Gaining Works, Losing Christ

When I was little, I remember starting to build a club house on our property with my dad. This club house was going to be the best club house anyone had ever seen because my dad built houses for a living and he was the best at what he did. We had some extra 2×4’s by the shed, and my brother and I decided that we would get started early (while my dad was at work). We started putting the 2×4’s together with our hammers and some nails, and after about twenty minutes we completely lost interest in what we were doing. We were excited. Our clubhouse was going to be the greatest! It did not take long for us to begin thinking about something else and lose interest in what we once thought might be the greatest thing ever!



Last week, we began the book of Revelation and discovered together what the character of the local church is. First, Christ is preeminent. In Revelation 1:9-20, we read that Christ is the one who stands among the local churches and holds the messengers of those churches in His right hand. The local church exists under Christ and the messengers (or preachers) of those churches are held up by Christ. The local church exists for Christ and the messengers speak on Christ’s behalf to the churches. There can be no other way of operation. Second, we discovered that God is intimately present with the people of His church. We are priests in His kingdom. Third, we learned that the people of the local church, and the whole of the church itself, are to be revealers of God to the people.

After describing the local church in this way and giving the local church the purpose that he did, John addresses Seven Specific churches in Asia. He tells them what they are doing that is good and what they are doing that is evil in the sight of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Different bodies of believers in our current age look like the churches John writes to in this part of the letter. If we are imperfect people, then we form an imperfect local church. If we are an imperfect local church, God calls us both as a body and as individuals to very specific and long-suffering action. We are going to look at one of these short addresses and draw parallels between it and John’s addresses to the other six churches. I pray that we are all humble enough to receive the instruction that God has for us in this portion of His Word. Where do we fall short? In what area do we need to draw nearer to God? Is it possible that part of our fallen condition is indeed the tendency for us to lose our interest or passion? Why do we find marriage easy at first and then more difficult as time progresses? Why is it that we celebrate new friends and new leaders, and then always seem to find some sort of difficulty as time progresses? Why is it that churches seem to do well at first and then fall with time? Why are parents excited when a child is born or adopted and then voice nothing but frustration later in the child’s life? Why do students start a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, think it is the one that will last, and then break up one week later (adults have the same problem)? Why are we excited when we begin a new job, and then complain about that job more and more as time passes?

Might it be that every person has a tendency to lose passion or interest because every person lives in this fallen condition that we find ourselves in? Might it be that we all need desperate help when it comes to things like commitment and long-suffering?

Revelation 2:1-7 HCSB

“Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus:

“The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and who walks among the seven gold lampstands says: I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

“Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise.


In chapters two and three, we see a basic format that John uses to outline what Christ wants him to communicate with each local church. He introduces Jesus, compliments the local church on what it is doing well, offers and indictment against the local church for where it fails to honor God, tells the church the consequence if it continues doing the things that do not honor God, and then describes the reward for those who repent and turn from their current pattern of destruction.

In every introduction, John addresses the angel of the specific local church. The word angel in english is transliterated from the greek αγγελω, which literally means messenger. Any time we see the world “angel” in the New Testament, it is a word that specifically means messenger and can either refer to a heavenly messenger (what we might refer to as an angel) or an earthly messenger (a person carrying a message). In this case, John is addressing the preacher or teacher of each church. I learn something important about church structure as I read these introductions. Christ is preeminent. He holds the preacher in His right hand. The preacher has one job: that is to declare the Word of the Lord as it is given. He can do nothing more and He can do nothing less. The message of Christ must become the message of the preacher. To do anything else is to deny the very message of God. A preacher who talks more about his own life than about the text of Scripture, then, cannot be a messenger. A proclaimer who devotes more time to certain subjects than Scripture does is not a messenger. Christ, here, seems to have appointed one messenger over each church. While we see a model in Scripture that supports having multiple pastors in each local church, Christ specifically selects a messenger to proclaim His message to the people of each local church.

In this specific letter, John repeats that it is Christ who walks among the local churches (described as lamp stands), holding each messenger in His right hand. This is going to tie into John’s message to the church in Ephesus because this particular local church had lost sight of Christ. What this means is that it is possible for a local church to lose sight of Christ. It is possible for us to lose our passion for the risen Lord and not even realize what is happening. John will point this out in verse 4.


After introducing the word from Christ, John complements each church, except two. In Revelation 3, we read of two local churches of whom Christ had nothing good to say. The church in Sardis was a church that had a reputation of being alive, but was dead. It was a church that, in our modern day, would be growing in number, starting new ministries, and growing in popularity and is yet dead according to the standards of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The people did not actually know Christ. A church may experience great growth because it genuinely follows Christ. It is also possible for a church to grow in number, looking alive when it is actually dead. Let us be certain that we are alive, else growth means nothing. The second is the church in Laodicea, which had lost its passion and grown complacent. The people became more concerned with comfort and resting in their possessions than it was about advancing God’s kingdom. Complacency should never be the position of any local church, and we ought to never worship numbers. When we focus on numbers, we fail to focus on Christ.When we allow our want to be comfortable keep us from actually advancing God’s kingdom, we insinuate that we are more important than God.

In our passage for today, John compliments the church in Ephesus, recognizing that it does not tolerate those who are evil. It is a church that is upstanding when it comes to issues of morality and that it recognizes false teachers. The church in Ephesus endured through issues relating to morality and persevered for Christ’s name’s sake.

I find that this represents most local churches in the United States really well. We are so good at standing our ground on issues of morality. We represent Christ’s standard for right and wrong. Even if we sometimes don’t defend godly morality the correct way, the complement of the Ephesian church is also a complement of many local churches in the United States. God is pleased when we represent His moral standard. In many instances, we also tend to confuse our moral standard with God’s. It is very important for us to always strive to measure morality according to God’s standard and not our own. Many times defending God’s moral standard is going to cause us to be wrong and we need to be okay with that.


After complementing each church (except for two), John moves on and points out the shortfalls of each church. What surprises me, here, is that there are two out of the seven churches where God does not point to shortfalls that they have. The church in Smyrna was a church that existed with little or no material wealth. It was a church that was impoverished and where the people were persecuted, yet God has nothing to say against them. He only encourages them to keep enduring. The church in Philadelphia took opportunities that Christ gave and pursued His direction at all costs, and Christ did not point out their shortfalls. The people were completely sold out for Christ and pursued every opportunity that Christ provided.

Most of the churches had something wrong with them in Christ’s eyes. This is true for the church in Ephesus according to our present text. In verses 4-5, John describes how the church in Ephesus had left its first love. Though they stood for what was right according to Christ’s standard, they lost sight of Christ, Himself. They had grown to be so concerned with doing the right thing, pursuing pure doctrine and rejecting evil that good works and good doctrine became their god.

We do experience this in our lives today. Two people get married. There is excitement at first, but as years go by they begin focussing on pleasing one another rather than being with one another and there is a difference. It is one of the reasons so many marital problems persist in our day. Our relationship with Christ is much the same. We get so focussed on doing what is right that we lose sight of the actual person of Christ. Our morality is capable of blinding us. While doing what is right is important, that cannot be our god. If I am going to be completely honest, it is easier for me to focus on my outward deeds rather than living in relationship with Jesus Christ. Works are easy, relationships are hard. Relationships require constant sacrifice, works only require us to form a habit or put on a good show.

John challenges the Ephesian church to remember from where they had fallen. There was a time when the church did what it did for Christ, then fell to a place where it did those things simply because they were the correct things to do. The church fell into worshipping tradition and method instead of Christ. John begs them to remember where they fell from. If John is pleading with the church to remember, it means the church has probably not realized what has happened and the people still believe that they are following Christ, when in fact, they are not.

Here is where we see some deep application for our own lives. We have a tendency to start well and finish horribly. A church is planted and there is passion for Christ and the people care about following Christ. Over time the church body regresses into routine or habit and begins worshipping morals and methods. The people do not often recognize what is happening. Such was the case with the Ephesian church. Two people enter into a marriage relationship and there is passion and unmatchable love. Over time, the couple regresses into routine and begins working to please or be pleased. Married couples often do not recognize what is happening. A new job is started and we have the upmost commitment and passion. Over time we regress into routine and begin going through the motions. We often do not even recognize what is happening. We begin building a clubhouse and lose passion and interest. The truth is that there is a clubhouse for all of us. We must ask ourselves if we, like the Ephesian church, have stopped following Christ in order to focus on method, rules, organization, comfort or even to focus on ourselves. If we are guilty, Christ calls us to repentance! We must turn to Christ once again and that is where we find both our passion and our satisfaction.


For the church in Ephesus, then, morality and method had become more important than Christ. John pleads with the people to repent. If there was no repentance, Christ threatened to remove His lamp stand from the local body of believers.

If the lamp stand was representative of the church and signified God’s presence in the church and witness through the people of the church, then removing the lamp stand is the act of God removing His presence from a church and removing His witness through the people of the church. This is such a fearful thought for the local church in our current age. If we focus more on morals and method than on Christ, Christ is not pleased. When Christ points that out, we are called to repent and turn back to Him. If the people of the church do not repent, Christ removes His presence and witness from the church. The church becomes unable to reach people with the Gospel. The church becomes a social club or a museum rather than a place where people come for healing. If we do not recognize Christ’s Christ preeminence, Christ can remove our ability to be a church and a kingdom of priests on this earth. If we have lost sight of Christ, we must repent. Christ doesn’t just want us to be good people. He wants us to chase after Him because we love Him we love Him with such an immense intensity.

Here, we also receive practical insight for our lives. If we feel like we have drifted apart from those we love, we do not focus on their insufficiencies. We turn our attention from pleasing or being pleased and to them as the person we love. If we have problems with a leader or a boss, we turn our attention from what we perceive as their insufficiencies and to them as a person who is in need of God’s grace just as we are. If we lose interest or passion in the things of God, in our relationship with Christ, or in being the local church, the problem is most likely that we have lost sight of our first love (that is the person of Christ). This can happen without us even realizing it.


If the people repent and turn back to Christ, John describes a reward for every person that turns back to Him or perseveres.

In Ephesus, Jesus states that the one who overcomes moral or method worship and turns to Him will be granted fruit from the tree of life, which is in paradise with God (v. 7). In Smyrna, Jesus declares that the one who overcomes and endures in light of poverty and persecution will not be hurt by the second death (v. 11). In Pergamum, Jesus claims that those who strive to obey God instead of people will receive hidden manna and a white stone with their names on it (v. 17). In Thyatira, Jesus proclaims that those who keep His command until the end will be placed in a position of authority (v. 26). In Sardis, the church full of people who are dead, Jesus says that those who wake up and actually trust in Him will be purified and their names will not be erased from the book of life (3:5). In Philadelphia, Jesus states that those who take opportunities given by Him will be pillars in God’s temple (3:12). In Laodicea, Jesus reveals that those who sacrifice earthly comfort will sit on Christ’s throne with Him just as He sits on the throne of the Father (3:21).

Here is what I notice in looking at these rewards. There are two options. We will either follow Christ or not. Those who follow Christ will endure, overcome and receive a reward. Those who do not will receive judgment and the consequences of their worship. If we remember, there were only two churches in this part of Scripture that Christ either found no fault in or did not address their fault. This means that most local churches have something that needs to be corrected. We would do well to operate under the assumption that we always have something that needs to be corrected or improved. There is always something in our hearts on this earth that Christ wants to remove so that we can be made whole. This is the beauty of sanctification: that God would care enough about us to correct us as individuals and as a church.

God, in His perfection, offers imperfect people chances to repent and turn back to Him. It is ironic, here, that we talk of repenting for being moral people. This would be like me cooking dinner for my wife and then having to apologize for it (I don’t mean because the food tastes bad, I just mean in general). In actuality, it is repentance for making morality and method our god. It would be like me cooking instead of spending time with my wife. This is something that God does not have to do, but does out of His own grace and mercy toward us. There are many times throughout our lives when we have to refocus because our fallen condition causes us to sometimes concentrate on things that distract us from the person and work of Christ. For instance, if we are adamant about being a part of a perfect church that always does the correct thing in the correct way, we will always be sorely disappointed. First, because there is no perfect church body. Second, because our focus is on something less than Christ. If we want to be in the perfect relationship and begin focussing on the imperfections, we will always be disappointed because our attention is on something less than Christ in our relationships. If we want to have the perfect family, the perfect parents, the perfect home, the perfect job, the perfect pastor, the perfect president, or the perfect school, we will absolutely always be disappointed because our focus and our attention is on something less than Christ. We must turn our attention to the person of Christ, or we will not be prepared to deal with our own insufficiencies, let alone the insufficiencies we perceive in others.

Almost all of these churches failed to follow Christ properly, and all of them suffered in some way. What I find to be the most striking concept, here, is that Christ was actually present with and actually allowed each church to be a witness for Him in spite of their sins and their imperfection. There is only one instance where Christ threatened to remove His presence and witness and it was when a church was more focussed inwardly on itself than outwardly on Christ and then on others. How much grace does God have and how encouraging is it for us that Christ would offer to use imperfect people like us to be His church? Christ is so good! In our tribulation on this earth, we are in desperate need of God’s constant grace, and through that grace, constant and loving correction. According to John’s letter, those who belong to God will persevere in this grace and gain the heavenly rewards that Christ has promised in this text! We see the warning for those who do not know Christ and who do not strive after Christ and we see the great promise for those who know Christ and follow hard after Him in every arena of life.

Where are you?

Church              Christ                 Complement Indictment     Consequence   Reward   Challenge



High morality

Does not follow the person of Christ

Removal of Christ’s presence and witness

Eat of the tree of life

Do not lose sight of Christ in the pursuit of moral goodness


Timeless, Resurrected one

Endurance despite heavy persecution and poverty



Not be hurt by the second death

We must endure in Christ despite any hardship


Word as a weapon

Did not deny Christ

Gave in to false teaching

Christ would wage war using His own Word

Eternal sustenance and purification

We must strive for correct doctrine in Christ and according to His Word alone



Continued to grow in their work for Christ

Tolerate someone who leads Christ’s people into immorality

Sickness and great(er) tribulation

Authority over the nations

Continue to grow in our work for Christ without giving in to immorality


Holds the complete Spirit of God and the messengers of the churches in His hand


Spiritually dead

Those who do not wake up will be apart from God forever

Those who repent will be purified and his name will be kept in the Book of Life

We must be sure that we are not simply striving to look like Christians, but that we actually belong to Christ


Opportunity giver

Kept Christ’s Word and have not denied Him



Become a pillar in the temple of God

We must strive to keep Christ’s Word and take the opportunities He gives us


Faithful and true witness


Neither cold nor hot (lacking passion and purpose), concerned with comfort

Shame and nakedness revealed

Christ would associate with those who repent

We must strive for passion, purpose and not be concerned with our own comfort

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