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Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Rise, the Noon, the Sundown of a Great Church # 4

Sundown

What a pity that we cannot leave the story there. But, sad to say, the record ends with 'the radiant morn hath passed away, and spent too soon her golden store.'

We combine two Scriptures:

"This thou knowest that all they which be in Asia turned away from me" (2 Timothy 1:15).

"To the church in Ephesus ... I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I ... will move thy candlestick out of its place" (Revelation 2:1). "Left thy first love". "From whence thou art fallen". "Thy candlestick out of its place."

If, as is generally believed, Paul wrote the Letter during his first imprisonment, and was released for about four years, and then wrote to Timothy during the second and last imprisonment, it must have been during those four years that the tragedy in Ephesus began. The whole tone has changed, the whole level declined. "All they which be in Asia be turned from me?. Timothy had responsibility in Ephesus. We have only to read the Second Letter to him to see what had happened and was happening in Asia. It is a tragic story.

There are some things to draw from it.

Firstly, how quickly can a whole situation change, and how great the 'fall' can be when - on the inside - policy takes the place of principle; personal assertiveness thrusts spiritual government aside (there are a number of personal names mentioned with discredit in this Letter); when spirituality in order, 'office', and procedure is made to give place to organization, earthly orders, and a technical system. Either Paul's reproach and ostracism, his discrediting and threatening execution was too much for these people now, and so they turned from him; or his standard was now too high and exacting for them and they had developed a spiritual inferiority complex; perhaps it was some of both; but by 'fallen' the Lord meant dropped on to a lower level.

And the characteristics? lost first - original and virgin - love; and forsaken "first works", the former expressions of early and primal vision.

It is something to be thought over that, in addressing Ephesus, the Lord said: "I know thy works and thy toil and thy patience", and then should charge them to do the "first works". He did not charge them with having no works or toil, but with departing from their "first" works.

Secondly, it is possible to 'turn from' the Lord's vessel and repudiate what He had given, but it is not thereby possible to get away from the Lord.

Paul is gone - about A.D. 64. John most probably wrote the book of the Revelation twenty years - or so - later. In that time the decline had become so great that the Lord seriously raised the question of the justification of the continuance of the Lampstand - the vessel of the Testimony. Of course, it is possible that the elements of this declension were present in Paul's lifetime and that apart from Alexander the Coppersmith they were suppressed. The Lord may have removed Paul because He knew this, for He does not believe in suppression. What is present will, sooner or later, be given an opportunity to manifest itself in order to be judged. Be that as it may, what is of God cannot be set aside by man without an encounter with God in His chosen time.

It will be certain encouragement to all faithful servants of the Lord to know that time is God's ally, and that "their labor is not in vain in the Lord" whether they see it in their lifetime or not.

We come to the final word. It is not Ephesus or any other place or thing as such that the Lord sets Himself to keep intact. The world is covered with places and institutions which once were scenes of His glory, power and use, but today are shells or shadows of that former glory. God is not so concerned with the means as He is with the spiritual values which eternity will reveal. It is people who are His concern, and people of spiritual measure undiminished by time. It is - ultimately - the measure of the gold of Christ as symbolized by the Candlestick.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(The End)

(next: "The Cup and the Fire)

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