The New Testament describes the church as 'The Bride of Christ'. Jesus wants his relationship with his churches to be one of mutual, self-giving love, like in a strong marriage, but the Ephesian church's passion for Jesus had cooled. The joyful willingness to serve their beloved risen Lord had been replaced by a legalistic conformity. Unless they changed, Jesus said, he would see to it that they ceased to exist!
In his famous passage on love, St Paul begins: 'If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 'What ever we do outside love loses all meaning and a church, operating out side of love of Jesus, will fail.
Two sides of the same coin
Truth and love. It is common today to set these as opposites, you can cither be committed to truth, sound teaching, or to love, but not both. But for Jesus these are two sides of the same coin: you cannot have one without the other. The healthy church is characterised by a commitment to the truth and by love for God, for each other, and for the world. I pray that we, in our three churches, will be able to affirm the truth in love as Jesus requires.
In our churches, we are reading though seven letters written to seven early churches by the risen Jesus. They are a bit like the end of term reports sent to our parents when we were at school! We know that these churches were 'types'- the message was intended for all churches, for all time: each of the letters ends with the refrain:
'Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to tine churches.'
Standing firm in the truth
In the first letter, to the early church in Ephesus, Jesus praised them for holding onto the truth and right living. Today, the very idea of truth is under attack. Truth is held to be relative. But not as far as Jesus is concerned. Wickedness and false teachers are identifiable as such and are not to be tolerated.
Taking a stand for the truth cost the Ephesian church dear. They were persecuted and endured many hardships. St Paul had predicted this when he said farewell to their leaders for the last time.
Are we in Burchetts Green Parish willing to be a church committed to the truth of God as revealed in the Bible, even if it means hardship and hard work?
But that is not enough!
Although that early Ephesian church was hard-working and committed to the truth, Jesus takes them to task because they had become cold and loveless. 'You have forsaken the love you had at first,' Jesus tells them.