From all outward appearances, there could never be a better church than Ephesus as described in Revelation 2:1-7. They were the best! If they were still around today, their pastors would probably be asked to headline as celebrity speakers at the big conferences on church growth, community development and doctrinal discernment. Seriously, listen to their credentials:
"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...this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate..."
Pretty impressive, huh?
What makes these words even more astounding is that they come directly from Jesus Christ himself! Could you imagine having the Lord of Glory tell you and your church, "Guys, great work! I see how hard you are working for me, you are doing above and beyond. I love how you don't put up with cheesy charlatan preachers, you continue to live above the garbage and filth of the pop culture, and your doctrinal teaching is spot on. Man, oh man, I have never met a smarter bunch!"
I don't know about you, but if Jesus said this about the church I am leading, I would feel like I have arrived. I probably would begin writing a few books on "Church Excellence", sell them at higher than market value, and organize some Christian cruise signing tours so I could drink in the success of being such an integral part of moving the kingdom of God forward in our broken post-modern world.
But hold on...not so fast...
Even with all the accolades, the Ephesian church was not standing on solid ground before God. Instead of awarding them with "The Meritorious Badge of Honor", he primarily had John write them to warn them: "I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent!" Jesus was getting ready to take away his presence in their community, and was considering to cast them aside and trample them under because they were becoming last without taste.
Wait one second, how does God go from singing praises to threatening extinction?
Listen very, very closely; this next phrase should send chills down your spine...
But I have this one thing against you, you have lost your first love!
What does this mean, because it really seems to make God angry? Not angry, sad. Jeremiah 2:1-21 discusses the confusion/frustration God feels as his people choose to turn away from him. They once had him, but they no longer find their satisfaction or delight in him.
Translation: Enjoyment and passion for God is a necessary component for genuine faith.
Those who do not find their God as "satisfying" will lose his presence. People will not "taste and see" that God is good through the life of the church - - and that is the main reason God put them as a light on the earth. Jeremiah reveals a closeness lost, and a lack of continual trust. Hewing cisterns means relying on self, controlling world through my power and ability, and turning to me from a life that once was categorized as "utter dependence on God."
In a somewhat paradoxical way, I'm grateful for failing because in my lack I can freely and honestly admit that I need him. However, in my flesh I struggle with struggling. I don't like it. I want to be be the cistern and well of wisdom for others...but by allowing me to struggle and need rescuing, God forces me to point others to himself.
Jeremiah shows us not primarily an angry God, but a sad God. He doesn't understand our trade: a close intimate walk with him for a stale life of work, work, work to prove my worthiness.
Have you made that trade?