“Almighty God, who in thy providence hast made all ages a preparation for the kingdom of thy Son: We beseech thee to make ready our hearts for the brightness of thy glory and the fulness of thy blessing in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (Methodist Book of Worship, 1965)
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
“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.
The Great Tradition
“You have sinned, yet you still can be reconciled. You have someone to whom you can make satisfaction, yes, and one who wills it. If you doubt that this is true, consider what the Spirit says to the churches. He charges the Ephesians with “having abandoned charity.” He reproaches the Thyatirenes with fornication and “eating food sacrificed to idols.” He accuses the Sardians of “works that are not complete.”8 He censures the people of Pergamos for teaching false doctrines. He upbraids the Laodiceans for “placing their trust in riches.”10 And yet he warns them all to repent—even adding threats. But he would not threaten the impenitent if he failed to pardon the penitent.” (Tertullian)
Prayer of Confession
“It shames us to admit to you, compassionate God, our many sins and shortcomings that prevent us from living in covenant with you. We are truly sorry for these, and ask for your mercy, your forgiveness, your grace, and your Spirit to cleanse and purify us. Make us ready for the new life that results whenever you come. In the spirit of advent and the name of the coming Christ we pray. Amen.” Paul Laughlin
I like the words from Tertullian in today’s reading from The Great Tradition. He writes, “But [Jesus] would not threaten the impenitent if he failed to pardon the penitent.” In other words, our Lord Jesus would not call his bride, the church, to repent if he did not love her and desire to forgive her. In our day, we do not tend to receive a call to repentance as an act of love, but of judgment. Yet Christians understand (or, ought to understand) that it is because we are loved that we are called to repent, to turn away from the wrong path and return to the right one. Such was the case with the church at Ephesus.
Jesus began by telling the Ephesians that he had seen their good works and knew they had persevered when it wasn’t easy to do so. They did not put up with wickedness and, furthermore, weeded out false teachers who were leading people astray. He said, “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary” (vv. 2-4). Can you even dream of being commended for your faithfulness by our Lord? I cannot imagine being able to stand under the weight of awe I would feel hearing such words. Thoughts and feelings of unworthiness would flood my soul. Yet here is our Lord doing just that, extolling the Ephesians for their good works. But he wasn’t done addressing them.
He next revealed that they should not be resting on their laurels, for he was not pleased with a great shortcoming of theirs. He said in verses 4-5, “You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen!” Going through the motions of mere religion is not the same thing as enjoying the union of a deep relationship with Christ and bearing its fruit. Orthodox belief and pharisaical obedience are not the same thing as loving God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. But please don’t misunderstand - believing right things about Jesus is crucial and obedience to him is absolutely vital. But the former ought to lead to greater and deeper love for Christ while the latter should be the result of that loving relationship. The Ephesians, it appears, had drifted from the foundational love for Christ they once had. Furthermore, it was negatively impacting the way they were treating one another. To this, Jesus commanded, “Repent!”
Do you have ears to hear when Jesus addresses you like that? Being able to receive such a rebuke from Jesus is painful. When his Holy Spirit brings conviction for sin in my life, I feel like curling up in a corner, the grief is so strong. Yet it’s a life-giving word and we are all the better for hearing it and responding as the Spirit of the risen Lord commands. To those who are obedient to the words of Jesus, he proclaims, “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” (v. 7). It is Jesus who saves us through his death and resurrection. Moreover, there is no repentance possible if his Spirit is not animating our thoughts, words, and deeds. And still, the fruit of saving faith is manifested in and through the good works for which we were graciously and lovingly created (Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, such works are expected by his covenant children, the church.
- How do you think you would react if Jesus commended you for your faithfulness? What emotions would you experience?
- How do you usually respond to Christ’s call in your life to repent of your sinful thoughts, words, deeds, desires, and attitudes? Is there a pattern of stages you go through? Explain.
- How can you continue to grow in your love for Christ so that it doesn’t become stale and stagnant? Share your thoughts with a friend and pray for one another.