Broad Impact, Profound Effect, and Love

Wim Malgo (1922-1992)

An interpretation of the last book of the Bible. Part 15. Revelation 2:2—3:6.

Love runs like a red thread through the entire Bible, because God is love. Love is the highest thing. That’s why Paul sings of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and states that without it, “I am nothing” (v. 2). Love is demanded in two passages in the Old Testament: “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut 10:12). A similar passage appears in Micah 6:8: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

When we summarize these two passages, we have a sevenfold demand that the Lord made of Israel under the Old Covenant. Because the same demand dominates the first epistle from heaven in Revelation 2 and 3, we want to outline it. In Deuteronomy 10:12: 1. Fear the Lord; 2. Walk in His ways; 3. Love Him; 4. Serve him with all your heart and soul. In Micah 6:8: 5. Keep God’s Word; 6. Practice love; and 7. Be humble before your God.

It’s revealing that these two Old Testament statements not only contain a sevenfold demand from God, but also repeat one of them (albeit with nuance). Deuteronomy 10:12 says, “love Him”; Micah 6:8 says, “love mercy.” But this is the fulfillment of the Lord’s whole requirement as He expressed it in the New Testament. When a Pharisee came to Jesus and asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matt 22:36), it says, “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-40).

If we don’t see these connections, we can’t understand the letter correctly. Generally, you can’t really grasp the New Testament if you’re not familiar with the Old Testament. The Lord makes His demand crystal clear in the Old Testament passages. But the actual one, the highest, is given in two forms: “love Him” and “love your neighbor.” The former results in the latter.

When we’re personally confronted with the question, “Do you love me?” we must examine ourselves with holy sobriety and ask: have we met this one (and therefore highest) need, or are we ultimately lacking the only prerequisite for blessed service? The church of Jesus consists of the Lord’s servants. Christ Himself described what true service is: “If any man serve me, let him follow me” (John 12:26). So, this is the definition of service: following Jesus! We know that very well, since we also sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus…” But let’s not emphasize, “I have,” but the person, Jesus! Unwillingness to serve in God’s kingdom is rooted in estrangement from the person of the Lord Jesus. There is no burning love left, no real discipleship.

It can’t be said that the Ephesians were unwilling to serve. To the contrary; there has rarely been a church so zealous and ready for action, so uncompromising and biblically- founded as the church in Ephesus: “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” (Rev 2:2-3). What a ministry of service this church had! The high level of knowledge was bearing fruit. This is faithful service and tireless ministry, while refusing to compromise. In verse 6 it says, “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes.” The Nicolaitans were Christians who were converted and were members of the church of Jesus, but somehow made compromises and endorsed the sins of the flesh. The church in Ephesus rejected this. It firmly rejected all conformity with the world.

He knows everything we’re doing! This “I know” appears seven times in the letters to the churches. When you serve and work for the Lord, sacrificing your free time for Him, He says, “I know…”

But, why isn’t the Lord pleased with the Ephesians, despite listing so many positives in verses 2 and 3 of this letter? Because their service (and this often applies to ours) is quantitatively remarkable, but qualitatively poor. Why? Because it’s not blessed. By “quantitative” we mean the broad impact, what the world observes, what impresses people: good sermons, beautiful singing, stirring testimony, selfless commitment. It can’t be said that nothing is going on in the kingdom of God by these measures. But qualitatively…? Quality is what could also be described as having profound effect: blessed service because this service has its source in the person of Jesus, and leads to Him! The Lord wants to say this to the Ephesians: “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and…” But then comes the reproach: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (v. 4).

When we serve with our first love firmly in place, we can have unlimited, profound effects: we lay the foundation that lasts, and bear fruit that has eternal value. In three words, we are blessed. But if we are not blessed, it will melt away with time.

The Lord Jesus’ ministry was of the highest quality. He was the servant of all: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt 20:28). His ministry had tremendous, deep, eternal effects. Each person who is born again is a fruit of His ministry.

What drove His ministry and caused Him to give up His life? It was His great, wonderful, indelible love! Ministry without first love for Him is ineffective: we can do a lot of good, but it will have no profound effect (at most, broad impact) if the driving force behind it isn’t love for Jesus. The Lord Jesus says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Out of love for whom? First, He was driven by His burning love for His Father. The Bible is full of evidence of this wonderful reciprocal love between Father and Son. God called down from heaven three times and said of Him, “This is my beloved Son,” and, “I have both glorified it [His name], and will glorify it again” (Matt 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28). That was the majesty of His ministry. Therein lay His power. His ministry wasn’t sterile; it wasn’t just Christian or social activity. His love was such a powerful “engine” that He could bear all things.

Love for Jesus must be the driving force behind our ministry. “For Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cor 5:14a, NIV). If this love isn’t driving us, then our service isn’t being blessed. “Blessed ministry” basically means doing nothing but the will of God. God’s holy will is driven by His being, and that is love! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). Therefore, His willingness to give His Son was driven by His love. Everything we do outside of the Lord is idle service. Even if our actions are ever so Christian, this still applies: if I don’t have love, “I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

When we speak of first love, we’re speaking of the holiest thing. This first love means two things: first, and primary love. Having lost the first love means you’re no longer doing the first works. Do the first works as you did back then: with prayer and the motivation “for Jesus’ sake.” You’re not like you used to be with Him. How often do you see that in marriages? They start out confident and idealistic. But then the first love soon starts cooling down, even to the freezing point. The couple has run out of things to say. It’s the same for clergy: they may still pray, give, and sing, but the radiance of first love that enlightened everything they did before is gone. You may speak “in tongues of angels,” have powerful faith, work without growing tired, and be uncompromising and eager—but all without the very thing that makes everything come alive: the first love.

Midnight Call - 11/2020

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