Revelation 2: 1-5 – To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from it’s place, unless you repent. All week we've been talking about what it means to be a “city on a hill.” A community of “lampstands” shining light into a dark world. Our “identity” as light is defined by our contrast to the darkness. Our “mission” is to shine…thereby removing “darkness” (sin) and replacing it with light.
I have always felt that this meant that I was to live a life that was righteous and clean. That if I “kept the commandments,” if I followed this long list of what not to do…then I would stand out. Retrospectively, I can look with disappointment at my inability to execute this plan. I’ve found that I’ve become incredibly adept at pointing out flaws in those around me and yet hopelessly unable to inspire change….both in the lives of others and in my own as well. Oh, how my “knowledge exceeds my obedience.”
Then comes the second part of the passage….in spite of “toiling” and “enduring” the church is chastised for “abandoning the love (they) had at first” (v. 4). The writer goes as far as to threaten the removal of the lampstand unless the church repents. It’s as though pursuing the mission (righteousness, purity, etc.) is only noble if covered in love. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s most beautiful passage on love. It begins by listing several traits of a Godly person (gifts of knowledge, faith, understanding, prophecy, etc.) Then Paul says that all of these things, without love, are nothing but a “noisy gong.” Without love, our goodness is nothing but an annoyance.
So how then do we stand out? How do we shine?
There’s a song that I remember singing in church when I was little. “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I think that Jars of Clay has redone this song recently…but the message is so simple and so wise. There are many things that make a Christian “different”…but love is the most obvious of them all. Love shines brightest.
I find it interesting that the Bible lists love first when describing the “fruit of the Spirit.” In fact, the first 3 “fruits” are all internal. (love, joy, peace…) I think for that reason Delton said that “shining is not optional.” As God transforms us (Phil 1:6), we become helpless to do anything but shine. That feels freeing to me.
Obviously there is more to the story…patience, kindness, goodness…they matter, too. But it’s comforting to know, that our Savior, started this whole process off by loving us first. (1 John 4:19). It’s as if He knew that ultimately, this mission would shine the sin out of our lives. We would become more holy and pure. Our behaviors would change and we would be different.
But He also knew that the path to God’s glory starts with loving people. It is through loving people that the mission is accomplished. And thus was the commandment to the Church at Ephesus…remember to love.
Mission first, people always.