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Let's read over the whole passage - beginning with Revelation 2:1 and extending through Revelation 2:7.
Now he who plants and he who waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor ("kopos").
1 Corinthians 3:8
In short, what we have here is a church well known for its labor in behalf of Christ - hard work - difficult and wearisome work - all undertaken to win God's approbation. So far, so good. An excellent account.
And it doesn't stop there: Jesus goes on to say that Ephesus is well known for her good judgment - her keen and accurate sense of discernment - meaning she has protected the saints from false apostles and, by implication, false doctrine. Simply put, Ephesus is a church resting on a foundation of sound Biblical teaching. She has made a point of cultivating the basic principles of the Christian Faith and instilling them in the minds and hearts of the believers there.
And, then, to underscore once again her character, her upstanding integrity, Jesus adds verse 3 . . .
And have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted.
. . . which, of course, merely sums up all he has already noted about Ephesus: her good deeds - her hard, wearisome toil in behalf of Christ, all motivated by a desire to win God's approbation.
What a record! What church wouldn't want that kind of record?
. . . repent . . . or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place . . .
. . . meaning her witness falls short of justifying her very standing as a church. That's how far short it falls. Imagine! Jesus threatening to remove her "lampstand" - which is what authenticates her standing as a church!
How is it possible for a church once so filled with abandoned love to fall within one or two generations into such a sorry state? I think I know. Because it's exactly what I've witnessed over the last thirty five years - ever since the end of the "Jesus Movement." In a sense, I've lived through what happened to Ephesus - and I did so as senior pastor of a pretty good size church.
Book-keeping terms are foreign to love - its very antithesis. Indeed, love that can be summed up in accounting terms isn't love at all.
Lovers are ecstatically happy just being with each other. It doesn't matter to them if home is a mansion or a hovel. All that matters is that they're together. That's exactly the kind of love that "drove" God to send Christ to the Cross in our behalf - and it's that kind of love that caused Christ to go there. Think about it! It wasn't at all reasonable for God to have paid that price for the likes of us. We weren't worth it - not at least in terms that can be summed up in a profit and loss statement. Wild, reckless, and abandoned - that's the kind of love that sent Christ to the Cross. And anyone who thinks otherwise is blind and deaf to its meaning. It's that kind of love that Ephesus was so bereft of at the time the Book of Revelation was written - wild, reckless, and abandoned.
That was the Jesus Movement!
And our sons and daughters are even more prone to that assessment - many of whom lived through the Jesus Movement as children and have assumed leadership roles in today's evangelical church.
"Nothing in excess. Balance, sanity, and safety. Let's not play the fool the way our parents did."
That has become their mind-set - not all of them, of course, but far too many. It's the very same mind-set the second and third generation of believers at Ephesus not doubt harbored!
They're convinced they can have Jesus . . .
Yes, they want Jesus, but . . .
Once again, it's not that they want to give up on Jesus; indeed, most of them consider themselves deeply committed believers; it's that they want to be safe and sane at the same time.
Jesus makes it plain that, in point of fact, he doesn't buy into it - and that it does turn his stomach. That's why he warned Ephesus that her very standing as a church was in jeopardy. That's why any church today founded on sanity, balance, and safety is hardly worth calling a church.
When Jesus told his disciples that unless they were willing to sell all they couldn't be his disciples, it's love that he had in mind, not self-flagellation. He was simply saying, "If you don't love me, please don't bother to be my disciple." Jesus doesn't promote masochism; he promotes love - wild, reckless, abandoned love. The kind of love that joyfully sells all.
Jesus wants churches that are madly, wildly, insanely in love with him. And that's exactly what we don't have in many churches anymore. What about your church? What about you?
The truth of the matter is quite simple. It's the same truth that anyone in love will testify to: love never counts the cost. Nothing can take its place. There's no substitute for love - not wearisome toil, not good deeds, not spiritual discernment, not even right doctrine. None of that is bad; indeed, its vital. But it's not good enough! Indeed, it falls woefully short.
It's not safe and sane believers that Jesus is looking for. It's not safe and sane leaders. It's not safe and sane churches. It's churches, believers, and leaders who are wildly, passionately, hopelessly in love with him. And that's in pretty short supply these days.