Summary: Jesus writes a letter to the church at Ephesus, revealing their backslidden heart and prescribing a cure.
1. Illus. of Robert Robinson
• Wrote, “Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing” when he was 23.
• Third stanza contains the line, “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Proved prophetic for Robert Robinson, who grew cold and indifferent, abandoned any pretext of living for God.
• Years later found himself in a carriage with a woman humming tune. She asked, “Do you know this hymn?”
• “I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn years ago. I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy again the intimacy with Christ I had then.”
2. If we would be honest, we would have to admit that those words are true of each of us. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” It’s all too easy for us to grow cold and indifferent toward Christ. To use a good OT word, it’s easy for us to backslide.
3. How do you recognize it if you or someone else is backsliding? You might say, “Well, I guess we could look for drastic changes in lifestyle.” Unchecked, backsliding will eventually produce drastic changes in lifestyle. But for a while, backsliders will continue to talk and act just like they did when they were sold out for Christ!
4. You say, “Tim, I don’t believe that!” Ephesus is a backslidden church (see vs 4), and yet you and I would never know it by looking at the outer appearance of this church.
5. Today: In the beginning, backslidden Christians look mostly the same as when they loved Jesus with all their hearts.
6. What does a backslidden Christian look like at the beginning?
I. In the beginning, backslidden Christians still serve God
1. See vss 2a. 3. The phrase, “I know your works” is repeated to each of the seven churches, and simply indicates that Jesus is intimately aware of what goes on inside His church. Jesus commends the Christians in this church for two things:
Their labor. The word is "kopos" and it indicates backbreaking, sweat-producing hard work.
Their patience. It is a compound word, to remain + under. The idea is perseverance, and is so translated in many newer versions of the Bible. They hadn’t stopped working for the Kingdom just because it wasn’t easy or popular.
2. Do you get the picture? Jesus writes to this group of Christians who have left their first love, and they are still doing these acts of Christian service!
3. At first, backslidden Christians continue to work in Sunday School, continue to serve as deacons, continue to be involved in the outreach program. Here is the difference: Once they did these things as a natural result of their intimacy with Christ, but now they are just mechanically going through the motions.
4. Illus. of driving to Mobile Alabama
• We have to go nearly every week, sometimes several times a week.
• Find we sometimes put ourselves on sort of autopilot. We take right route and do the right things, but aren’t really paying attention to what we are doing!
• We know we’ve done it when one of us will say, “have we already been through so-and-so city yet? etc.?”
• You can do the same thing spiritually. You can put yourselves on spiritual autopilot. You do all the right things, and do them so convincingly that you fool everybody. The truth of the matter is, you’re just mechanically going through the motions
5. See II Timothy 4:10. Eventually will lead to a desertion of Christian service. Probably not this dramatically, but rather just kind of fall between the cracks and slip away quietly.
6. In the beginning, backslidden Christians will continue to serve God. The only difference will be on the inside: Jesus is no longer the center and focus of their lives!
II. In the beginning, backslidden Christians are still doctrinally pure
1. See vs 2b. These Ephesian Christians would not put up with false teaching. In those days it wasn’t unusual for an itinerant teacher to come through town and say, “I’ve got a word from God for you.” The Ephesian Christians would test their doctrine. If they weren’t orthodox, they sent them on their way and said, “We’ll have nothing to do with you!”
2. Do you see the picture? These backslidden Ephesians had not abandoned their doctrinal orthodoxy. They were still gun-barrel straight in their beliefs. It’s sad but true: It is entirely possible for a Christian to be gun-barrel straight doctrinally, and gun-barrel empty spiritually!
3. Illus. of class atJr. College
• Took a religion course at local Junior College.
• Older man in class who stood out in the hall and made lewd remarks about college girls, using profanity and generally acting like a pagan.