WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
I began a new sermon series and the theme is based on the title of the old song by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Was In. The sermons come from Revelation chapters 2-3 regarding the seven churches of Asia Minor, which is today part of modern Turkey.
The first sermon asks the question, have you lost your first love? How do we love Christ? How important is he to us? The purpose of the theme is for us examine our lives to see where we are in our relationship to Christ. We look to see what condition our condition is in. Perhaps as the reader, you may find yourself asking the same important questions.
A number of years ago, an interview was reported in the Saturday Review with an Indian Hindu priest named Satis Prasad. The man said he wanted to come to our country to work as a missionary among the Americans. The interviewer assumed that he meant that he wanted to convert Americans to the Hindu religion, but when asked,Satis Prasad said,
Oh no, I would like to convert them to the Christian religion. Christianity cannot survive in the abstract. It needs not membership, but believers. The people of your country may claim they believe in Christianity, but from what I read at this distance, Christianity is more a custom than anything else. I would ask that either you accept the teachings of Jesus in your everyday life and in your affairs as a nation, or stop invoking His name as sanction for everything you do. I want to help save Christianity for the Christian. (B. Clayton Bell, in Preaching, May-June, 1986)
That should make us all flinch! What has our faith come to when outsiders try to convert us to our own religion? I believe that we need to ask ourselves some serious questions. Are we doing the will of God? Do you want an honest answer? I think there is a danger that we have lost our first love.
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus addresses the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. The vision is of Jesus, walking among the seven golden lamp stands. The Church is like a candle in a world of total darkness. Our very presence bears witness, sometimes an uncomfortable witness to the world.
Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for its faithfulness. Notice that Jesus said that he knew their deeds. They had a reputation in heaven. They were known for their hard work and perseverance. These were people who had been through some very tough times. They had been made fun of. Others had lost their property and even their lives just to follow Jesus. Their Christian experience had not been an easy one. Yet, they remained faithful to Christ.
Furthermore, they were not only faithful in the midst of persecution, they also remained doctrinally pure. By the time John wrote Revelation, many false teachers had come to Ephesus. Paul had warned both in the book of Ephesians and in the letters to Timothy, who was the pastor at Ephesus, of the false teachers who would prey on the Church. Paul warned of a time when the people would not endure sound doctrine. They would rather have their ears tickled with thoughts and ideas that conformed to what they wanted.
But, the Ephesian Church persevered even here. They had a reputation of not enduring evil men. They would not tolerate anyone who preached a different gospel. They put to the test, those who called themselves apostles. The apostle here is used in a general sense. In fact, the way they would have put them to the test is by comparing what they taught to the witness and teaching of the true Apostles. When they found them to be false, they did not follow them, they removed them.
Jesus has high praise for them because they had endured much for his sake and had not grown weary in the process. But, there was one thing that Jesus had against them, they had lost their first love. For them, the practice of the Christian faith had become routine, a habit to which they were dedicated. They served God, not out of love, but out of duty. There is nothing wrong with duty. But there is more to the Christian life.
The spark was gone. There was no joy or pleasure in serving God. They had lost their love for God. They carried out their duties faithfully because that is what Christians do. But there was no love in their duties. Love is primarily an act of the will. But the act of love produces warmth and affection. There was on act of the will in their love for God. They loved God by rote memory, not by an act of the will that produced the deeper emotions that come from being in God’s presence.
Is this not one of the main issues of the modern church? Today excitement and enthusiasm are generated by programs and technology. We never know if people are deeply moved by the Holy Spirit or manipulated by the slick program and mesmerizing technology. If the Holy Spirit left, how many churches would notice? It seems to me that we Christians have a terrible capacity for manufacturing Christian experiences and never really require of ourselves that we commit our heart, mind, soul, and strength to God. In most churches, the first love that Paul makes central for the Ephesians would be a lost memory, something that is totally foreign to us.
How does it happen? I can think of several ways it can happen. We can lose trust in God. We can decide that God does not operate fast enough for our tastes so we speed it up. We try to improve on the work of the Holy Spirit and generate strong emotions by means of programs and exciting actions in worship.
I think our text gives us a clear picture. I think it takes place in the hard work of being a church. We work hard to keep out false doctrine and false teachers. We strain to persevere. We endure the various attacks our society makes against us. We struggle and at some point we forget to refresh ourselves. The Christian life becomes grim duty instead of a delight. Worship becomes an obligation instead of the joyful act of honoring and praising Christ. Fellowship of believers becomes exhausting because we don’t feel as close to each other as we should. Our real relationships lie outside the church. It is exhausting when we struggle without the power of the Holy Spirit. When we keep the Holy Spirit at arm’s length it produces a coldness of the soul.
The remedy is to stop and remember from where you have fallen and repent and do the deeds we once did. It seems so simple. God’s way must overcome our ways. We must stop thinking that our own cleverness exceeds God’s wisdom. What the church needs today is an ear to hear God and a willingness to obey God.
He said, remember from where you have fallen. We need to stop and look at where we have been and where we are now. Perhaps we need to repent and do the deeds that we once did. We need to see that the sovereign God is the one who draws us to himself. It is he who renews us. This is why we must repent and return to him.
We need to take time to cultivate our spiritual life by practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, meditating on the Word of God, celebration and bearing witness to Christ. We should cultivate a desire to worship God and look forward to spending time with fellow believers in fellowship and worship. In these acts, the love of Christ grows in us. His love in us empowers to us live joyfully and in the power of the Holy Spirit. For the Christian, the inner motivation for duty and honor and principle must be our response to God’s love.
What happens if we don’t? We drift so far from Christ that he comes and removes our light. We will no longer be a witness in a world of darkness. Hundreds of churches close their doors every year because they lost their first love. The danger is, we can’t do things on principle and duty for very long if we do not have love at the core of our being. What does it take to wake up a church?
Nothing is more important at this time. We cannot depend on fades and events. Politics destroys the church if it can. Sports become a god, an idol if we allow it to. Don’t you see that almost anything can steal your joy and cause you to lose your first love!
So, what’s love God to do with it? Everything, it is God’s love that saved us and it is God’s love that empowers us.
Remember God’s love for us. Remember the kindness of his mercy, the depth of his love for us. Remember the Cross. Remember how he has loved us and has lead us this far.
Do you remember? If you remember, then let the memory turn your heart back to that former place, back to your first love.