywhere in all places and at all times.

Jesus speaks to His church as one who holds them, establishes them and rules them. Initially, Jesus provides words of commendation, but then there is a turn: I have this against you.

Commendation (2:1-3, 6)

The commendation is an incredible commendation.

First, the church at Ephesus is not known merely for words, but for its deeds. They are known for the common, ordinary deeds of ministry; deeds that are extraordinary. Here is a church that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself judges to be a church of good works.

This is a church that isn’t sitting still. Faith is not dead in Ephesus: the works are the demonstration of this. We know that so many churches simply because they do not do the deeds. Instead of good deeds, there are lethargy, death, sloth and paralysis.

Second, this is a church that has persevered in the midst of trouble. This is a church that gospel makes claims that the enemies of the gospel well understand. And the enemies of the gospel were present, organized and numerous in Ephesus. This is a church that had been tried. Lesser churches might have scattered, but not this church. This church endured. And endurance is held out in the New Testament as the proof of faith. Their endurance is not passive; it is active.

Third, Jesus speaks of their orthodoxy. This is a church that demonstrated doctrinal discernment and discrimination. It defended the truth; it suffered for the cause of the truth. We are living in such a day of theological compromise. How few are the churches that Jesus would commend in this matter. In Acts 20:29, Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to watch out for ravenous wolves, for false teachers. It is tremendous to see that this church was doing exactly what Paul, what the Word of God, told them to do.

Fourth, Jesus said the church at Ephesus hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans were an accomodationist heresy. They blended religions. They failed at the test of integrity that the church at Ephesus passed. The Lord Jesus Christ hates the perversion of His Gospel; we must do the same.

Rebuke (2:4)

The word “but” swings the entire tenor of this letter. This “but” carries the weight of the Lord’s judgment in a way that we understand. But…I have this against you that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

This knife cuts. We must wonder: how is this possible? Jesus warns of this in Matt 24:11-14 when He says that most people’s love will grow cold before the end, but those who persevere to the end will be saved.

Israel lost its first love. The church at Ephesus has abandoned its first love. What is this love? What have they abandoned? Have they lost love for Christ or for each other? The answer to this is: you cannot have one without the other. In 1 John 3:14, we read that we know that we have passed from death to life, if we love the brethren. God has loved us magnificently: so we also ought to love one another.

Love is the very substance of the visible love of God. And if we do not love, we are of death rather than of life.

Jesus tells the church at Ephesus to remember from where they had fallen and repent (2:5). What is the result if they do not repent: their lampstand will be removed. The congregation would literally die. And, brothers and sisters, we see congregations all around us dying. There is no need for an autopsy: the main causes of death are heresy or the loss of love.

Conclusion

What we confront in this passage is the treason of lost love. This letter, if we are honest, hits really close to a theological seminary. Our task, as an institution serving the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ, is to hold on to the truth. We want to be found tenaciously faithful. We want to be found as the people of the truth.

But a danger lurks nearby, so close at hand. We desperately must pray that we will not hear the verdict, “but you have left your first love.” This is perhaps the closest danger to us all. I hear these words as a warning: persevere. We must pray that we would not leave our first love. Love for Christ, love for His church and love for His people.

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