Right but Wrong

Revelation 2:1–7 – 1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

The people of Ephesus were right. The people of Ephesus were wrong. These two things were true at the same time, but not in exactly the same way. And, if we pay attention, we will grasp that this danger is ours as well.

How were the Ephesians right in the days that Christ sent them a little note in the book of Revelation? We see a couple of significant positives. The Ephesians were hard workers (v2). They endured hardship and pressed on (v3). They knew enough of Scripture that they could test false teachers, find them wanting, and turn them away (v2). (.

In verse 6, we even see a particular commendation from the Savior. The Ephesians hated the works of the Nicolaitans. While we do not know much about the Nicolaitans, for sure, we see that they are false teachers and perhaps have some tie to the gnostic false teaching that says a Christian can do whatever he wants with his body, because only the spiritual matters. The Ephesians knew better than to give into whatever was the false teaching of the Nicolaitans, and Christ commends this.

Let’s be honest, there are Christians today who need the Ephesians’ Commitment to doctrine and Christian morality. And, thankfully, there are Christians who have the same sort of doctrinal passion. There are Christians who can spot false teachers, expose bad doctrine, and call out sinful practices. And make no mistake, such commitment and discernment is good.

But the Ephesians were also wrong. How? Christ says that they had forsaken their first love (v4). What is our first love to be? We are to love the Lord our God with everything we have (Mat. 22:37-38). In case you’re curious, our second love is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mat. 22:39). It is a fair deduction to suggest that the Ephesians, though they had solid doctrine and high moral standards, somehow failed to love the Lord their God along the way. And this failure, if not corrected, would result in Christ removing that church from existence (v5).

Here is the question you must not miss. Could this happen to us? Is it possible for us to get our doctrine right and hold our morality high while we fail to love the Lord our God? If so, then we must guard against being right but being terribly wrong. We must guard against having only right doctrine and right practice without having a right heart.

Be careful here. I am not, and the Lord is certainly not, suggesting that we ought to ignore right doctrine or proper morality. Christ commended the Ephesians for championing godly morality based on solid, biblical doctrine. To let that go is deadly, sinful, and dishonoring to God. Never once think for one moment that you should stop studying, stop correcting false teaching, or stop calling people to God’s standard for Christian living.

But, and this is our danger, watch your heart in the process. There are some whose hearts grow colder and colder as they do the things that Christ commended in the Ephesians. Ask yourself, as you study, as you correct, as you endure, is your heart growing cold? Does your study make you love the Lord more? Does your protecting the doctrine in the church help you see Jesus as beautiful—not just intellectually appealing but actually heart-capturingly glorious? Do you have more anger in your heart for the way that some falsely handle Scripture than you have love for Jesus? Are you more often mad at the world around you than joyful over the gospel?

Never let go of biblical doctrine. Never let false teachers have their way. Never let yourself or other brothers and sisters in Christ embrace sinful practices. And, along with this, never let your heart get so full of anger over wrong that you forget to deeply love the Lord whose word you claim to defend. Never let your heart be fuller of anger at wrong than of amazement at God’s grace. Love the Lord first. Do not let your love fade. Right doctrine, if it is truly right doctrine, produces love of the Lord your God. Remember that and let it cause you to check your own heart so that you will not be right but wrong.

Loving and not Biting

H – Highlight

Galatians 5:13-15 – 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

E – Explain

Paul has just called on the Galatians to turn away from those who are trying to make them subjects under the law once more. There are those who would demand circumcision and proclaim it as necessary for salvation. But Paul wants to be clear that, in Christ, there are no ceremonies or rituals that are required for our salvation. Neither are we honoring God if we return to ceremonies that only pointed to the coming of Jesus.

But then Paul turns the corner, reminding the people that they are now free. And Paul tells them that they must not use their supposed freedom as a license to be cruel to others in the church. The law, summed up, calls us to love.

A – Apply

If I am to honor the Lord, I must love those in the body of Christ, the church. I cannot bite and devour others. I must not allow myself in word or deed to harm others. Yes, I may have to confront unrighteousness. But even as I confront, I can do so in a way that shows that I still love those who are my brothers and sisters in the faith.

R – Response

First, there is an accountability response here. I must watch my words. I must not let myself think or speak of others in such a way as to do them harm. This must be true in my private heart as well as in my public speech. This is why I am so seldom willing to engage in social media controversies.

I may need to add this to my Scripture memory list.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that you will give me love for all in the body of Christ. Yes, help me protect the body from false teaching and sinful actions. Let me not compromise. But help me to always show the love that you command and which so honors you.

Love and Justice in Parallel

What is the longest book in the Bible? Psalms. What is the longest chapter in the Bible? OK, Psalms are not chapters, but individual units; however, Psalm 119 has 176 verses. With such a long Psalm right in the middle of the Bible, there are many things to notice, far more than I grasp in any single reading. Here is a thought that hit me today from late in the Psalm

Psalm 119:149

Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
O Lord, according to your justice give me life.

Verse 149 catches me for the poetic parallelism. This is a chiastic structure, the four parts of the verse arranged as A, B, B’, A’. “Hear my voice” is a parallel with “give me life.” Clearly David thinks that, as God hears his voice, the result will be life for him.

The center parallels, the B part, are what grabbed me. “According to your steadfast love” is parallel with “according to your justice.” Do you think of those two as synonymous parallel thoughts? Do you attach the justice and the love of God as if they say anything like the same thing? Biblically you should.

In our culture, we love the love of God. We sometimes cringe at the justice of God. WE boldly proclaim the love of God, but we try to hide the justice of God behind our backs like a kid hiding something he does not want mom to see. And when we do this, we are missing the truth of God. The Love of God is a depiction of the perfectly good character of God. Similarly, the justice of God is a depiction of the perfectly good character of God. A God who is not interested in justice is not loving. A God who is not loving will not do justice. May we pray that God will help us see that his justice, his judgment, his proper punishment of sin and his love, his kindness, and his mercy are all part of the same holiness that make us love the Lord.