Repent Or Else!
Revelation 2: 1-7, 16
Ephesus was a great and wealthy city.
The population of Ephesus was diverse.
Living in Ephesus were the wealthy and the learned, the poor and the illiterate.
It was a wealthy, cultured, corrupt city.
Ephesus was a natural starting place on the continent for a circular message
from the Isle of Patmos.
John, the writer of Revelation, had been the chief leader of Christians around Ephesus
for a quarter of a century.
The history of the founding and early operation of his church is recorded in Acts 18-20.
The church had been in existence for about forty five years when this message was sent.
In verse one, The Lord introduces Himself to the Ephesian church as the one who holds
in His right hand the seven stars, and the one who walks in the midst
of the seven golden candlesticks.
Because of His position in the midst of them, there is no question as to his knowledge
of the church.
He knows what is going on, and He still cares for them.
He is holding in His right hand its destiny as it is wrapped up in the pastor.
He observes its every virtue and flaw, and sends this message to reveal them.
In verses 2-3 and verse 6, the Lord says that there are many things for which the church
at Ephesus can be commended.
The Lord commends them for their loyalty in practice.
"I know thy works, and thy toil, and thy patience."
"Works" has reference to actual service which is being rendered by the church.
This was an active and aggressive congregation.
"Toil" lies deeper than works.
The word translated, "toil" has reference to the effort that produces work
at the cost of pain.
This was a working church.
"Patience" reveals the attitude of persistence in the toil that produces work.
In the New Testament, it is not the passive word of current usage.
There is no folding of the hands in waiting in this word.
It literally means "to remain under."
It means staying when the burden is heavy.
It means holding one's own in the face of every difficulty.
The three words together give a strong impression of their loyalty in practice.
They are even more meaningful coming from the lips of the transcendent Christ.
They are also commended for their loyalty in doctrine.
"Thou canst not bear evil men" indicates that the Gnostic teachers had gained
little ground at Ephesus.
The Gnostic teachers claimed to be genuine apostles and missionaries,
but the church had tested them, and found them to be false, and rejected them.
The Ephesians had endured much because of their loyalty to the name of Christ.
They did not grow weary in the midst of difficulties caused by persecution and of false doctrine.
To the unstable Galatians, Paul said, "Stop getting tired of doing good."
These Ephesians exercised great strength, and did not need such a warning.
The work of the Nicolaitans was met in Ephesus by a righteous wrath against all iniquity.
The Ephesians hated the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
That attitude was the attitude of the living Christ.
Christ also exercised a constant displeasure against evil of every kind.
The exact identity of the Nicolaitans have not been made.
From their relationship to those who held the doctrines of Balaam (2:14-15)
their evil appears to have been the promotion of some form of antinomianism.
Whatever their false teaching was, it was hated by Christ and Christians at Ephesus.
When you hear this commendation, you might be thinking how could anything be wrong
in such a church as Ephesus.
It carried on its services in the face of difficulties.
It rejected false teachers.
It hated sin.
It did not grow weary in the Lord's work.
This is what one would expect from a church which had been blessed by the leadership
of great Christian leaders.
This church had leaders such as: Paul, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy, and John,
the beloved disciple.
But the Lord looks at this church with a piercing eye and discovers a great flaw.
In verse 4 we read: "This I have against thee -- thou hast left thy first love."
This brief statement goes right to the point.
The honeymoon is over!
The church had lost their fervor and love which they had in the beginning of their Christian life.
They were conducting an active program of an aggressive church,
but they had lost the right motive for worship.
When love for Christ as a motive for worship is gone, service means little.
Then in verses 5 and 7 we read of the admonition which Christ gives to the church at Ephesus.
It could be stated in three words -- remember, repent, return.
Remember your early joy and zest in your love for Christ and His work.
Remember the fervor and enthusiasm of that love.
Repent of the condition of service without love, which you have allowed to creep into your life.
Such a condition is deadly to effective work in the Lord's kingdom.
Return to that original state of service out of a heart of love.
"Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Savior, may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all."
-- Jesus Calls Us by Cecil F. Alexander, 1852
Christ warns that if they do not return to that first state, they are forfeiting their right
to exist as a church.
He warns them that He will remove the candlestick from its place.
The candlestick is the church. (1:20)
So, we see that the last word of our Lord to the church is not in the Great Commission.
The Great Commission is our task to the end of the age,
but our Lord's last word to the church is "Repent."
That was His command to five out of seven of the churches in Asia.
The religious world of today is busy and active.
There is a lot of religious interest with religious television programs that cover the world.
Books are being written by the hundreds based on the Gospels, and how to live the Christian life.
Professional ballplayers are boldly giving their testimony of their faith in Jesus.
People are talking about religion.
There have been waves of mass evangelism throughout the years, and that is great!
Our Lord preached to the multitudes, and He selected only a handful of disciples.
All movements glorifying God are needed.
The proper mixture is a local church aflame with revival and who shares with others
in mass evangelism.
We need to understand that evangelism is not revival.
There are local and occasional revivals, but there is not a general and genuine repentance
leading to a clean break with the world.
There is a wave of much church activity, but that is not revival.
Church membership, church building, church attendance and church work are at an all-time high,
but the morals in our world is at an all-time low.
That does not make sense!
Churches are busy, but so were the churches in Asia, yet five of the seven needed a revival.
When church membership grows numerically, but the church members do not grow spiritually
in proportion, that is not revival.
The greatest need of the church today is revival.
It is regrettable that the words, "revival," and "evangelism" have become synonymous
in our thinking.
They do not mean the same thing.
Evangelism is the proclamation of the gospel in order to win the lost.
Revival is a work of the Spirit among God's people whereby they get right with God
and with each other.
There are those who will say that there is not much in the New Testament about revival.
We should not expect to find much in Acts.
They did not need a revival -- they were living in "revival"!
We see the normal New Testament Spirit-filled church is in the Acts.
But in the first three chapters of Revelation, we see churches that need revival.
Strictly speaking, revival is an Old Testament term: "Wilt thou not revive us again,"
"Revive thy work, O Lord."
The New Testament term is "Repent."
Revivals should not be needed.
God intended that His people should grow in grace without periodic spells
of backsliding and repining.
One preacher said: "But so long as we have such a malaria brand of Christianity,
a fever and a chill, a fever and a chill, we shall need revivals."
Also revival not a mere emotional upheaval.
God does not intend that we live in a fever of excitement all the time.
The farmer must break up his fallow ground, but if he did only that, he would never plant
or cultivate or reap a harvest.
Surgery may be necessary at times, but it is not normal to live in a hospital.
What we call revival is simply a return to normal New Testament Christianity.
Vance Havner said; "So many are subnormal that if they ever become normal
they are thought to be abnormal."
Revival means self-examination on the part of Christians.
That means repentance, confession of sin, renunciation of sin, restitution,
submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, separation from the world,
and being filled with the Spirit.
Finney said: "Revival is the renewal of the first love of Christians, resulting in the conversions
of sinners to God.
It presupposes that the church is back-slidden, and revival means conviction of sin
and searching of hearts among God's people.
Revival is nothing less than a new beginning of obedience to God, a breaking of a heart
and getting down in the dust before Him with deep humility and forsaking of sin."
A revival breaks the power of the world and sin over Christians.
The charm of the world is broken, and the power of sin is overcome.
Truths to which our hearts are unresponsive suddenly become real again.
When revival comes, obedience to the truth is the one thing that matters.
Too many "revivals" begin with the assumption that the present church membership
is in good shape.
Some think that the regular activities of the church will take care of the spiritual needs
of the members.
They should, but we only need to take a good look at the average membership to be cured
of that illusion.
Others fear that setting a high standard for church members will frighten away some prospects.
And it probably will.
After the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, the superficial dared not join the church,
but multitudes believed and were added to the Lord.
Havener said: "The church needs time out to tune up."
Someone has said, "We are so busy building a bigger orchestra that we cannot stop
to tune our instruments."
What good is a big orchestre if 2/3's of the members never show up for practice
or else are off key when they perform?
Vance Havener said, "We are too busy chopping wood to sharpen the axe."
Just as we are often too busy to have a physical checkup, so the church is often too occupied
to submit to a spiritual examination.
Yet, we never needed a revival more than we do now!
The church at Ephesus was urged to remember.
They were to remember their first love, and the happiness, and the joy they had
when they first knew the Lord Jesus and received forgiveness of all their sins.
Remember the zeal you had for God's glory and the salvation of mankind.
Remember your willing, obedient spirit, and your self-denial.
Remember your fervor in private prayer, and your detachment from the world.
Remember your heavenly-mindedness.
Remember all these.
Remember how you have fallen from all those blessed dispositions and gracious feelings
Remember and repent!
Be deeply humbled before God for having so carelessly strayed from your first love.
Repent and do the first works.
Resume your former zeal and diligence; watch, fast, pray, reprove sin,
carefully attend all the ordinances of God, walk as in his sight,
and rest not till you have recovered all your lost ground,
and got back the evidence of your acceptance with your Lord Jesus.
Repent -- or I will come to you quickly, and will remove your candlestick.
Finney describes this as the Lord Jesus saying:
"I will take away my ordinances, remove your ministers, and send you a famine of the word.
As there is here an allusion to the candlestick in the tabernacle and temple,
which could not be removed without suspending the whole Levitical service,
so the threatening here intimates that, if they did not repent, etc., he would unchurch them;
they should no longer have a pastor, no longer have the word and sacraments,
and no longer have the presence of the Lord Jesus."
We might be amazed at how many candlesticks have been removed.
There are churches that are very active and have growing programs
and an increasing membership, but their candlestick has been removed
-- they are not churches -- they are very active religious clubs.
God help us!
Jesus Calls Us by Cecil F. Alexander, 1852
"In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
"Christian, love Me more than these!"
"Lovest thou me, lovest thou me, more than these?
Modern times have brought us many blessings
People live in wealth and luxury
But the Master asks this question
Lovest thou me, lovest thou me, more than these?
I love Thee more than this old world could offer
All sinful follies I deny for Thee
My love, my life, my all, I pledge Thee
I love thee Lord, I love thee Lord, more than these
More than these
Lovest thou me, more than these my child?
What will, will your answer be?
Oh precious Lord, I love Thee more than all of these
More than fame
More than wealth
More than the word
More than fame
More than wealth
More than the world
--- Lovest Thou Me (More Than These) by Bill Gaither
Sermon adapted from many sources by Dr. Harold L. White
Much of this sermon was influenced by Ray Summers in his book, Worthy Is The Lamb,
and by a sermon by Vance Havner, "Repent Or Else!"