Does Jesus Criticize Good Churches?
Can a church look good on the outside, and yet really lose their love for Christ? How can you tell? I never want that church to be mine, or that person to be me!
I know that Jesus was impressed the ministries of the bustling church at Ephesus, but He knew they had lost their first love.
Here are some thoughts from Scripture, especially the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation, that will help you discern Jesus’ words for your church.
Do you ever wonder why Hindu women wear red dots on their foreheads? This is an ancient, sacred tradition—symbolic of a husband’s love and commitment to his wife. The intended cuts his finger, takes his own blood and places it on her forehead as sign of his willingness to sacrifice pain and suffering for her protection. (Today they wear stickers and even little children have them).
Hindus often have arranged marriages. Sometimes the young couple doesn’t meet their new spouse until the day of the wedding. It works well. One wife said, “We spend all our growing up years training to love and serve the one we will marry.”
“Some marry the one they love. We love the one we marry.”
My daughter Bronwyn’s teacher from India knows that. She has been happily married for 35 years. By the way, the divorce rate in India is miniscule compared to the U.S.
It is sad to fall out of love. It can happen to you. It can happen to me. It can happen to a church. In the opening pages of Revelation, Jesus ministered to a church that fell out of love with Him and with one another.
By the way, can you imagine that the God who created the universe would be grieved if we turn away from Him?
READ JOHN 21:15-17:
The key to understanding this passage lies in the Greek words, agape and phileo. Agape is divine love. This Greek word describes the kind of love which loves the unlovable and never stops loving. Philos is human love like that between friends or husband and wife. Throughout the passage Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with divine agape love. Having recently denied Jesus, Peter replies that he has feelings of philos love.
The third time Jesus asked Peter he said: “What I really want to know is do you even philos me?”
Peter is brokenhearted but it’s obvious that philos was the best he could do.
The point is that God is interested in how we love Him.
The creator God wants to have a loving relationship with Him.
READ JOHN 21:18-22: By the way, Peter wore the red dot—He was sacrificed upside down. John lived to see the Revelation.
Chapters 2-3 consist of 7 letters written to seven churches in the Roman province of Asia.
Remember that there were no Bibles in those days. Letters were written on scrolls The letter of Revelation was passed from one church to the other along one of the circular mail routes of Turkey.
It makes no difference that these letters were written in the first century. They sounds as if they are written in the 21st century – because these seven performance reviews contain relevant, timely, penetrating, piercing words for any church in existence.
These seven actual churches represent EVERY type of church—and they represent every type of church member. In our own church we can find some Ephesians, some Laodiceans, some Ephesians, some Philadelphians and so on.
Jesus is giving each church a performance review.
Jesus uses the same pattern in all seven letters:
- He shares a Characteristic of the Christ (Read Revelation 2:1) In each evaluation Jesus describes Himself with the descriptions in the vision John saw in chapter one.
- He Commends them for strengths (Read Revelation 2:2-3,6)
- He Criticizes their weaknesses (Read Revelation 2:4)
- He offers Correction for their problems (Read Revelation 2:5)
- He Counsels consequences for the disobedient and rewards for the obedient (Read Revelation 2:7)
Two of the seven churches need no warning. All is in order.
Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-10) suffered intense persecution. Persecution produces pureness.
Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7) – Totally involved in winning souls to Jesus.
The church that is persecuted by the world and the church that’s confronting the world with the gospel are the two churches that need no warning.
- Characteristic of the Christ (Revelation 2:1)
Revelation 2:1: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
This letter was addressed to church at Ephesus.
I have travelled there. Ephesus has been wonderfully unearthed. I saw the roads the roads the Apostle walked.
St. John’s Basilica dates to 350 A.D. John pastored there.
This is not bathroom humor, but check out the ancient bathhouses on the main street.
Paul also sat here! He preached here in 40-seat auditorium. He was stoned here.
Ephesus was the most prominent city in Roman Asia. It was a great port with a trade route to east, a wealthy city.
The church at Ephesus had a beginning like no other church. Paul came in and flipped Ephesus on its ear to start that church. (Acts 18-19 –tells the story of how the church was founded).
Ephesus housed the Temple of Diana. Idol sales fell off so much that a riot began. In the midst of all that chaos, a small group of Christians huddled there. That little church was pure and solid.
Paul pastored Ephesus for over three years. When Paul left, they had another good pastor – Timothy. Then Aquila and Priscilla led, and then Apollos–followed by John in his aging years before John was exiled to Patmos.
That was the ranking staff of the New Testament! The best that God had to offer He gave to Ephesus.
Revelation 2:1: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:
Jesus was“…Walking amongst the churches”
He knows all about His churches and spiritual children: their struggles, battles, sufferings, relationships, sins and deeds. Even the hairs on our heads!
Each church has a lamp stand with an oil lamp and Jesus is tending to each lampstand in turn.
Christ is going to give a performance review of each church.
- Commendation for their strengths (Revelation 2:2-3,6)
Read Revelation 2:2a: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.
He names three strengths of the church.
“Your hard work”
“Hard Work” = “kapas”, “sweat” – really worked hard and labored for Jesus.
They visited the sick, mended clothes, committees, activities, the chariot parking lot ministry and their shut-in ministry.
See verse 3. Revelation 2:3: You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
It was terribly unpopular to live in area of Artemis worship. She was the many-breasted goddess of Asia. If you did not worship her, you were a marked individual, snubbed in public and maligned in private. Your business would be boycotted. You’d be marked as one who wasn’t a worshipper of Diana. You’d be like the Jewish merchant in Berlin in the 1930’s – not an easy place to be.
Jesus said, “I know you hold up under the load!”
Read Revelation 2:2b: I know that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
“They were doctrinally discerning.”
They stood for the essentials of the faith: the authenticity of the Scripture – its verbal and plenary inspiration. They believed in the Trinity and Deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They stood for the Virgin Birth, and Christ’s sinless life and bodily and visible resurrection and the Second Coming. They preached faith plus nothing equals salvation!
They didn’t grow weary in keeping out the false teachers.
Today it seems that the more intellectual a person becomes, the more heretical in his thinking, the more we seem to elevate him/her as a person of advanced thought and scholarship.
The men like that appeared in Ephesus. Christians were called liars.
Revelation 2:6: But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
They hated the Nicolaitans. I will talk more about the Nicolaitans with the Pergamum church.
These heretics seduced people into doctrinal and moral impurity.
Jesus commended the Ephesian Christians: “You hate that, and I also hate that.”
This helps clarify who Jesus is. He is not some sort of spineless, wimp. Christ is only about “Love, love, love.” There are things that are false that Jesus hates. He commends them.
This is one dynamic church! They had something for everyone. Their programs abounded, People were flourishing in ministry. The place was hopping!
If you attended this church you would immediately sense that you are in a special place of God’s chosen followers. “The few, the proud, the Ephesians!”
What could possibly be wrong with a church like this?
Revelation 2:4: Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
III. Criticism of their weaknesses (Revelation 2:4)
Revelation 2:4: This is a performance review by a Boss. He goes on and on and on about great qualities. However, there’s a “but” in here someplace. But what? Jesus said, “You left your first love.”
Jesus’ criticism is too important to leave in English. Let’s go to the language in which it was written.
The Ephesians did have a first love for Jesus—and for each other.
Ephesians 1:15-16: For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Notice the end of Ephesians:
Ephesians 6:24: Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
It was pure, incorruptible.
It took 35 years—35 years from time Paul wrote this in 61 A.D.
The word “left” refers to a slow process – erosion. You don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I don’t love Jesus anymore. I’m not going to follow Him anymore.”
No, it occurs over a long period, after hardship, suffering, questions that can’t get answered, trials that don’t seem to have reason, loss of health, loss of hope, loss of a loved one.
Little by little, the love of the Ephesian Christians had cooled off.
There was a lady in my congregation who had been married 27 years. Her husband came in, looking tired. He confessed, “I need to tell you something, I just don’t have the love for you when we first married. I’m not walking out, I’ll be a good Dad, still get a paycheck, sleep here, go on vacations together, go to church and watch TV and watch the kids grow up, but I’ve got to tell you, I just don’t love you anymore.”
Is that okay? No! Nothing is right! Is it? It’s just a series of activities to deaden the pain of an empty life, if he doesn’t love you anymore.
These Ephesians had broken the Lord’s heart!
They don’t talk with Him like they used to talk. They are not intimate with Him like they used to be intimate. God says, “I know you’re busy and I know you’re putting up with a lot, and I know it’s a difficult time, but I miss you.”
It is fair to say that there are many of you who are passionately in love with Jesus Christ.
It is also fair to say that there are some of you who have fallen out of love with Jesus.
What does He tell the Ephesian Christians to do?
- Correction for their problems (Revelation 2:5A)
Revelation 2:5a: Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
Christ’s command to this loveless congregation was a three-pronged remedy:
Remember – Repent – Return to the things you did at first.
Jesus said, “Let’s fix this.” He’s no longer criticizing.
Remember – the Prodigal Son in the pigsty remembered his daddy – and went home.
Peter denied Jesus three times, the cock crowed – “and Peter remembered and wept.”
Remember where you started.
Repent – Remember is imperative, we must keep on remembering. But this is aorist. At a point in time take responsibility. The Lord hasn’t moved, we moved.
Repeat – Go back to the beginning and repeat – your life, your habits.
Strong words of counsel come at the end: Or else! I’ll remove your lampstand.
- Counsel of consequences for the disobedient and rewards for the obedient (Revelation 2:5B, 7)
Revelation 2:5b: If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
You stay like you are and the light will go out. I know many churches where the light has gone out. I know Christians where the light has seemed to go out.
Do you want to hear something sad? Ephesus didn’t repent and it doesn’t even exist today.
Jesus came and wrote “Ichabod” –the glory has departed—over it.
You know any churches to which Jesus has done that? I do. Churches are there, people are meeting, but the world doesn’t know that they’re there.
They have no power with God, with man, with the community, because they left their first love and Christ took away their lampstand.
This penetrates my heart. If Satan can do it there, Satan can do it here.
Here’s a great truth: “It’s never too late to start doing what is right.”
Revelation 2:7: He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
What is the “Tree of Life?” It’s an apocalyptic scene of intimacy with God. He’ll give us the kind of fellowship that Adam and Eve knew.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME?
- We Must Keep The Message Of Christ Doctrinally Correct And Pure In Both Our Thoughts And Actions.
We are in a struggle today for the purity of the Christian faith.
Some say, “I’ve studied all religions so I know where I stand.” No. Study the truth and you’ll recognize error.
- If What We Believe And How We Behave Does Not Lead Us To A Deeper Love For God And For Others Then There Is Something Wrong With What We Believe And How We Behave.
- The Bible Gives A Checklist For Ensuring that Our First Love Is Still Passionate.
- When my delight in the Lord is greater than my delight in someone or something else, I love my first love (Mark 12:30).
- When my fellowship and intimacy with God in His Word and in prayer is passionate, I love my first love (Psalm 42:1; 10:4).
- When I treat people as I would treat the Lord Himself, I love my first love (Matthew 25:40; 1 John 4:20).
- When I am burdened, upset and convicted about the sinful conditions around me, I love my first love (Matthew 24:12).
- When my Christian life centers more on what God and others are receiving from me, instead of centering on what I can get out of God and others, I love my first love (John 21:15-17).
- If Your First Love Is Wavering: Remember, Repent, And Repeat.
Presbyterian pastor Clarence McCartney loved to tell stories of people in the Scottish highlands. A shepherd raised his little daughter, who meant the world to him. He took her with him over the moors to tend the sheep. She loved to hear him call the sheep with the shepherd’s call.
She grew up, went off to Edinburgh to take a job. At first, she wrote him letters every week. Then, she wrote less and less. Finally, she ceased writing altogether.
There were rumors in the village that the shepherd’s daughter had been seen with immoral company and in questionable places.
One day, a lad from the village saw her in the city and spoke to her, but she pretended she didn’t know him.
When the shepherd heard this, he gathered some clothes and, clad in his shepherd’s smock, staff in hand, he set out for the city to find his lost daughter. Day after day he sought her on the avenues and in the slums, all in vain.
Then he remembered how his daughter loved to hear him give the shepherd’s call. He sounded the call. People turned to look at the old shepherd going up and down the streets sounding the shepherd’s call.
At long last, in a house in a dirty, degraded street, his daughter, surrounded by her loose-living companions, suddenly looked up in astonishment. There was no doubt about it. It was her father’s call, calling her.
She rushed to the door, flew into father’s arms and he loved her back to decency and to God.
Hear the Shepherd’s call and come home!