“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22
“…We make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God…”- 2 Corinthians 5:9b-11a
For the next couple of weeks, I will be writing short messages on the seven churches for our Word of Encouragement so that we might better assess where we are spiritually as a congregation, show us areas that need to be realigned with God’s Word, and how we might more effectively and sincerely make it our aim to please the Lord Jesus Christ!
If you would like to read the introduction to this short series, you may read here: Word of Encouragement
What are our strengths and weaknesses as a congregation? How can we ask God to better search and know us corporately? How are we doing at KCPC as a visible manifestation of Christ’s Kingdom on earth? Are we loving God and others as we did when we were first saved and gathered as Christ’s flock?
Jesus is Lord of His Church. He knows us by name at KCPC. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, our virtues and vices, and the seven letters to the churches in Revelation teach us three important truths that I want to consider with you for the next few weeks: Assessment, Alignment, and Aim. Jesus makes assessment of His churches; Jesus teaches us through His Word by His Spirit so that we would be aligned with His revealed truth; and Jesus has died for us and loved us so that we will make it our aim to please Him.
As prophet, Jesus speaks; as priest he is Mediator before God, assuring the churches of his continuous presence and his availability for them to come and seek forgiveness when they repent; as king, Jesus rules and reigns over his people, providing them instruction, protection, blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience.
Let us look first at Jesus’ message to the Church at Ephesus. It is important to remind ourselves that these seven congregations of the Revelation were real historical churches at the time that John the Apostle wrote his Revelation of Jesus Christ. However, we want to understand that they are also symbolic of the entire church age between Jesus’ first and second coming.
This means that what Jesus says to the churches, we need to consider soberly for ourselves. Jesus is still speaking to us (Hebrews 12:25). Jesus is particularly speaking to His people in these letters as a corporate body and congregation of confessional Christians, and not merely as individuals. This is why it is good to use these letters to be assessed by Christ as we seek to grow in him as a body.
We should understand that through the reading and preaching of the Word in public worship, we at KCPC are also recipients of this important letter. Jesus is addressing us, too!
Dear Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church…Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, in Purcellville, Virginia:
Our letter is from Jesus Christ, who is described as: “He who holds the seven angels and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (2:1b). Our Lord Jesus addresses us. More particularly, our great Lord and Savior who addresses us in Revelation 1 as a gracious and loving Savior who has died for us:
“Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come…from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on the earth. To Him who loves us and has freed us by His blood…” (Rev. 1:4b-6a).
Jesus presents to us the Gospel good news that He is our hope for grace and peace from God and with God, and that Jesus loves us and has saved us from our sins. Rejoice!
Jesus goes on to speak: “I know your works” This should cause us all to consider soberly Jesus’ loving assessment of His churches. But there is always grace from our Lord in our time of need (v. 2a).
Jesus says: “I know your toil and patient endurance” (cf. 1:9; v. 2a). The Church militant lives between the tension of new creation and consummation (already- not yet) that is characterized by tribulation. Although there is great peace and joy in Jesus, our pilgrimage as Christians is characterized by tribulation (see John 16:33; cf. Revelation 1:9).
Jesus says: “I know how you cannot bear with those who are evil” (v. 2b). Ephesus was a faithfully confessional church, holding to the truths of Christ and Holy Scripture. They “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1).
Jesus says essentially to Ephesus: “I know you take doctrine seriously” (vv. 2c, 6). Your love for my truth is obvious in the way you live.
Jesus says: “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake and have not grown weary” (v. 3). The congregation is continuing to fight the good fight and persevere by God’s grace as a people. Your patient endurance is commendable.
This was an outwardly orthodox congregation of Jesus Christ. Faithfulness on the surface, and outwardly standing against evil; the congregation takes doctrine seriously; they were patiently enduring.
Outwardly this is a faithfully solid and conservative conversation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although this congregation is walking before God rightly outwardly, inwardly their hearts have turned away from Jesus. Because their hearts had turned a bit away from Jesus, their loving hearts had grown a bit cold, even unloving.
The congregation was no longer as loving as it once was.
We should evaluate ourselves in light of this as Christ continues to speak to us. God has granted us a great deal of love for God and one another at this time in our congregational life, and this is apparent by God’s grace. But we must always understand that there is a danger of letting our hearts grow cold, although outwardly we are doing many good works for Christ. Notice…
Jesus says: “But I have this against you…” (v. 4a)
Through Jesus’ word, there is always room to grow, always room to learn, always room to be more reformed by and through the words of our Risen-Ascended Glorified LORD!
Jesus says: “You have abandoned the love you had at first” (v. 4b).
The point of this is that we as a congregation in Christ’s True Church might be reformed and ever reforming as Christ speaks to us through Scripture. We should desire to and strive together as disciples to be the congregation that God has called us to be in Christ. We must do this together in reliance upon God’s grace.
This takes love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 reminds us of the definition of biblical love for one another:
ESV 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Is this what characterizes our congregation? I think we strive to be faithful, healthy, holy, even theologically astute and accurate, but are we loving? Do we have love for Jesus in our worship, in our devotions, in our prayers, in our service and affection for one another? Do we show love to others who may disagree with us, while we correct them gently, speaking the truth in love? (see 2 Tim. 2:23-25).
Ephesus was overall a pretty good congregation. The Lord says good things about them. However, they lacked love; they had abandoned the love they had at first. There had been a gradual coldness because the congregation neglected to assess themselves and continually align themselves with the Gospel of grace.
This temptation to grow cold seems to be a scriptural echo of what Jesus had said in Matthew 24:12-14 about the visible Church when he returns:
ESV Matthew 24:12-14: And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
You may remember that the Apostle Paul had started the Church at Ephesus as a mission church. He had remained at Ephesus for three years preaching, teaching and training disciples. He left Pastor Timothy to continue what he had started; Timothy was the first called and ordained pastor of the congregation as it went from mission status to a self-supporting, self-governing, self-conscious, and self-propagating congregation of Christ’s Church.
The Apostle Paul had warned the elders that threats from within and from without would threaten the life of the Church (Acts 20:17ff).
The Church at Ephesus was one of the exemplary model “flagship churches” of the Churches of Asia Minor. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian Christians he had commended them for their great love for one another:
ESV Ephesians 1:15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your lovetoward all the saints…
The Apostle Paul had taught the Ephesians to live a life of love rooted in God’s eternal love for them in Jesus Christ. Through a meditation and daily realization of God’s love for them in Christ, they were to live a life of love; walking in love, speaking the truth in love to one another and those outside their congregation.
ESV Ephesians 3:17-19: …so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
ESV Ephesians 4:2 …with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…
ESV Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
ESV Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Marriages were to be characterized by husband and wife loving one another, and children showing love by honoring their parents (5:21-6:4).
But something had changed since the first. Some of the gains that the Ephesian Christians had gained by God’s grace had been lost because of a lack of love. Can you see how easy it is to get out of step with the truth of the Gospel, to shift from the hope of the Gospel, and to drift from the message of the Gospel we have heard?!
When we get out of line with the truths of the Gospel as a congregation, we want to be realigned quickly by God’s grace. The Bible teaches that we can get out of step with the truth of the gospel, shift from the hope of the gospel, and drift from the message of the Gospel we have heard (see Gal. 2:14; Col. 1:23; Heb. 2:1).
Jesus says to Ephesus (and to us!): “Remember” (v. 5a). This is an “eschatological remember”. This means “don’t forget” the grace of God and the mercy that should lovingly motivate your theology to make Christians like Christ in knowledge and actions. “Remember” in Scripture is a recollection to action. Here they are to remember the Gospel grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and to go and love likewise.
Jesus says: “Repent” (v. 5b). With Jesus there is always the opportunity to repent, to turn and find mercy with our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:16); Jesus is always calling us to the Mercy Seat! Let us hear what the Spirit says in our need for daily repentance!
Jesus’ commendation to Ephesus: “You hate the works of the Nicolaitans that I also hate” (v. 6). Jesus is saying: “This you have right; you must be loving, yes, but being loving does not mean to compromise with error. To be loving does NOT mean to compromise truth; this you have right.” No one knows much about the Nicolaitans, but it is obvious they were a heretical group who taught false theology and whose practices were immoral and impure. They were probably those from within the congregation that were compromising with the world of paganism in the City of Ephesus.
Jesus says: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (v. 7a). This is how judgment begins at the household of God (cf. 1 Peter 4:17) as we allow Jesus to assess us by His most Holy Word, then to align ourselves by His grace to His Word, and then to aim to seek to please Him as a congregation.
The “judgment” we receive as Christ’s congregation is admonishment for what we are not doing biblically, and we are to be disciplined by this word of judgment as God’s dear children (Heb. 12:5ff), and to repent and seek to be obedient and make it our aim to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9).
“He who has ears to hear” is from the Prophecy of Isaiah (Isa. 6:9-10). In Isaiah’s prophecy, Isaiah was sent to preach to congregations of Israel. Those who had ears to hear and repented in light of God’s Word were the remnant, the true elect of God; those who rejected and had no ears to hear were the unbelievers (even if they were in the visible Church). Jesus also used this language in his parable of the sower during his earthly ministry to make a distinction between different kinds of hearts (soils); some of the hearts who heard were hardened, some were shallow, and some were distracted by worldliness. Those who heard were abundantly fruitful (see Matthew 13; Mark 4).
Preaching God’s Word is the way or means Jesus with the double-edged sword of his word brings straightness and aligns God’s people with God’s Word and Will (Heb. 4:12-13). For those who have ears to hear there is salvation even in judgment because they become more like Christ through discipline. For those who reject the message of Christ through His Word by His Spirit, there is judgment. Let us seek to be fruitful by seeking Christ to have hearts that hear and obey God’s Word. Let us seek transformed hearts that will be transformed through Jesus’ love for us.
To the conquerors: “I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (v. 7b). This is one of the great benefits of being heirs of God with Christ (Romans 8:15ff). The sacrament Tree of Life that appeared in the Garden of Eden and was denied our disobedient parents, is present now not in Eden, but in the New Jerusalem where Jesus is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-6).
By God’s grace in Christ, we are invited to partake of what this sacramental tree symbolized in Jesus Christ alone.
The Tree of Life is a sacramental tree symbolizing the eternal life found in Jesus Christ for those whom he loves. Those who partake of the Tree of Life will never die but live at Shalom-Peace with God in the New Heavens and New Earth for eternity.
Though for now they may experience the Kingdom of God in the tension with tribulation and suffering, they are to remain patient (1:9), and seek the life of the Kingdom in Jesus Christ even now (Matthew 6:33), awaiting the full revealing and Revelation of this Kingdom when Christ returns. This should increase our love for God and each other that would naturally grow cold, but through grace is warmed and overflows into service and mercy to others.
For now, we as the Church of Jesus Christ at KCPC must hear and respond obediently to Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian Christians, understanding it is a letter addressed also to us. We must love in response and reliance upon God’s grace and we must not compromise truth. We must speak the truth in love and know that we may be persecuted for it.
For now, even as we live under tribulation, and we suffer, and we struggle against false doctrine and impure practices that God hates, we must seek to be patient in our endurance, fight the good fight, and to love one another as we did at the first.
And Christ enables us to do that by granting us the life now that we need that is found in Jesus Christ.
As Jesus addresses not only Ephesus, but also KCPC, how are we doing in our love for God and each other? Let us assess ourselves before the Throne of Grace; let us align ourselves with the Gospel Word of Christ; let us seek to make it our aim to please Jesus who died for us (2 Cor. 5:14-15); let us be controlled and constrained by His love!
Let us end with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Church. Let us turn to Ephesians 3:14-21 and pray together:
ESV Ephesians 3:17-19: “…That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
May these short devotional studies of assessment from Jesus using the letters to the seven churches of the Revelation cause us to better align ourselves with His truth, and encourage us all to make it our aim to please Jesus who died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:6-8).
May we live daily as a congregation before the face of Christ and so before the Judgment Seat of Christ. When we all arrive at our destination and we stand as the congregation KCPC before Christ’s Judgment, may these short devotions have better prepared us, so that we can stand confident and encouraged in the Lord Jesus’ presence.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”- Jesus Christ
In Jesus’ love,