In recent months, in my personal study of the Word of God, I have studied greatly concerning the church in preparation for a book which I have written, which cost I spent – which cost a lot of time and investment of my own study. I went over the church and over it and over it and over it and what the church should be.
One thing kept coming to my mind, as I studied, and that was the tremendous importance of warning the church, how that the apostle Paul said that, “I have not ceased for the space of three years, both night and day, to warn you.” And I thought to myself that if there is such a tremendous concern over a warning, and that if Paul, as he said, knew that there would be grievous wolves who would enter in, not sparing the flock, then the church stands in need of not only exhortation and not only challenge and not only information, but the church stands in a serious need of warning.
And so, God laid that on my heart, and it rested there for a long time. And then I began to study and to think and to pursue some things. And the Spirit of God finally has brought me to this moment this morning, when I want to give a warning to Grace church. And I give this not only out of the involvement of study in the Word of God, but right out of the deepest recesses of my own heart, which is so inextricably wound up together with what Grace church is really all about, and my personal and deep love for the Lord Jesus Christ and the desire for His glory.
And so, what I am saying this morning I trust and pray God will speak to your hearts, not only today, but I’m almost tempted to say that maybe we ought to make everybody in this church listen to it again every six months till Jesus comes. Not because it’s such a great sermon, because it isn’t, but just because the principles that we’ll be sharing are the only principles that will ever guarantee that this church will succeed in being the church that Jesus wants it to be until He comes. And there are many churches far greater than this that have long since passed along the wayside, and over which God has written one word: “Ichabod,” the glory has departed. It can happen.
Recently, in a large city, a man took me to a church. It happened to be a Baptist church; that’s immaterial, it just did. And it was the big church, the largest one in the city, the first church. And the man said, “It seats 2,500, and they have all these facilities.”
And I said, “Well, that’s great. How many people go there?”
He said, “Fifty.”
And I saw again how Satan moves in and destroys what God has begun to build, and then how our Lord Christ Himself sweeps into a church with judgment, with the feet of burnished brass, and stomps out the judgment on that church and obliterates it. And I again was reminded of the importance of reminding you that just such a thing could well happen to Grace Community Church. And you need to be warned.
To begin with, I want you to turn in your Bibles to Daniel chapter 10 with me for a moment. And we know that Satan is active. Believe me, people, in the last 48 hours of my life, I have been in hand-to-hand combat with Satan, with demons, and in the last month and within the last six months of my ministry, to an extent that I have never even realized before. And even just in this very hour this morning, I’ve been dealing with a conflict between God and Satan in the lives of individuals.
Now, I am aware of something - as I take you to Daniel chapter 10, and I am reminded of it in Daniel 10 - and that is this: wherever God begins to move, count on it, Satan will move in counterattack. That is inevitable. That will always happen. There is not a sometime thing to that statement. It is always true. Whenever God begins to move, Satan moves in counterattack.
Now, I don’t care if you’re talking about the human level, the natural level, or the supernatural level, God is in a conflict with Satan even in the air.
In Jude, chapter 9, you know, that the Devil and Michael had a fight over the body of Moses. Here was a conflict between angels.
Now, when you come to Daniel chapter 10, Daniel sees an angel. And this is an angel of extremely high rank, and that is indicated because of the description of him in verse 6 of chapter 10, and verse 5 gives a little bit of it, but verse 6 give us a pictures of a fantastic being. And there are some who would say that this, as compared with chapter 8, verse 16, would be a reference to Gabriel. So, you’re talking about a high-ranking angel in God’s angelic host.
And so he’s – Daniel is seeing this angel Gabriel. Now, we pick it up in verse 10, “And behold, a hand touched me” – and here Daniel is lying flat on the ground, according to verse 9 – “and the angel reaches down and touches me, and it set me upon my knees and upon the palms of my hands.” The literal Hebrew is he began to reel back and forth on his knees.
“And he said unto me, ‘O Daniel, a man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak unto thee and stand upright, for unto thee am I now sent.” This angel is from God. God has dispersed this angel to carry out the request of Daniel. And it has reference to the release of Israel, of course.
And so, he is sending this angel. And Daniel says, “And when he heard this word unto me, I stood trembling. Then said he unto me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand and chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words.”
In other words, the angel said, “God heard you praying, Daniel, and because of the words of your prayer, God sent me to carry out the answer. God uses angels for the disposition of His answers in prayer. And so, God sends this angel, perhaps Gabriel, to come down and carry out this ministry in relationship to Israel.
Verse 13, “But” – and here’s the interesting point – “the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days.” Now, this angel, even as great an angel and as high a ranking angel as Gabriel, got hung up in space by this individual called the prince of the kingdom of Persia. Now, this is a demon. All of the gods of the nations are demons. And you can read a lot in the Old Testament about the power behind certain nations being demonic power. Demon – a demon actually controlled the leadership of Persia, and he dominated the Persian government. Later one, if you go to verse 20, you’ll find that a demon also dominates Greece. The prince of Greece is another demon.
And so, God sends this angel, and he is withstood. The angel, of course, would be sent to release Israel. And the demon of Persia would desire to hold them captive. And so, there’s a conflict going on. And at 21 days, this demon detains Gabriel, if it be indeed Gabriel. But here comes the champion angel, the warrior angel. “But lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me” – God dispatched Michael and said, “Get down there and help that other angel.” Now, isn’t it interesting? There we see conflict between demons and holy angels on a spatial level, a spiritual world level.
You can go over to Revelation chapter 12 – and you don’t need to, at this point, but in your mind – and you’ll find, beginning in verse 7, the Bible says, “And there was war in heaven.” Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels – or Satan.
And so, when we’re talking about conflict, even at the highest level, the supernatural world, when God moves to do something, Satan moves to stop what he’s doing. And there is a conflict going on in space among holy angels and demons.
Now, if this be true, on a supernatural level, let us not be foolish enough to think it’s not true on a natural level. Satan is the prince of this world. Satan is the one who controls the system. If his demon is behind Persia and another demon is behind Greece, he is behind the whole thing.
And so, Satan is active in the world. And this is obvious to any Christian who begins to move out for God. To illustrate this, merely from a biblical context so that we get it in the right context, take the book of 1 Peter for just a moment in memory – let’s think of it, because we’re not going to look at anything specific really.
But in the book of 1 Peter, you have the outline in graphic form for really what amounts to Christian growth and fruitful ministry. Peter lays it on, and he says – first, you know, it begins in the first chapter with a solid salvation. “You’re not redeemed with corruptible things, silver and gold,” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. “The precious blood of Christ.” And he says really reckon your salvation. Start with a solid salvation. Then a commitment to the Word, as babes desire the sincere milk of the Word.
Then he goes from there, and he talks about a total dedication to serve Christ, “You’re a chosen generation, a holy priesthood.” He moves through the book, see, giving you all the ingredients for commitment.
Then he says, “Be a pure testimony to the world.” – You know? “Speak so that you put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Be a testimony, obey the government, submit – all these things that can make you an aggressive, positive – a fruitful minister in the world.
And then he moves from there and says, “You need to be willing to suffer.” And then he goes and says, “You need proper relationships with others, even your husband/wife thing.” You know? And all these things are wrapped up. He goes on from there to talk about the priority of love and the priority of prayer. He wraps it up by talking about humility and trust. And he goes all through this to the beginning of chapter 5, and it’s so good, and you feel so strong.
And all of a sudden, you come to chapter 5 and – bang – you run smack into 5:8 and 9, and this is what it says, “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the Devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist steadfast in the faith.” You know?
You say, “What’s your point?” My point is this, if a Christian ever follows the pattern of Peter, it is inevitable that he will have to be sober and vigilant because Satan will move right in.
James says this, “Submit yourselves to God.” And then James knew what would happen immediately, and in the same breath said, “Resist” – what? – the Devil. Because as soon as a believer submits to God in the fullest sense – whammo – Satan moves in to destroy. And he has all different approaches.
Now, if it’s true on a supernatural level that the conflict exists, and if it’s also true on a personal level the conflict exits, then I believe that it’s true at the level of the church. I believe that if a church begins to grow, Satan begins to work against it. And I – I hope these aren’t words, people. I hope you understand that what I’m talking about is critically serious.
I think the most shocking thing that ever happened to me in my life, among some things that have been very shocking. But the most shocking thing that ever happened to me was when I encountered a person who was full of demons. And we’d begun – I walked into the room knowing that this was the situation, because I had been forewarned, and I was asked to come and pray and see what God would do.
And I came in the door, and this person attacked me, and these demons started to speak, and they knew me. Now, that was a shock. I mean I knew there was a demon world, but I didn’t know they knew me and they did not like me. That part I enjoyed immensely.
There were two things that I really enjoyed about that opportunity. One was that they hated me, and that meant that I had at least made enough of a dent in the demonic world to be despised. The second thing was that when it was all over, they fled, and I was still there. And I praised God for that. They are no threat to me, or to any believer who stands on the truths of the Scripture.
And so – but I’ll tell you, the shock of it was that I knew that Satan knew me, and they knew exactly who I was and endeavored to attack me through this person. And, you know, I began to think, “You know, Satan must know Grace church very, very well.” And then I began to think, “And he’s fighting against us very hard.” Very hard. And we are in a conflict, it seems, incessantly with Satan. And so far, we have seen victory.
But then I began to think and apply this to my mind in terms of what I knew about warning the church. And I was brought to this place this morning to say to you, “People, I warn you, we cannot - as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2 - we cannot be ignorant of Satan’s devices lest he should get an advantage of us.” Better churches by far than this, with better pastors by far than this have gone down the drain, been destroyed by the power of Satan. And we need to be warned.
Now, so vulnerable is the church to the blistering attacks of Satan and to his subtleties, that our Lord Jesus Christ wrote seven special letters to the churches. Hey are contained in Revelation 2 and 3, and I want you to look at them in your Bibles.
And what I’m going to say to you this morning is going to be as strong as I can say it and as uncompromising as I can say. Because, beloved, I love you with all my heart, but I love Jesus Christ more, and I will, at this point in my own life, die for the purity of His church. And so, what I say, I say out of a heart of love both to you and to our Lord.
Now, the church stands in need of some special warning, and the seven letters to the churches, in revelation 2 and 3, are just that. Two of the seven need no warning because they are positively beautiful churches. Everything is in order. And do you know what churches they were? The little Smyrna church. And do you know why it was such a good church? It was under persecution, and persecution purifies the church. And the other really good church was Philadelphia. And Philadelphia was a pure church because it was totally lost in winning others to Christ, among other great qualities.
But the church that is under the attack of the world, and the church that is confronting the world with the gospel - that indicates there will be an attack as well – are the churches that needed no warning. All five of the other churches have specific warning from Christ.
Now, let me say this just by way of introduction. These seven letters were to seven actual churches. They did exist in the time in which John had the visions and wrote the words of our Lord. But more than that, they are representative of every type of church. You can take every type of church there is, and you can fit them into one of these slots. In fact, you could probably find, in each church, some of each kind of these members. You could probably find in our church some Laodiceans, and some Philadelphians, and some Ephesians, and some of the others.
But basically, here what we have is a pattern of how the church will go. We have a pattern of church history here. In fact, there may be a sense in which this is the flow of church history, going from one to the next. But I really think what you have here, in the most dominant scene, is the seven kinds of churches that there are, and five of them are in need of warning. And so, we need to stand warned today.
Look at chapter 1, verse 11. John sees Jesus, and he hears Him say, “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. And what thou seest, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: unto Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum” – or Pergamos – “Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.” He says, “I want to send seven letters to my churches.
And the vision that he has then is a beautiful one, because it’s the vision of Christ moving among the churches, ministering. Verse 12, “And I turned to see the voice that spoke to me. And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands” – representing the churches, of course. “And in the midst of the seven lampstands one like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girded about with the breasts with a golden girdle.” Of course garments like that were worn by three kinds of people: prophets, priests, and kings. And there’s Christ in His three-fold ministry, and He’s moving among the church.
“His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow” – and there’s His purity – “and His eyes were like a flame of fire” – searching, penetrating, exposure – “and His feet like fine bronze, as if they burned in a furnace” – the crushing blows of judgment – “and His voice like the sound of many waters” - as He spoke judgment.
“In His right hand seven stars” – and these are the ministers of angels of the churches – “and out of his mouth a sharp two-edged sword.” He’s moving among the church, beloved, in judgment. He’s moving among His church judging and cleaning with the Word, you see, as He’s trimming the lamps of His church.
Verse 20 says the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in His right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks; the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches. So, here’s Christ, and Christ is moving within the church. And as He moves about, in the church, He is judging the church; He is searching; He is penetrating with His eyes to see the fatal flaw that may be, at any point, visible to Him in the church. And it’s always visible.
Five of these churches were exposed. And, beloved, this morning I want to expose us to these five sad, tragic things that Satan does to destroy the church. And I think, in my heart, that you can put every destructive angle of Satan into these five areas. If we know these five, we shall not be ignorant of His devices.
Now, let me say this, we’re blessed here at Grace Community Church. We are blessed in so many ways. We have been blessed by spiritual growth. Many of you have matured in the Lord. And what a joy and a blessing you are to our hearts, and what a productive life you have in the lives of other people. You are productive, and you are maturing, and you are growing, and we praise God. And you’re loving His Word and all of these things.
And then we see numerical growth – numerical growth that staggers our ability to even imagine what God might have done. We’re seeing souls won to Christ. We’re seeing individuals reproducing. We’re seeing discipling and follow-up that is done fruitfully. We’re seeing, I think, a love among Christians in certain areas that is beautiful, and there’s caring going on and all that is needful in that dimension. And we’re seeing a growing and aggressive interest in world missions as we extend ourselves.
And from an angle of theology we stand – you know? – for the real rudiments of the faith – don’t we? – here. I mean we stand uncompromisingly for the authenticity of the Scripture, its verbal plenary inspiration. We are not interested in getting involved with people who do not believe and are not committed to that. We believe in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the deity of God the Father, the deity of the Spirit of God and Their equal personality and yet Their oneness.
We stand for the virgin birth of Christ, His sinless life, His bodily resurrection, His bodily visible second coming. We stand for all of these things. We preach salvation plus nothing. We preach salvation by faith and nothing. We believe in the principles of discipleship. We believe in the saints doing the work of the ministry. We try, with all of our hearts, to come to the New Testament patterns of the church, don’t we?
But, beloved, let me say this. This church has never been in more danger than it is right now. And I mean that. And I say that because this church has never grown like it is now. And just as we are growing, so, in proportion, is Satan actively and aggressively counteracting what we’re trying to do. Beloved me, Satan is against us, he hates us, and he wants to destroy us. And the most stupid thing we could do, the most fatal thing we could do would be to be content, to be smug, to be indifferent, to be non-vigilant, to sort of wallow in some kind of cold, self-satisfied orthodoxy – you know? – and be non-vigilant while the enemy seeps in and devours.
You know, most of the 330,000 churches in America were started with a fresh and a warm commitment to Jesus Christ, and most of them now don’t even belong to Jesus Christ, they belong to Satan.
We have here a tremendous trust. Our men met together, and they’re talking about building another auditorium; it’s apparent why. We’ve been in this one only a year, and look at us in both services. And they were talking about building an auditorium to seat 2,500 people, with an expansion possibility to 4,000 people, because we don’t know where God’s going in the future with this thing.
And I went home after thinking about that, and I spent a little time with prayer – in prayer with the Lord, and I faced a very sobering question, and it’s this: if we’re talking about building more buildings, and if we’re talking about making commitments to more missionaries, and we’re talking about getting more involved in all these various things that’s going to take commitment from us, aren’t we also – listen to this – aren’t we also willing to guarantee that this building we build, and this involvement that we move into will always be a place where Jesus Christ is glorified until He comes again? Because, people, there have been a lot of times when Christians have made that commitment and just haven’t kept it. There are churches all over America where that commitment came, and all they’ve got is a stone monument to a man, or a stone monument to a board, or a stone monument to somebody who was wealthy enough and wanted to put up a memorial, and they’ve got nothing that even smacks of the Spirit of God’s power.
And I say to you, if we are not interested in committing our lives to the future of this church until Jesus comes, that it proclaim the unsearchable riches of the Scriptures without compromise, then I’m not interested in putting another nickel into this church. I don’t know if I’m interested in putting another day into it. And I mean that. I’m not interested in temporary activities; I’m interested in what Paul said to the Ephesians. He said, “Having done all to” – what? – “stand.”
There are a lot of churches that have done it all, but when the smoke clears, they went down the drain. They were active at one time. That’s sad. Is Grace church to become just another monument? Just another stone quarry on the corner? Or are we to be a Christ-exalting, Bible-believing, uncompromising center for growth and evangelism till the very day that Jesus comes? I pray God we are.
When the day comes the Lord may take me or move me somewhere, in His providence, are you prepared to make the commitment of your heart to maintain the purity of this church at all costs? You’re the key. And may it go on record from this day, March 18, 1973, that you have been warned by our Lord Christ Himself that Satan wants to damn this church. Believe me; these are timeless warnings; let us hear them.
The first thing that Satan uses to destroy the church is the loss of first love. The loss of first love, chapter 2. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden lampstands” – here’s what he says to Ephesus – “I know your works, and your labor” – and the word is kopos, sweat; they really sweat; they worked; they labored. And that’s a commendable thing. You know, most Christians, their lifetime of labor added together wouldn’t exhaust a butterfly. They were really working. And most of us don’t know the meaning of kopos – toil and labor for the cause of Christ.
“And I know your patience” - you know, they had hupomonē, steadfast endurance against hardship, see? – “and you can’t bear them that are evil” - boy, they were solid; they didn’t like sin, and they didn’t tolerate sin; not only that, they were strong in doctrine – “you have tried them who say they are apostles and aren’t, and you found them liars.” They exposed false prophets.
Boy, that’s a strong church. I mean there’s a church that works hard, and they sweat, and they labor, and they’re enduring hardship. And they can’t stand sin, and they try false teachers, and they deal with false doctrine. There’s a doctrinally strong church. You know who founded that church? Who founded it? Paul. If you could choose anybody in the whole universe of history to found a church, who would you choose? Paul.
Man, they had a beginning like no beginning. Paul came into town, and he started preaching, and flipped Ephesus on its ear. Ephesus was a very pagan city. The temple of Diana and Artemus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was there. And there were all these eunuchs, and thousands of priestess prostitutes that plied their trade under the guise of religion. And old Paul came in there, and he started preaching – read about it in Acts 19 – and he absolutely blitzed that city. The trade of the sale of idols fell off so much that a riot started; they tried to kill him.
Here, huddled in the middle of that place, were these little believers. And Paul stayed there. Really, he was just – he would never even really got the church together for the first two years; he was either in the synagogue or in the house of Tyrannus for a couple of years, teaching and disputing, going over the gospel, and people were getting saved, and miracles were happening. And Ephesus was going completely in two directions. And that little church was pure, and that little church was solid. And, you know, when Paul left, they got another pastor who wasn’t have bad: Timothy. And if that wasn’t enough, they got Aquila and Priscilla. And if that didn’t do it, they got that golden-voiced orator of the early church; Apollos himself came there and taught them. I mean you talk about a line of good teachers, that church didn’t suffer from a lack of having good leadership. The best that God had He gave to Ephesus.
People always sit back and say, “Well, we’ve got a Bible teacher at our church; we’re all right.” Don’t kid yourself. They had Paul, Timothy, Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos. That’s the ranking staff of the New Testament, friends, in terms of communicating the truth. In the middle of that city where people are worshiping in a kind of hysterical frenzy, where they mutilated their body sexually in the worship of Diana. And Heraclitus said that they were worse than animals, because animals didn’t even mutilate themselves.
It was a sick place, and huddled in the midst of it was this little ball of vitality for Jesus Christ that Paul was whipping up and that was just really spinning people around and around as they touched their lives for Christ. It was a great place when Paul was there. Things were really moving. God was blessing.
And, you see, they had four things that every great church has: service, steadfastness, suppression of evil, and strong doctrine. Then you come to verse 3, and it says, “And hast borne” – you’ve endured; it’s been rough – “and has patience” - they endured patiently – “and for My name’s sake you worked” – they didn’t even have a – they didn’t even have a selfish motive; they worked for the glory of God. They had the right motive: the glory of God – “and you didn’t faint” – you didn’t get tired.
You say, “Man, that’s a good church. I wish Grace church was like that.”
I think we are a little bit like that. I think we’re a little bit like that. I think a lot of you work. You’ve been patient; you’ve endured; you’re faithful. I think we know sound doctrine. I think we stand on it. I think there are many of us who are concerned with dealing with sin. I think a lot of those things could be true of us.
Bang – look at verse 4. And I imagine when they read this thing in Ephesus, it hit like a thunderbolt. “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast” – what? – left thy first love.” Oh, that just hits – that just breaks your heart.
You say, “All that good, and then He says, ‘I have something against you; you’ve left your first love.’”
You know what was happening there? They were falling more in love with their orthodoxy than they were with their Christ. You see? They were so happy with what they were, that they got their eyes off of him onto their church.
Boy, if you ever start loving Grace church more than you love Jesus Christ, you’re in bad shape. You know, love is the basis of all kinds of ministry that is fruitful. We can’t – we don’t want to become mechanical and have our orthodoxy some kind of straw man that we lift up in front of everybody.
You know, when Jesus confronted Peter at the close of the gospel of John in chapter 21, He said to him three times, “Do you love Me?” Didn’t he? “Do you love Me?”
Peter says, “I like you a lot,” but he couldn’t say he loved Him in the fullest sense – agapē – because he’d blown it so many times and he didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
Jesus says again, “Do you love Me?”
And he says, “Well, I like you a lot.”
Jesus says to him – and this really hurt him – He says, “Peter, I’m not even sure you like Me a lot.”
Peter says, “Lord, You know everything; You know I like You a lot.”
Jesus says, “All right, feed My sheep.”
On what basis did Jesus commission Peter to do His job? On the basis that he – what? – that He loved Him. You’re no good to the service of God if all it is is cold, mechanical function. If you’ve lost your love for Jesus Christ, if you’ve gotten sidetracked onto something else, what you’re doing is cranking out some kind of activity, but it doesn’t have any of the energy that love of Christ brings to it. See?
And old Ephesus missed the one thing that was so important. It was one of the best churches I’ve ever seen. It had everything. Everything. And the Lord looked, and He saw it, and His eyes penetrated to a fault that He hit right on the head, “You left your first love.” Consciously, you turned away, and you walked away from it.
Those days of the hot hearts – you know? – the passion had turned into cold orthodoxy in the service of a performance. They just went through the motions. All orthodox and loveless.
You know, people have told me many times, they said, “John, well, your church is exciting, and God’s blessing, but it’s the honeymoon, and it’ll land, and everything will cool down. The day it does, that’s the day that I’m going to get down on my knees before God and see what happened to me. It cooled down in Ephesus. You know, there wasn’t any great scandal. I mean, you know, the pastor didn’t run off with some woman. Three people didn’t rip the church into three sections. It wasn’t any organizational collapse. Do you know what happened? The inner spring of love dried up and it became mechanical orthodoxy. The thrill was gone; the enthusiasm was gone.
Let me ask you something, beloved. You’re Grace church, aren’t you? You know, it’s not some ethereal building on a corner in Panorama City. You’re it. And so, if Grace church loses its first love, it’s only because you did and I did. I’m not talking about a – some kind of a foggy concept called a church; I’m talking about you.
Let me ask you this; is it a fair description of your Christian life to say that you’ve fallen out of first love with Jesus? Can you honestly say that more than anything else in all the world, you love Him? More than anything else, do you long to spend time with Him on your knees? More than anything else, do you long to read the Word of God and penetrate its depths that you may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings? More than anything else in the world, do you long to please Him whom you love completely? More than anything else in existence, including Grace church, do you love Jesus Christ, and do you desire His fellowship and His companionship, and do you want to know Him in the fullest way? If you don’t, you’ve left your first love.
Remember when you first got saved? You didn’t know anything but Jesus, and you couldn’t get sidetracked. And now you found out there’s such a thing as the church. And then you found out there’s such a thing as theology. And then you found out there’s such a thing as service. And maybe you’ve started getting attached to all of these things, and you’ve stopped really just spending your hours falling in love with Him. There’s only way to do that; that’s to get into the Word, because that’s where He is, and that’s to spend time in prayer, and that’s where you talk to Him.
The honeymoon did end in Ephesus. The thing that Paul feared most happened. When he left Ephesus, they fell all over his neck, and they kissed him, and they cried like a bunch of little babies. They cried because he taught them so well, and they loved so much. But something happened. I don’t know what happened – the Bible doesn’t tell us – but it happened. Christians got sidetracked onto their orthodoxy, forgot about loving Jesus.
What does he tell them to do? Verse 5, “Remember. Remember, therefore, from where you’re fallen.” You want to hear something simple? Do you know that spiritual defection often just begins with a lousy memory? Did you know that? More people fail to really trust God and love God just because they forget what He did, and they forget what it was like at the beginning. See? He simply says, “Remember from where you’re fallen.” Remember, you need to be loving Him. Remember. Go backwards. What was it like when you first met Jesus? Remember those days when all you did was love Him, and all you wanted to do was praise Him? That first time when Christ came into your life, and as you began to realize it, He was all in all, and the Word was fresh and vital, and prayer was everything, and praise just flowed? He says, “And now it’s all turned into a mechanical kind of function of orthodoxy. Remember.”
Second, repent. “Remember from where thou art fallen and repent.” Do you know that it’s sin not to love the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do you know that? It’s sin. I don’t want a church full of people who love Grace church particularly. I want a church full of people who love Jesus Christ. And then they’ll love each other, won’t they?
Christ knows that the cooling of first love is the forerunner to spiritual apathy. If your love is cold, Christian, I say to you this morning if you love anything more than Jesus Christ, you have left your first love. Jesus should be that first love, shouldn’t He?
Repent of sin and then repeat. I like this. He says in verse 5, “And do the first works.” He says, “Forget all the stuff that’s come about in the interim. Go back and do what you used to do. What did you first do when you fell in love with Jesus? You prayed, didn’t you? You read your Bible, and it was all so fresh, and it was all so vital, and it was all so exciting, and it was all so simple. You know? And somehow it became mechanical, and it became cold, and it became structured, and it became dominated by systematization. And I just wasn’t that vitality anymore. And that’s deadly. You see?
We’ve got to start somewhere. So, we start by remembering, repenting, repeating. Do you know what happened to Ephesus? Jesus Christ came and wrote “Ichabod” on it. Verse 5 says, “Or else I will come unto thee quickly and remove thy lampstand out of its place, except thou repent.”
Do you want to hear something sad? Ephesus didn’t repent, and it doesn’t exist. I don’t know how such a thing could happen. But I’ll tell you one thing, it penetrates my heart. If it happened at Ephesus, friends, Satan can do it here. Do you believe that? It’s our battle to be sure he doesn’t.
Second thing that Satan uses to destroy the church is compromise with the world. Pergamos – skipping Smyrna because there’s nothing condemned about them; they were under persecution, and that always purifies a church.
But quickly let me just give you this. This is a compromising church. This is the church that wants to kowtow to the world. This is the church that says “Well, you know, we want to reach people with the gospel.” And they’re evangelical. So what do they do? They include all the unbelievers.
A guy said to me this week – this week – he said, “You know,” he said, “we don’t really have too many problems in our church. The only one is that about half of our elders aren’t saved.” Now that is not some small problem, beloved. How can Christ have any concord with Satan?
But you see, Pergamos thought that’s the way to go. See, that’s love without qualification. That’s a mushy kind of love that God doesn’t know anything about. That’s, “Well, let’s get the world in, and we’ll love them, and we’ll bring them in, and make them a part, and then we’ll win them over.” That’s like inviting cancer into your system just to show how strong your resistance is. That’s no good. This church thought that’s the way to go.
I talked to a fellow who said to me, “You know,” he said, “we don’t question people when they join the church at all. We just accept them in the love of Christ.” And problems that you wouldn’t believe exist. Unbelievers in all kinds of positions of leadership.
And then he asks me what we do, and I said, “Well, what we do is this: if a person wants to become a member of Grace church, first of all they write out their full testimony, and I read it, or Lenny reads it. Secondly, they’re contacted by a deacon who interviews them to determine if they really know Christ. And thirdly, they stand up before the board of elders and give their personal testimony. Three times they need to make public clear and concise that they know the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Why? Because we don’t love the unsaved? No, we love the unsaved as Jesus loved them; as His heart was broken, so is ours. We just don’t want them functioning in the framework of the church. That’s being unequally yoked with unbelievers. That’s deadly. That’s what Pergamos did.
Look at it, verse 13, “I know thy works and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is.” You know this little church was slapped in a city that was really a strange place. Pergamos was the center of the worship of Caesar – emperor worship. Pergamos also had the distinguishing mark of being the place where the altar of Zeus was located, which was the largest, most famous altar in the world, and people worshiped Zeus. It was shaped like a giant throne. It may be that Satan’s throne was synonymous to a reference to that altar.
But perhaps better is to recall that there was in Pergamese – in Pergamos the Pergamese God. The god always associated with Pergamos was Asclepius. And Asclepius was the god of healing, and there was a medical school, and that is using the word in its most unrefined possible context. But there was a medical school there and a temple. And people came from all over the world to get healed by Asclepius. And the way Asclepius did it was this: the people would come into this temple, and they would lie on the floor and sleep there for days. And on that floor there were snakes slithering and crawling all over everywhere. And when a person was touched by one of those snakes, that was the healing touch of Asclepius. Well, this, of course, comes from that old serpent himself, a demonic religion, and this was right what was going on in Pergamos. This dominated that society.
And here in the middle of this place is this little flock of believers. And He says, “I know you’re in a tough spot. You’re fighting the lions in their own den. You know, you’re right where Satan’s seat is, and it’s not easy.” And he says, “And you hold fast My name”—you’re holding up the banner—“and you haven’t denied My faith, even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwells.” I mean old Antipas down there, he stood true. He didn’t fall; he died. “You’ve been true, and you’ve held the faith, and you’ve kept it, and you haven’t denied.” So, He commends them.
You know, here was a church that held onto good, true, solid principles. They were fundamental in the purest sense. But then in verse 14, He says, “I have a few things against you, because you have there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam.”
Now, let me summarize it. The doctrine of Balaam comes from Numbers 22 to 24. Balak, the king of Moab, tried to hire Balaam to curse Israel because he wanted to get rid of Israel. So, he hired this prophet Balaam, who was a prophet for hire, if you can imagine. But there are such today, believe me – preachers for hire, false ones.
And so anyway, Balaam was hired to curse Israel three times. But like most prophets for hire, he was worthless. He tried three times, and nothing happened. So, Balak figured out some more strategy, and he decided he’d get the Moabite women to seduce sexually the Israelite men. And then he could force fornication and intermarriage. And he knew that if he could intermarry with Israel, he’d destroy them and corrupt them. And it worked. It worked.
And do you know what the Lord Jesus says to the church here at Pergamos, he says, “Do you know what’s happened? You got somebody in your church who’s teaching that you ought to wed the world, that you ought to be infiltrated with the system, that unbelievers ought to be mingled with believers.
It’s a sad thing, but that’s exactly what happened – compromise with the world. You know that Jesus Christ condemns such compromise. Verse 16 shocks me, “Repent or else I will come unto thee quickly and fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” Can you imagine Jesus fighting His own church? He hates that kind of infiltration.
Second Corinthians 6:14, he says, “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” He goes on to say, “What concord has Christ with Satan? What fellowship has light with darkness? Come out from among them and be separate and touch not.”
We’re not saying we don’t love unbelievers. We’re not saying we don’t want unbelievers, who don’t know Jesus, to come here and hear the gospel. We do. We just don’t want Satan infiltrating the working in the ministry and the ranks of His church, the church of Christ. That’s deadly.
You know, when the church starts kowtowing to the world and doing all the things the world does, the church has ceased to be what it’s supposed to be.
I’ll never forget a kid I heard, one time at a Christian rock concert, who stumbled in the back. And I was – I was at this thing through a series of circumstances, and this kid stumbled in the back of this Christian rock concert, sat down for about five minutes, and he got up to leave. And somebody says, “Where are you going?”
He said, “Well, I could hear this anywhere; I thought you people had something different.” And I never forgot that statement. You know, when the church becomes the world, then it ceases to be what it needs to be: an alternative to the world, to the system.
Anyway, James 4, that’s a – just a one-illustration idea – but James 4:4 really lays it down, “You adulterers and adulteresses, no ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” Listen. “Whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Do you know that a Christian and even a church can get so sucked up into mixing Christians and non-Christians into what becomes really a kind of a club type thing that God is actually fighting against that church?
Now, we’re not going to throw our arms around that church. I’m not going to say, “Well, there’s some Christians there, so we’ll include that church.” Listen, if God’s fighting against it, I’m against it too.
Let me say a word to young people. He says here that this doctrine that came in was urging believers to mingle with the world. Let me tell you one way that Satan is so subtle, and that is young people – and especially I say this to you who are high school, junior high, and college age – marry a believer. Marry a believer. If we could write that in blazing letters.
Take a church that’s dominated by young people, have them marry unbelievers, and this church will be destroyed. That’s the purest kind of wedding the world there is. You find somebody who loves Jesus Christ with his whole heart, you find somebody who sold out to the Spirit, and you find somebody who loves the purity of the church, and you marry them in Christ. You be jealous for the purity of the church of Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for infiltration into your life by outside forces.
And so, what happens here is a church that wed the world. It’s disastrous. And Jesus says, “I’ll come and fight against I myself.” And if God’s fighting against them, I don’t want to have any part of it. I’m no His side. So, He wants His church separated. First of all, then, we see the way that Satan works to destroy a church, the loss of first love.
Secondly, compromise with the world. The church must be pure and separated from the system. We must be an alternative. We must invite people to come and hear our message, but those who don’t know Jesus Christ have no part in the ministry itself. That’s infiltration. That’s Satan dressed up as an angel of – what? – of light.
The third thing that Satan uses to destroy the church is a tolerance of sin. A tolerance of sin. And believe me, this follows closely on Pergamos. If a church starts fooling around with the world, pretty soon it’s going to just take a light view of sin, because it’s going to have to tolerate all those sinful people. And that’s inevitable. When a church tolerates sin, beloved, that is the end.
Verse 18, “And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write, these things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like a flame of fire, His feet like fine bronze; I know your works, your love, your service, and your faith, and your patience, and your works; even the last to be more than the first.”
You says, “Hey, that’s a terrific thing. Look at this; they had what Ephesus didn’t have; they had love.”
Yeah, but they didn’t have what Ephesus did have: sound doctrine. I’ve told you this for four years, now I remind you. Two things make a church what God wants it to be: love and sound doctrine. You get too much love and no sound doctrine, you’ve got Thyatira. You get too much sound doctrine and no love, you’ve got Ephesus. And both of them were destroyed. There must be the balance.
This church had love. And the love issued in service. It had faith, and the faith issued in patience. And it was even getting better. Verse 20, “But I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel” – now I don’t know if that’s her real name; I can’t imagine any mother naming her daughter Jezebel, but as far as the Lord is concerned, that’s her name; she may have had a nice name like Mary, but it’s Jezebel to Christ – “who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and seduces My servants to commit” porneia, pornography – “fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”
He says, “You know what the problem with your church is? You allow sin.” There’s the word “allow.” “You allow that woman; why don’t you kick her out of there?” That’s what He’s saying. Beloved, the church must deal with sin. And believe me, this church, as long as I’m here, and as long as our leadership is here, will deal with sin because it is demanded of us by our blessed Christ who desires above all things the purity of His church. The church is to discipline a sinning member. The church is to put them out.
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 5, “It is commonly reported among you that there is fornication, pornography.” It says, “You find that one who’s committed that sin with his own mother, and you turn him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his soul might be saved. Get him out of there.”
Paul said to Timothy, “Even an elder, if an elder sins, rebuke him before everybody, that they may learn to fear.” You’re going to deal with sin. Remember Ananias and Sapphira? They sinned and dropped dead on the spot, and the word got around, and it purified the ranks, friends. Believe me. And it kept the tares out.
It said, “Nobody dared join himself to that outfit.” You know, the word went around town, “Don’t join that deal. If you – one goof and you’re dead.” If the church doesn’t expose sin, the church doesn’t do its job. You see? We’re in here for doing that.
And God was gracious to this Jezebel. He said in verse 21, “I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not. Behold, I’ll cast her into a bed” – boy, do you get the sarcasm there? “She likes bed so much? I’ll give her a bed. And them that commit adultery, I’m going to throw them all into bed.” Do you know what bed it is? Verse 23, “I’ll kill her children with” – what? – “death.” She wants a bed of vice? I’ll give her a bed of death; that’s what I’ll give her.
I mean when you get irony and sarcasm from Jesus, you know He’s upset. The church that tolerates sin Christ hates and fights against. Beloved, don’t ever tolerate sin; deal with it. Deal with it every time it ever appears. If you see a believer in a fault, rebuke him. Deal with sin in love, then restore him. And when you start doing that, you’re going to make sure you’re all right, because you don’t want to expose yourself either.
What are we saying? Satan will use to destroy the church the loss of first love, compromise with the world. And when a church begins to tolerate sin, God help us if those ever come forth. And we’ll just wrap it up with just a couple of more statements.
The fourth way Satan destroys the church is when a church is content with its forms rather than its purity and its power. When a church is content with the trappings, when a church is cranking out all the little deals – the wheels are moving, the oil is in, and everything goes – “The crowd came this morning, we had our deal, and our deal was good, and the offering came in.” And had one guy who told me that the two things that really mark the success of a church was how many people came and how big the budget was. That’s a Sardis church.
I’ll read it to you, verse 1, “Unto the angel of the church in Sardis write, these things saith He that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars” – referring to seven-fold Holy Spirit – “I know thy works, thou hast a name that thou livest” – boy, this church had a great reputation.
“Hey, you know the Sardis church? Man, it’s a going thing. Oh, they’re really a going church. Why they’ve got everything. They’ve got whirlybirds, eager beavers – they’ve got everything – brownies, bluebirds, polka dots – everything going on over there, a terrific thing. Why they’ve got a group for this and a group for that, and the wheels are going. They give $8,000.00 a month to the denomination. They’ve got all this kind of stuff; they’ve got all the liturgy and all the little stuff that they do. It’s all cranked out; it’s a going thing, boy. The grass is cut; the sign is fresh every week. That’s a moving deal.”
“You have a name that you’re alive” – and then He ends the sentence by saying, “And you are” – what? – “dead.” You’re dead. Sardis, the degenerate, dead church.
Now it was an interesting thing. The city of Sardis, 700 years before this was written, was one of the great cities of the world. It had a very famous king who was so rich that his name is synonymous with riches. His name was Croesus. But the whole city went, and the church went with it, and today it’s a pile of ruins, the church along with it. It’s like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, you know, where Coleridge says, “Corpses man the ship, dead men pull the oars, and dead men steer the vessel.”
Oh, all the programs are going, all the machinery is well-oiled, and it’s cranking out, and it’s moving along. And there’s all kinds of function. And God says, “It’s dead.” There’s no life. The Spirit of God isn’t there. It’s a big social activity, and maybe even with evangelical people who down in their hearts love Christ, but they’ve lost the whole vision and purpose. Such was Sardis. Lots of activity, but nothing else.
Verse 2, “Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found thy works perfect before God.” He says, “Go back to the basics and get strong on those things. Remember, therefore, how you received and heard, and hold fast and repent. If, therefore, thou shalt not watch, I shall come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come unto thee.”
Listen, when a church gets to the place where it’s happy with its programs, and all it cares about is how many people came, and how much money it gets in, and how much it gives to the denomination, and that the liturgy goes good, and that everybody’s functioning well, and that the whole thing is organized, that church is in sad, sad situation, because that’s a dead church. That’s a church where the Spirit of God can’t intrude, because He’s not fit into the organization anywhere.
Now, I like verse 4. He says, “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis that have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” There was a little group of solid people there He said.
Then lastly He warns about the Laodicean church, the church that is no church. Verse 15, He says, “I know your works, that you’re neither cold nor hot. I would you were cold or hot.” Do you know what cold means? Just totally uninterested in the gospel. Just totally turned off. No response at all. Hot means saved. “But what I can’t take is lukewarm.” Do you know what that is? That’s hypocrisy. That’s spiritual hypocrisy. You fake religion which you don’t have. “And because you’re that way, I’ll spew you out of my mouth.”
And what did the Laodicean church say? “Well, I’m rich, increased with goods, have need of nothing.”
And Jesus says, “No, that’s wrong. You’re wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Here’s the church that all it cared about was material wealth. This church just cared about the trappings. And, of course, it was not church. These were all unsaved people. And that’s the final step that a church takes. It starts, usually, beloved, with Ephesians. First you just lose first love. And then when you’ve lost your first love, then you, under a kind of a sentimentalism, you kind of open up and include the world. Then when you’ve included the world, you find that you’ve got to tolerate sin. And then when you’ve tolerated sin, the church is unwound and unwound down until it’s just kind of a big dead, organization, and the next thing is you’re Laodicea. Laodicea is the apostate church. You’re the church of the tribulation, the one that doesn’t even go in the rapture.
You say, “John, you don’t honestly believe that could happen to Grace Community Church, do you?”
I say, absolutely. It happened to all those others. Let me say this in closing. Notice please, beloved, that all of these things that I’ve mentioned to you this morning, all five of them, came about from the inside. Do you know what Satan’s attacks from the outside do to the church? They build it up. They make it strong. Smyrna got it from the outside, and it was the only church in here other than Philadelphia; they didn’t get any retribution. But when Satan moves inside, do you know what he does? He gets individual Christians to be satisfied with material things like Laodicea. Or he gets individual Christians to be more content with forms and organizations than spiritual life and power. Or he gets individual Christians to tolerate sin, individual Christians to mingle with the world and allow the world to infiltrate the church, or else he gets individual Christians to begin by just losing their love for Jesus Christ. We stand warned.
I close with the words of Peter. 1 Peter 4:17, here’s what it says, “Judgment must begin at the house of God.” Let me say this; you are the house of God. Your body is the temple of God. If this church is to be here when Jesus comes, still holding up the testimony that it is endeavoring to hold now, it will be because you have judged yourself and maintained your own faithfulness in the power of the Spirit of God.
Oh, people, I pray God that this church will be here in all of the beauty of holiness and the freshness and vitality of its commitment till Jesus comes. If it is, I’m interested in it all the way. If it ever ceases to be, I’m not. It’s up to us. Let’s pray.
Father, we do thank you for the word to the church. We stand warned. Help us, Father, to heed the warning, to be diligent, to pursue these things with all our hearts, to stand firm for these truths. O God, that Satan would not infiltrate. May he not by subtlety begin with just those individuals and seep into this church to destroy.
God, we just claim victory over him. Let his church be not a monument to a man or a ministry, or a monument to a group of people, but a monument to Jesus till He comes. We pray in His name, Amen.
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