Recently we reflected on the 18th anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11/01. On that day, I shared a devotion with our Ministry Leaders at our monthly prayer gathering and today I’d like to share those thoughts with you as well. The topic is staying focused on the things of God in light of not knowing what tomorrow holds. When asked by a religious expert of the day, Jesus explained that our focus in life should be very simple. He said we must,
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 22:37-40)
I don’t know about you, but I often fail at both of these commands. Thankfully God has an answer for how we can keep from failing in this regard and we find the solution in Revelation, chapter 2. This is the first of several letters to the churches - the church at Ephesus.
Revelation 2:1-5 reads: "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 men, 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 your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repentance 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.”
As the passage starts out, we notice that it is from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. From 1:20 we learn that the lampstands are the churches and the stars are their angels (or messengers). Notice that Christ, holds the angels (in other words, they are in His control) and He walks among the churches (He is present in their midst and aware of their activities). Isn’t that awesome?!
Look at Jesus’ message for them. He begins by bragging on them, and He has a lot of great things to say:
He says that He knows their deeds – their hard work and perseverance.
He notes that they would not tolerate wicked men and that they tested those who said they were apostles but were not.
He says that they have persevered and have endured hardships for His name and have not grown weary.
What an impressive list! But He has one thing against them: they had lost their first love. Some have interpreted this to mean their love for Him, but most commentators today have come to agree that He is talking about their love for one another. Either way, since loving God and loving others are the two most important commands, if they had failed at either, they were off base.
I want you to pay attention to the warning Jesus gives them in verse 5, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and take away your lampstand.” He’s saying, if you don’t turn yourselves around and focus on loving me and loving My children, you will no longer be a church. How did Jesus instruct the church to respond? The instruction Jesus gave to this church was twofold.
First, Jesus told them to “remember the height from which they had fallen.” Memory can be a powerful force in returning to a more satisfying relationship. For instance, in the story of the Prodigal Son, the prodigal at one point is said to have “come to his senses” as he remembered his father’s love. He remembered that even his father’s servants had it better than he currently did and that led him to do just what Jesus instructs next.
Repent. The prodigal turned from his wicked ways and went back to his father. That’s what Jesus tells the Ephesian church to do, repent. He tells them to turn back, and do things the way they had been instructed. Repentance is an active step, it is a radical redirection of one’s life.
In this light, I want to encourage you today to focus on letting love rule in your life. Make loving God and loving others THE priority of each day God gives you.
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