By Roy E. Ciampa, Ph.D., S. Louis and Ann W. Armstrong
Professor of Religion, Samford University
Characterized by Love
In chapters 2–3 of Revelation, Jesus dictates letters to seven churches in the province of Asia. Jesus addresses each church and highlights its particular strengths and weaknesses.
Each church is more than simply the sum of the strengths and weaknesses of the individual believers within it. Each church has things it values more or less than others and things for which it is particularly known. Jesus addresses both the church as a whole and individual members within it as He calls us to return to our first love.
Be known for your good works. (1–3)
Knowing that Christ is in our midst should give us courage and comfort, and it should also serve as a challenge for us to honor Him with every day we are given. Christ knows the challenges we are facing and how we continue to persevere and represent Him in our lives.
The Ephesians had hung in there and had continued to follow Christ and do good works in His name despite significant opposition. Their faith was reflected in their service for Christ and others.
In holding to their faith and the works inspired by their faith, they guarded themselves against wicked people and false teachers. Christ will commend every church known for these things.
Let your love for Christ fuel your good works. (4–6)
While the Ephesians had not fallen away due to persecution but had held fast to the faith, they failed the higher and expected standard of maintaining the vital love for the Lord that had fueled their daily lives in the beginning. And their work for the Lord had diminished over time.
Verses 4–5 suggest that our love will manifest itself in good works and service. That they had abandoned their first love could be seen in the fact that they were no longer serving Him as they had at first. Our love for the Lord is not to be reflected merely in emotional enthusiasm but in the way our commitment to Him is clearly reflected in our daily choices and priorities, including working to make His name known and loved in our communities.
As we recover from the pandemic, many of our churches recognize that lockdowns, social distancing and a proper concern to avoid infecting each other has led in many cases to a reduction in much of our outreach and our personal contact with our neighbors.
Some of us may have seemed to have abandoned our first love as we have also withdrawn from various kinds of worship and service that had marked our lives previously.
Now is a time when we need to work together so we all get back on track in sharing the love and truth of Christ with those around us in authentic and creative ways. Our work for Christ is to be a reflection of our love for Christ and fueled by that love, even as it also provides opportunities not only to express our love but also to grow in our love for Christ.
Our obedience to the Lord should never waiver based on our emotional state or any perception that God has grown distant from us. The Lord is with us, as He walks in our midst (v. 1), whether we feel Him or are emotionally attuned to His presence or not. We need to be reminded of that, as Christ reminded the churches, and let our love for our ever-present Lord be the fuel for everything we do in His service.
Remember you will one day dwell with Christ forever. (7)
To “conquer” or “overcome” is to hold fast to our faith in and testimony for Christ even if it should cost us everything we have, including our very lives.
We can offer our entire lives to the Lord, whatever that might cost, knowing that in doing so we are entrusting them to the One with whom we will spend eternity in perfect fellowship in paradise.