A Call To True Repentance Putting the Love Back in the Beloved
Revelation 2: 2-5 "I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don't tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. "But I have this complaint against you. You don't love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don't repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. (NLT)
The church has a purpose to fulfill; a destiny outlined by God. That purpose is not to generate mega-churches. It is not to have the best conferences, flashiest worship teams, or even the most watched television programs. No, the purpose of the church is the same purpose we have for being created:
Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.'" Isaiah 43: 7 (NLT)
When our focus is on glorifying God, then we are fulfilling the purpose He has for us individually and corporately. Missions do not work without glorifying God. Outreach to the neediest in society does not work without glorifying God. Sure, temporary needs can be addressed but eternal needs are left to continue to rot? It should not be. A church service that is more about show than substance will not bring glory to God. Backbiting and malicious gossip will not bring glory to God. Attacking leaders and dividing the body of Christ will not bring glory to God. The sad truth is we often can lose our way as people and as a church if we take our eyes off of glorifying God.
This is where we find the Church at Ephesus in our key verses today. Unfortunately, it is also where we can find our own church today in America. First, let us look at what the church was doing right, realizing that it is not enough. It is not the purpose for which we were called. The speaker here is Jesus and He openly acknowledges that the church is hard working and patient in its endurance. Hard work and patience are important in how we approach the work of God but they are not enough. We can also find ourselves working tirelessly for the kingdom of God. We put in extra hours at no cost. We commit ourselves feverishly working 12 hour days, sacrificing our personal time and convince ourselves that it is a sacrifice for God. The truth today though is God doesn't need us to burn out unnecessarily. Remember, the idea of the Sabbath, a day of no work, was created by God. But in our relentless pursuit of the Martha within us, Mary often gets sacrificed.
The Gospel of Luke tells the story of Mary and Martha, sisters who were friends of Jesus. The Lord was visiting with them and Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him. Here is how the Bible describes Martha at this same time:
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" Luke 10: 40
Truth be told, Martha represents a lot of us in ministry. We are distracted by the necessary work. We get sidetracked by the meetings, the preparation, the ministry work we have been assigned. We too like Martha can lose sight of Jesus who is sitting in our home talking to us! Then when we do finally approach Him it is to complain about the work we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by! Or even worse, to complain about someone else and the efforts they are making. We can start to see the Mary's of the church as somehow lazier or not as serious in their approach to God but here is the response of Jesus to Martha and to us "Marthas" today:
"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10: 41-42
Mary has chosen what is better. To sit at the feet of Jesus listening to what He has to say. This is not to say that Martha does not have a role someone has to work but what is sacrificed for that work? Too many pastors work too many hours and while they advance the kingdom, they do so at risk to themselves. Too many ministry leaders burn out from working too much and eventually feeling unappreciated. Truth is we can lose sight of whom we are really working for. Jesus can be sitting in the same room as us and we cannot even see Him.
The same goes for churches. A church can work hard like the church at Ephesus and be patient in endurance but lose sight of the glorifying work that needs to be done. We can even correctly apply doctrine as the key verse indicates. We can see who are false apostles from real ones . We can suffer too. Go through wilderness periods and stay faithful not quit. We can even not tolerate evil people. These are all positive things Jesus is speaking here; but they are not enough. They are not enough for us individually or as a church. Having hard working ministers and flashy programs are not enough. Correctly applying doctrine, suffering without quitting and denying evil is not enough. Where is the love?
That is the question Jesus asks in this key verse and what He is asking us today. Where is the love in the beloved? Note that Jesus accusation here falls into two different problems. First, our love for God can wane. The Christian walk is just that, a walk. We start out usually on fire for God but somewhere that fire grows dim. We can go through the motions of our Christianity but be actually moving farther and farther away from God personally. Our personal devotional time can be sacrificed first or maybe our prayer time is not as consistent as it once was. There is an old Christianism that says if you feel farther away from God today than you once did, I know who moved! God doesn't move beloved. He is always in the same room with you, talking to you, and wishing you would stop being so distracted and just sit at His feet to listen to Him.
The same concept applies for the church as well. Maybe the church services started out very spiritual, seeking God on our faces, crying out in prayer. Maybe the years take their toll. Maybe the service time gets shortened. Worship goes from seven songs to five. Sermons go from 45 minutes to a half hour. Bible study classes go from four per semester to two. Little changes here and there that move the purpose of the church away from glorifying God and more into pleasing man. Jesus is still there in the room watching the distracted church and waiting for it to slow down long enough to simply sit at His feet again and listen. The work is important but not without glorifying God. Without bringing glory to God it is just white noise.
The second problem Jesus is speaking about here is just as important and that is our love for each other has waned. How important is loving each other? Jesus considered it so important it was given to us a new commandment:
So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." John 13: 34-35 (NLT)