Revelation 2: 1-7
‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
The first letter that Jesus writes is to the church in Ephesus. Most of us will have heard of Ephesus because we have Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament.
Ephesus was a big city by first century standards and it was dedicated completely to pagan religions and gods. We read in Acts 19 that Paul caused a riot during his time there because so many people were becoming Christians that those who made little shrines and statues to the gods and goddesses were losing all their business. Later when Paul moved on from Ephesus he left Timothy in charge as the Pastor.
So here we have this church in the mid-60s AD – a new church, but a strong thriving church, a vibrant church, there's good leadership. Everyone in it is a devoted Christian, they’ve come out of paganism and other religions to follow Jesus, they’re passionate about evangelism, they’re on fire for God.
When Jesus sends this letter to the same church it’s 95AD - 30 years later, it’s now a second generation church - and look at what He says to them:
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” (vv 2-3)
This all sounds great, doesn’t it? They’re really active, they’re busy serving and working hard and doing all the right things. They’re also very theologically sound, they know their Bible’s inside out. They can spot a heretic and false teacher a mile off.
That’s this church at Ephesus – they’re the ones who look like they’re really serious about their faith.
But look at what Jesus says to them:
Verse 4: “Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first.”
Jesus says – 'You’re doing all the right things, but you’re doing them out of routine and duty and obligation – not because you love me. You’ve lost your passion for me, you’ve lost that fire which used to burn within you – you’re just going through the motions now. Your faith is all head and no heart. You’re singing the songs – but there’s no joy in them; you’re serving in church, but not because you really want to, rather because you feel you should; if you ever share your faith, it’s out of guilt and with a real reluctance; all the work and stuff you’re doing is great – but I don’t have your heart.'
This is something I see often among second generation Christians. The first generation was the parents, they were the first members in that family to ever have a real, life-changing encounter with Jesus. They came out of other religions, or maybe nominal Catholicism or mainline Protestantism – they were born again and they were on fire for Jesus. It was life transforming, they were filled with the Spirit, they wanted to be at everything happening in church, had a small group at home, served in Sunday school, shared their faith with everyone they could openly and freely, they just couldn’t help it, Jesus was everything to them.
And then they have children, and like all good Christian parents, they want their children to grow up in the faith so they send them to Sunday school, they bring them to church, youth group, they pray and navigate them through those awkward teenage years when things can go either way, and then breathe a sigh of relief if by their late teens or twenties their child is still in church and hasn’t rebelled into a life of sex, drugs and debauchery.
That’s all brilliant – but here’s the problem I’ve found again and again. The second generation has their parents beliefs, they know the Bible, they often serve in church like their parents did – but they lack the passion and fire behind it all that their parents had. Because, unlike their parents, they have never really had a personal encounter with God for themselves. They’ve adopted the faith of their parents but they’ve never really had to own it for themselves.
And often - not always – what happens is that they reach a point where they just stop one day and ask: 'What is this all about? Why am I doing all this, I’m not sure if I even believe it? I’m going through the motions, singing the songs, serving – but actually – I don’t feel anything, it doesn’t affect me deeply, Jesus might have my hands, but He doesn’t have my heart.'
Does any of this sound familiar?We see this also in the book of Judges. Joshua has led the people across the Red Sea, they’ve taken the Promised Land. Then we read this:
“After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.” (Joshua 2: 10-11)
The generation that encountered God for themselves is followed by a generation who have never really developed their own living relationship with the Lord. They were living on the stories and experiences of their parents.
What’s the answer, what does Jesus think they should do: Verse 5:
“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
Realise what you are missing. You’re settling for so much less that He has for you. Turn around, that’s what ‘repent means - don’t stay like that. Don’t settle for a half-hearted, bland Christian life. Do the things you did at first. Get back to basics. Seek me. Take time out with me. Get in my Word. Just sit at my feet. Pursue me. Have your own encounter with me.
Second hand clothes and cars and books and furniture is OK. Second hand faith isn’t. At least not long term. We all need our own personal relationship with Jesus for ourselves. We each need to do whatever it takes and discover Jesus afresh, even if that means your relationship with Him looks different than your parents relationship did.