Saturday, February 12, 2011

Revelation Chapter Two, Part 2 of 9

2:2-4 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.

The Ephesians had stumbled into the error of legalism. Listen to their list of sound works. They work and labor, they are patient, they are intolerant of evil, they try false apostles; they have persevered and patiently labored in Jesus’ name. What happened? They became so rigid with the law of God that they left the God of the law. Paul wrote that a man might have mighty spiritual gifts, a generous disposition and a martyr’s spirit; but should he lack love he profits nothing and in fact is nothing, 1st Corinthians 13:2-3.

We find similar language to this in Galatians 5. Paul is admonishing these believers for adhering to Jewish legality when Christ had set them free from such a yoke of bondage. He concludes that these believers had become estranged from their Lord; a term used primarily for husbands and wives who have separated, according to Oxford’s 4th Edition. They aren’t divorced; they are merely living apart from one another. So it was here with the Galatians. In their zeal to do good works and be found righteous they had estranged themselves from the only One whose righteousness counted! “Fallen away,” in Galatians 5:4 is the Greek term “ekpipto” which means “to fail or run aground.” The relationship with Christ is shipwrecked; the Ephesians in our passage were so busy doing things for Jesus that they were neglecting a genuine walk or relationship with Him. The Galatians wanted to be justified by the law: that is they wished to be found acceptable to God by the righteousness the law produces. The Ephesians in this passage wanted to be sanctified by works; that is, made clean and worthy of being used by God due to their own efforts.

Is there danger in this? Very much so. Look first to John’s gospel. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned,” John 15:4-6. A believer either abides in Christ and bears fruit, or does not and his branch withers. He cannot bear fruit glorifying to God without abiding in Christ; it is vital to abide in Christ, and to abide in Him we must know Him above all things. You can’t please someone you don’t know, and as you know them more intimately, serving them becomes easier because you know their mind more clearly. It should be an organic, inner process as the Holy Spirit teaches you daily about the Lord whom you serve, and what this Lord has called you to do; where His will is. Nevertheless, one is not lost for failing to abide in Christ. Look at verse 6 of John. The singular pronoun of “he” denotes the branch that withers. The plural pronoun of “them and they” refer to works done outside of Christ. These are burned, while the man himself is withered. See also 1 Corinthians 3:11-15; Hebrews 6:4-9.

The second danger is much worse. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity,” Matthew 7:20-23. Jesus warns that only those who do the will of His Father will enter the kingdom. Then He goes on to tell of those who have been doing many wonderful works IN JESUS’ NAME who are cast into outer darkness. Why? The will of the Father is that men should believe on Jesus Christ. By faith we receive eternal life in Christ’s name, and I believe part of this faith is resting in Christ’s promise that those who are born again are truly and eternally His children. The people on this passage of Matthew were so busied with their works that they did not stop to learn the Lord’s will; they did not bother to enter into a personal relationship with the Savior. John wrote: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life,” 1st John 5:13.

The snare of legalism (working to earn or retain salvation or sanctification by the flesh) is deadly. It will produce either barren or useless Christians who cannot be used of God, and do not benefit the edification and growth of the body; or it will generate tares: false believers who think by their diligent obedience, church-attendance, sacraments, Bible knowledge, etc, they are acceptable to God. Paul uses the Greek term in Galatians 5:4 for suffering shipwreck; in the next verse in Revelation (verse 5) Jesus uses the self-same term to describe the legalistic Ephesians. Be wary, brethren, that your good works are always done in Christ and their outcome manifests the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23: “love (the greatest of these), joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.”

2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works
Take note of the train of thought our Lord has here. He first calls on the Ephesians to remember from where they have fallen. This is positional recollection. Allow me to extrapolate. Jesus was calling on the Ephesian church as a whole to remember their position in Christ, that we are saved and sanctified by grace alone in Christ alone divorced of all our fleshly efforts. The Galatians suffered the same shipwreck; having received the Spirit by faith they sought to be perfected (sanctified) in the flesh by obeying Old Testament law, Galatians 3:1-9. The entire church was called to account on behalf of those who had forgotten this: “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it,” 1st Corinthians 12:26. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:2.

This is seen in Old Testament times as well, when Israel suffered corporately for the sins of a few. What one member of the body does within that body affects the entire body, regardless of what we may believe. Look to the book of Joshua. “Achan…of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel,” Joshua 7:1. What happened? “Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff. Therefore the children of Israel could not stand against their enemies, but turned their backs before their enemies, because they have become doomed to destruction. Neither will I be with you anymore, unless you destroy the accursed from among you,” Joshua 7:11-12.

Achan sinned, and this sin which was not repented of affected all Israel so that God’s presence with them, giving them victory and success over their enemies, was withdrawn. This is the candlestick referred to in the passage we are studying; the manifestation of the Holy Spirit working through His believing children to sanctify them, and to convict the world of their need of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that Christian conduct, when we are out of fellowship with the Lord, can grieve the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 4:30; in fact we are warned that opposing the Holy Spirit’s activity can quench the Holy Spirit, 1st Thessalonians 5:19. Again, this quenching or grieving does not imply loss of salvation, but removal from fellowship and walking in the Spirit, as it was in Joshua’s day. Joshua, and indeed all Israel, were about to suffer God’s wrath because one man in Israel sinned willfully and did not repent. Surely God did not mean Joshua and all Israel had forfeit their salvation due to Achan’s sinful choice; rather, Achan’s sinful choice brought a measure of God’s wrath amidst His own people, because God is jealous for His name and will not suffer His children to walk unworthy of it.

In Joshua’s day the law reigned; therefore when Achan was found out at last, he was stoned with his entire household for what he had done, for the law is without mercy. In the age of grace, Christ warned His church that they had forgotten their position in Christ, that by faith we stand; and it is in this faith that we conquer, 1st John 5:4. This church was about to lose their corporate witness by having the Holy Spirit withdraw from them, leaving them without any spiritual power. In such a barren state Jesus our Lord left them with a remedy: repent, and do the first works. To repent is to change one’s life, habits and behaviors to conform to God’s will for our life. They were to repent, and having repented return to doing the first works. These stemmed from their first love, Jesus Christ, Revelation 2:4. We must abide in Christ if we are to produce spiritual fruit; this is the mark of a true disciple, John 15:1-8. If we forsake our first love our works produce thorns and thistles, symbols of this cursed world doomed to destruction. When this world and our sinful flesh is at last destroyed, so too will be our works, for they were done in the flesh and are not fit to survive Christ’s judgment seat, 1st Corinthians 3:11-15; Hebrews 6:1-9. Yet the believer himself, even in such a state as Achan found himself, will be saved, 1st Corinthians 3:15.

I am not here making a qualified statement that Achan was a saved man; that is between him and the Lord. I am stating that if he was truly saved, then nothing he could do would merit his loss of salvation; because nothing he could do can merit being saved to begin with. Salvation is by grace, and grace has nothing to do with merit, works, law, effort or human strength. Jesus would not even be addressing this church were it not so, for He does not reveal Himself to the world, nor does He discipline the unsaved. He was jealous to produce in the Ephesians the fruit acceptable to God that they first manifested because our Lord wants to bless us with His finest; He does not want us to settle for a life of struggle in the flesh as we try to produce spiritual works with fleshly strength. Jesus asked, “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” Matthew 7:16. Neither can a man be useful to God unless He abides in Christ and walks in the Spirit, understanding that our strength stems entirely from a right relationship with the Lord; not in our meticulous obedience to His commands. Nevertheless, having a right relationship should spawn obedience, because out of love service should come naturally. Otherwise we have “fallen” as these Ephesians did; that is, suffered a shipwreck of our faith because we have left our first love and are trying to please God by obeying Him, rather than pleasing God by knowing Him, and allowing Him through us to produce what, to Him, comes naturally. Out of us, these clay vessels, this fruit bearing is entirely supernatural, and therefore God receives the glory and we find our place in God’s will: namely like Joshua and Israel, submitting to the will of God and allowing Him to do His pleasure in our lives, whatever that pleasure may be.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Ian.

    Your description of the pot, is kind of like a pot with a tomato plant in it, The tomatoes are the fruit of the plant, not of the pot. Spiritual fruit is the result of him in our lives, not what we did.

    ReplyDelete

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