Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: There’s a simplicity and a purity about devotion to Christ that many times we leave behind as we get more sophisticated in the faith and we know more and we’re doing more. There’s a whole lot of the Christian life you can keep maintaining and leave Jesus way behind.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Wednesday, August 9, 2017.

When Jesus addresses various churches in the first chapters of Revelation, He offers a simple message: Return to your first love. Yesterday, Nancy described why the simple message is so important, and she’ll help us maintain that focus today in the series, "Your First Love Relationship."

Nancy: Some of you may remember the song that Steve Green has sung over the years called “The Mission.” I love that couplet in the chorus that says,

To love the Lord our God is the heartbeat of our mission,
The spring from which our service overflows.

That’s a great line, and I think that’s really what Jesus is saying to the church in Ephesus. He’s saying, “Look, you have all the service. You have all the activity. You have all the busyness, but you’re missing the pulse. You’re missing the heartbeat. You’re missing the spring from which your service is supposed to overflow.” To love the Lord our God, that’s the heartbeat of our mission. It’s the spring out of which our service should overflow.

Jesus said in Revelation chapter 2, verses 1–2, and let me pick up here where we left off in the last session:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: "The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lamp stands. I know your works, your toil [your exhausting back-breaking labor] and your patient endurance [your triumphant fortitude in the face of persecution. You have endured; you have persevered], 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.

You’re doctrinally right on; you’re correct; you can’t be faulted. You’ve dotted your “i’s” and you’ve crossed your “t’s” and you don’t put up with those who aren’t. You deal with it.

I would that we had more of that characteristic in our churches today. Some of our churches do, thankfully, but many of our churches and believers today are really sloppy and careless, sadly, when it comes to doctrinal purity. We are more interested in what makes us feel good than what’s true and right.

But not true in the Ephesian church. They really cared about truth. They cared about being biblical, about being sound, and they cared about discernment and not letting false teachers creep in.

In fact, when Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders decades earlier in Acts chapter 20, he said, “People are going to sneak in to you from within and from without, and they’re going to try to deceive you and cause you to fall away. Don’t fall for it.” Apparently they had listened to his words; they had been careful. They had a doctrinal statement for their church that was just right on, and it wasn’t just somewhere in the archives, they lived by it. They made sure that their Sunday school teachers and their small group leaders, everybody stayed within that doctrinal statement.

So these are all good things. He says, in verses 3–4:

I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love [the love] that you had at first. 

It’s something that you had at one time that was strong and passionate and fervent and earnest, but now you have left it; you have forsaken it. You have fallen away from it. You have abandoned that love that you had at first. On the outside, He says, nothing is changed. You still go through the motions. You still do all the right things. In fact, most people looking in on this church would not have seen what Christ saw with His eyes that are like a flame of fire.

I mentioned in the last session, and I ran out of time, so let me pick up where I left off, that you might ask, “Is this love for others or love for Christ that is being talked about here?” I think it’s both. You can’t have one without the other.

So, love for others. Let me start there, even though love for Christ is the root of it all.

We’ve been told that this church was diligent about weeding out false teaching. They were earnest, hard-working Christians, but as I’ve been mediating on this passage, I think they may have become so intent on working hard and preserving doctrinal correctness and purity that they may have developed a harsh, critical, fault-finding spirit toward those with whom they disagreed. They had lost the spirit of love that once characterized them.

I’ve seen this in spades on the Internet where you can find Christians of all stripes, some of whom are very conservative, very biblically based, but who have websites that exist for the purpose of exposing doctrinal error.

I want to be careful here because that’s a good thing. Doctrinal error needs to be exposed, and we’ve talked on Revive Our Hearts about the importance of not being deceived, about teaching correct doctrine, and about exposing false doctrine. But one of the things that concerns me about some of these websites, some of these ministries, is that they are so lacking in love. I will be the first to say it is a razor-thin edge to know how to speak the truth in love.

I find myself sometimes being very exercised over Christians who are not thinking biblically, who are sloppy on doctrine. That concerns me, so maybe this is why I notice it when I see it in others. Sometimes I see the spirit that is being reflected is hateful; it’s angry; it’s ugly; it’s bitter, and you have Christians slinging verbal darts at each other. They may be right in their position, but in some cases, they are very wrong in their disposition.

I’m not here to judge them, but I’m saying it’s something we need to be careful about, those of us who love doctrinal purity, not to develop this tough, hard, critical, fault-finding spirit toward those who don’t agree.

Today, if you hold to doctrinal purity, if you hold to truth, you’re going to be in a very slim minority, even within the church. So there’s going to be a lot to criticize, but we can’t develop a critical spirit. It has to be done in the spirit with which Christ speaks to the churches.

He loves His Church, and when He speaks these words of criticism or condemnation, first of all, He points out the positive things. He doesn’t just point out the negatives. And when He points out the negatives, I think it’s with a broken heart. He’s not trying to destroy them. He’s trying to restore them. He wants them to repent. He wants them to come back. So there’s a whole different spirit.

You see this with your children. There are things you have to correct, and as a mother you need to correct behavior and thinking that are incompatible with Scripture, but you want to do it in a way that is not trying to tear down your child but is trying to build them up in purity and in faith.

You know that you can discipline in anger or you can discipline in love. Sometimes when you are too hasty, you'll find the anger coming out. But Jesus says that it is not good enough to just have the right doctrine, the right position, you've got to have the right disposition.

One of the things people love about this ministry is the counter-cultural message. They gravitate toward the teaching on purity on modesty on femininity on biblical womanhood—some of these things that are counter-cultural. They say, "We love your teaching on modesty and these issues."

But in some cases it is easy to develop a critical, fault-finding spirit toward those who don't live up to your conviction on these issues. I get emails and letters from some of these women. I've said some of these things myself.

Some will write and say, "Bravo. Three cheers for you! Thank you so much for speaking up on modesty . . . but you should see the way they dress in my church." Then there is this whole tirade about their concerns. I'm not saying that their concerns aren't valid. I think their concerns are very valid.

My concern is about the heart attitude and the spirit and the demeanor with which they address those issues. Do you know what I'm talking about? We need to address these things, but it has to be in a spirit of gentleness, meekness, compassion—not pride, but humility 

You see your young adult child making some foolish or wrong decisions, and you want to point out what they’re doing wrong. There is a time for that, but you have to ask, “Am I being motivated by genuine love, by concern for their best interests, or am I embarrassed by the way they’re reflecting negatively on me? Am I put out because of the way they’re inconveniencing me? Is my correction motivated by love?”

Think of political leaders, national leaders, even sometimes spiritual leaders who make wrong choices, foolish choices, are acting in ways that are not biblical. It’s so easy for us to sit and speak negatively, critically, to say ugly things about them. There are some very ungodly leaders in positions of key influence in this land today.

So what is our role? Does that mean we don’t say anything? I think we can say something, but we have to do it in a spirit of gentleness and meekness. It’s a sad thing that so many non-Christians today think of conservative, Bible-believing Christians as being angry people.

There is a sense in which sin should make us angry, but there cannot be this hateful spirit, this antagonistic spirit. For one thing, you don’t influence people. “A soft tongue breaks the bone,” according to Proverbs 25:15 (NASB). We need to be addressing these issues, speaking into the culture with a gentleness.

As you know, I say a lot of things on Revive Our Hearts that are not politically correct. But I've learned that you can say almost almost anything if you say it with warmth and with compassion and with tenderness of heart. Let me say, if you say it with a smile. I try to say these tough truths—honestly and forthrightly—but to say them with a soft edge, with a sweetness and a gentleness.

I don’t always succeed at that, but that has to be the goal, that we love others that are dealing with these issues on the national scene, or on the church scene, or in your children’s lives, that we’re not just right in our position, but that our disposition is a godly one.

The Scripture says in 1 John 4:20,

If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

So this abandoning the love we had at first applies, I think, to our relationships with others. We can’t say, “I love God” if we are unloving toward one another or to others outside the church. You can’t have it both ways. So when He says, “You have abandoned the love you had at first,” I think one of the things He’s talking about is their love for others.

Some of you know the name Tertullian. He was one of the early church fathers. He lived from 155 to 222 A.D. Let me read to you something that he wrote describing the church in that era. He said,

We are a body knit together as such by a common religious profession, by unity of discipline, and by the bond of a common hope. We meet together as an assembly and congregation that offering up prayer to God is with united force, we may wrestle with Him in our supplications.

We assemble to read our sacred writings. With the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast, and no less by inculcations of God’s precepts we confirm good habits, but [now he’s just listed all the things they do that is part of their church life—we read the Bible together, we come to church together, we have meetings together] it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us.

He’s saying, “We are marked by our love. That’s how they recognize us. That’s what speaks the loudest to our friends and our critics alike.” He goes on to say,

“See," they say, "how they love one another, how they are ready even to die for one another.”

As people look inside the doors of our churches, never mind how we talk about those outside our church. What about how we treat those inside the church? If we’re going to have a light that is going to shine in our world, we have to demonstrate love for one another—passionate, fervent, Christ-centered, kind love for each other.

Jesus says to the church at Ephesus, “You have abandoned the kind of love you had at first.”

People are not impressed by our doctrinal soundness, as important as that is. Their hearts are not won over by our feverish activity, valuable as it may be.

I’ve sat at many funerals over the years, including a number of famous people, Christian leaders, and I’ve listened to a lot of eulogies. As I look back, the most meaningful ones have not been those that praised the departed one for their works, their tireless efforts, but those who speak about the heart this person had for people, their love.

I've often thought as I listen to those comments about going a number of years ago to the funeral of Dr. Jerry Falwell. He was a highly controversial figure, and still is. But it was interesting at his funeral . . . Many different people spoke, and what you heard from one after another was, "Jerry was my friend. Jerry loved me. Jerry was there for me when nobody else was." 

I’ve thought, When it’s said and done, how do I want to be remembered? For all the things I did? For all my doctrinal precision or as a lover? You can have both, and we want to have both, but to have the doctrinal precision and the tireless efforts without the love, rings so hollow.

I guess the reason this is convicting to me is that I tend to be a more task-oriented person, and honestly, people, to me, can be an interruption. They can be a distraction because I’m usually going in a hurry from point A to point B, and I really don’t want to stop anywhere in-between. I have to remember that “people over production” is the way I need to think. People are the ministry. The ministry is not just checking the things off my to-do list, getting more radio programs developed, getting books written.

Ministry is the people that God puts into my life, some of them pleasant and enjoyable, and some of them I’d just as soon go away. Nobody in here would be in that category, I’m sure, but if I get my to-do list done, which never happens anyway, and all my messages prepared and books written and defend the faith admirably, but I don’t love and care for and connect to people’s lives, I have failed.

I think that’s what Jesus is saying to the church in Ephesus: love for others.

Love for others springs out of love for Christ, and that is the heart at which the Ephesian church had failed. It’s the heart of the matter, because love for Christ is the fountainhead of love for others. If you don’t have love for Christ, you really can’t truly love others.

So when Christ says, “You have abandoned the love that you had at first,” as I’ve been meditating on this, it strikes me that Jesus is not just speaking as an objective reporter, a journalist who is just reporting on the facts. He’s not speaking as an employer who’s giving a performance review. He’s speaking as a wounded lover. This is His Bride. He’s grieved. He’s talking about the grief of His heart.

In fact, Scripture uses marriage imagery to describe our relationship with Christ.

Jeremiah chapter 2:2, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride.”

This is how Jesus feels about His Church. “I remember what it was like when you first knew Me, when you were so grateful, and you were so tenderhearted, and you were so devoted to Me. I mattered more to you than anything or anyone else. What happened to that?”

He’s grieved. He’s heartbroken. He’s looking at this bride that is so busy, feverish activity to the point of exhaustion, doctrinal correctness, moral uprightness, orthodox, persevering, great fortitude under perseverance, “you haven’t grown weary,” so many things. “The machinery is working correctly, but,” He says, “it’s lost the engine. It’s lost the heart. The heartbeat is gone. You don’t love Me. That’s what used to inspire all your activity. That’s what used to inspire your doctrinal correctness. It was love for Me.”

Here’s Christ the Lover saying, “What’s happened to My bride? Where did you go? Where’s the devotion? Where is your heart? We’re just roommates.”

It can happen in a marriage. It can happen in our relationship with Christ.

The apostle Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians chapter 11:2–3. He says, “I feel a divine jealousy for you.” You know that God is a jealous God? He wants our wholehearted devotion and affection. Paul says this: “I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

There’s a simplicity and a purity about devotion to Christ that many times we leave behind as we get more sophisticated in the faith and we know more and we’re doing more. There’s a whole lot of the Christian life you can keep maintaining and leave Jesus way behind.

I know. I’ve been there so many times, and God has used this very familiar passage. He’s still using it in my life to speak to me about my heart’s devotion to Christ as my first love, out of which my service should overflow.

It’s interesting that in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus—there’s actually two letters to the Ephesians: the one that Paul wrote that we call “Ephesians,” and then the one we’re studying here in Revelation that is Jesus’ letter to the Ephesians through the apostle John. At the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he says, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love” (Eph. 6:24, NIV).

The ESV says, “With love incorruptible.” Not just intellectual love, but a passionate, fervent, undying, incorruptible love. That’s how we’re to love Jesus Christ.

That was at the end of the epistle to the Ephesians, and here Jesus comes and He says, decades later, to the church in Ephesus, “You didn’t have that undying love. Your love has been corrupted. You’ve left your first love.”

Of course, we all know what Paul said to the Corinthian church about this whole issue of love. He said,

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 [to live this incredibly, sacrificial life—sounds like the Ephesian church, doesn’t it?] but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Cor 13:1–3).

So the Ephesian church is commended for its toil and labor, but work becomes drudgery if it’s not inspired by love.

Remember that passage in Genesis chapter 29:20 where it says, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her”?

When you love Christ, then all that toil, all that effort, will bring you joy. It will be an act of worship. It will not destroy you. It will not overwhelm you. But if it’s not inspired by love, then that work just becomes drudgery, churning it out. “I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do that.”

I consider it a great privilege to have served the Lord over all these years, but I think there are some portions of that time, seasons of those years, when I have found myself just churning it out, doing it because I know that's what I'm supposed to do.

It's hard. It's back breaking. It's wearying. I find myself sometimes becoming resentful or bitter in the labors because it is so hard. That's when love is gone. 

So I have to say, "Lord, rekindle my love. Let my service be out of passion and devotion and love for You." He says to use that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. When we get in the yoke with Him in a place of intimacy and oneness and communion and fellowship and love with Him, then we find that labor doesn’t take us down.

Moms, I can see it in some of your eyes. The labor is heavy. It’s hard. I’m not saying it’s not hard, but I’m saying there’s a joy and a freedom and a sweetness that comes in the labor when it’s motivated by love.

The church was commended for endurance and perseverance in the face of persecution, but if we’re not in love with Christ, then when we’re persecuted, we will become hard and brittle and bitter rather than going singing to the stake, as those early Christians did, with joy in our hearts.

You say, “Well, nobody’s being burned at the stake today in this country.” Well, we have little ways that we’re asked to suffer, and we can embrace it and do it with joy if there’s love for Christ at the fountain, at the source of our giving up our lives.

Doctrinal vigilance, the church was commended for that, but right doctrine without love for Christ is cold and dead. “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.”

First Corinthians 8:1: “Knowledge [without love] puffs up.” It makes you arrogant, makes you proud. It makes you self-righteous.

To have knowledge . . . listen, some of your husbands are tired of your knowledge. They’re tired of how much you know about the Bible because you’re making sure they know how much you know about the Bible, and you’re using it against them. I want to say that with all the love in my heart.

But if your doctrinal growth and understanding is driven by love, then it won’t be something you use against your husband or your children; it won’t be something that puts up walls between you. It will be something that draws them because people are drawn by love as moths to light. They will be drawn to the Christ as they see the heart of love.

Charles Spurgeon said, “When love dies, orthodox doctrine becomes a corpse, a powerless formalism.”

How is your love quotient? How is your love life? Has your orthodox doctrine become a corpse, a powerless formalism? Then join me in saying, “Lord, restore my first love. I want to love You. I want to love Your people. To love the Lord our God is the heartbeat of our mission, the spring from which our service overflows.”

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been reminding you of the number one priority each of us needs to maintain: to love Jesus. That message is part of a series called "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 2: Your First Love Relationship."

We’re exploring the letters to the churches in Revelation through several series through the rest of this year on Revive Our Hearts. If you’ve missed any of the programs, you can hear those or read the transcripts at ReviveOurHearts.com.

The website is an important resource to a lot of women who search the articles and transcripts for biblical answers to the questions they’re facing.

The website and radio program are possible because listeners like you give. When you support us with a donation of any amount, we’ll offer our gratitude by sending Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. It’s a booklet that will help you set some important priorities. As you’re making decisions throughout the day, this resource will remind you to maintain an eternal perspective. It will help you keep your love for Jesus at the center of your life.

When you donate any amount, ask for Ears to Hear. The number is 1–800–569–5959, or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.

So, how do you know that you’re maintaining your first love for Christ? Tomorrow, Nancy will offer forty ways you can truly know. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help your love for Jesus to keep growing. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from thee English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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