Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Ephesus. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses fifteen through twenty-three of the first chapter. As we come to this particular portion of the first chapter of this epistle we notice a marked and noticeable transition. Having just written concerning the glorious and wonderful inheritance the saints of God have in Christ the apostle Paul now proceeds to write concerning his love and affection for and toward these saints. AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE! A MANIFESTATION OF AFFECTION. The more I read the words of the apostle Paul in this particular set of verses the more I am utterly and completely convinced that his words are a powerful demonstration of compassion, a powerful manifestation of affection, and an expression of love for and toward the saints in Ephesus. I absolutely love the transition that takes place within this epistle, for after writing to them concerning the great grace and mercy God the Father or our Lord Jesus has displayed and made manifest toward us as ahis saints the apostle Paul now transitions in the epistle to a place of prayer and intercession for and on behalf of these saints. What we must recognize and understand before we actually get into prayers which the apostle Paul prayed for the saints which were in Ephesus it is necessary and imperative that we understand what immediately precedes his words concerning prayer. In the fifteenth verse of this first chapter we find the apostle Paul writing concerning the faith of these saints in the Lord Jesus, as well as their love toward all the saints. You will recall that when writing to another church—specifically the church of the Corinthians—the apostle Paul writes that faith, hope and love abound, and that the greatest of these three was love. When writing unto this church the apostle Paul acknowledges and speaks—not only of their faith in the Lord Jesus, but also of the love they had for the saints.
The more I read this particular epistle the more I am completely gripped and consumed with the question of what is being said about us the church of Jesus Christ within and upon the earth. What is being said concerning the individual church which you attend—in the neighborhood, in the community, among other churches, in the surrounding towns, etc? In all reality, I am more gripped and consumed by what the apostle didn’t write concerning this church—namely, the size of their congregation and how many members they had in attendance each time they met and gathered together. You see, we tend to measure success as a church by how large the offering is on Sunday morning. We tend to measure success as a church by how many members there are in attendance within our churches. We tend to measure the success of our churches by how many ministers we have on staff at our church. We have measured success of our church by how well the worship is each and every week. Can I be so bold and to say that we have even been naïve enough to measure the success of our churches by how many men and women might very well have prayed the sinners prayer each and every week. Can I be completely and totally honest and emphatically declare that none of this stuff is a true sign of success in the eyes of God. I am convinced that many of us would be completely and utterly shocked if we discovered that what we measured as success in the natural carries absolutely no weight and significance in heaven. I realize this might be true—even when we speak of those who say the sinners prayer each week—however, I am completely and utterly convinced that even the number of men and women who say the sinners prayer is not a true sign of success in the sight of the Lord our God. We dare not be so naïve and deceived into thinking and believing such a lie and false claim made by countless ministers and leaders within the churches today.
There are key passages within the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ which further help to illustrate this point. When you come to the second and third chapters of this New Testament prophetic book you will find seven specific letters sent unto the seven churches which were in Asia during the time of the apostle John. What we find and what we read in these two chapters are individual letters which were written to these individual churches, and each letter had its own unique message specific to that particular church. What is so striking and alarming about these churches is that for some of the churches there were essentially two distinct reputations which they had—the first being a reputation here on the earth among those present around the individual church, and the second being a reputation in heaven. When speaking to each of the seven churches Jesus always made the same emphatic declaration unto the churches, which was a declaration of their works and deeds on the earth, and their reputation in heaven. Coincidentally the first church to be addressed in the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ was the church of Ephesus—the same church and congregation of believers whom the apostle Paul is writing. Pause for a moment and consider the fact that the church in Ephesus not only received an epistle and letter from the apostle Paul, but this church also received an epistle from the Lord Jesus Himself. Imagine hearing about the Lord Jesus from men such as the apostle Paul, Apollos, and even Aquila and Priscilla, and years later receiving a letter from the very one who was preached among you. I am trying to wrap my head around and fathom the concept of the Ephesian church having Jesus preached among them in the midst of the city, having experienced the ministry of the apostle Paul, and even having experienced the ministry of men such as Timothy and the apostle John, and now receiving a letter from Jesus Himself. It’s interesting that in most of our Bibles the words which were written in these letters were written in red, thus signifying and suggesting that the author of those words was in fact Jesus C heist Himself, and not a mere man. I would dare say that if you receive a letter and the words contained within that letter are written in red, you would do very well to read those words very carefully, and to do everything in your power to diligently hearken and obey such words.
With that being said, I feel it absolutely necessary to bring you face to face with the words which Jesus spoke unto each of these seven churches, which always describes their reputation and how they are known in heaven, and on some occasions, how they are known in the earth. Consider if you will the words which Jesus wrote unto the church in Ephesus—first concerning His intimate knowledge of their works, and then any additional commentary concerning the church themselves. When writing to the Ephesian church our Lord has this to say: “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and has not fainted” (Revelation 2:1-3). Now these words describe and outline that which this particular church and congregation was apparently doing right here on the earth. Jesus emphatically declared that He knew their works, their labour and their patience, and then went on to describe what that looked like within the church. Our Lord Jesus went on to declare how they could not bear those which were evil, and how they tried those which said they were apostles, yet were not, and has found them to be liars. What’s more, is Jesus went on to declare how this church had borne, and had patience, and for His name’s sake had laboured, and had not fainted. On the surface this would seem like a pretty good reputation and track record for this particular church, and undoubtedly the church itself thought they were in a solid spot before the One who’s eyes burn with flames of fire. As you will continue to read this particular letter, however, you will find that Jesus had more to say to this church—undoubtedly that which they had no desire or interest in hearing.
While it was true that Jesus did in fact know their works, their patience and their labour, He had somewhat against them because they had left their first love. Oh, please don’t miss or lose sight of this incredible reality, for it reveals something truly powerful among us within this generation. There is something which we must understand when reading this particular letter which was sent unto the church in Ephesus, and that is that it is possible to engage ourselves in works, and yet do so without and absent genuine and authentic love within our hearts. It is possible to engage in much labour, and yet our labour is completely absent any form of love—not only love for the Lord our God, but also love for our neighbour. What’s more, is that it is possible to have patience within our hearts and spirits, and yet the whole while we have actually left our first love. Did you know that it is possible to have left your first love and yet still engage in works which outwardly appear righteous and holy in the sight of God? Did you know that it is possible to have left your first love, and yet continue to labour in the ministry of and the ministry for the kingdom of heaven? We dare not, we cannot, we must not assume that each and every individual who is engaged in works among us within our churches is secure and firm in that place of love for the Lord their God. Jesus declared that He knew the works, the labour, and the patience of this particular church, and yet this particular church had left their first love. MINISTRY ABSENT LOVE! WORKS APART FROM LOVE! LABOUR APART FROM LOVE! We dare not be so naïve to think and consider that each and every man and woman who is engaged in some type and some form of ministry in the house of the Lord are presently doing so from a powerful place of love for and toward the Lord their God. We dare not think and believe the lie that everyone who is ministering among us in our churches is doing so from a place of love that is fervent in scope and magnitude toward the Lord our God. What’s more, is that we dare not assume that everyone who ministers among us within our churches is actively doing so from a place of love—in other words their works, their labour, their actions are governed not by a sense of duty, obligation and responsibility, but from a place of love. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament epistle which he wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth. If you turn and direct your attention to the thirteenth chapter of the first epistle the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints of Corinth you will find the following words:
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinkers no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8).
When writing unto the saints which were at Corinth the apostle Paul held nothing back when writing and speaking to them concerning love, for he made no apology for writing and declaring unto the saints that they could speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, and they have become nothing more than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. The apostle Paul went on to write and declare unto this particular church and congregation that although they had the gift of prophecy, and understood all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though they had all faith, so that they could remove mountains, and had no love, they were nothing. Furthermore, the apostle Paul went on to write and declare that even though they bestowed all their goods to feed the poor, and give their body to be burned, and have not charity, their actions profit them nothing. If there is one thing we must recognize and understand when considering the reality and concept of ministry, it’s that it is possible to engage ourselves in ministry and yet do so completely and totally absent love. The church of Ephesus was praised by the apostle Paul for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and their love for all the saints, and yet when we come to the time when the apostle John was on the isle of Patmos we find that they had left their first love. How does a church go from that place where they were praised by the apostle Paul for the love they had for and toward the saints of God, and their faith in the Lord Jesus to the place where Jesus declared unto them that they had left their first love? As I’m sitting here right now I can’t help but get the strong and powerful sense that this church was engaged in works, and engaged in labour, and engaged in patience during the days of the apostle Paul, and yet at some point in time—when works and love were working in glorious harmony with each other—the works continued, but the love ceased. I would dare say that at one point in time their labour and love worked in perfect union and harmony with each other, and yet there came a point when their labour continued, but their love ceased. Furthermore, there was a point when their patience and love worked side by side and hand in hand, and yet their patience continued, but their love did not. This brings me to the undeniable reality that there are men and women among us in the church who may have started off ministering in, with and from a place of love, and yet somewhere along the way their ministry continued, but their love ceased. At some point in time their labour continued, but their love ceased as was no longer active among them in their midst. Perhaps that describes you? Perhaps you are such a minister whose labour, whose works, whose patience has somehow endured, and yet your love has grown cold and is no longer what it should be. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which our Lord Jesus spoke concerning the Last Days: “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matthew 24:11-12).
With this being said, I would even declare and state to you who would read this that it is possible to engage ourselves in ministry, and yet not even be known in heaven. Perhaps one of the most fearful and terrifying verses and passages in all of Scripture is found in the seventh chapter of the New Testament gospel which one of Jesus’ disciples wrote. In the seventh chapter of the gospel according to Matthew who was formerly known as Levi we find Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continuing—and not only continuing, but also delivering a powerful punch. Beginning with the thirteenth verse of the seventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel we find and read the following words which were spoken by Jesus: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:13-23).
Within this particular passage of Scripture we not only find Jesus’ invitation to enter in at the strait gate, and to walk along the narrow way, but we also find Jesus’ warning concerning false prophets, which come to us in sheep’s clothing, yet inwardly they are ravening wolves. Jesus emphatically declared and proclaimed that we would know them by their fruits, thus signifying and suggesting that it would not be by their ministry, nor would it be by their title, nor would it be by their “success” that they would be known, but by their fruits. Can I be bold and ask a very pointed and powerful question? When did we stop measuring people by their fruit and start measuring them by their title and position? When did we stop measuring people by the fruit of their lives and start measuring them by how big their ministry is? When did we stop measuring men and women by the fruit of their lives and start measuring them by the size of their congregation? I am convinced that we have spent a considerable amount of time measuring men and women by success and stature, and have ceased measuring people according to and by the fruit they should be bearing and producing. Have we forgotten the words which our Lord spoke unto His disciples on the night in which He was betrayed concerning the need for fruit within their lives? If you turn and direct your attention to the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John you will find and read the following words spoken by our Lord Jesus: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). Again in the same passage of Scripture we find Jesus speaking the following words: “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:8). Again in this same chapter our Lord speaks the following words: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, He may give it you” (John 15:16). It is quite obvious when reading these words of Jesus that not only have we been called to produce much fruit, but it is also by our fruit that we should be known—not only known of men, but also known by our Father who is in heaven. The question I would ask is when we ceased being known by our fruit and started being known by our success? When did we stop being known by our fruit and started being known by our works? Jesus never declared that we would be known by our works, but that we would be known by our fruits. Jesus never declared that we would be known by our gifts, but we would be known by our fruit. We would be incredibly wise to recognize and understand this reality, for there are countless ministers and ministries which are known by their size, by their success, by their works, by their gifts, and the like, and yet they have not brought forth, nor are they bearing fruit in the slightest bit.
Jesus wasted no time in declaring that there would be many who would come to Him in that day and cry out, saying, “Lord, Lord,” and yet He will turn to them and reply that He never knew them. As it this weren’t fearful and terrifying enough, Jesus would go on to declare that there would be many who would come to Him in the day, saying, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works,” and yet the Lord would respond to them by declaring that He never knew them. I am completely and totally convinced that we can prophesy in the name of Jesus, we can cast out devils in the name of Jesus, and we can do many wonderful works in the name of Jesus, and yet we are not known in heaven by the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor of Christ Himself. I am convinced that there are going to be countless ministers and leaders within our churches and congregations who are going to stand before Jesus on that day and appeal to the works they committed and performed on behalf of the name and reputation of Jesus, and yet He will emphatically respond to them by declaring that He never knew them. When I read the words which Jesus spoke in this particular passage and on this particular day I can’t help but notice something I have never seen before in all my years reading and studying the Scripture. When speaking of those who would come to Him on that day, saying “Lord, Lord,” Jesus wrote how when standing before Him they appealed to their works, they appealed to their labour, they appealed to their gifts, and yet they never appealed to their intimate knowledge of Jesus, nor their undying love and affection for and toward Him. Oh we play a very dangerous game when we appeal to our gifts rather than our fruit when standing before the Lord our God. We play a dangerous game when we appeal to our works rather than our love when we are present before the Lord Jesus Christ. Can I be honest and declare that the Lord is not impressed with or by any amount of works which are done absent, without and apart from a place of love. I am trying to wrap my head around this particular scene in heaven as countless men and women appeal to their gifts rather than appeal to their fruit in the presence of Jesus and all of His holy angels. I am trying to fathom and wrap my head around this scene as countless men and women appeal to their works here on the earth rather than their love for the Lord and for their neighbor. Show me that ministry, show me that ministry, show me that church or that congregation that appeals to their gifts, that appeals to their works, that appeals to their “success,” that appeals to the size of their ministry or congregation, and I will show you one or more who may very well find themselves standing before the Lord Jesus on that day and appealing to their works rather than their intimate knowledge of, and their love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I read the words of the apostle Paul unto the Ephesians in the fifteenth verse of that epistle I am gripped and consumed with what he wrote concerning them, for the apostle Paul wrote of his hearing of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and of their love unto all the saints. I have spent a considerable amount of time writing concerning reputation—both our reputation here on the earth, as well as our reputation in heaven—and these words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular verse completely stir my soul to the very depths. When writing to the Ephesian congregation the apostle Paul didn’t write of how large their church was, nor how large their offerings were, nor how many men and women prayed “the sinner’s prayer,” nor how gifted they were, nor how their worship was, nor how their preaching was. What the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian church was how he had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, as well as their love unto all the saints. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand this very important and crucial reality, for these words further confirm the tremendous reality of what we are in fact known by. The apostle Paul heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and their love unto all the saints, and it was this report which he heard that spurred him to prayer and intercession for and on behalf of this particular church and congregation. It’s necessary that we recognize and come to terms with this, for there are countless churches which aren’t known for their faith in the Lord Jesus, and their love unto all the saints, but are known according to earthly standards and earthly measures. Tell me—when you have sought for a church to call your home, what have you sought within that church or perhaps those churches you have attended? When was the last time you judged a church based on their faith in the Lord Jesus, and their love unto all the saints? What is the church you are presently attending known by? What is the reputation of the church you are attending—not only on the earth, but also in heaven? Is the church you are attending known by faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, or is the church you are attending known by charisma, by personality, by gifts, by style, by title, by position, and the like? I am utterly and completely convinced that there are countless churches, congregation, ministers, ministries, leaders, and lay people alike who will be utterly and completely shocked to find that they were not known in heaven by the Lord Jesus.
The apostle Paul heard of the faith which the Ephesian congregation had in the Lord Jesus, as well as their love for all the saints, and he not only gave thanks for the report he heard, but he also made mention of them in his prayers. What was it the apostle prayed for? When he heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus, and of their love unto all the saint, what was it the apostle Paul prayed for concerning this congregation? As you continue to read this particular passage you will find that he prayed “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17). The apostle Paul prayed for this congregation that “the eyes of your understanding would be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:18). The apostle Paul prayed “that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19). The apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian congregation that they would understand the tremendous power of God “which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20). It is worth noting and mentioning when reading this particular passage that the apostle Paul goes on to write of the dominion and authority of Jesus Christ after He had been raised from death to life according to the power of the Spirit, for he wrote how he was set down at the right hand in the heavenly places, and how He was far above all principality, and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named. What’s more, is the apostle Paul also wrote how God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ put all things under the feet of of Christ, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that falleth all” (Ephesians 1:19-23). The apostle Paul wanted the Ephesian congregation to know and recognize the depth of the authority, the dominion, the might and the strength of the Lord Jesus after God our Father raised Him from the dead, for it is in the dominion and authority of the eternal Son that we ourselves can walk in and experience dominion and authority as saints of God. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we read the words of the apostle Paul in this passage of Scripture and understand that we understand the depth of the prayer which the apostle Paul prayed for the churches, for as certainly as the Ephesian church needed to be covered by prayer, so also must we be covered by prayer. The Ephesian church was known for their faith in the Lord Jesus, and they were known for the love they had unto the saints, and yet in that reality we find a tremendous word of warning and caution based on what we find and read in the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, for this church which engaged in works, labour and patience had left their first love, and perhaps had even left their faith in the Lord Jesus. Heaven forbid that we never find ourselves in the place where we abandon, leave and forsake our faith in the Lord Jesus, nor our love for the saints, and yet continue in our work, our labour, and our patience. Oh that the words of the apostle Paul in this passage of Scripture would bring us face to face with the tremendous need for self-examination as we are truly willing to confront who we are and what we have become—both in the eyes of men, as well as in the eyes of heaven.