I began this series last week, and in my introduction said that using human criterion of size, churches could be classified into three categories – the mini church, the medium church, the mega church. Some mega churches are even more mega than others. This categorisation, I noted, is carnal and has no basis in the Word of God. The Lord’s mandate for the church is neither to remain a mini church (or medium church) nor become a mega church. It is to go into the entire world and preach the Good News to everyone, and disciple all nations. If in the process, a congregation becomes a mega church, it is all right and if it does not but not as a result of a lack of vision, diligence, etc, the Lord does not condemn such a church provided it has not lost its focus on the Great Commission and its specific mandate.
I promised last week to begin today to talk about what the Lord is looking for in a church, and which He will commend. I believe that God will speak to you as you read.
What is God looking for in a church?
• Love for Him and one another–The church in Ephesus was a hard- working church and God took note of all she did. “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. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting”(Rev 2:1-3 NLT). Despite all these positive things the church did, the Lord was not pleased with her.
Notwithstanding her activities, the Lord said she had abandoned her first love for him and love for one another.
Human beings may be carried away by the busy schedule of the church in Ephesus, but not the Lord; He knew something was still wrong in that church. The Lord says, “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 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 lamp-stand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favour: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God”(Rev 2:4-7 NLT).
While the Lord commended the church in Ephesus for her hard work, endurance, intolerance of evil people, hatred for the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, he did not overlook her falling from her love for him and for one another as it did at first. Love for God and one another was more important to the Lord than other things the church was doing. But love was missing. What a complaint!
There are churches today full of activities, programmes and projects, but the Lord is not pleased with them because they have left their first love – they don’t love the Lord and one another the way they did before. They, like the church in Ephesus, are busy with hard work but have neglected the works they did at first – the greater work of love. What the Lord is calling such churches back to is repentance: “Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lamp-stand from its place among the churches” (Verse 5).
What about the reference to lamp-stand? What does it mean? There was usually in the temple, a lamp-stand having seven branched candlesticks, which provided light for the priest to see. “Then make the seven lamps for the lamp-stand, and set them so they reflect their light forward” (Exodus 25:37 NLT). The lamps must be kept burning by the priest throughout the night. “The lamp-stand will stand in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron and his sons must keep the lamps burning in the Lord’s presence all night. This is a permanent law for the people of Israel, and it must be observed from generation to generation” (Exodus 27:21 NLT).
Therefore, to remove the lamp-stand of the church in Ephesus from its place among the churches as the Lord promised was to make that church useless, ineffective among churches; she would not be able to illuminate her environment just as the lamp-stand in the temple provided illumination.
The Ephesian church failed in the area of love. A life without love is a bankrupt life, no matter the material possessions or riches a person has. That is why Jesus thought that the greatest commandment is love, both towards God and men. There is no law greater than this. “Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:37-40 NLT).
What does it mean to love the Lord? Jesus gives us the answer. “Jesus replied, ‘All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me” (John 14:23-24 NLT) Loving the Lord means obeying his Word not just being busy with activities.
And there is a relationship between loving the Lord and loving fellow human beings. The Bible says, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters” (1 John 4:20¬-21 NLT). You cannot claim that you love God when you do not love fellow believers. The Lord is looking for love in His church – love for the Lord and one another.
Permit me to stop here today. Next week, I will talk more about what God is looking for in a church. I believe that God has spoken to you already. Has your love for the Lord dwindled? Do you still love the Lord as you did in the past? Do you walk in love towards fellow human beings? You can take corrective steps today.