Robert Wurtz II
And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:12-14)
I’m reminded how as a child my mother would blow on the hot food of small children to prevent it from burning their mouths. Jesus prophesies that iniquity is like the blowing of a poisonous wind — having a chilling effect upon peoples’ love. This is a staggering thought. As our love chills, we become less and less like our loving God. The same goes for individual churches.
The Example of Ephesus
Some have suggested that the reason the church at Ephesus had left its first love was because of their constant dealings with sin, false apostles and doctrines. Sin and false doctrine in a church can cause anger and strife. Nevertheless, their condition gave rise to the warning in Revelation 2:5 that they must “repent and do the first works or else Christ would remove their lamp stand.” Ephesus would not be the first to get fed up with sinners and behave unlovingly. The prophet Jonah was an example of a man that seemed to hate the people he was preaching to. In fairness to Jonah, the Assyrians were a very evil and merciless people. They killed people for the fun of it and could sleep like a baby at night. Their capitol was Nineveh.
I can see how the sin of Nineveh “cooled” Jonah’s love and compassion for the people. However, he got a bad spirit as he apparently took their sins personally. I think also of the Prodigal Son’s brother, that never left home. He had allowed his brothers sin to “cool” his love and compassion for him. What a horrendous thought! The brother even lost his natural — familial love for his own sibling. The Lord said of the Ephesian condition, I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars. (Revelation 2:2) There is a thin line between hating iniquity as Jesus did and allowing iniquity to cause you to hate the person. Once we cross that line we are of no use to God — as individuals and churches.
Jesus said that many will “cross that line” (as it were) in the last days. It only stands to reason that in our times we are at great risk of leaving our first love, both as Saints and churches. Iniquity abounds in our times. False prophets abound. How are we reacting to this? When our spiritual energy is blighted and chilled by a malicious (mean) and poisonous wind, what will we do? Will we return to the Lord for a fresh filling of His Holy Spirit that we might endure the contradiction of sinners against us; or will we faint in our minds? (Hebrews 12:3) Will we adopt an attitude of returning evil for evil and railing for railing; or will we be spiritual enough to love the unloveable? This is the great question of our times.
No matter how deep those that crucified our Lord probed into His flesh with spikes and spears, they still hit love. He was love to the very core of His being. In fact, Jesus could look at a sinner caught up in iniquity and still have compassion for them, love them, and die for them. He loved those who made themselves His enemies. These were not fictitious people in hypothetical circumstances; these were real people brandishing real weapons of hate.
We need to ask ourselves, do we take a sinner’s sin personally? And if we do, why? God is the primary offended party in all sin, and He has chosen to forgive — if the person is willing to acknowledge and repent. What about us? Do we forgive and forget or do we forget that we have been forgiven? Sin hardens the sinner; seeing sin can harden a saint. We must guard our hearts and go on loving in the grace and power of God.
Lamp stand in Jeopardy
I will come to you and remove your lamp stand from its place, unless you repent. (Revalation 2:5)
This was not an idle threat. Jesus said, “I will remove your lamp stand if you do not repent” of having departed from the love you had at first for both God and man. If you do not turn back and do what you did in the beginning, when you could still remember how bad a sinner you were and how God forgave you; and be thankful enough to want to extend love and mercy to others, I will remove your lamp stand. Why? We have a clue in Song of Solomon 8:7a, Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. (NIV) Love is depicted in scripture as a fire. Therefore, what good is a lamp stand with no fire (love)? A lamp stand with no flame is nothing more than a stumbling block in the darkness. And a Christian or a church without love is just one more thing to stumble over in this darkened world. People’s faith is stumbled in an atmosphere of non-love. This is why our Lord simply could not and cannot condone, with His presence, the spiritual condition that the church at Ephesus had fallen into. Jesus is effectively saying, if you can’t love the people I have commanded you to love — I am out of here.
How did they get here?
Life without the lamp stand
Only God knows how many churches have lost their lamp stand over the last 2000 years. What happens? All that is left to do is bring in programs and religious exercises to prop up a dead carcass. Where there is no love there is no fire and where there is no fire there is no light. People begin living in spiritual darkness.
Nevertheless, the masses are good at “having church.” Some are even pious and holiness driven; but Christ is not in the midst in the book of Revelation sense. What happens? The people simply turn up the music and create a soulish atmosphere to fool the unsuspecting and corrupt the spiritual concepts of the young and ignorant. The consequence of a dead church is that they end up treating people exactly like the world treats them. They offend people by treating them in unChristlike ways at critical times and scar them to the true knowledge of Christ.
Far too often the love that professed Christians have is no more than the world has; if they like you they will love you; but if they don’t like you (don’t like your looks) or if you cross them then you are shunned or put out. This is not how Christ loves. He loves all. This is what we must do. We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves and that is a tall order. Understand that we know how to love real good, so long as it is someone we like. What good is that love among people in desperate need of love and compassion? A lamp stand with no Fire is but a stumbling block in this darkened world.
Repent and do the First Works
The good news is that it does not have to be this way. For some, they will grow cold; but it does not have to be so among you and I. We can get alone with God and get in our Bibles with a willingness to return to our first love and to the prescribed measures that God put in place and has not changed. We need to return to preaching genuine repentance and faith. We need to preach water baptism and Spirit baptism. If we do what the church at Ephesus started out doing we will be met with the same success. When Ephesus got away from book of Acts — New Covenant living — it was all down hill from there.
Historians tell us that Ephesus existed for a few centuries after the writing of the Revelation as an indicator that they did repent and return to Christ. Today it is a heap of ruins. There came a point when the conditions were such that Christ removed the lamp stand and Ephesus was no more. Like Nineveh of old that repented for a while but then many years later was destroyed by God anyway, the reprieve will last as long as the repentance lasts. Christ does not give us instruction for a temporary change of behavior and practice; but rather, that we would walk it out for the rest of our days. The key to a lasting, vibrant Christian life and spiritual church is to repent and do the first works and keep on walking in that way. We have to remember where we came from or we will not rightly love. If we refuse Him that speaks we will find ourselves upon the ash heap of history as bywords and solemn examples of those that failed to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.