The Essence of Church

By Pastor Chung JaeDo

Revelations 2:1-7

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand  and walks among the seven golden lampstands.. 2 I know your deeds,  your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.  3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name,   and have not grown weary.

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.   Consider how far you have fallen! Repent  and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand  from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans,   which I also hate.

Whoever has ears, let them hear  what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life,  which is in the paradise  of God.



May 25, 1980, 32 years ago, Vancouver Korean Presbyterian Church was founded.  May the grace and blessing of the Lord be with everyone of this church.


The modern man pays ever greater attention to one’s health than ever before.  Indeed, it is important that we must take good care of the body that the Lord has given us.  Then again, as a member of a social organization in this ever-specializing and ever-mechanized world, we show great interest in the health of one’s character. 

Therefore, maintaining our mental health is also very important.  But I will raise a question: are we paying as much attention to our spiritual health as our physical and mental health?  

For a man’s body, which cannot even survive through a century, we put so much value on to it. Why shouldn’t we place a greater value on an everlasting soul?  The most important kind of health, more than physical and mental health, is spiritual health.  

Therefore, as we celebrate our 32nd anniversary, the examination of our church’s spiritual health is very important.  The irony is, even though a spiritual health-check is very important for our church, we have been neglecting it.  Just because we come to church and give a worship service, we may think that we are spiritually healthy, but that can be a delusion.  Just because you have been attending a church for a few decades, it does not necessarily make you a spiritually healthy person.  

Thus I want to compare and do a health check of our church by comparing one of the seven churches in the Book of Revelations: Ephesians’ Church.


The seven churches of Revelations are churches that actually existed.  Also, the events that are described in the Book of Revelations is also historical fact.  Furthermore, these churches describe the conditions of this era’s churches, too.  In other words, today’s churches have identical good and bad points to those 7 churches in Revelations.  

By examining the Words given to the 7 churches, we can find different aspects of the Lord in relation to the state that each church was in.  To the dark church, the Lord showed Himself as light.  To the ailing church, HE presented Himself as a doctor.  We can also see the Lord giving praise and rebuke, encouragement and warning, as well as words of promise.

Today, we are going to concentrate on the praise and rebuke  that were given to the Ephesians church.

Ephesus was a port city located in west Turkey.  In the first century, Ephesus was the most developed city in Asia Minor.  It was the center of trade routes by sea and land.  Therefore, the city was a great metropolitan bustling with business.  On that basis, the city was very lenient on sins against the Lord God.

Furthermore, the city was the epitome of idol-worshiping. The city had a great temple of Artemis. and it was under the direct control of Rome.  Thus, worshiping Caesar was part of the required social structure.  In other words, the city represents all the worldly metropolitan cities of today. 

The Ephesians Church was founded by Apostle Paul, when he stayed for 3 years to witness the gospel on his 3rd mission trip.  The Church was a great church where Timothy and Apostle John served as succeeding pastors.  

The Ephesians church described in today’s scripture refers to when it was 40 years old since its foundation.  The Lord appeared to them with 7 stars in HIS hands.  The seven stars represent the seven emissaries of the churches.  What does that mean?  HE is saying, “You men, to your eyes, the church may seem in great turmoil and it may look hopeless, but do not worry.  No matter what, I am the master of this church.  Do not neglect your relationship to the church.”  The Lord appeared before the church to be a comforter and encourager. 

Then the Lord praised 6 good deeds of the church and rebuked one deed.  During this hour, we will examine the praises of the Ephesians church and see if the Vancouver Korean Presbyterian church can be a church that receives the same praise.  Furthermore, we will examine ourselves to see if each one of us can be saints who are worthy to receive the same praise.


1.  The first praise started out in verse 2, “I know your deeds…” in today’s scripture there are numerous times the Lord has said, “I know your deeds.”   The Lord we know is not like other idols carved out of stone. HE lives among us and HE knows and sees everything we do.  Since Jesus knows everything, there are two benefits for us.

The first benefit is that it makes us live a better-restrained life.  When the Lord is watching over our shoulders, how can we sin?  Those who do not know that the Lord is watching can call out the name of the Lord and yet continue to commit sins.

The second benefit is, since the Lord knows all about me, what a blessing it is to know that we are living with someone who knows all about us.  When we are in a difficult situation, we do not have to be in despair because the Lord knows our predicament and HE gives us comfort and encouragement.  Even if you are in falsely accused or you are in a regrettable situation, you can bear it all bravely, for the Lord knows the truth.  Even if the whole world may misunderstand you, you can find contentment in the Lord.  It is just like the verses of a gospel song, “Decided to Live in the Will of the Lord”. It proclaims 3 times, “Even if no-one in the world recognizes me, I will not return to the world.”  As long as the Lord is with us, we can live through all the agonies and difficulties while still singing songs of praise and gratitude.

The Christians of the Ephesians church had a life style that matched their faith.  What I mean is that their faith was reflected in their daily life.  Their daily life was identical to their professed faith.  Our faith must also be shown in our life and be proven daily with our deeds.  Furthermore, our character must be able to substantiate it all.

Of course, you are right in that our salvation is not gained through our deeds, but through our faith. Those who are saved must prove it with their life.  The grace of the Cross must be witnessed with our character.  The author of the Book of James sharply points out that, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

On this very hour, if the Lord comes to us and examines us, I am sure each one of us has many things to boast.  Some might claim that he has knowledge of the Bible, some may claim he knows of theology, some may claim he has an ordained position in the church, and others may claim they have had faith for a long time.  But if you did not live a life that is differentiated from a non-believer, you cannot expect any praise from the Lord.  The Lord’s words in today’s scripture to the Ephesians church is, “I know your deeds.” The Lord is commending the Ephesians church for their deeds of faith.

The Lord knows what to commend and what to rebuke.  HE knows whose deeds are good and whose deeds are wrong.  The Lord who knows the deeds of the Ephesians church also knows our situation and conditions.


2. Second, HE praises them by saying, “I know your deeds.”  The meaning of these words are that HE knows the effort they have put in to maintain faith and to keep the faith in their daily life.  The act of melding faith and daily life is not an easy task.  It takes great effort from the believer.  

The Bible describes living a life of faith as “a lamb living among wolves” and “living in a den of wailing evils.”  At the same time, the Bible tells us that living a life of faith is like “living like a light in darkness” and “salt among the rots.”  

All in all, the life of a believer comes with difficulties and persecution.  The Lord personally told us, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life….” (Matthews 7:14)  In other words, the path is not an easy path.

2,000 years of church history tells us that the spread of the gospel throughout the world is only possible because of the hard work and dedication of our previous believers.  Given that, how are you? How much effort have you given for the love of the Lord, to serve the Lord, and to the growth of the church?  Having faith in the Lord must be accompanied with your deeds and efforts.   The greatest problem of modern day Christians is that everyone wants to believe in Jesus without following it with action.  Brethren in faith, please do not try to conserve your energy and deeds. For the sake of the Lord and for your beloved church, we must act.  Then you all will be like the Ephesians church that was praised by the Lord.  Today, I want to praise your hard work.  

For the last 32 years, you have made some mistakes; there were times when you had your share of problems and heresy.  But you all showed your deeds, in silence, in stealth of light, and namelessly erected a righteous church.  As a result, the Vancouver Korean Presbyterian Church is standing firmly on the foundation of faith.  


3. Third, the Lord praised the perseverance of the Ephesians Church.  Their effort, hard work, and good deeds were not finished in a couple of days; it took a lifetime.  Thus it takes endurance.  When the church was in difficulty and persecution, they did not discard the church nor did they leave the church.  They patiently endured and persevered through it all.  Thus the Lord is praised their perseverance.  For such characteristics the Lord praised them.  You, too, have persevered well for your share of difficulties.

4. Fourth, the Lord praised them for they did not tolerate the wicked.  There are two sources of the wicked: one from outside, the other from within.  

The wicked from society include things like complacency, Epicureanism, materialism, scientism, hedonism, post modernism, including others that have infiltrated the church and blurred the line between the faithful and unfaithful. Such societal beliefs muddled the difference between believers and unbelievers.  That has weakened the line between good and evil.  Thus the church needed sharpness to not tolerate the wicked.  The Ephesians church had a very crisp line between good and evil.  They did not accept or tolerate unbiblical, unfaithful, non-gospel related, unorthodox, or heretical aspects of the church.  

Today’s scripture tells us that the Lord hated the practices of the Nicolaitans.  The Nicolaitans are believers of Gnosticism.  They believed that the sins of the body were not sins.  Such beliefs were accepted among a considerable number of believers.  But the Ephesians Church did not tolerate such beliefs.  When such beliefs are permitted, the truth and gospel become blurred.  When there is not a clearly-defined line, the identity of the church can be undistinguishable within the society at large.  Therefore, wicked teachings must be eliminated within a church.  I am sure that you, the Vancouver Korean Presbyterian church, have done that well.


5. Fifth, the Lord praised them for identifying false apostles as well as false teachings.  The wicked of the world negatively affect us, but it should not influence our souls.  The issue of truth affects our soul’s life or death.  Therefore the issues of truth must be ever-sharply differentiated.

When we take Paul as an example, he was willing to give in all matters like law, idol-worshipping, and issues of gentiles; but he did not budge an inch regarding the gospel.  He said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8).

Today’s world is different from any other time in history.  We must be ever-sharper than other times in history.  We must clearly define and identify what is truth and what is not biblical.  

We, who are on the path to heaven, must be able to read the map of truth and clearly follow the compass of the gospel.  If we misread them, we could fall into the valley of death without being aware of it.  


6. Sixth, the Lord hated the Nicolaitans.  As I have told you earlier, the Nicolaitans were a mistaken movement from within the church.  What does the Lord hate about them?  It is the rationalism, humanism, hedonism, and secularism.  When you also hate the ideas that the Lord hates, then you are guaranteed to receive praise from the Lord.  It is okay to be stubborn.  It is okay to looks as if you are an exclusivist.  It is okay that others may call you, “discriminating.”  It is the path that the Lord wants you to take. Thus you have no choice but to walk this path.  This is the only path you must walk in order to be praised by the Lord and it is the only path that will lead you to the Lord on the last day.


Now, we also have to look into the aspects where the Ephesians church was rebuked.  The Lord praised 6 things about them and rebuked them on one issue.  The single item has an extremely heavy toll on the church.  The content of rebuking is that they have forsaken the love they had at first.  The Lord told them, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place”. (verse 5)

1. The first thing we must contemplate when we read this verse is that no one in this world, whether it is an individual or a church, is perfect.  We all have aspects that are praise-worthy.  At the same time, we all have aspects that deserve to be rebuked.  That is how we are as believers and as a church.  Whether you are a lay-believer or an ordained pastor, we all have two aspects: the praise worthy and the rebukable.

Abraham or David, the heroes of our faith, both had admirable aspects as well as wrongs that alarmed us.  In other words, we repeat the cycle of falling, standing, falling, and standing as we live in this world.  Through such processes, we mature.  I am not saying that our wrongs and mistakes are acceptable. I am saying do not despair. Your mistakes will not lead to the annihilation of your soul.  


2. But an important fact is that when the Lord God gives you a chance to repent, you must not refuse that opportunity.  That refusal will lead you to eternal death.

Let us look at a man who is sick as an example.  Suppose a doctor prescribed him medicine that will cure him, but he chose not to take that medicine and dies.  This man didn’t die because of his ailment, he died because he did not take the medication.  A person who does not repent is like that man who is sick.  We all make mistakes as we live, but if we accept the opportunity when the Lord gives us the chance to repent, then we will live.  

The heroes of faith that the Bible mentions are not people who never do any wrong. They are the ones who do not hesitate to repent when they are rebuked. As a result, they were not discarded, but used as instruments of the Lord.  The Lord God praises and encourages us, and HE often rebukes us also.  The important point of that rebuking is not to destroy us, but to make us successful.  Therefore we must have our ears open not only for praises, but for rebukes.


3. What is the purpose of rebuking?  The purpose is for us to repent. Repenting and forgiving is one of the greatest truths of Christianity.

Then, how should we repent?  Verse 5 tells us, “Consider how far we have fallen!”  Repenting involves retrospection.  It involves thinking of how we were in the past and how we are at the present.  Then compare them and be remorseful.

“I was not like this in the past.  Why am I like this?”  “My life in faith was filled with inspiration, but now my life in faith is no longer filled with inspiration.  Why is that?”  “I used to live a life of devotion. Why am I not as devoted?”  Such thinking is the beginning point of repentance.  Then you’ll find the reasons for why you are not like that any longer.  “Aha, I have fallen in love with money.”  “Aha, I love worldly things too much.”  “I love my children and my spouse and I have placed them before the Lord.”   “I have fallen victim to enjoying life too much.”  “I have a hatred for so and so.”  Find the reasons behind your change.  Then all you have to do is change back to the way you used to be.

When the Prodigal son considered his situation in the pig pen, “Why am I living like this?” he found the reason.  It is because he left his father’s house.  Thus he was able to walk out of the pig pen and go back to his father. He became the son of his father again.  This is repentance.


4. Then what is repentance?  The Lord said, “Repent and do the things you did at first.” Which is the “forsaken love they had at first.”   For a Christian, losing love is a detrimental.  It is because love is the completion of the Law.  It is the first of all the commandments.

Socrates said that ignorance is the greatest fault of man.  The Greeks thought that arrogance was the greatest fault of man.  Fichte, a German philosopher, called laziness the greatest vice of man.  Dante, in his Inferno, called the greatest sin of man betrayal: the betrayal of love. The betrayal of the first love, indeed is the greatest sin.  The betrayal of love is not the subject matter of some other person or something written in a novel. It is your betrayal.  It is the betrayal of our first love.

In other words, love is the cause of our life in faith.  Love is the completion of our life in faith.  I am sure that you all are familiar and know the importance of 1 Corinthians chapter 13.  How important is love?  If your life in faith does not start out in love, that life of faith becomes meaningless.  The forsaken love of today’s scripture tells us about the love we have for the Lord.

If you do not have a heart that loves the Lord, all your life in faith will become meaningless.  The points of praise that the Lord had for the Ephesians church were not possible without love.  Our life in faith can be carried out habitually, responsibly, and dutifully.  But such a life in faith cannot be acknowledged by the Lord.  


There are a few reasons that a Christian may begin his life in faith for the wrong reasons.  

First, it is because he maintains his faith for his personal satisfaction.  Some people feel very anxious if they do not attend church on the Lord’s Days.  Thus they keep the Lord’s Day holy.  Some people feel that if they do not tithe, they are afraid something might happen to them.  Their life of faith is simply keeping the Lord’s Day holy and tithing. How precious their faith is!  Keeping the Lord’s Day and tithing diligently are honorable, but if there is no love in them they will get satisfaction without pleasing the Lord.

Brethren, what is love?  Love is the shifting of the center. 사랑이란 중심의 이동입니다 When love motionlessly centers on me, that is selfish love.  But if that person with a self-centered focus shifts his focus to please other, that is love.  When the object of love is shifted from me to another, that is love.  Love is the shifting of the center from me to others.  The focal point should stay on others, but when that focal point shifts back to me, that is an indication that I have forsaken my first love.  Thus verse 5 tells us, “Consider how far you have fallen!”  

When you do good deeds, you get praised.  You might even get a plaque or an award certificate.  But before you know it, you will find attraction in receiving recognitions and we will forsake our love.  When you do good deeds, the Lord blesses you.  But if you focus on receiving the blessings, you can easily forsake your love.  If you forsake love, what would be left of you?  Nothing would be left.  Thus the Lord tells us to “consider” at what point, at where, and when did things start to go wrong?

Love is shifting from me to another. 사랑은 내게서 다른 분에게 이동입니다

Second, if love becomes comfortable, my life in faith is likely to become an act of habit.  The life of faith becomes a series of automated actions.  A habitual and mechanical life of faith cannot give praise and worship to the Lord in a way that is inspired by the Lord’s love.

Third, there are some who live a life of faith out of responsibility.  Just because he/she is a deacon, an elder, an exalter, a teacher, or a member of the choir; he/she serves the Lord whole-heartedly.  How beautiful it is!  Such an act of carrying out his position responsibly is a praise-worthy posture in any employment position.  But the Lord always asks one additional question.  “Is your sense of loyalty and responsibility derived from our love?”   If there is no love in your deeds, your deed is just a ritual formality, persued out of contentment and a mere outer shell.

Furthermore, these deeds do not have fruits.  You will only feel your life in faith become more burdensome and difficult.  When there is no love in your faith, your outer shell may look good, but inside will be filled with resentment, fatigue, irritation, grudges, and emptiness within that shell.  Therefore, worship without love feels boring and tiring.  The sermons seem endless, the choirs’ praise seem drawn out.  When you do not have love, your service to others seems tedious and tiresome.  Thus you start to withdraw.  

Then how did the Ephesians Church lose their first love?  The church was pastored by Paul, Timothy, Apollo, and Apostle John, who had the most stringent training in the gospel and they had a truly gospel-filled church. How did they lose such a precious first love?   

It is because they became complacent and negligent about gathering together and examining the scriptures.  

40 years in faith took the Ephesians church’s first love and turned it into habitual routines.  The proud tradition left them with mere formalities and habitual routines that forsook their first love.  When a pride of history and tradition is placed ahead of a love for the Lord, such situations can happen.  

Not only that, the Ephesians church was the foundation for many missionary churches in Asia Minor.  Because they were the mother of many other churches, they had great fame.  In maintenance of that fame, they had heavy burdens and responsibility without inspiration or gratitude for the Lord’s love.  That is the reason behind how the Ephesians church was left with a shell of formality and tradition that forsake their first love.


My beloved brethren, I hope and pray that the faults pointed out in the Ephesians church is not the condition that we are in.  There are a few among us who have just started a life in faith, as well as many who have lived a life in faith for their entire lifetime.  But as you were told, the length of experience is not always important.  If we do not arm ourselves spiritually, it is easy to fall victim to spiritual mannerisms. That life is a life of faith full of mere formalities and habits that make an empty shell of faith.  That is not faith. Faith that operates without love is mere mechanized repetition.  

Brethren, are you showing true loyalty by serving the church out of love for the Lord with a heart of giving thanks to the Lord’s salvation and inspiration?  Or are you being loyal to the church out of responsibility, duties, and just to avoid listening to other’s admonishments?  

Our church is 32 years old.  32 years can be a long time to some and a blink of an eye to others.  But it is a long enough time to make our faith superficial and empty.  It is a long enough time to take out our first love in faith.  

Let us consider something: what if we are just like the Ephesians church that is being rebuked?   Brethren, do you still have the inspiration and passion you had when you first accepted Jesus after you heard the gospel for the first time?  

I am asking if your heart is still filled with the same gratitude for salvation, with forgiveness, or with the promise of the kingdom of God?  Are you still filled with the inspiration of your first love that was centered on the Cross and pure in faith?  

If not, just as verse 5 is telling you, “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent!”  Otherwise “HE will come to you and remove our lampstand from its place.”


Conclusion:

Where and how far have I fallen?  That point is my weakest point.  At this very hour, find that weakest point, restore it, and accept HIS grace.  As you are reading the Words of the Lord, when your heart responds to you subtly you should know that is your weakest point.  As you are listening to a sermon, you may feel a little prick in your heart. Do not think that the pastor is personally attacking you. Just understand that is your weakest point.  That is where you have fallen.  I want you to find that place where you have fallen.  Restore and cure your weakest point and regain your forsaken first love.  In the name of Jesus Christ, I bless you to be spiritually healthy and God-loving believers.   



Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, there are times when we feel that we have gained a lot, yet we have lost the most important thing of life.  At the same time, there are times when we think we have lost it all, but we have gained the most important thing in faith.   

Heavenly Father, take a pity and save us, who have forsaken our first love and lived pathetically in our tired and burdened life.   Heavenly Father, let us return to the point of our first love so we can firmly believe in your love and the love of the Cross.

Heavenly Father, let us live a life of loving our brothers in faith, the church, our spouses, and children.  Heavenly Father, allow us to be Your people and to have a vision to see the world with eyes of love.  In Jesus’ Name amen.