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READING SOMEONE ELSE’S MAIL
Letters to 7 Churches of Asia Minor
Ephesus--“DUTY W/OUT DEVOTION”
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Just as there are 7 Dispensations of human history, and we live in the Dispensation of Grace, “The Church Age”, this dispensation can be broken down into 7 further divisions I want to look at before we go further in our 20 Cs Series. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But first, we’ve had many families visiting…several joining over the last months. Just as many are still visiting and considering. PTL!
Very difficult is that task…evaluating and examining a church. Only Jesus can really do that accurately, for He sees the internals, not just the externals. A church may appear to be one thing, and beneath the surface be something quite different! That’s all the more reason to fast and pray and make sure you are God-led in joining a church. But I hope eventually you’ll be a person of commitment once God has led.
By the way, I encourage you not to just look for a church that can meet your needs. While that is important, you should also look for a church whose needs you feel God can use you to help meet…a church whose vision you can jump on board with…and don’t look for the perfect church, because it doesn’t exist…and if you ever do find it, by all means, don’t join it, for it will cease to be perfect, won’t it?!
In Rev. 2 & 3, the Lord Jesus writes 7 letters thru John on Patmos and gives each of these 7 literal churches an X-ray of their true spiritual condition. And it’s not wrong for us to read someone else’s mail, in this case, because our Lord wants ALL churches to read these letters and give heed to these letters.
This map shows these 7 churches which Christ ‘walked in the middle of’ [v. 1] By the way, do you know where the country of Greece came from? It ‘oozed’ out of Turkey!
Don’t miss this: These 7 letters have a 3-fold application…
1. Contemporary application
Apostle John was a pastor…no doubt God used him to write down these letters from his pastor’s heart…these 7 literal churches that he knew personally, for they existed in his day.
2. Composite application
All 7 messages are for all churches in all centuries throughout this church age. The messages in these 7 letters apply directly to GBC in 2009.
3. Chronological application (most interesting)
A complete panorama of church history can be found in these 7 letters. From the apostolic church of John’s day, to the day in which we now live. For example:
Ephesus—the careless church—A.D. 30-100—abandoned their first love—turned devotion into duty. They started out deeply in love w/ Christ. Read Ephesians and you’ll hear Paul speak of their love for Christ 20 times! “You are rooted and grounded in love” he said…but years later in today’s passage in Rev. 2 John relays Jesus’ words, “you have left your first love.”
And that was the general state of the church at large in the first century: they had left their love, devotion turned to duty, they were careless!
Smyrna—the crushed church—A.D. 100-300—v. 10, “10 days” Study church history and you will see that the 2nd and 3rd centuries hosted 10 great waves of persecution…the 10 Roman persecutions, from Nero to Diocletian.
Pergamos—the compromising church—A.D. 300-500
Now the church moved out of the catacombs and into the cathedrals. But they compromised with the world.
Thyatira—the corrupted church—A.D. 500-1500 (the dark ages)
Works salvation became their theme, and the gospel of grace was corrupted. It’s the Roman Catholic Church as plain as day.
Sardis—the crippled church—A.D. 1500-1700
The Reformation and Martin Luther brought about a remnant who escaped the clutches of Thyatira. But though they once again found grace they held onto enough of their past liturgy to cripple their future.
Philadelphia—the consistent church—1700-1900—the revival…a church for which the Lord did not have one word of rebuke. The best days of Christianity since the early days happened right here.
Laodicea—the cooled off, luke-warm church—1900-present…we live in this period of church history.
You and I live in the Laodicean church age, but we can be a Philadelphia church during this Laodicean age. (other combinations of all the above also exist)
You see, today in the Laodicean age we still have all 7 of these types of churches. But which one will we be? We can learn a lot from all 7. Both strengths and weaknesses of each will help us grow.
Ephesus: Duty w/out Devotion
Commendation: Before telling them what they’re doing wrong, the Lord tells them what they’re doing right:
v. 2 “works”—you are a serving church, no doubt.
“labor”—you are a sacrificing church. (work to point of exhaustion)
D.L. Moody: “I get weary in the Lord’s work, but I never get weary of the Lord’s work.”
“patience”—you are a steadfast church (endurance under trial)
rest of verse—you are a separated church
Criticism: v. 4
This is a cutting criticism, for the Lord Jesus is saying, you may be doing all the right things…but you’re doing them for all the wrong reasons. You’re not motivated by love for Christ / wholehearted devotion…you’re just going thru the motions out of a sense of duty. Ever been there? I have, even recently. But God doesn’t want us to serve Him because we feel we HAVE to...He longs for us to WANT to!
This church in Ephesus didn’t get off track doctrinally, but devotionally. They were as straight as an arrow, but they were missing the bullseye.
What is first love?
It is honeymoon love!
Remember that…you were walking her to the car, about to open the door for her…she stumbled, and you say, “O my shmoopie-woopie, you almost fell down!” Now what do we do? We laugh at her: “Way to go Grace!”
Walk thru mall holding hands / ten strides ahead: “hurry up.”
Patiently wait for her to do her hair / sit out front and honk!
We need to hold on to that honeymoon love!
Joke—old guy, white headed said, “There may be snow on the roof but there’s still fire in the furnace!” Keep that love alive!
Remember that feeling when you first got saved?! You couldn’t wait to get to church, to read your Bible, to tell that friend about Christ! An excitement was in the air … yes, maybe we still do those things, but is it out of duty, rather than devotion?
How can I tell if I’m in danger of losing that honeymoon love w/ Jesus?
Ask yourself these questions: (take an intimacy inventory)
1. Do my mind and mouth switch to auto-pilot during the song service?
I don’t care how many times you’ve sung Amazing Grace, if it doesn’t tug on your heart strings, you may be in danger of losing your first love. I like watching people during the service, and I love to see the reality in someone’s eyes who is obviously thinking about what they’re singing.
2. Is my last answered prayer just a dim memory?
3. Do I feel guilty when I hear someone talk about what they got from their private devotional time w/ God?
4. Do I read my Bible because I’m supposed to, and not because I want to? Or do I not read it like I used to?
5. Do I find myself critiquing and criticizing the service, rather than growing from it?
6. During handshake time, do I wish everyone would just leave me alone?
7. Do those smiling and happy Christians get on my nerves?
8. Am I continually looking for ways of becoming less committed, rather than more committed? (quitting areas of service)
9. Am I going backward in my Christian walk? [We strive to help people who have had to change churches. We want to be the place for them to heal. But sometimes we become the place for them to backslide.]
10. Do I give my word about commitments, but not keep my word about them?
If you can answer yes to one or more of those questions, you may be in danger of losing your first love.
What’s the cure?
Remember: I think you should keep your salvation testimony fresh. When was it? Where was I? Who was there? What led to it? What did I pray? How did I feel?
For me, I go back to the corner of Plum and Locust streets in Jacksonville, IL where after a revival meeting in the park we returned home and I trusted Christ by my bedside in-between my mom and dad, at the age of 6. Mom wrote down in my Bible exactly what I prayed that night, and I still have that Bible!
Repent: Nothing will interfere w/ devotion and intimacy like sin. It becomes a wall that separates you from the Lord.
Remember when Jacob in the OT was called back to Bethel. He was called back to the place of intimacy w/ God, but before he took his family back, he preached to them, “get rid of your idols, your strange gods” (the family had gotten involved in idolatry) He took those gods of stone and wood and buried them under an old oak tree. What will you need to bury before returning home?
Return: “do the first works”
I believe that is a reference to the devotional time we spend w/ God. More important than what we do is what we are…that is 1st in God’s mind. God is more concerned w/ what you do with Him than what you do for Him.
G. Campbell Morgan told the story of a man who had a beautiful daughter…they were best friends / favorite thing was an evening walk / one night she said, I can’t go / he was hurt a bit / next night, can’t go / went on for several days, he was broken hearted / finally, his birthday arrived / she said, this is why I haven’t been able to walk w/ you, I’ve been making these, and showed him a beautiful pair of hand-made slippers / with a tear in his eye, he said, I like them, I really do, but next time, buy them, for I’d rather spend time with you, than receive something from you.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to serve the Lord, I’m a strong advocate that you don’t rust out, you burn out for Him! But remember the first priority…the first works…it’s all rooted and grounded in our daily walk w/ Him!
Have you left your first love?
Attend church out of duty or devotion / read Bible / pray
Have you left your first love?
Take a few moments of silence to remember when you were born again…raise your hand if it was in the morning / midday / evening / middle of night
Is there anything in your life keeping you from going back to Bethel? What do you need to bury at this altar?
Who would say, I do much for Christ, but not much with Christ!
Some of you, when I asked you to think of the time you were saved, went blank…and it startled you, didn’t it…?
Salvation Testimonies [share]
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