We continue our study of the book of Revelation, this time, by looking into Paul’s message to the Ephesians. The Christians in Ephesus have lost their first love, affecting their ability to live in the truth and love of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Being a faithful witness is equal parts love and truth. We overcome challenge and temptation by focusing more on others than ourselves. The lessons given to the church in Ephesus are equally important for us today as the modern Body of Christ.
The lost first love could be passion for other people
Now, there’s another way that people think about this losing your first love: You’ve lost your passion for other people. And that’s okay too because if we seek to please God first, if that’s our main agape, what is it the main thing that God wants us to do? Love other people.
I want to show you something that I think you’ll find very interesting, and that is to flip through the letter to the Ephesians. Let’s just look at it briefly. Look at Ephesians 1:15. Therefore I also—this is Paul writing to the church of Ephesus—after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you—
Now, this letter in Revelation was written in something like 90-100 AD, and this letter to the Ephesians was written decades before. So perhaps there was a time when these guys were really known for loving one another, and by the time of John and the Revelation, it’s gone cold.
Look at Ephesians 3:17. That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints—that’s the love of God, which then goes to 4:2. With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.
4:15. But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—and effectively working every part of the body which is the growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
And then in 5:1. Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love—love your wife, love your children.
So Ephesians is an exhortation. You’re loving; keep on loving. And perhaps the reason he wrote this letter is because they’re a good example of love and he understands how hard it is to keep doing that. Perhaps it’s the Holy Spirit saying you’re under temptation to let this go cold.
By the time we get to Revelation, it’s gone cold, and they’re into self justification. Which is what the first church era did, 33-100.
Focus on truth and love
How does that apply to us? As Bible Church people, we are focused on truth, are we not? Anything wrong with that? You see any compromise in this about truth? But, here’s the deal: If we’re just right, if that’s all we do is focus on being right, we’re not the witness that God wants.
What does he want us to do? He wants us to be right and to focus on pleasing him, not justifying ourselves before other people. It’s a real challenge.
I think we’ve made some great progress in our church. But do you know what happens if we start resting? We just fall back. If we want to be like a church that’s shining a light into the world and is being a testimony to the world, we not only need to stand for what’s true, rooting out falsehood, standing against authorities that are perverse or wrong, we also need to focus on pleasing Christ first and acting on behalf of other people as our first love.
Revelations 2:7. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Only through the power of the Spirit can we even understand this or do it. And then he says to us To him who overcomes—
In this case, what are we overcoming? I would say we’re overcoming self. We’re overcoming the typical nature we have in us, our own flesh, to be right. And we’re saying, I’m going to lay down my rightness without sacrificing rightness, and focus on serving others in love rather than justifying myself as just opposed to them.
That may mean that you speak the truth to them, and they stab you in the back for it. That absolutely may mean that. Often it’s easier to just accommodate people than to speak to them. Or it may mean you decide now is not the time, and wait until another time. How do you decide that? You decide that by following the Spirit. Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes—
So now here’s how to have victory. Here’s how to win at life. Anybody interested in winning at life?
The Tree of Life
2:7. —I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.
When I get to this point, me, for my ears, and I say, yes! I want to win! What do I win? What is on my raffle ticket? What is behind the door? I get door number three. Door number three opens up and there’s a tree there. And I say, mmm, couldn’t I have had something else? That just doesn’t sound that great.
So, let’s just unpack what this might be. It needs to be something that would motivate me to overcome self and love to fit into this letter. Fair enough?
I’m going to suggest something that it could be, and I’m going to look at Proverbs 3:13.
Happy is the man who finds wisdom,
And the man who gains understanding;
It sort of fits, right? Because, Revelation, I want you to hear and understand.
For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver,
And her gain than fine gold.
We’re actually going to see this same idea in the letter to the Laodiceans.
She—wisdom—is more precious than rubies,
And all the things you may desire cannot compare with her.
Length of days is in her right hand,
In her left hand riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
And all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her,
And happy are all who retain her.
She is a tree of life. I wisdom is a tree of life, maybe we have a link.
If we go back to the Garden of Eden, there was a tree of life in the Garden of Eden. In fact, Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden because of that Tree of Life. God said, “now that they are dead, if they eat of the Tree of Life, they’ll live forever.”
What do you call someone who’s dead but lives forever? A zombie. Zombies were in the very first part of Genesis. You thought they were new!
So God says, I’m not going to let these people become zombies so I’m going to exile them from the Garden. Because the Tree of Life was a means of immortality, an expanded life, the thing everybody’s always looking for—like the Spanish explorers came over looking for the fountain that would give them immortality. It’s kind of a long-time dream of people.
Of course, you know Indiana Jones was looking for the holy grail, the cup that would give eternal life. That’s what everybody looks for.
This is it. This is how you get it. You get it through wisdom because wisdom gives you the kind of life you’re looking for. It’s not being dead forever that you’re looking for. It’s having phenomenal quality of life where death can’t touch you.
And if you live a life of wisdom, then all the death in the world has no power. It has no influence over you.
You know, there’s all kinds of death in the world. There’s death of relationships. How do you kill a relationship? What’s the easiest way to kill a relationship? Make life about me. That’s one thing I can do to kill a relationship. Why? Because if Herman is trying to make life about him, and we’re trying to have a relationship, that blocks me being able to make life about me. I call it the two-ticks-and-no-dog relationship. Get that image in your mind really solidly.
So, you can kill a relationship just by sucking out of it, and it will die. You can kill a relationship with deceitfulness. You can kill a relationship with treason. Or stealing. There’s all kinds of ways you can kill a relationship.
All that has to do with lack of wisdom, and it brings death into your life, into your existence.
If we take this Revelation path, and we take not only truth, but also love in serving other people, what is that going to bring to a relationship?
Let’s just go back to Ephesians again and just take a look at what Jesus says about love and marriage.
Ephesians 5:22. Now you’ve heard this many times at probably every wedding you’ve been to. But if we look at it in the context of Revelation chapter 2, maybe it will give you a little different flavor and a different color.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
Here is the wife doing something outside of herself for the benefit of her husband. And it brings life to the marriage, and it brings wisdom.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.
So here is the husband laying down life for the benefit of the wife. What does that look like?
That he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.
What do men not like to do with women? Use words and talk. It’s fun to talk with men because you use mostly grunting noises and sarcasm and accusations and ribbing. That’s fun. But, talking about feelings and relationships—kind of painful for men with women. And for women it’s a source of life.
So here’s a man saying I will engage with my wife using words. What is my purpose for using words? So she’ll get off my back? Is that my purpose? No!
Cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He—Jesus—might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies—and we all know what men think about their own bodies—for he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh.
So by using words, investing in wife, the husband is saying I want you to be everything you can be. I want to raise you up to your maximum potential, and I’m willing to invest in you using words to do that.
Wife is saying, I want to elevate you to the maximum potential you can be. I want to lift you up. I want to show you how much respect I can give you.
Now what’s going to happen to that relationship? When you’ve got a wife respecting an unrespectable husband, and you’ve got a husband listening to an unlistenable-to wife? You’re going to have oneness, that’s what’s going to happen. A tree of life is going to bloom up, and wisdom is going to happen. You’re going to see truth and love taking place right before your eyes.
So, I think what Jesus is telling us here is there’s something about life, something about intimacy with our husband—because we’re all wives in this relationship—if we will elevate him to the top respect. And in this case, he actually deserves it.
These women are being asked to elevate someone who doesn’t deserve it to a position of respect. That takes immense faith. But do it for Jesus!
So when we—collectively, as wives—say, I’m going to put you first, I’m going to agape you, I’m going to stand for what’s true, but I’m going to agape you; Jesus is saying, do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to bring you into my sphere, and we’re going to have oneness, life like you’ve never known it.
Knowing God by faith
What does that mean about people who are not overcomers? It means it’s an opportunity that’s missed and gone. This life is the only time in our experience we get to know God by faith.
I do not think anybody will miss out on knowing God by sight. I think everybody will have that. We have this illusion that that will be better. But the angels are craning their necks, looking down, trying to understand God through watching us. The principalities and powers are learning about the manifold wisdom of God from us. And they’ve been in the presence of God for eons of time.
There’s something about knowing God by faith that they can’t get their arms around because they can’t experience it. We won’t be able to either. Faith, hope, and love are the three great things, and only love remains. You cannot hope for what you have, and you cannot believe in what you see. Knowing God by faith is going to substantially enhance our experience in the new earth.
What God is telling us here is look, I know it’s a lot easier to self-justify. I know it’s the natural progression to do. But if you don’t put in the work of loving to go along with being right, I just can’t use you as my witness, and you’re not winning at life. Winning at marriage requires laying down so you can lift up. Winning at relationships requires laying down so you can lift up. And if we do, we’re winning. That’s how you win. Listen, hear, do, be my witnesses. It’s a very simple formula.