April 19, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelation 2.4-5)
TODAY’S REFLECTION ON GOD’S WORD:
For the purpose of instruction I believe a connection between “putting on the whole armor of God” as a call to the Church and the words left to the seven churches as we can read in Revelation can be drawn. In today’s reflection, I am building on the first “word” which Christ gave out to the seven churches of Asia Minor whose overseer was John the Beloved. Don’t be confused that the “word” is not a singular word but a complete thought. That first word was spoken to the church in Ephesus. In it Jesus held the community of faith as a whole accountable because they had “forsaken their first love.” And I need to emphasize that this “word” was given to the entire community of faith in Ephesus; not just certain people. It’s message, however, was for the seven communities as a whole, too. It’s message was also for each member of that community, and those communities, as in following the imagery of “the body of Christ with Christ as the head of the Body.” Because of that observation, the message belongs to all those communities of faith in Jesus as the Christ and equally every member of them as it is to the Church in its present age.
Do you remember when you first loved Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Do you remember when the connection between the flesh and the spirit was realized (even in part as few of us have still not realized it in total)? Yes, I am alluding to Paul’s writing to the Corinthian community of faith where he declared “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13.12) What was that which caused him to share such words from the Spirit of God to the Church? Was it not because the majority of them were just like Paul had been when he first came to faith in Jesus as the Christ? He confessed freely to “being like a child, acting like a child, thinking like a child, speaking like a child.” He also confessed freely “But, I cannot remain a child. I have the need to mature, grow up and be an adult in the spirit as I am in the flesh. So, I must put away childishness.” How did that happen more easily in his life? Well, coming face to face with the Resurrected Jesus would be a fairly transitional moment. But, it was what happened in that moment which made all the difference in his life and literally- in the world. In that moment, he experienced the love of God as he had never known it. His life before was bound by the laws, rules, regulations of a Pharisaical mind and mindset. He was raised to think, act, speak and behave under the constriction of the Law of Moses as presented by Gamaliel. Such rigid and fastidious binding of “the belt of truth” limited his scope and vision. We all know when our belt gets too tight either from the literal excessive consumption of food or the figurative “too big for our britches.” We loosen it and free ourselves from “its burden.” That Pharisaical “belt of truth” restricted the Spirit of God in him and caused him to see things from a perspective of fear, loathing and, let’s be honest, sin. His acts were couched under the guise of “righteous indignation” for the sake of the Israel of the past. He literally “let loose” on God’s people who professed faith in Christ. Such “righteous indignation” paled in comparison to that of Jesus in the Temple (whether at the first of His ministry according to John or at the end of His ministry according to the Synoptic Gospels.) The most observable difference was that Jesus killed no one. His threats were of accountability to “His first love” which was, is and will always be GOD! His action fulfilled the declaration of Psalm 69.9 “Zeal for Your house has consumed Me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on Me.” The disciples remembered this truth long after the fact as their heart, mind, body and soul returned to their “first love.” That first love, the first time they truly experienced authentic love, was when Jesus called them by name and called them His own. He did not wish, as is said of His Father, “the death of anyone.” God is a God of the living and not the dead. Who were, are and will be “the dead”? Well, we understand the literal death but what of the spiritually dead. What of those who refuse the testimony of the gospel and turn away from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Regardless of the volume of evidence in signs, wonders and the witness of the faithful, they will not put on the belt of truth and be girded/fitted for service to the Lord and His people.
So, while Jesus affirmed they hated false teachers, prophets and apostles and they were skilled in testing for the “truth,” it had become their identity to do so to the extent that it felt virtually “pharisaical.” In the mix, they had become too much like the world filled with skepticism, rigidity and judgmentalism. They took a stand that was necessary but left out the heart of what made it important. They got so caught up in the defending of “self” that they forgot what brought them out of their own darkness and placed them in the light of “spirit and truth.” We know what Jesus taught about such judgment which stepped far beyond the limit of discernment. Jesus declared, “Judge not unless you desire to be judged as well. Remember, the measure by which you judge others is the measure by which you will be judged.” No wonder, the power and measure of mercy and grace gets extended so far by God. Because it, like that “rubber band” of the belt of truth, will snap back. What goes up will come down. What goes out will come back. And sometimes it will come down and come back “with a vengeance.” And we know what is said about that from the word of God “Vengeance is mine alone declares the Lord God.” Yes, the Ephesians and the whole of the “church” of Asia Minor which was caught in the midst of persecution by Rome, Judaizers, unbelievers and those even with the “family of God” who believed incorrectly, had to remember that “save for the grace of God, they would be those people.” In fact, they were those people until they experienced the love of God. Now, being called to the remembrace of “love one another as you have been loved…whether friend or foe,” they were called back to the awareness of their “first love.” How sweet it was and how sweet it was intended to be every day. But, forsaking such love was not a good prospect. That word exists for us all as well and it, in the measure it is given, will come back to us and on us.
A PRAYER FOR TODAY:
Thank You, Father, for loving us in the Son of Man and God. Thank You for showing us so great a love as that so we, too, might walk in its light of truth and find our lives bounded as with a belt of truth. We go now into our spheres of influence girded with truth and fitted for service to bring the word to others and glory to You in Jesus’ name. AMEN.