"Therefore, remember from where you have fallen and repent." Rev. 2:5
Years ago as a student at Baylor, I was taught that whenever you come to the word "therefore" in the word of God, it was always wise to take a brief look at the previous statement and find out what it is there for. At first blush this perspective on Holy Scripture may appear to be a bit flippant, but it is still a reliable tool to use in personal discovery of the truth in the Word of God.
"Therefore" refers to the loss of love for Jesus. It described a fallen state, a decline in their spiritual condition. People are in a backslidden condition when their love for Jesus is more about the past tense than the present tense. In the case of the Church at Ephesus, they had lost their first love for Jesus. This was a serious situation, and Jesus expected them to see it the way He saw it.
In his letter to the pastor of the Church at Ephesus, Jesus commended the people for their meritorious service, but exhorted them to return to a focus on Him and not the work they were doing for Him. Jesus gave a wake up call for the church to restore to first priority their love for Him. They had become dangerously myopic. They were more passionate about the mission He gave them, than they were about Him. They had lost their way. They had wandered to the dark side, and were no longer reflecting the shining face of the Son. Being more in love with the work of the Lord than being in love with the Lord of the work always leads to the dark side of the moon. They needed a turn around in their lives. They needed to get back to a face to face encounter with Jesus.
It was not enough for the Church at Ephesus to know the difference between right and wrong. It was also necessary for them to do the right thing. That is why Jesus called them to repent. Too often people combine the words repent and penance and confuse them as synonyms. They are vastly different in meaning and mission. Penance is a punishment for failure, and meant to be a rebuke for wrong behavior. Repent is more of an encouragement to stop moving in the wrong direction, and return to right behavior. There are times the word repent is translated regret, and this may be part of the problem. Regret projects a picture of sorrow and shame over a decision or a condition.
A person may regret taking the wrong turn on a long road trip. They may express deep remorse over their lost condition. Saying "mea culpa" or "my bad" does not turn the car around. Without a change of mind, and a change of direction the trip is doomed to failure. Jesus does not call people to camp out in the rest area on the road of regret. He knows if they fail to turn in a fresh new direction they will choose defeat over deliverance.
Ancient Greeks believed repent was more about a change of thought and change of behavior. They formed this word from the words "change" and "to think." At the very least, repent meant to stop thinking the wrong thing, and start thinking the right thing. It was a change of one's point of view from, "I think." to the perspective of Jesus, "I know!" To repent a person must begin to look at life the way Jesus sees it, and humble themselves to His yoke to stay on the right path.
Zig Ziglar caught my attention one night while I was driving through the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. On a radio broadcast, he challenged the conventional new age thought that you become what you think about. He adamantly disagreed. He said, "If that was true, by the time I was sixteen, I would have been a woman." Great word Zig!
Repent is so much more than a passing interest in a new year's resolution. It is not a matter of self help or self motivation. It is not a matter of self at all. The idea that people can find what they need in themselves has been around a long time. I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday and found a book in Christian inspiration that looked interesting. I put it down when I noted that it equated the Word of God with other religious disciplines. It was written in 1902 by James Allen, a seeker of truth who blended Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism in a little book, "As a Man Thinketh." His contribution to New Thought of that era was really just another attempt to pass on an old lie. He was a forerunner of the more contemporary New Age gurus that tell people they can change their behavior by changing their thinking, and become the master of their own destiny.
Don't misunderstand me, the word of God does say, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7) However, this was a not a call to think one's way to a new level of reality. It was a wise reminder not to be swayed by the disingenuous flattery and gratuitous generosity of a selfish person. Manipulative people may invite others to their table to eat, but they intend to turn their unsuspecting guests into the main course. Their outward signs of generosity are nothing more than a mirage of deceit or a sinister camouflage for their trap.
In his book "Repent or Else," Vance Havner pointed out that repent was the message of Jesus to five of the seven churches in Asia Minor. The modern country of Turkey is now the contemporary chasm where the faint echo of these once powerful churches is heard. They may have heard the word of Jesus and responded with a form of regret. They may have had a feeling of sorrow, but did not respond with an overwhelming inclination to reform or to replace the wrong choice with the right choice. The Greek word for repent is not an emphasis upon sorrow and penance but on a complete change of thought and behavior.
Life changing direction in life does not take place with a change of thought, but in an exchange of hearts. What does this change of heart or a change in attitude towards Jesus look like? It includes a reversal of lukewarm, lackluster lackadaisical love for Jesus into a flaming love for Him. It is a break out from the ice jam of apathy to the free flow of warm hearted appreciation. It is an about face. It is a reverse from a wrong direction to the right direction. It is a reevaluation of the worth of the relationship. It is a return to consistent companionship. It s a refocus away from the mission to the Master. His point of view leads to a change of mind, change of heart, change of direction, and a change of life.
When love dies it does not always generate a sense of outrage. It deteriorates into apathy. One of the most difficult levels of lost love to break out of is the numb, fatalistic, condition of apathy.This is the point in a love relationship between two people, when they both become so cold they are too numb to feel anything for each other. They don't call, confront, criticize, or communicate. They don't fight at all, but they don't talk at all. They have reached a point where they don't care at all. The coldest form of hate may be reached when people completely ignore each other because their hearts have grown cold.
Jesus reminds His Church that He knows how much He loves them, and He wants them to remember that He loved them before they first loved Him. Restored intimacy is a prayer away. It begins with an admission of a need for Jesus. It is established by returning to the yoke of Jesus. It continues with a daily leaning upon the Presence of Jesus through the practice of prayer. Satan wants to make you fear that a return to Jesus will result in punishment for not coming to Him sooner. Jesus knows your fear, and He waits with open arms to warm your heart with a fresh, first love for Him. Don't think your way to a new level of reality. Pray your way back home to your first love. He assumes full responsibility for the direction and correction of your life.
Remember, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love because He first loved us." (I John 4:18-19)