Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: The biggest problem facing some churches is pretty simple to describe. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: It’s not a doctrinal problem. It’s not a behavior problem. It’s not a problem of being lazy. It’s a heart problem; it’s a love problem. You have abandoned the love you had at first.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Tuesday, August 8, 2017.

Think about the time in your life when your love for Christ burned stronge. That could describe your love today. Nancy will explain in a series called "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 2: Your First Love Relationship." It’s one of many series we’ll cover this year on the letters to the churches in Revelation. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: I did something this morning that I’m sure none of you has ever done. I like to keep my condo neat and presentable, and mostly I do. But as I was leaving this morning to come to this recording session, my bedroom—which is where I also study—was a disaster.

I mean, it was a big mess. I have papers and books strewn everywhere. I’m getting ready to take a lengthy trip, and I’ve got suitcases spread out and clothes piled up. It was disastrous.

So as I was leaving, the thought crossed my mind . . . I didn’t know who might be coming by while I was out today, but I thought, In case anybody comes in this condo today, I’ve got to close this bedroom door. They cannot see inside this bedroom door!

Do you have a room like that in your house? Did anybody close a door before you left today, or do you sometimes? I mean, I don’t want anybody seeing that room. It’s horrible!

I thought of that on the way to this recording, and I thought, You know, we kind of live that way, some of us. There are parts of our lives that we don’t mind being open to inspection or open to people dropping by on us and seeing the way things are.

We keep parts of our lives pretty orderly and picked up, neat and clean. But don’t we sometimes have a room, a part of our hearts, that we close the door to? We think, I don’t want anybody to see in here. This area’s a mess. This area’s disastrous. Nobody is allowed here.

Sometimes not only do we close off that part of our heart to people, but if we could, we’d like to close it off to the Lord: “Don’t look in here.” The fact is, He does look. We can have guests that we can keep impressed with the clean parts of our hearts and homes and lives, but there’s one guest who has eyes like a flame of fire.

He sees. He knows. And He says, “I want to be able to go in any room of your house. I want to see what’s there, and I’m going to show you what’s there in case it’s something you can’t see. I’m going to make sure you know what it is.”

I was just thinking of that as we come to this letter to the church in Ephesus, Revelation chapter 2. Some of you have been wondering if we would ever get to the letters. We’re going to start today looking at this letter to the church of Ephesus.

This is, in a sense, a church that had a room of its life that was closed off. Jesus said to that church and to the individuals in it—and He’s going to say to us through this series—“I’m coming in. I’m opening that door. I want to show you what’s there.”

Father, I pray as we start into this series and this series on the church at Ephesus, I pray that we would trust You enough to let You come and open all the doors. You are the One who sees and knows all. Would You penetrate and pierce and show us what's really behind all of those closed doors of our homes—the closet we've kept closed up for so long that we don't know all the junk that is in it. 

There is something about our hearts that You want to open up. Lord, we just want to say, "Come in and have Your way. Walk in and out of every room in our hearts and show us what we see. I pray it for Jesus' sake, amen."

Verse 1 of Revelation chapter 2: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus . . .” This is the recipient. This is the first of the seven churches. The nearest to the island of Patmos as a boat would have come across, this would have been the first city they would have come to.

The angel of the church, as we said in an earlier part of this series, is some sort of messenger. We don’t know whether it meant a pastor or an elder or actually an angelic being, but it’s someone who carries a message from God—probably a leader of the church.

Ephesus was probably the most important city in Asia Minor. The population at this time would have been somewhere between a quarter and half a million people—250,000 to 500,000, somewhere in that range—during the New Testament era.

So it was not a small town. It was a metropolis. It was a prosperous and wealthy city. It was a major commercial center of the region, primarily because it was located on the coast, and it was the most important seaport in this region.

It was also a cultural center. There was a theater in Ephesus. I've seen the ruins of the city of Ephesus. This theater held 25,000 people. There was a lot of drama, a lot of culture there. The city held athletic events that rivaled the early, ancient Olympics.

And then it was a religious center. It was the center of worship of the goddess Artemis, who was also called Diana. Diana was the chief goddess of the Greek Pantheon, and there was a huge temple dedicated to the worship of Diana there in the city of Ephesus.

So it was not an easy place to have a church. There was a lot of hustle and bustle, a lot of materialism, a lot of paganism, and a lot of idolatry that went on in this city. Yet God had His church planted in the city of Ephesus: the remnant, the believers in Jesus Christ.

Although it was a difficult place to have a church, the church in Ephesus had a rich spiritual heritage. In Acts chapters 18–20, you read about the founding of this church. I won’t go into great detail, but here are some of the things that had been true of this church in its early years.

The gospel was first brought to this city by the apostle Paul, who stopped there at the end of his second missionary journey, along with his ministry partners Priscilla and Aquila. On that first visit, Paul stayed only a brief time, but he left Priscilla and Aquila to carry on the work.

They were later joined by Apollos, who was a powerful preacher and ministered also in Ephesus. Then on his third missionary journey, Paul came back to Ephesus. He ended up spending about two and a half years, maybe three years, in the city of Ephesus, preaching, evangelizing, teaching new believers, and building the young church in that area. During Paul’s extended period in Ephesus, there were a number of extraordinary events and miracles that took place.

This was all in the history of the church at Ephesus. Now, this letter we’re reading in Revelation was written at the end of the first century, so these events would have been decades earlier, at the founding of the church.

There was an enormous, widespread response to the gospel. I mean, it was a great awakening. Many, many people came to faith in Christ. As you would expect, when God is moving in such a significant way, there was also intense opposition to the gospel and to the missionaries who had brought the gospel.

The biggest season of opposition was precipitated by a mass burning, a big bonfire that the believers held to burn their books on witchcraft. People who had worshiped the goddess Diana, who had worshiped idols, brought all their books and paraphernalia that related to witchcraft.

The local silversmiths were upset that their livelihood was being threatened because people weren’t buying their idols anymore. People were coming to faith in Christ, and they were repudiating their idolatry. So those local tradesmen stirred up a huge riot in the city, which ultimately resulted in Paul’s leaving Ephesus.

That all took place in chapters 18 and 19 in the book of Acts. In chapter 20, Paul, who had left Ephesus, was en route to Jerusalem. But he stopped in a place called Miletus, and he sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus to come and meet with him there at Miletus.

If you’ve read this chapter, it’s a powerful, touching scene. Paul knew that he would never see these Ephesian elders again. So he encouraged them and warned them about some of the things the church would face. There would be opposition. There would be false teachers who would creep into the church. So he shepherded these elders who were responsible for shepherding the church at Ephesus, and he commended them to God and to His grace.

He prayed with them. He expressed his love for them, and they did for him. There were tears. They knelt and prayed on the ground there in Miletus and hugged each other and embraced. It was a very tender scene.

Paul never did go back to Ephesus, as the Spirit had revealed to him that he would not. But some time later, Paul’s disciple Timothy apparently served as the pastor of the church in Ephesus. Others of Paul’s co-laborers—Onesiphorus and Tychichus—also labored in Ephesus.

So Ephesus had a rich history of spiritual leaders, of godly teachers, of those who built the church. In fact, scholars believe that the apostle John—who is the one that we’re studying about here in Revelation, the one to whom this vision was given—may have spent the last few decades of his life in Ephesus, possibly as the pastor or the leader of that church in Ephesus.

It’s probable that John was in Ephesus when he wrote First, Second, and Third John, the letters or epistles that bear his name. And he was probably the leader of the church in Ephesus when he was arrested and sent into exile on Patmos. So he knew the people he was writing to. They knew him, and this church had this incredible . . . It reminds me of being in a church in England a number of years ago that had had this whole history of great Bible teachers and preachers who had pastored that church, famous men, one after the other, who had pastored that church.

I think the church in Ephesus had a similar kind of history—a lot of great spiritual leadership over the years. But now, when this vision is being given—when these letters are being sent from Christ to the churches—thirty-five–forty years have passed since the church was founded.

The apostle Paul, who founded the church, has died. Most of the first-generation believers who knew Christ or who followed in that early apostolic era, are gone—some of them having been martyred for their faith.

Now there’s this new generation that has grown up, and they need a fresh encounter with Christ. They need to hear God’s Word for themselves. They need to know God’s heart and God’s mind for their church in their generation.

It’s so easy to live on past victories, past successes. Jesus comes to this church and says, “I have a word for you today—not for who you were, not for who you used to be at one time, not for when you were in the throes of revival forty years ago, but a word for who you are and where you are right now.”

That’s what Jesus wanted to address, and that’s what He wants address in our lives. You may have a great spiritual history, you may have experienced times of great revival in your life, but as Jesus writes to us today and searches our hearts, He says, “I want to speak to you about where you are right now—not where you used to be, not where you think you should be, not where you want to be, but where you actually are in your spiritual condition.”

So He says to the church that is in Ephesus, “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (v. 1). As we said in the last session, we’ve seen that Christ never abandons His Church. Even when His people abandon Him, as we’re going to see that some have done in the church in Ephesus, He never lets go of His hold on us. He never walks away from His Church.

He's the One who holds, present tense, the stars, the leaders, the churches, in His right hand, and He walks among the seven golden lampstands—in spite of their worst possible condition. 

I know I've said this several times in this series, but it's just been a stunning thing to me as I have been immersed in these chapters and as I think about the condition of our churches today, much like these churches in Revelation. They've left their first love. They've tolerated doctrinal impurity. They've got immorality going in the churches. They are half-dead. And Jesus speaks to these issues very honestly, but He doesn't abandon His Church.

He stays with them. He keeps walking among them. He keeps holding them in His hand. I love it. I Jesus for that. I'm so thankful that He does.

He says, “I know your works.” Now, as we’ve said, He starts out each of the seven letters by saying, “I know.” In five of them He says, “I know your works. I know your works.” Then He gives a commendation to the church in Ephesus; there is much that is praiseworthy in this church.

Many of you are familiar with this church. In fact, I was a little hesitant to teach on it because it's always challenging to teach on a passage that you've heard many sermons on. And I've heard wonderful sermons on this passage, and I can't top any of them. When people are so familiar with a passage, they tend to have glazed over eyes—I've seen that; I've heard that; I've done that.

But I want to ask you as we dig into this passage over the next couple of sessions to ask the Lord for eyes and ears to hear and see this as if you've never seen it before. To make it fresh to our hearts. He who has an ear, let him hear now, present tense, what the Spirit is saying to the churches and to our lives.

So Christ sees the strong points in the church at Ephesus, and He praises them for those strong points.

The commendations fall into some different categories. First He says, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance” (v. 2). Your toil and your patient endurance. Those are two things that Christ finds praiseworthy in this church. Now, that word toil that doesn’t just mean work or effort. It means exhausting, backbreaking labor to the point of exhaustion. You work until you’re going to fall over.

This is not just activity. This is hard work and effort. This is blood, sweat, and tears. You work until you drop. He says, “I know you are hard-working, until the point of exhaustion.”

So He praises their toil—that’s one of their works. And then He praises their patient endurance. He said in verse 3, “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.”

So He praises them for their perseverance and their endurance in the face of suffering. One of the things that was helpful to me as I studied the background on this word endurance is that it doesn’t mean just passively accepting and submitting to trials.

If you go through trials, sometimes you don’t have much choice but to passively submit to it or bear up under it. But as one commentator said, this endurance is more than passive. This is triumphant fortitude. The Ephesians had been triumphant. They had persevered with a good attitude in the midst of trials and persecution. This is a good thing—backbreaking, exhausting labor, and triumphant fortitude in the midst of persecution and toil. They’re enduring patiently; they have not grown weary.

And then we read, “And how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false” (v. 2). Not only were they working to the point of exhaustion and demonstrating triumphant fortitude under pressure and persecution, but they were entirely orthodox in their doctrine and in their practice.

They had no tolerance in this church for impurity. They were discerning. They evaluated those who set themselves up as spiritual leaders, and they evaluated them by the plumb line of God’s Word.

They tested spirits and discerned if they were biblical. They didn’t tolerate false teachers—zero tolerance for false teachers in their church. They were passionate about rejecting false doctrine. This is a church that has spiritual backbone.

You don’t see a whole lot of that today. I mean, in so many ways, this church was far beyond what many of our churches are today.

He goes on in verse 6 today to say another thing: “You hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Again, this is another evidence of their orthodoxy, their doctrinal purity.

Now, we’re not sure who the Nicolaitans were, but many commentators feel these are the same people as those in the church of Pergamum, which we’ll look at later, who followed the teaching of Balaam. These were essentially people who felt that Christians were free from the law and should be able to live however they wanted to live. So they turned their liberty in Christ into a license to sin.

Jesus said to the church in Ephesus, “You don’t put up with that. You have seen through their false doctrine. You have not excused it; you have not tolerated it.” He commends them for this.

Now, when you think about hard, backbreaking work and effort; triumphant fortitude under pressure and suffering, not just grinning and bearing it but really bearing up strong under the pressure; and doctrinal and practical purity and orthodoxy—we’d be thrilled to have all of this said by Christ about us.

By all outward appearances, this is a healthy, vibrant church. Everything is in good shape. This is the kind of church that Christian magazines write articles about. This is the kind of church that hosts conferences to tell others how to build great churches. This is the kind of Christian who is impressive, who raises the bar for others, who is held up as an example to emulate.

Let me say that these things are important—the toil, the perseverance, and the doctrinal purity. In fact, we’re going to see in some of the letters to the other churches that Jesus rebukes them for not being careful about these things, about doctrinal and moral purity.

But the one whose eyes are like a flame of fire doesn’t just see the outward appearance; He doesn’t just see the rooms that are kept up and ready for company. He looks behind the closed doors. He looks to the heart, and He sees things that others may not see.

Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher of the eighteenth century said of this passage, "As a fair apple may have a worm at its core, so it may be with the church that looks its best to the eye of friends." What could be said of the church could be said of our lives as well.

So Jesus says, after giving this incredible commendation, “I have a concern. I need to tell you the truth. There is a problem in your church that outweighs and undoes all of the positives that could be listed.”

What is it? Jesus says in verse 4, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” It’s a heart problem. It’s a love problem. It’s not a doctrinal problem. It’s not a behavioral problem. It’s not a problem of being lazy. It’s a heart problem; it’s a love problem.

“You have abandoned the love you had at first.” That word abandon means “to leave,” “to depart,” or “to forsake.” You have left the path you were on. You have left the relationship that you were in.

I think this is a challenge for churches and believers who have a rich spiritual heritage, a heritage of faith, a heritage of grace. You are believers who have walked with the Lord for a long time, second-generation Christians. Your parents knew the Lord, and your grandparents knew the Lord—as did those of the Ephesian believers.

They were second- and third-generation believers. The church had once been vibrant, and they had stayed true and orthodox and faithful by all outward measurements, but they had left their first love.

Their devotion to Christ and their love for people, at one time was the driving motivation behind all of their activity and effort and labor and perseverance. At one time, that was all motivated by love—love for Christ, love for others.

Now, they’re still doing all of those things, but they’ve lost the heart. They've lost the driving passion of a first love for Christ. That’s a danger, a tendency, that any of us can face, particularly as we know the Lord for a long period of time.

It’s that erosion of love that can happen so slowly, so imperceptibly almost, until Christ comes and points it out to us.

You start with that wholehearted devotion, that passionate love for Christ, eyes fixed on Jesus, in love with Him. In marriage we call it the honeymoon phase.

I have a young married couple who have lived in my home for a couple years, from the time they first got married. They are love birds. "The love of my life," that's what they call each other. They talk in ways you don't often hear older couples talk to each other. Oh . . . that it would continue.

But then you get used to each other, like a pair of old slippers. You get comfortable and let down your hair and not so careful about preserving the precious devotion and intimacy and relationship. It can happen in a marriage, and it can happen in our marriage with Christ.

And so Jesus takes them back to the first two commandments—the greatest two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). And number two, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).

What is the whole summing up of the law? It’s love! So here the Ephesians are fulfilling the law, but they’ve left their first love; they’ve abandoned, forsaken, the love they had at first.

So you say, “Is Jesus talking here about love for Christ that they’ve left or love for others that they have left?” And I think the answer is yes. You can’t separate those. You can’t love others truly if you don’t love Christ, and you can’t love Christ truly if you don’t love others. If you love Christ, you will love others. To have true love for others, you must have Christ, so when you fail to love Christ, you will fail to love others. When you fail to love others, you have failed to love Christ.

So over the next couple of sessions, I want us to dig in a little further to this whole thing of “first love”—first love of God in our hearts, love for Christ, and love for others.

But already, I think God’s been speaking to our hearts even through these last moments, and I just wonder if perhaps the Spirit is saying to you, “You’re one of these people who has been . . . you’ve raised the bar. You’re hard-working to the point of exhaustion.”

Mom—you’re faithful, you stay at the stuff, you’re persevering, and you have this fortitude that keeps you from buckling under pressure. You’re orthodox; you’re straight as an arrow; your doctrine’s right, and your lifestyle is right. But is there a door of your heart that’s closed off?

If Jesus were to open it—He doesn’t need to open it; He sees in—would He say, “You’re doing all the right things, but you’ve abandoned the love that you had at first. You kept on performing, but it’s a loveless performance. It’s loveless obedience; it’s loveless activity; it’s loveless purity; it’s loveless doctrinal correctness.”

And what’s Jesus’ call? He’s going to call them back to an intimate first love with Him, because apart from that love for Christ and for others, all that they do is in vain.

So, Lord, I pray that you would open the doors of our hearts and that You’d help us to see where we may have abandoned the love we had at first. Thank You for how You’ve been speaking to my own heart in this study. I pray that You would bring conviction and repentance as we see in some of our lives where we may be just like this church at Ephesus.

The Scripture says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7). We’re listening, Lord. Please speak to us, and may we say, “Yes, Lord.” Amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, inviting you back to your first love for Christ. When you love someone, you want to spend time with them.

When you love Jesus, you spend time in His Word and in prayer. During this series, we want to help you apply what you are learning to your life.  So we'd like to send a helpful booklet called Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. Each letter to each church will take on a new meaning as you see how it relates to your relationships, your family, your church, and your walk with God.

When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, the booklet, Ears to Hear, will be yours. It's our way of saying "thank you." To donate online, visit You can also call 1–800–569–5959.

As we heard today, your goal is pretty simple: to truly love God with a full heart. Nancy will continue showing you how to do that, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants your faith to burn hot. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.