Last week I received the request from our denomination to submit our annual report. Each year we voluntarily submit all kinds of data, including attendance, membership changes, contributions, missions support and more. Its not complicated to complete the one page form, and we always submit it before deadline. Most denominations have similar practices of reporting, so this is not uncommon.
But can churches really be evaluated on the basis of attendance, buildings, and cash? Even more important, is that how Jesus evaluates his church? The seven churches of Revelation give us an opportunity to think about how Christ evaluates his church. Each letter reveals (at least) one major component of church health that is important to him. For the church at Ephesus, that would be the quality of love.
“Write this letter to the angela of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lamp stands: I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God (Revelation 2:1-7, NLT).
The first observation about Jesus’ words is that he sees what we do. From his vantage point he saw their diligent ministry, their discerning spirits and their patient endurance in the face of persecution and obstacles. These actions were commendable, both then and now. But he went on to make one more observation: the Ephesians did not love him or each other as they did at first! Christ not only sees what we do, he sees who we are! The Ephesians had totally abandoned their first love. They were going through the motions of ministry and mission without the right motivation.
As I read these words I immediately thought of 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul challenged the Corinthians along similar lines. He told them that without love their eloquent speech sounded like clanging symbols and that the faith that could move mountains would yield nothing. If all would be sacrificed or given away to the poor, without love it would not be worth anything.
What are some indicators that we may have left Christ as our first love?
* Without love, ministry becomes duty and is performed by obligation.
* Without love, the words of Christ and Scripture become as noise.
* Without love, prayer becomes the recitation of a laundry list of wants.
* Without love, holiness is reduced to legalism where relationships are replaced by rules.
* Without love, fellowship becomes friendship.
* Without love, discipleship becomes information gathering.
* Without love, worship becomes performance.
* Without love, giving becomes measured.
* Without love, our witness becomes tentative.
* Without love, our desire is the glory of self instead of the glory of God.
So how can we return? Tomorrow I’ll unpack Christ’s counsel to the church. His counsel is still valid today!