First Things First

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Our love for Christ must always come before our work for Christ. Don’t be deluded by our own importance or our great service to God.

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Keeping our priorities straight

It is good to know that the Lord walks among the churches.
• The last verse of chapter 1 tells us the lamp-stands represent the churches.
• He is present with us today. No matter how imperfect we are, He is here.
• He has a word for every church, each according to their needs.
We will look at them one at a time over the next 7 weeks.
The first comment was to the church in Ephesus.

Our love for Christ must ALWAYS come before our work for Christ

The thrust of the message is this – our love for Christ (worship of Christ) must always come before our work for Christ.
• Why is this so? Because we can work without a love for Christ – like the Pharisees.
• You can be working for self-glory, for your own pride, to feed your own ego.
• But when you have a love for Him, you’d naturally want to serve.
The Ephesians were doing something that many of us would not consider a problem.
• They were working hard for God – their hard work, perseverance, and their intolerance for wicked men – all deserved mention.
• But that became a problem for the church.
Being too engrossed your service for God can become a problem.
• When serving God becomes all that defines our relationship with Him.
• Performance becomes the sole yardstick. We measure our spirituality by how hard we serve, how much we put in.
• We become the elder son in the house (the one in the story of the prodigal son).
• “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” ()
The church in Ephesus fell into this trap – this performance trap.
• They were a popular church; a lot to boast about.
• Paul had founded the church here, served it as pastor for almost three years (probably the longest ministry among the cities Paul visited). He wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians while he was there. He left Timothy there as the Bishop.
• John spent the last years of his life there as well, writing his Gospel and three epistles there.
• And tradition tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus is buried there.
When John writes Revelation, not only had the believers been under excellent leadership, they were the second generation of believers.
• They were seasoned believers and knew what church is all about.
• They really know how to DO CHURCH. They have become ‘professional’ in what they are doing.
They were doing many things right.
• In fact, we have the impression they were doing MANY THINGS.
• They were hard working, they were passionate, and they were doctrinally sound.
• Soon they place their work for Christ before their worship of Christ.
• When faith is institutionalised, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ times, you end up praising God with your lips while your heart is far from Him!
The Ephesian believers had not only become professional and perfunctory (mechanical), they had become deluded by the importance of service.
• They placed service above their love for Jesus Christ.
• Don’t we sometimes feel that way? Our service for God becomes the focus of our relationship with God, as if He is only concerned about what we DO for Him and not who we ARE to Him?
• It is amazing to know that the Father loves the younger son who squandered all his wealth, AND the older son who has been faithfully working in the field.
It takes Jesus to tell them that. They need to look again at the Christ whom they loved, not to focus on the work that they can do for Him.
• Don’t be deluded by our own importance. It is a privilege to serve. It is by His grace we are able to. It must always be motivated by love.
• Don’t serve to show off. Don’t compare with others. Don’t be proud if you’re doing a better job than others. Don’t serve to please your peers. Don’t serve to impress. These are the common mistakes we make.

Does the Lord know all that you are doing for Him?

• Yes! He says here: “I know your deeds.” And tell them what exactly they did.
• Do you think the Lord knows the work you did behind the scenes – in the kitchen, for the fellowship, for the community luncheon, for the Sunday School – where no one thanks you and encourages you because no one even notices what you do?
“I know your deeds” was Jesus’ encouragement. He notices, and affirms it.
Why doesn’t He make a bigger deal about it? Because the rewards you REALLY want will be given there, not here. The rewards we attain here have but fleeting significance to us here.
• Jesus then highlights something that was not pleasing to Him – “You have forsaken your first love.”
• In other words, they no longer love Him like they used to. The honeymoon period is over.
• They may not have stopped loving Him, but that deep, passionate feel for Him has gone. They are still busy for Him, but they are no longer in love with Him!
You would think that this couldn’t be true, but it happens all too often. We can be busy working for Him and yet not love Him passionately.
• When you’re in love, nothing you do for your loved one is a burden. When you lost that love, a simple task can be a chore.
• You did not quit, you are still busy doing your job, but the love isn’t there anymore.
• If the things we do for Him today have become more of a chore, a burden, a frustrating routine, it could be because we have fallen away from a love relationship.

Jesus did not just tell them the problem. He gave them the remedy.

• 2:5 “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
Have you ever been ‘in love’ with Jesus? I’m sure you have.
• Those times you were touched by His love? When you were grateful, when you were passionate about Him?
• Jesus says “remember those times” - that’s where you need to start. It always starts with the mind.
• Recalling the sweet memories of the past will rekindle your love for a person. Remembering the things someone has done for you rekindle our appreciation for that person. Sadly we often do that only at funerals when people give eulogies.
• It is when we sit down and thinks about God’s goodness, when we count His blessings, and recalling our past experiences with Him, that we are most drawn to Him.
REMEMBER is such an important thing.
• Israelites were told again and again, those days when God led you out of Egypt.
• We are told to remember those days when God’s love and presence is so closely felt.
• When He provided for our needs miraculously, when He touched you and healed you from a sickness, when He opened the way for you and you found a new job, a new hope...
• We remember anniversaries for this purpose – to relive those sweet memories of our relationship with the people who matters in our lives.
• “Remember the height from which you have fallen!”
Remember those times, and repent – a change of mind.
• This is the natural outcome of remembering.
• You realised that you have moved away from where you ought to be. Or rather, your heart has moved away.
• Repent is to stop where you are and turn around.
• Don’t go on with the same routine; don’t carry on with the busy serving. Or with all the burdens and the stress.
• Stop and get back to Jesus.
Then 2:5 says “Repent and do the things you did at first.” – a change of lifestyle.
• Return to the things you did at first.
• Remember the time you were excited about worship? Wanting to read the Bible, and make markings? Longing to get together in fellowship? Whatever.
• Get back to doing those things. It can be different for each of us, but you need to get back to DOING what you did at first.
Or maybe we have allowed something to creep into our life that wasn’t there at the beginning – a sin, a habit, a relationship, an attitude. You did not have it at first.
• Now, you have to fight it the way you fight against it at first.
• We repent and ask God for strength to ‘remove’ it from us.
There is a principle here we need to remember:
• Our love for Christ is more important to Him than all of our service to Him.
• Strict obedience and service alone are not enough. Love for Jesus must come first. The thing that sustains us is love.
• Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Matthew 22:37 ESV
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.


In the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”, a Russian peasant named Tevye asks his wife a simple question “Do you love me.”
Love him? Golde had never even met Tevye until the day of their arranged wedding. Now, after 25 years of marriage he wants to talk of love? It sounds so, so ... ridiculous, so foreign that she thinks he must have indigestion and should go and lie down for a while.
Tevye repeats the question however more earnestly this time.
Golde wonders at his thinking, and then explains how hard she has worked as his wife - cooking his meals, washing his clothes, having his children.
Still, it doesn’t satisfy Tevye and he asks again.
This time, Golde falls back on the obvious: “I’m your wife!”
Even so, Tevye persists – “Do you love me?”
After some reflection, she answers that she does indeed love him, realizing that her life hasn’t been just meaningless busy work. She has worked so hard because of her love for Tevye.
“Do you love me?” Christ was asking.
“Yes, we’ve rooted out all those who teach heresy - of course we love you!”
“True. But do you love me?”
“We have been fearlessly proclaiming your word in spite of persecution.”
“I know, I know. That’s good. But do you love me?”
The work doesn’t define it. The position or status you hold doesn’t define it.
• The Lord needs to ask you today, “Do you love me?”
Our worship of Christ must always come before our work for Christ.
• No wonder Paul writes in
1 Corinthians 13 ESV
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
APPLICATION – Bow our heads, take a few moments…
1. Think of those times that you were excited about Christ, passionate.
2. What were some things you were doing then? (Everyone is different.)
3. Are there certain things that you can do again today, that you’ve already stopped doing? You no longer feel the same today?
4. Pray and ask Him for strength to draw us back to Himself.
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