In the letter to the messenger at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1, the Lord describes Himself as “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven churches.” The Lord is always walking in the midst of the churches, examining everything that is said and done by everyone therein, and especially by the messengers whom He holds in His hand. And He measures everything, not by the low standards that carnal Christians have, nor even by the standard of the Ten Commandments, but by the plumb line of Divine righteousness.
He expresses His approval and appreciation first before He points out the failures (Rev. 2:2). The Divine nature is like that. The Lord always looks for that which is good first, and expresses appreciation for that, before pointing out what needs to be set right. Man’s nature however is quite different.
He does not look for that which is good in others first, but for that which is bad. Man is naturally slow to appreciate and extremely quick to criticise. This is but one mark of the poison of the “Accuser of the Brethren” that is in our system (Rev. 12:10). The more we partake of the Divine nature however, the more we will be like our Lord – quick to appreciate and slow to criticise.
It is good to follow this principle all through life: “I will never point out a fault to someone, in whom I have found nothing so far to appreciate.” Following that simple rule can lead us to greater heights of godliness than we have ever imagined. It will make us a far greater blessing in the church and far less of a nuisance to others than we have been thus far. It is only when we appreciate others that we have laid the foundation to constructively criticize them. Otherwise we will only be hurling bricks at them.
You cannot write with a chalk on thin air. You need a blackboard if people are to see what you are writing. Even so, expressed appreciation forms the blackboard on which we can write and “speak the truth in love” to others. Then, what we say is also more likely to be accepted by them. Appreciation and rebuke are both signs of love. But we must begin with appreciation first. Notice how Paul follows this principle even when writing to the carnal Corinthian Christians (1 Cor. 1:4-10).
The Lord commends the messenger at Ephesus for his toil and perseverance and for his efforts to keep the church pure from evil men. No doubt he had fought a battle against worldliness to keep it from entering the church. Not only that, he had also striven to keep the church pure in doctrine. He had tested those who claimed to be apostles and had proved their claims to be false.
The messenger in the church at Ephesus had also “endured” for the sake of the Lord’s Name without giving up (Rev. 2:3). What a wonderful man this messenger was, according to the standards of most believers. And what a wonderful church the Ephesian church appeared to be – one that toiled, persevered, kept away evil men, kept out false doctrine and exposed deceivers – thus emphasising both purity of life and purity of doctrine.
One would have thought that such a church had everything that the Lord wanted to find in a church. But alas, it was not so. It lacked the main thing that the Lord looked for. It had left its first love – love for the Lord and love for one another (Rev. 2:4). What the Lord said to them was essentially this: “In the midst of all your zeal and your activity, you have lost sight of ME.
You have lost that fervent devotion that you once had for Me. You have kept yourself from evil and you have steered clear of doctrinal error. But remember how you loved Me fervently when you were first converted and how you did everything out of love for Me then. Now everything has degenerated into a dry routine. You’re still going to the meetings, reading your Bible and praying. But it has all become a ritual.”
The church here had become like a wife who once served her husband joyfully out of love for him, but who now considers the same tasks a drudgery – because the fire of love has gone out of her marriage. In the olden days, she used to wait eagerly for her husband to come back from the office every evening. But not now. She is still faithful to Him, but she has lost her first love. What does a true husband desire from his wife first of all? Is it her love or her labours? Certainly, it is her love.
It is the same with the Lord. He desires the love of our hearts first and foremost. When that is gone, everything that we do becomes dead works. Good works become dead works when love for God is not the motivating force behind them. The believers here had also lost their fervent love for each other. They were no longer able to bear with each other’s weaknesses or to overlook each other’s sins.
They had lost their first love for one another too. The messenger had lost his first love – and gradually the church too had become like its messenger. This was not a small error. It was a great fall – for the Lord says, “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen.” (Rev. 2:5).
– Zac Poonen