Yesterday, we looked at the first part of Jesus’ letter to the Ephesian church, in Revelation chapter 2. We saw what they were doing well: holding firmly to correct teaching. And we saw what they’d forgotten to do: show love to one another. That’s the first part of the “performance review.” But what’s next? How can they turn things around?
How to get back on track
Jesus tells them how:2:5a Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
He tells the Ephesian church to remember how they used to be, as a way of motivating them to turn it around. A classic motivational strategy of the ancient world: remind people of their own example, and urge them to live up to it. As the fourth-century preacher John Chrysostom says:‘Powerful is the exhortation from deeds [already done]: for he who begins a work ought to go forward and add to it… And he who encourages, does thus especially encourage them from their own example.’
Not a bad idea, hey? Think back to the times when your experience of church community really worked. Maybe a time when you were struggling, and your church family rallied around. Or a time when you’ve been part of the support crew for someone else.
Jesus says, don’t you want to experience that again? Don’t you want that to be what characterises this church? This community? Your life?
Repent, and do those things you did at first.
Because the consequences are serious. Far more serious than any earthly performance review:2:5b If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
In isolation, it almost sounds comical. “No, not the lampstand! Don’t take the lampstand!” Except that what it symbolises is deadly serious: the removal of a church. Let’s be clear: this isn’t about a believer losing their salvation. It’s about the removal of a church. Either literally it ceases to exist; or maybe God just leaves it to itself, and continues doing his work around it rather than through it. Either way, not a good prospect.
I was told of a church in which an incident had happened 80 years ago. Apparently there was a big tree on the church’s property, and one of the branches was overhanging into a neighbour’s yard, dropping leaves. The neighbour complained, and so one of the church members chopped off the offending branch. Problem was, that tree had been planted a long time ago in memory of another member’s grandfather.
And so began a long war between these two members. And their families. And their children. And their children’s children. Three generations of hostility with both sides opposing anything the other suggested on principle. And the church wonders why they haven’t seen a single convert in decades. Maybe their lampstand has been removed?
If we don’t show love for one another, we stop being useful to God in his work of restoring his world. It makes you wonder how many churches have had their lampstand removed; no longer used by God because of their lack of love for one another.2:7a Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
This is important stuff. That’s the bad news.
The good news is in the form of a promise. A promise far better than any performance bonus your boss can offer. Jesus says this:2:7b 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 tree of life appears at the end of Revelation, in John’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth. Last time we saw it was back in Genesis, where the tree of life was guarded by angels with flaming swords as Adam and Eve were sent out of paradise. But now, Jesus holds out the promise of a new Eden. Where we can eat from the tree, symbolising the gift of eternal life that comes through Jesus.
It’s a promise to remind us of the eternal benefits of living the way God intends his people to live. The benefits of resisting the self-centredness of our world, and instead being radically different in how we show love to one another.
In fact, that’s the ultimate aim of the rest of John’s vision, from Revelation chapter 4 onwards. All those images of thrones and angels and faithful martyrs and blasphemous beasts and seals and trumpets and lakes of fire and gold-paved cities. It all boils down to this: a vision of how the world looks from God’s perspective. Encouraging us to persevere. Showing us how those who oppose God and his people are on a short leash, on borrowed time. And reminding us of the glorious future that awaits those who are God’s people.
Which future do you want? The good one, right? The one with the tree of life not the fiery lake? So live now in a way that is in tune with God. Don’t forsake the love you first had. Repent, and do the things you did at first.
Now what does this mean? That we are somehow made right with God by how we show love to one another? Of course not!
But do we demonstrate that we are a people who have been made right with God through faith in Christ, do we demonstrate that by how we treat one another? You bet we do. As Jesus said:John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
To think about
Now I could just leave it there as a kind of general appeal to show love to one another. But Jesus is pretty concrete, isn’t he? He says do the things you did at first. It’s not about changing your thinking; it’s about actually doing stuff.
So, what can you do? What’s one way you could show love in a practical sense. It might be an act of service. Or an encouraging word. A phone call to someone who needs it.
But do something about it now. It might involve setting a reminder on your phone to do something about it in the next few days. Or it could mean putting down your laptop/tablet/phone right now and contacting someone you know needs some support.
Imagine what would happen if all of the 150-odd people who read this each day did something that showed someone else the love of Jesus. Maybe, everyone would then know that we are his disciples.