As I was reading Revelation this morning I came across this familiar passage:
1 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands: 2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. 4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. (Revelation 2:1–5 NLT-SE)
I have read this passage before and have preached from this passage but today something new stood out to me. This passage was no longer about the church in Ephesus; Jesus was speaking directly to me! I often find myself caught up in the stories of scripture but today was different. I wasn’t simply caught up in scripture I was its subject (quite a sobering and scary thought).
I readily admit that I am not an angel. However, over the last five years I have worked hard (to unhealthy levels at times) at the work of pastoral ministry and have patiently endured a variety of attacks, trials and difficulties. One of my more difficult tasks is that of church discipline. Paul uses a little different language when he writes to Timothy but the purpose is the same – don’t let sin go unchallenged. When you name sin you become someone’s enemy, the target of someone’s wrath. People don’t like it when the sin in their lives is challenged. Like Qohelet says in Ecclesiastes, “The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.” (Ecclesiastes 12:11 NLT) Who wants that?
I have examined claims of people who claim to follow and serve Jesus and have had to call to account many. I patiently endured ridicule, slander, cleaning toilets, vacuuming classrooms, mocking, and verbal attack in front of my wife and children. And, I have not yet quit (and I don’t have foreseeable plans of quitting).
“But I have this complaint against you,” says Jesus. “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!” It’s true. Beat a dog long enough and he learns to fear everyone and trust no one. He may not be violent but he is broken. The same happens with pastors (or cooks, or librarians, or whatever). Enough hardship and negativity will cause them to become guarded people. I often joke with people that I can do what I do because I only have one feeling and I leave it at home in a jar so it won’t get hurt. It’s easy to become over guarded. It’s easy to slip from love to duty. I don’t think it is intentional. At least I know I don’t do it intentionally.
The consequences of remaining guarded are great, “Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” I may not get to control the thanklessness and hurtful words of others but I can control my response.
On the cross you were mocked, spit upon, jeered, taunted, ridiculed, and murdered. The road to the cross was no easy task either. In spite of all of that you prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus, help me to continue to love you and your people in the same way that you loved us and the Father. Amen.