When we have no mission outreach to the lost, we have lost our purpose as a church of Christ. We are thus dead to the purpose for which the church exists in a world of sin.
The Ephesian and Sardis churches are the New Testament examples of this fact. The Ephesian disciples started off with a blast in Acts 19. But a little over thirty years later the members had lost their first love. The members of the Sardis church had a great reputation in their city for their good works. But they were dead. Because of where both churches were at the time the message of Revelation was written, they had incurred the negative judgment of Jesus in reference to their function as the universal body of Christ.
We have found that dead churches often do not realize that they are dead. The reason for this is that Satan generates too much religious behavior in the lives of those whom he wants to feel good while in a state of death. When the church goes down, he makes the members think that all is well in a sinking ship. Keep in mind that until Jesus showed up, the Ephesian disciples probably did not realize that they had lost their first love. Churches that have no mission outreach, but are involved in a great number of good works, usually do not realize that Satan has sent them off course. This seems to have been the situation with the Sardis Christians who felt good about themselves, but they were dead to the function for which Christ died.
Notice the truth of this point in reference to what Jesus said to the Ephesian disciples over three decades after their beginning in Acts 19: “I know your works and your labor and your patience, and how you cannot bear those who are evil” (Rv 2:2). The complements continued in order to notify them that their “church” activity and involvement was by the time Revelation was written, was only self-deception. They had digressed into systematic religion from which they needed to repent: “You have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Rv 2:3). That was their past. Their present was not so.
If we stopped here we might conclude that these disciples throughout the city of Ephesus were doing quite well. They felt secure in the deception of their church involvement. The members were an active group who were busy as bees doing this or that program in order to present a front that they were a church that was on fire for the Lord. But there was something tragically wrong. Something was so wrong that Jesus called on them to repent.
We might assume that the Ephesian disciples had involvement programs that focused on their own needs. There was probably even a committee that sat as judges who “tested those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars” (Rv 2:2). They surely had a benevolent program, a Bible school department, a roster of those who were to be the participants in the Sunday morning performance. They possibly had a disaster relief program where members involved themselves in helping those who suffered from earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. But something was tragically wrong. Their first love was gone.
In their euphoria of activity, Jesus dropped in with a pronouncement that shock them to their inner soul. “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rv 2:4). They had left their purpose for being disciples of the One who came into this world to seek and to save those who are lost (Lk 19:10). They turned into a religious social club who catered to those needs that were not focused on eternal consequences.
The first love that originally led to their birth as a church and initial rapid growth in their beginning. But now it was gone. Their activity of how they loved one another was going great. But their loving function with one another to the exclusion of loving the lost, led to their need to repent.
[Next in series: June 1]