God’s ways never cease to amaze me. On Sunday mornings I’m currently preaching through 1 John. On Wednesday nights, I’m teaching through Acts…..and right now we are dealing with the same basic issue in both studies. Obedience and love. I never could have planned it that way…..but God worked it that way. Its just a reminder of how awesome He really is….and a reminder that I have far less control over my sermons than I think. God really is in control.
When I wrote the last blog on “Zeal and Love” I planned on tying in the 1 John passage with our Wednesday night passage. I got side-tracked and realized I had said enough when I began to ponder the perfect obedience and love which was demonstrated by Christ upon the cross. Now I’m ready to move on with the thought of Obedience and Love…..and in Acts 20 we see a perfect example of a group of people BIG on obedience….the Ephesian church.
Paul had warned the Elders that savage wolves would attack the church, bringing with them “twisted teachings” to destroy the sheep. He exhorted the Shepherds to be on guard against them and protect the sheep from these inevitable attacks. So, did the Ephesian church heed his counsel, or not? Ordinarily, we may not have known…BUT it just so happens that the church of Ephesus was one of the churches addressed by Jesus (through John) in the book of Revelation. Jesus began by praising the Ephesian church for what they did right. You wanna guess what that was? They confronted false teachers. In all honesty, its seems quite a testimony to the church when you consider Paul exhorted these Elders in the mid-50’s A.D. and when Revelation was written in the 90’s A.D.---they still had a reputation for testing teachers and rejecting false doctrine. Probably some of the ones who Paul led to Christ in the 50’s were still in the church in the 90’s…..and they remained faithful and zealous. Jesus said to them, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.” (Rev 2:2-3 NASB)
They sound great don’t they? They worked hard. They were known for their “deeds” as all Christians should be. They didn’t tolerate evil. They persevered. It all sounds wonderful….until you read the next thing Jesus said. “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Rev 2:4 NASB) Jesus didn’t really elaborate. Because He didn’t really have to. His words should have cut them like a knife…..and they should have known immediately what He meant. In all their zeal to protect the sheep…..they forgot to remain passionate about the Shepherd. And zeal….without love…is worthless. Jesus continues, “Remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” (Rev 2:5 NASB) Jesus simply reminds them of their past love for him. Maybe if they stopped long enough to think about it….they could remember how steeped they once were in sin. And how Paul had led them to the Lord and discipled them and modeled Christ-like love and commitment for them. (Acts 19) Paul also exhorted them to be zealous against wolves. AND PAUL WAS ABSOUTELY RIGHT IN DOING IT. And they obeyed. But over the years something happened…..they drifted from their “First Love.” The obedience was there…..but it was a mechanical and legalistic brand of obedience. They defended Jesus’ Name (v. 3)…but they forgot Jesus’ Love.
Ironically, Jesus ends by once again commending them. “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:6-7 NASB) And therein lies the greatest irony…..The Holy Spirit (through Paul) pleaded with the Ephesian Elders to confront wolves. Do you know who the Nicolaitans were? THEY WERE WOLVES! They were the very ones who came in after Paul’s departure and wreaked havoc upon the church. They twisted doctrine, and encouraged the people to engage in gross immorality. The Nicolaitans claimed that Christians could live however they wanted, since they were under grace…..and Jesus praises the Ephesians for “hating their deeds”…..but in their zeal for obedience….they forgot to love.
Isn’t it strange how the Ephesian Church shows us both extremes? The Church was SO zealous in their obedience that they failed to love. The Nicolaitans were so “free-spirited” that they failed to obey. Of course the Nicolaitans were lost and depraved. The Ephesians were mis-guided believers. They were so close to being what God called them to be. In a sense they did the hard part….they obeyed. But, as Paul said, “Without love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:3)
I mentioned in the last blog that Jesus is the perfect example of Obedience and Love. But Paul also gives us a good example….especially in the area of confronting wolves in love. And really this is where the Ephesians needed the lesson. They were good at confronting wolves….but they forgot their first love. Not so with Paul. Make no mistake…he confronted wolves. Hymenaus and Alexander he “handed over to Satan.” (1 Tim. 1:20) Also he told the Corinthians to confront the unrepentant adulterer in their church by, “delivering him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” (1 Cor. 5:5) Alright, Paul had the zeal down….but what about love? Was Paul showing love? Absolutely….its clear when you see why Paul did these things. He handed Hymenaus and Alexander over to Satan “so they would be taught not to blaspheme.” In Corinth he delivered the adulterer to Satan, “so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Paul’s motive in fighting wolves was not only to protect the church…but also to see the wolves saved….and the only way for a wolf to become a sheep without destroying the other sheep is for him to be “handed over to Satan” and be so tormented that he repents. Paul was zealous. Paul obeyed. And Paul loved. He loved the church. He loved the lost. And most importantly…he loved the Lord Jesus. That was ALWAYS His “First Love.” Just as it should have been for the Ephesians….and it should be for you.
Perfect obedience is rooted in perfect love. If the love for Christ is missing, then the obedience will be hollow, mechanical service. But, if the love is there and the obedience is missing….then it will be a phony and worldly lifestyle. Both obedience and love are required. You need to commit to having both. Obedience and Love. Zeal and Grace. Either extreme is harmful. Perfect obedience is edifying. The Ephesians were on the right track….but they lost their first love. We must stay on the right track to….and guard the church against false doctrine….and live lives of purity…and encourage others to do the same….but we must do it out of love. Love for them. Love for each other. And most importantly…Love for our “First Love” Jesus. Whom we love…….because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)