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August 13th, 2020
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gary damronMY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron

 

In the early years of ministry, when meeting with young couples preparing to marry, I would ask them to write a letter emphasizing things they loved about their soon-to-be spouse. Near their first anniversary, I would put the letters in the mail. But I remember one couple calling after a few months and saying, “Would you send those letters now? We need to see what our letters said.” 

Though the Book of Revelation contains imagery and prophecy, the early chapters include letters of advice for seven churches. They were short observations, dictated by the resurrected Jesus to John the aged apostle. Each church was given some straightforward information on where they were; positive affirmation if possible; and a “how-to” that focused generally on one change that was needed. 

At the time of the writing, John was the last-remaining of the twelve apostles. Paul had been martyred, and opposition from government and religious leaders, as well as co-workers and merchants, had increased for early Christians. The reason Jesus appeared to John was to let his followers know, “I’m here, and I care.” Individuals and churches today can hold fast to the same promises as well as heed the instruction. 

The church at Ephesus had a firm foundation, as witnessed by Paul’s letter to them, and a touching reference in Acts 20:17-38 to a visit he’d made. A cosmopolitan city, Ephesus was a port on the Aegean Sea in what is now Turkey. It contained one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the temple of Diana. Among its many businesses, some merchants were busy manufacturing and selling silver statues of the goddess. There was a renowned library there; people of the church of Ephesus would have been learned in the Scriptures and aware of Greek philosophy and Roman customs. 

In Revelation 2:2-3, Jesus first listed their good traits which could be summarized by “S’s”. They knew how to serve and sacrifice; they were steadfast and when needed could be strict, possessing high moral standards. They were scholarly, and Jesus knew they had suffered much for going against ungodly merchants, yet persevered. He praised them for opposing the Nicolaitans, whose deeds he said he also hated (Revelation 2:6). They avoided immorality, as they continued doing good works. 

“‘Nevertheless’”, Jesus said, and confronted them about leaving their first love (Revelation 2:4). Forty years earlier, the church was founded with a burning devotion to Christ. Later they had grown exhausted from serving, and were just going through the motions. Being industrious and productive can lead to resentment if a server fails to feel appreciated. They were missing the importance – the priority of putting the One they loved first; the intensity – passion for that person; and the intimacy or proximity of their early love. 

So, here’s a phrase I co-opted for such a scenario: “the cure for the common cold”. Paraphrasing Revelation 2:5, we should attempt to recover the warmth of our first love. Some “R’s” will help if we remember how things used to be; repent of wrong thinking; reevaluate - change our mind and approach; and redo some of the loving things we did in the early days. Like the couple requesting their letters, love can be rekindled; some find that renewing vows is valuable. 

Jesus did not die in order for the Ephesians, or for us, to lead busy lives. He came that we “‘may have life, and have it abundantly’” (John 10:10). Finding our first love, the One who loves us unreservedly, gives meaning to everything we do. We in our nation are sleeping one and a half hours less per night than Americans did 100 years ago. As we juggle work, family, church, “leisure” activities, any one may become an obsession, and the Main Thing can begin to feel like an intrusion. 

This week, we can ask ourselves, “What will be the LOVE of my life?” Then we can take heart in Paul’s earlier words to this same church. “I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). The reason Jesus came to John on the island of Patmos is that he holds the seven stars in his right hand. With the church at Ephesus and all believers since, he walks among us, lighting the way and warming our love. 

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