Monday, May 14, 2012

The Church's First Love

This is a repost.

Revelation 2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2. 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3. and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. 4. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent."

There are many who are concerned about, even bemoaning, the condition of the church in America today, indeed, many would call it the plight of the church in America today. There are those calling for renewal , revival, and repentance. Steve Lawson's sermon "Famine in the Land" from Amos 8:11 ( accurately and vividly portrays what many believe is the true state of the affairs in the church in our land today. The question is how did we arrive at this place, and, then, how do we return? I personally believe the answer is quite simple, and is plainly revealed in the verses in Revelation quoted above. The church in America has left its first love, and needs to return to the pinnacle from where it has fallen.

Who is the church's first love? Why, it is none other than Christ, Himself. In studying church history it appears that leaving its first love is a problem that has plagued the church, in every country, in every age, and is a root of many of the problems in each church era. For some reason Christ falls out of favor, and is not esteemed as highly as he should be. Much like a marriage relationship where the spouse becomes taken for granted, and almost becomes a second thought to all the activities in which the family is involved, with there being more of a fidelity to the relationship than to the person. This is the problem Jesus addresses to the Ephesians. They were doing many things right, but their attention, their admiration, their adoration was no longer fixed upon Christ. This is very much like the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 in which Martha was distracted with all her preparations, all the things she deemed necessary, while Mary had chosen the good part, Jesus Himself, to occupy her attention.

In II Corinthians 11:3 Paul gives the following admonishment to which we would do well to pay attention, "But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ." I believe the church in America has become distracted with many things and its attention, admiration, and adoration are no longer fixed upon its groom, its head, its first love, Christ Jesus. Its concern is no longer Christ, but social activism (both at home and abroad), political activism, denominational issues, the surrounding culture, relevancy, life change, family issues, and, yes, even itself and its own ambitions. All of these things are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but they are less than the best, which is Christ Himself. They are where we have fallen, and the church has been deceived into putting its attention and devotion upon these instead of Christ.

The moment we take our attention off of Christ and put it on anything else, yes, even Christian activity, we have left Christ and have fallen to a lesser state. Christ is the author and perfecter of our faith, He is the center and focus of our faith, He is the One upon whom our faith rests, He is the One who is the hope of our glory, He is the One into whose image we are being conformed, He is the One whom we will be like when He comes again, and He is the One against whom we will be ultimately measured. The strategy that Satan uses against the church is to divert its attention away from Christ and direct it to churchy/religious activity, like the things I have mentioned above. Anything, as worthy as it may seem, as necessary as it may sound, that takes our attention and devotion away from Christ hinders our faith, weakens our faith, stagnates our faith, dilutes our witness, strips us of spiritual power, deceives us into thinking we are bearing fruit for Christ while, in actuality, we are not; and brings upon us the rebuke of Christ and the removal of our lampstand. When the church's lampstand is removed it means that it no longer has the life of Christ within it and, therefore, has ceased to be His light to the world (John 1:4). It then holds to a form of godliness with no attending power, and to put it in a trendy term, it is engaging in a dead orthopraxy. Jesus alluded to this in John 15:4-5 when He said, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing." You can not abide in Christ if he has ceased to be the object of your devotion.

This will be a bold, sharp statement, but one that needs to be thought through. What all false teaching ultimately does is take your attention and your devotion away from Christ and redirects it to something else; so any teaching, any leading in the church, as worthy as it may sound, and as necessary as it may seem, that leads your devotion away from Christ, is false teaching.

In the verses in Revelation above, Christ gives the one and only remedy for this situation we find ourselves in....repent. It is metanoeo in the Greek, and means to reconsider, to think differently, to have a complete about face in the mind so that you have a change in attitude and corresponding action. For us to have this repentance we must see and admit that we have left our first love and have fallen, and when we repent we will change our direction and return to Him from whom we have fallen. Repent church and return your attention, your admiration, and your adoration to Christ. Make Christ the centerpiece of your faith, make Him your end all and be all, make Him the sole object of your devotion, make Him the conerstone and focus of your preaching and teaching, exalt Him above all else, love Him and Him alone with all your heart, mind, and strength; and He will return His lampstand to its place in your midst and accomplish all His good pleasure through you.

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