Early Valentine’s: The Heart of Repentance

Revelation 2:1-7 NIV - “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. 2 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. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 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. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 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.”

Consider these amazing aspects of Christ’s admonition to the church in Ephesus:

  • Those in the church were hard workers…

  • Those in the church were tough and persevering…

  • Those in the church would not tolerate sin, wicked people, or false preachers and teachers…

  • Those in the church never quit despite the difficulties they experienced for being Christians…

  • Those in the church hated the same practices Jesus hated…

  • But those in the church were called to repent and turn back to Jesus!!!???

Would we not look at all the things they were commended for and assume that they were a great church?  Yet, Jesus calls to them to “consider how far you have FALLEN.”  There spiritual condition was in such danger, Jesus promises to remove their church altogether…unless they REPENT.  What’s alarming about the Ephesus church was that they were believing all the right things and they were doing all the right things.  From historical accounts, the Ephesus church had a large congregation with a rich history - including leaders like Paul, John, Timothy, Aquila and Priscilla.  

Yet, Jesus warns that He is about to close down the church in Ephesus altogether (which eventually did occur).  Why?  Because in the midst of embracing and celebrating right beliefs and right behaviors, the church in Ephesus stopped operating out of love for Jesus Christ.  It is possible to continue to operate with a religious mindset and faithfully “have church” without genuine love for God and His Gospel.  Jesus calls this type of church to repent. Jesus had to correct other churches in Revelation 2 and 3 for wrong beliefs and wrong behaviors.  We’d expect them to have to repent.  But a church that is doing well in doctrine, in serving, in perseverance, and in separation from the world’s evil?  This passage reveals that repentance is - above all - a call to turn away from anything that is more important to us than God is.  

This is alarming.  I’ll admit that I’m not crazy about what this passage of Scripture communicates.  It’s far too easy to see myself in it at various seasons in my walk with God.  Have I ever loved Scripture, Bible teaching, or preaching more than God Himself?  Have I loved exhilarating times of hard work and ministry for the kingdom more than I loved the King?  Have I loved doctrinal purity and moral purity more than the Holy One?  Have I hated false doctrine, false worldviews, and other evil more than I hated the times I have preferred something else to God?  Have I ever loved my religious system, practices, or denomination more than I loved God?  And have I ever loved the experience of deep worship, spiritual gifts, and feeling the presence of God more than I actually loved God?  I’m afraid that I have failed in these areas at various times along the journey.  God forgive me, I pray.  Lord Jesus have mercy on my soul - and make the Greatest Commandment the truest priority and reality of my inner life as viewed from Heaven.  Amen.

Unlike sinful behaviors, all of these things that the Ephesus church believed and did were GOOD things that only become bad when loved or valued more than God.  And ultimately, He sees our motivations, affections, and priorities.  That’s why repentance is more than just exchanging bad behavior for good behavior - more than just exchanging wrong beliefs for true beliefs. Repentance at its core is a heart issue - our refusing to desire, prefer, and love ANYTHING (including all our religious beliefs and practices) more than we desire, prefer, and love God.  So help us God.

Will you love God Himself above your love for doctrine or denomination? Will you love God Himself above your love for holy living or moral purity? Will you love God Himself above your love for ministering to others and promoting justice?  Will you love God Himself above your love for partaking of the gifts of the Spirit or simply feeling His presence? The good news is that we can (and should) still keep all these expressions of faith…as long as we keep them in their proper place. Otherwise, a church of Ephesus eventually becomes a church of Pharisees.  Even so Lord Jesus, we repent.  Please renew our first love.