Dr. Munger, who was then pastor of the University Presbyterian Church of Seattle, stood before us and drew a great circle on the blackboard. He put a big X in the middle of the circle, then turned to us and said, "As I look back on my pastoral ministry there were many years when Christ was here, like this X, at the center of all my endeavors. The Lord Jesus was real and vital to me. But in these past few years of my life, I feel I have drifted."

He turned and drew another X on the edge of the circle. "I've drifted," he said, "so that the Lord is no longer at the center but at the periphery. I want you all to know that I'm praying God will enable me to put Jesus back here," he tapped the center of the circle, "where He belongs. And I ask you to pray to that end for me."

I can testify that God answered Dr. Munger's prayers, and he has continued to be in fruitful service for the Lord. It was a moving and challenging experience to hear this man of God open his heart to us, and ask us to pray for him as he did what the Lord is calling you and me to do right now: repent and return to where you were before.

"Do the things you did at first," our Lord pleads with us. As we return to our Bibles, absorbing its truths with eager eyes; as we pray to God continually, trusting Him with all the issues of our lives, great and small; as we respond to others selflessly and compassionately out of a heart full of wondering love for the Lord Jesus; as we praise God from the depths of our hearts, full of gratitude for all He has done in our lives; as we sing praises to His name and meditate on His grace then we are truly returning to our first love.

At the end of this confrontational and convicting passage, the Lord adds a comment which at first may seem puzzling and strange. "But you have this in your favor," He says. "You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." What did Jesus mean?

Today there is some controversy as to who these "Nicolaitans" were. They are mentioned again in the letter to the church at Pergamum. I believe the Lord deliberately mentions the Ephesians' abhorrence of the practices of the Nicolaitans because this is the starting point for the recovery of the Ephesian church. Their spiritual fire has not entirely gone out yet, and Jesus points out to them that a coal still glows and may yet be fanned into flame. Here, in this one important respect, some of the fire of their first love remains: they hate the practices of the Nicolaitans.

As best we can tell from Scripture and the traditions of the early church fathers, the Nicolaitans were probably a sect that combined some aspects of the Christian faith with dictatorial leadership and loose sexual practices. They believed you could be Christian while your sex life reflected the unrestrained practices of the world.

In Revelation 2:6, our Lord says, in effect, "Return to your first love but retain your abhorrence of such practices, which I also hate. That is how to fan this remaining vestige of your first love into a brilliant flame once again. Start here and return to the place you once were."

Revelation 2:6

6 Yet you have this [in your favor and to your credit]: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans [what they are doing as corrupters of the people], which I Myself also detest. AMP

When we look at this letter from the viewpoint of church history, we see that many churches began to lose their first love in the period immediately following the death of the apostles. The "Ephesian" period of church history covers the years from A.D. 70, when the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed, to about A.D. 160, the middle of the second century. During that time, there were literally hundreds of churches that drifted away from a warm, accepting, compassionate ministry to the world, and toward a hard, formal, unloving institutional religion. The church became rife with conflict and theological arguments. Formalism and ritualism were on the rise.

In many ways, the dangerous drift of that period has come to characterize many churches in our own age. Instead of a loving, awe-inspired relationship with Jesus, we see critical spirits, religious ambition, and contentiousness abounding. Human endeavor, human dogma, and human achievement have superseded a pure love relationship with the living Lord.

So our Lord's message to the Ephesian church assumes as great (if not greater) urgency in our own darkening age.

2:7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."

"He who has an ear, let him hear. . . ." Do we have an ear to hear what God is saying to us? Are you and I really listening to this urgent message from the Spirit of God?

If we do, if we take the steps to remember, repent, and return to our first love, if we overcome and persevere in the original wondering love we first experienced when we gave ourselves to Jesus, then God will give us the right to eat from the Tree of Life.

Imagine it! The Tree of Life which was removed from us by sin in the book of Genesis, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden, is now being offered to us again in the book of Revelation. In the concluding book of the Bible, the Word of God comes full circle.

As we shall later explore in detail, the Tree of Life appears in Revelation 22, when the new heaven and the new earth appear, with the Tree of Life in the midst of the New Jerusalem. The twelve fruits of the Tree of Life one fruit for each month are the food of the people of the city. You might even call it a "Fruit of the Month Club."

The Tree of Life is a symbol of our Lord Jesus. He feeds us and sustains us, and we draw our strength from Him. That is what He says to us in these verses. Feed on the Tree of Life. Listen to His words and obey them, and soon you will find that your spiritual life is flourishing. You will find yourself growing strong and resilient, even amid the pressures and struggles that come your way.

As a people, we "Ephesian" Christians are prone to drift from our first love. One hymn-writer put it this way:

We are prone to forget the wonder of our Lord's self-sacrificing love for us. He is urgently, lovingly appealing to you and to me: remember, repent, and return.

The great English novelist and poet G. K. Chesterton had a reputation for absentmindedness. He relied upon his efficient and organization-minded wife to guide him in all his practical affairs, including his travel itinerary. Without her, he was literally "prone to wander."

Once, while on a lecture tour, he sent his wife a telegram which read, AM IN BIRMINGHAM. WHERE OUGHT I TO BE?

She wired back a single word: HOME.

May you and I find our way home to the safety, security, and warmth of our first love, the Lord Jesus.


Revelation 2:8-11

It was a thriving seaport city more than 3,000 years before Christ was born, and it is still a thriving city today. During the time Revelation was written, it was a center of commerce, wealth, and architectural splendor, located about 40 miles north of Ephesus. The city fathers proclaimed it (with typical Chamber of Commerce humility) "the Pride of Asia."

Today it is the third largest city in Turkey and a major international trade center, as well as the home of the NATO southern command headquarters and the prestigious Aegean University. The city is now known as Izmir, but during the first century, when the book of Revelation was written, its name was Smyrna.

Smyrna. The name means "myrrh," a fragrant spice or perfume obtained when the tender bark of the flowering myrrh tree is pierced or crushed. It is a fitting name for the first-century church of Smyrna, which gave off a fragrance of Christ throughout the region because it was a church that was often pierced, often crushed, often afflicted.

The city of Smyrna was a center of idolatrous emperor worship. As early as A.D. 26, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, a temple was erected to the emperor, and all the citizens of Smyrna including Christians were expected to worship the Roman emperor. If you were a Christian in Smyrna, you were called upon once a year to appear at the temple and either say, "Caesar is Lord," or, "Jesus is Lord." Those who refused to confess Caesar as their Lord were either imprisoned or put to the sword.

So Smyrna was a place of enormous oppression and persecution for the early church. This persecution was inflicted upon the church by the Roman government. And it was also inflicted upon the church by the Jewish community in Smyrna a community that was fanatically hostile to the early Christian church.

These, then, are the circumstances of the church in Smyrna at the time the second letter of Revelation was written.

2:8-11 "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.