Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If you want to have a fiery hot heart of devotion for Christ, you’re going to have to fight for it. It doesn’t come naturally. You have to fight against laziness, against unbelief, against the influence of the world. You have to go counter to the culture. You have to swim upstream in order to conquer, but He says, “If you do, I will grant to you to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Friday, August 11, 2017.

The book of Revelation begins with seven letters to seven churches. This year we’re studying these letters in several radio series. Last week Nancy began looking in depth at the letter to the church at Ephesus in a series called "Your First Love Relationship."

We’ll continue hearing why Jesus called this church back to its first love.

Nancy: As we’ve been talking about our first love and leaving our first love, I know God has been convicting many of our hearts, starting with mine, as I’ve been in this series. God knows we need this passage.

I’ve read a couple of fabulous sermons that Charles Spurgeon wrote on this text. You think of Spurgeon as someone who loved Christ so deeply and passionately, but he was very honest with his congregation about how he was convicted of his need to have more love for Christ. He preached to himself and then to others. I’ve had that sense myself as I’ve been studying and teaching on this passage.

As God has been convicting your heart, maybe you’ve been thinking, “So what do I do? I know that I’m like this church in Ephesus—knowing right, doing right, persevering, but having neglected my intimacy with Christ, my love relationship with Him.” You want to know what to do about it.

Thankfully, the one who wrote the letter to the church in Ephesus gave not only the diagnosis but also the prescription for what they should do about their condition.

Let me go back again and read, so we have the background, the letter to the church, beginning in verse 1 of Revelation chapter 2.

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 lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, 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. 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” (vv. 1–4).

Who’s speaking here? This is Jesus, the Lord of the Church. He says, “I have this against you.”

He’s the bridegroom. He’s speaking to His bride, and He says, “You have abandoned the love you had at first.” When we first met, when we first got married, so to speak, you loved Me with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, but now other loves, other competitors have crept in, and you don’t love Me the way that you once did.

Then He gives the prescription for those whose love has waned, for those who are backsliders because, in fact, that’s what a backslider is: someone who doesn’t love Christ in the way they did at first.

When you think of a backslider, you think of someone who’s living this terrible, horrible life, but it’s backsliding to keep doing all the things that you’ve been doing but to have it no longer motivated and fueled out of deep and intimate love for Christ.

So Jesus says in verse 5 to backsliders of every source, no matter what the external looks like—He’s looking at the heart—and He says three things: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”

I’ve said this before, but sometimes we just gloss over these very familiar passages. We read over them too quickly. I want to encourage you in these weeks as I’ve been challenging you to read through these first three chapters of Revelation for a 30-day period. Don’t just gloss over these familiar words.

That’s where I find memorizing in a different translation can be helpful because the translations most of us grew up on, they say, in this verse: “You have left your first love.” The ESV I’ve been studying from more recently says, “You have abandoned the love you had at first.”

Sometimes when you take a different translation, you meditate on it, maybe even memorize the text, it makes the familiar passage speak to you in a fresh way, and we really need passages like this one to speak to us in a fresh way.

So He says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen.” The point is that you have fallen. You need to acknowledge that. There’s an acknowledgement here that you’re not where you were at one time, that there has been a fall, that you have fallen down. You don’t fall up; you fall down. The direction you’ve gone has been a downward one. So He says, Look up. Look back to the place where you were before you fell.

Remember:

  • what it was like then, when you loved Jesus with all your heart.
  • when your heart was tender and responsive.
  • when you loved to be in His Word.
  • when you loved to pray.
  • when He was just first.
  • when you were consumed with Him.
  • when He was your life.
  • when all the stuff you do to serve Him and others was motivated out of love for Christ.
  • when your perseverance and your doctrinal correctness was motivated, fueled by love for Christ.

He says, "Compare where you are now with where you were then."

There are so many parallels to marriage here. For those who are married and the fire has gone out of your marriage and it could be said you don’t love him as you once did, the counsel of Christ here to the churches is also good marriage counseling: Remember what it was like when you really did love each other, when you were fervent-hearted. What was it like? Go back.

So many people get to that place where they’ve left that first love in their marriage, and they think it can never be restored, so they choose the easy way—maybe it’s not an easy way, but they choose what they think is the only way out. Jesus is saying, "Don’t get out. Go back. Remember what it was like. That love really can be restored. Where did you abandon that love? What was it that stole your heart and your affections?" It’s not that you’ve stopped loving. We’re all lovers. It’s that you’ve transferred your affection to someone or something else.

So identify what are the competitors.

  • Was it self?
  • Was it pleasure?
  • Was it approval of men?
  • Was it money and things? Maybe it’s your children or some good thing, but you transferred your affection to Christ.

By the way, you can never love your children the way that you’re supposed to love them if you don’t love Christ supremely, because it’s Christ and His love in you and your love for Him that gives you the capacity to love others as God wants you to.

So He’s not saying, “Don’t love your husband; don’t love your children.” He’s saying, “Love Me supremely, preeminently, primarily, and then you will have the capacity to love others as you need to.”

Let me, as another parenthesis here, say: It strikes me, as we go through the list we did in the last session, evidences that you’ve left your first love, as we talk about remembering the place from where you’ve fallen; there are some listening to my voice and the truth is they never had that love at all. They may be in the church; they may be doing all the right things; they may know doctrine; they may be sound in their belief system, but they have never had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They do things. They have church activity; they have religious activity, but they don’t have a relationship with Christ.

If you’ve been listening to this series and thinking, “Boy, what you’re describing as first love, that was never true of me. I never had a hunger and a longing for God’s Word and for prayer and for fellowship with God’s people and for cultivating my spiritual relationship with Christ.” Then for you, the starting place would be going humbly before God and saying, “Lord, I confess, I’ve been going through all these religious motions, but I have professed something that I do not possess.” You may have religion, but if you do not have a relationship with Christ, then you are not righteous.

So for some listening, the starting place may be to say, “Lord, I don’t have a relationship with You at all.” Come to Him and repent in faith. Place your faith in Jesus Christ. Repent of self-love and say, “Christ, I come to love You as You have loved me. You’ve opened my eyes to see the glories and the wonders of the gospel, and I say, ‘I do,’ to You, Christ, the Lover of my soul.”

Remember from where you have fallen, and then repent, change your mind, change your direction.

The first words that Christ spoke in His public ministry that are recorded in the Scripture was the message: Repent. “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14). And Christ’s last words to the church—we often say it was The Great Commission, “Go into all the world and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). Those are not Christ’s last words to the church. They’re the last words He spoke while He was bodily here on earth before He ascended into heaven. But the final words we have of Christ to the church are the ones we’re reading about here in Revelation, and what is His message to the church? Repent.

He’s not calling the church or believers to have an emotional experience, to conjure up feelings for Him. How can you feel “in love”? You’ve got to get this mystical thing for Jesus. He’s telling them to repent.

That means that they acknowledge that they have sinned—and they have sinned because it is no small matter to leave our first love. We have to acknowledge this is not just a blip on the screen. This is serious, to love anything or anyone more than we love Christ. It’s a violation of the first and most important commandment.

  • We repent and forsake that sin.
  • We intend to turn from it.
  • We ask God to give us godly sorrow that leads to repentance, and that repentance means that you get up out of your sin, you get to the cross, and you get to the One you have forsaken.

The One you have forsaken is the very One you need to return to. You have abandoned Him, and He is the One who was abandoned, forsaken by His Heavenly Father for your sake because His love for you was so great. He is your only hope.

So as you repent, you’re turning from whatever love stole your heart, from whatever stole your affections, you’re returning to Christ who is your only hope.

Then, remember, repent, and do the works you did at first. Renew, revive, restore, rekindle your love for Christ. Do the things you used to do that fueled your love for Christ. He has given us so many means of grace, so many means of cultivating that relationship.

You know, those of you who are married, what it takes to cultivate your relationship with your husband. You know what it takes to cultivate and keep fresh a friendship. You have to communicate with each other. You have to be in touch with each other.

  • Christ has given us His Word and prayer and meditation and worship and time spent together communicating with each other.
  • Fasting can be a means of weaning our affections from things of this world and focusing them on Christ.
  • A good reading—reading biographies of people who loved Christ with all their hearts, fuels my own passion for Christ.
  • Reading some of the great classical devotional books—over the years we’ve offered some of those on Revive Our Hearts, and we’ll give you a list, if you’ll go to our website, of some of those that have been particularly inspiring to me.

“Remember from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”

Let me make a few more comments here, things that have been on my heart as I think about how you cultivate love for Christ.

Number one: Ask for it.

Remember that hymn we used to sing:

More love to Thee, O Christ,
More love to Thee!
Hear thou the prayer I make
On bended knee.
This is my earnest plea:
More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!1

You say, “Lord, I want to love you more.”

I have a friend, as we pray together, she will often say, “We love You, Lord. Help us to love You more.”

I find myself praying that prayer. “I love You, Lord, but help me to love You more.”

Charles Spurgeon preached on this text to his congregation. As he got to the end of his message he said, "Tomorrow morning we shall meet together to pray that we will have our first love restored." He was preaching the message presumably on a Sunday (I didn't go back to check). But whatever day it was, the next day he scheduled a special meeting for all repenters who wanted to come back and pray for their first love to be restored.

Ask for it.

Then, stay near the source. Draw near to Christ.

Planets get their energy, their heat and their light—from where?—from the sun. As a rule, the closer to the sun a planet gets, the hotter that planet will be. The further it gets away from the sun, the cooler it will be. It’s like standing near a campfire. The closer you get, the hotter you are.

So get close to Christ. Get close to His Word, and spend time with other people who love Christ. That will warm your own heart. As you see Christ in them, you’re drawn to Christ in them.

Meditate on the cross frequently. Do it often. Do it at communion when it’s served in your church.

I’ve made a habit in recent years on the forty days of Lent leading up to Easter, I’ve picked a different book each year on the cross of Christ. Last year it was Messages by Charles Spurgeon on the Death, Burial and Resurrection of Christ. I read through those sermons; I read through that devotional book on the cross of Christ to inspire my own passion and love for Christ, to heat up the flame of my love for Him.

It’s at the cross that we see the nature and the extent of God’s incredible love for sinners. It’s at the cross that our love for Christ is rekindled.

So Jesus says, "Remember, repent, and return. Do the works that you did." That’s His counsel to the church that has left their first love.

Then, as He does in the other letters, He gives a warning to those who ignore His prescription. What happens if you don’t?

Verse 5: “If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

What does that mean? It means we will lose our usefulness. When a light bulb burns out, what do we do with it? Do we keep it on a shelf and display it just to remember what it used to be like? No. We throw it away. It no longer fulfills its purpose.

The purpose of the church is to shine the light of Christ into the darkness, and when it no longer does so, it ceases to fulfill its purpose.

Not only will we lose our usefulness, but the church, the individual local church may even lose its existence. That has happened in many cases.

The Ephesian church apparently took this counsel. They repented. They experienced revival. Ignatius, who was a bishop of Antioch and a student of the apostle John at the beginning of the second century, not too many years after this letter was written, wrote a letter to the Ephesian church. He spoke of their vibrant testimony, their love for Christ.

But as we’re often prone to do, the Ephesian church backslid again. That’s why the Scripture prays, “Will You not revive us again so that Your people may rejoice in You.” We need this counsel again and again and again.

By the Middle Ages, Archbishop Trench wrote that a traveler visiting the city of Ephesus, “found only three Christians there, and that they had scarcely heard the names of Saint Paul or Saint John.”2 The day came when the light of that church was extinguished.

Here’s the principle: No love; no light. You lose your love, you leave your love, you end up losing your light. The light may go on for a while, but eventually the light will be extinguished if the love has been extinguished and not rekindled.

I read recently that every year 3,500 to 4,000 churches in this country close their doors forever.3 Let me say this as lovingly as I know how: There are many, many more that may as well close their doors because they have no light. Their lampstand has been removed.

That doesn’t mean that believers lose their salvation or that the church as an institution ceases to exist. It just means that the church or the individual no longer shines forth the light of the gospel. Their light stopped shining. They may keep on meeting, singing songs, taking offerings, preaching messages, having Bible studies. They may still be busy. They may have a lot of activity, a lot of programs for every age group. They may be flourishing as far as the world is concerned. They may be orthodox, but they no longer have the spiritual impact and influence on the community. Lives are not being transformed. Captives are not being set free. People are not being saved and experiencing the transforming presence and power of God.

Whether it’s you as an individual or as collectively as churches, if we will not repent, Jesus says, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

Then in verse 7 He says what He says to each of the churches: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The Spirit is speaking to the churches today as much and as truly as Jesus was speaking to the church at Ephesus that day. Are you listening? Do you have ears to hear? Are you hearing what the Spirit has to say to your church? Are you hearing what the Spirit has to say to your life?

He’s saying, "Take this personally. This is for you."

Then He gives, as he does in most of the letters, a promise for those who do repent and return to their first love: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (v. 7).

I’m not going to go in detail in this session what it means to conquer, to overcome, but it implies that there is conflict involved. If you want to have a fiery hot heart of devotion for Christ, you’re going to have to fight for it. It doesn’t come naturally. You have to fight against laziness, against unbelief, against the influence of the world. You have to go counter to the culture. You have to swim upstream in order to conquer, but He says, “If you do, I will grant to you to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.”

Remember, originally, the Tree of Life was in the middle of the Garden of Eden, and Adam and Eve were free to eat from that tree until they sinned, and then they were driven from the garden and no longer able to eat from that tree.

Then we come to the last book of the Bible, Revelation chapter 22, and we see the Tree of Life appears again in the New Jerusalem. We see it as a perpetual unending source of food, of blessing, of healing for the nations. It’s the tree God intended for us to be able to eat from all along, but He restores it to us in the New Jerusalem.

So for those who overcome, the blessings of the Tree of Life, the blessings of paradise will be restored.

You know why it’s all possible? We can eat some day from the Tree of Life, and to some extent, eat from it here and now, because of another tree—the cross on which Jesus died. Through His death we have life eternal in the presence of God, the paradise of God.

Then, in another sense, Christ Himself is the Tree of Life. Those who cherish Him as their first love are promised even greater intimacy with Him. They will partake of Him for all eternity.

I want to close this portion of this series on Revelation, this letter to the church of Ephesus, by reading a paragraph from Charles Spurgeon’s message on this text. I think he expresses so beautifully the power of this kind of first love relationship with Christ. He said:

No bliss on earth is equal to the bliss of being all taken up with love for Christ. If I had my choice of all the lives I could live, I certainly would not choose to be an emperor, nor to be a millionaire, nor to be a philosopher; for power and wealth and knowledge bring with them sorrow and travail; but I would choose to have nothing to do but to love my Lord Jesus. Nothing, I mean, but to do all things for His sake, and out of love to Him. Then I know that I should be in paradise, yea, in the midst of the paradise of God, and I shall have meat to eat which is all unknown to men of the world. Heaven on earth is abounding love to Jesus. . . . To love Jesus is another name for paradise.4

Oh Lord, how we pray that You would kindle afresh in our hearts that first love. Love for Jesus. To love You if paradise. To be loved by You is paradise. To respond back to You with the love and the devotion that we owe to You, Christ our Savior and our Lord our Lover our King. Help us to remember from where we have fallen, to repent of any loves that have stolen our affection for Christ, and to go back and do the things we did at first, to cultivate and keep cultivating that tender, sensitive heart and love for Christ.

“More love, O Christ, to Thee; more love to Thee.”

We love You, Lord. Help us to love You more. I pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been showing you why it’s important to fight for love.

As you fight against worldliness, laziness, and unbelief, you need to be strengthened by God’s Word. We want to send you a tool that will encourage you to get more out of your Bible reading. It’s called Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. This pamphlet will ask penetrating questions, showing why the letters to the churches in Revelation mean so much to twenty-first century women.

When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send Ears to Hear as our way of saying “thanks.” Your donation will help us to stay on the air in your community and reach women around the world, and we appreciate it.

Just make your donation at ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask for Ears to Hear when you call 1–800–569–5959.

Godly love is a picture of endurance. Learn to endure in your love, Monday, on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you find greater freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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

1"More Love O Christ to Thee." Elizabeth Payson Prentiss, 1856.

2John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, 32

3Win Arn, The Pastor’s Manual For Effective Ministry (Monrovia, CA: Church Growth, 1988), 41.

4Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Love’s Complaining.”

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

Join the Discussion