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When Jesus said to the Ephesians, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.  I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false,” this sentence was followed by an encouragement and a rebuke… You have persevered and have endured hardships for My Name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you:  You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.”

The problem we all encounter in having to deal with Godforsaking people (wicked men) is that it can harden our hearts so that our tolerance of them turns to intolerance.  There is not one of us who does not fall into this trap, which causes us to forget the first commandment of love that Jesus gave us… “Love your enemies…”

There is no greater enemy of the church than a false apostle… that is, one who claims to be an apostle but is not.  A false apostle is far greater a danger than a false prophet, for a prophet only has a message, but he does not have a system of doing things or practising things.  Prophets bring a message; apostles bring a system of doing things.  Jesus is not known as the Prophet of our faith, but the Apostle of our faith, as it is written in Hebrews 3.1:  Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess.  Jesus did not bring a message, rather, He brought a whole new way of doing things.  In fact, He brought along His work, which He finished, and gave His disciples not just a message, but a work that they had to complete, which included healing the sick, driving out demons, raising the dead and making disciples.  The message is the Gospel of the kingdom that is to be preached to all creation, creatures and all mankind, and they were to demonstrate to those whom they would preach to the way things are done in the Kingdom of God that they preached about – drive out demons, heal the sick and everything else that Jesus had been doing.  Whereas prophets, even prophets like Moses and Elijah, could not raise up the people to do the things they had been doing, but could only raise up specific men like Joshua and Elisha as the Lord gave them the command.  Not everyone in the Kingdom of Israel could do what Moses had been doing, and Elijah had only one disciple, Elisha, and not one of Elisha’s school of prophets could do what Elisha did.

Prophets, true or false, only bring a message, but they do not know what to do with the message, no more than a courier delivering architectural plans know what the architectural plans mean.  Moses was unique in that he was given the plans and the message, but still fell short of an apostle as Jesus is the Apostle, for he did not raise up disciples like himself.

It is the plan of God to allow Jesus to raise up disciples like Himself from those who believe the message, and from those disciples, to raise up subsequent generations who likewise can do whatever Jesus has been doing so that the world would see and not only hear the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

John the Baptist was only a prophet, a man with a message, but he did not know what to do with the message as Jesus knew what to do with the message, for after John preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” he could only baptise those who believed with water for the repentance of sins, but he could not take them onwards to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Whereas Jesus, having picked up the baton from John and likewise preached, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” went on to preach also, “The time has come.  The Kingdom of God is near.  Repent and believe the Good News!”

Now to those who believe that the church is the Kingdom of God… that is only true if the church is populated by people who behave as people who are of the Kingdom of God do.  This should be easy for anyone to understand.  You cannot say such and such a place is part of Russia unless the people there speak Russian like a Russian and eat, drink, behave and think like a Russian.  Some parts of Canada may have an accent like their southern neighbours or even a French accent, but they are not of the United States because they do not act and behave like someone from the United States, and they are not French because they do not act and think as a Frenchman does.

People who are of the Kingdom of God not only behave as any man can behave… eat, drink, talk… but like Jesus Christ their King, they have power to heal the sick, raise the dead and calm the storm.  Thus a church that does not have the power to do what Jesus has been doing in their midst is like a bunch of Canadians dressed up to look like their southern neighbours, but without their financial or military power to impose their way of life on the world.  They may imitate and they may be nearby, but they are not Americans.

Jesus the Apostle came with the message of the kingdom and the lifestyle of the Kingdom of God.  He showed His disciples how things are done in the Kingdom of God.  In Israel, it is written:  “Love your neighbour…” in the Kingdom of God it is “Love your enemies…”  In Israel it is “Eye for eye…” “Evil for evil…” but in the Kingdom of God it is “Turn the other cheek…”  As such, not only is the message different, the lifestyle is also different… very different.  An Israelite can only eat the fish he caught, but a true citizen of the Kingdom of God can multiply the fish he caught to feed not only himself, but also those who are with him.  An Israelite can only leave his camp and wait outside for so many days to see if his rash is clean or unclean.  A true citizen of the Kingdom of God can have his leprosy healed there and then and not have to waste time sitting outside the camp.

As such, what will set apart those churches that truly have the Kingdom of God within them is not the message, but the lifestyle.  It is the way things are done.  Churches without the power send their sick to the doctors.  Churches with the power have doctors sending them their sick.

Thus, whereas most churches are worried about false prophets and spend their time pouring over messages to decipher their content, those churches that do have the Kingdom of God within them waste less time on the content of the message, for to them, the voice that brings the message is more important.  The little flocks to whom it has pleased the Father to give them the Kingdom of God have sheep that know the voice of the Shepherd and not the message.  Indeed, sheep do not understand the message of the Shepherd, but His voice they recognize, for they speak in different languages.  Thus, if you can recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, it does not matter if you do not understand the message, you would follow Him anyway.  When you find a group of people pouring over the details of the message to determine its authenticity, you have a group that does not know the voice that brought the message.  The group that knows the voice only pours over the details of the message in order to perform the message, not to authenticate the message.

Thus the testing of those who claim to be apostles but are not is of paramount importance over those who claim to be prophets.  Those who claim to be apostles but are not bring not only a message, but a system of behaviour, a lifestyle, which if followed will discredit the Kingdom of God.

Take James the Younger for instance, whose judgment in Acts 15 did not just bring a message only, but advocated a lifestyle, a lifestyle that recommended an abstinence from foods sacrificed to idols, strangled meat and avoidance of the drinking of blood.  A lifestyle that when adopted leads to a life of avoidance in order to do well, as those who adopted James’ judgment wrote to the rest of the churches:  You will do well to avoid these things.  Now compare this to Jesus’ message and the lifestyle He advocated:  “…anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have been doing,” and to the Ephesians He said, “Repent and do the things you did at first,” not “Repent and avoid the things you did at first.”  A man who avoids something never masters what he avoids… but a man who practises is a man who masters what he practises.

The church that has the Kingdom of God within it will be known not for what it avoids, but for what it does.  Indeed, the rewards that Jesus is bringing with Him are for those who have done things, not for those who avoided and did not do things.  The righteous of Matthew 25.31-46 are rewarded for what they did for His brothers, and the wicked are banished for what they avoided doing for His brothers.

The disciples of James pushed that lifestyle even further so that Peter was led into hypocrisy because the lifestyle advocated by the men from James meant they had to avoid eating with Gentiles.  So was James the Younger an apostle?  Did James the Younger meet the criteria of Paul’s defence of his apostleship?

When James stood up in Acts 15 and gave his judgment… did he fit this description?  For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena.  Did he speak as one who seemed to be one of whom it can be said, “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!”?  Does he have a gospel of his own, which he received directly from the Lord?  Can you name one miracle, sign or wonder accredited to him before Acts 15?  He may have showed perseverance to the end and had seen Jesus… but then they grew up together and it is written:  For even His own brothers did not believe in Him.  And certainly his judgment in Acts 15 showed he still did not believe in his Brother… he may have believed in God and Moses, but as to his Brother Jesus?  Not enough not to recommend things that went against his Brother’s teaching… especially when the Lord taught His disciples to drink His blood and lost all His disciples except the twelve in John 6.66.  James must have seen the effect of Jesus’ teaching of drinking His blood on the size of His following and realised that if they taught the Gentiles to drink the blood of Jesus and not insist they avoid drinking blood, they would again lose the Jewish disciples like Jesus lost His in John 6.66.

This influence of James is borne out in Acts 21 when the elders who were with him met with Paul and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law,” and repeated the recommendations of Acts 15… “As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood…”

James the Younger, within the books of the holy library, does not fulfill all the signs of an apostle as written by Paul, the only apostle who in his epistles spoke of ‘false apostles’ and whose church, Ephesus, was commended for its ability to test for apostles and prove their authenticity.  However, despite that ability, they were still reprimanded, for they had lost their first love.  They had failed to love those false apostles as Jesus commanded.  They may have driven them away like any church drives away ‘false teachers.’  You see… sheep only fear wolves because wolves are more powerful than they are.  However, if the sheep are more powerful, they need not fear any wolf that is in their midst.  Indeed, it is the wolf that should fear the sheep.

When Paul was confronted with competition from Elymas the sorcerer, what did Paul do?  Paul blessed Elymas as Jesus had blessed him earlier, and blinded Elymas, saying, “You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.”  The wolf was blinded by the sheep.  Freely Paul received the blindness from the Lord… freely he gave to Elymas… as the Lord commanded, “Freely you have received, freely give.”

As such, it is not enough to be able to test those who claim to be apostles and authenticate them, it is when we can love, bless and pray for those whom we find to be false and keep them in our midst that the repentance of the first sin of the church of Ephesus is made complete.  We keep them in our midst, for not only do we show them no fear for we know what they are, but we know that the truth we implant in them will yield forth the harvest God intends… for the Lord’s words do not return to Him void without accomplishing what they were sent out for and neither does His glory.  For it is by His word and for His glory that His enemies like you and I are changed to being His servants, friends and family, like water to good wine.  That is the true hope of glory of Christ in us, that we who are His enemies are changed like Saul of Tarsus to Paul the apostle.  He is able to do it, for with God nothing is impossible; we only have to believe Him.

And so we go back to the beginning… if even a church as powerful as the one in Ephesus, which could withstand false apostles with their messages and deceptive works, lifestyles and practices, had to go back to the beginning with Jesus and repent, so should all of us “Repent…”  For as Jesus said, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place,” then repentance will ensure the lampstand is secure and not only secure, but will be able to burn brightly.

And what does one receive when you repent?  Forgiveness.  So forgiveness is the first thing that we receive from God as a sign of His love for us.  And therefore, forgiveness should always be the first thing we give to all… for the Lord said, “Freely you have received, freely give,” and “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” which follows immediately from the command of Luke 6.27… “But I tell you who hear Me:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”

You see, when the church in Ephesus tested those who claimed to be apostles and found them false, they judged.  And since they judged, they were judged.  Yet you say the Lord commanded, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.”  Do not fear being judged, for it is only when your works, your doctrines and your teachings are judged that you will see the strengths and the weaknesses of what you have done, taught and held onto.  It is only when those weaknesses are revealed that you can correct them and so improve.  A pampered system has no strength, for it knows not its weaknesses… but a system that is constantly tested to its limits can grow in strength.  The world knows and practises this; only the church is blind to see this and so does not tolerate those who challenge it.  You see, those who resist us are good for us, for Jesus said, “Do not resist an evil person.”  When you encounter resistance, that resistance proves you are not evil.  In the same way, the two witnesses in Revelation 11 offer no resistance to the beast, but let him slay them, thus condemning the beast by the Lord’s own words that he, the beast, is an evil person.

The Ephesians judged and they were judged, and it is obvious they threatened those false apostles with condemnation, for they were threatened with condemnation by Jesus… “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”  So what should they have done?  Not judged those false apostles as being false?  No, but what they should have done was having judged and condemned them for what they are – false – they should have then forgiven, for forgiveness is the antidote to judgment and condemnation.  Forgiveness allows us to judge and condemn and yet escape judgment and condemnation ourselves because when we forgive, we will be forgiven.  You see, you can forgive, but that forgiveness has no effect on a person unless they repent.

God forgave Adam of his sin before Adam sinned, for Jesus is the Lamb slain BEFORE the foundation of the world, but that provision of forgiveness does not manifest without repentance.  Adam did not repent when confronted by God for his sin, but sought to blame and accuse Eve and God for his problem.

We can forgive those we judge and condemn, and in so doing we are forgiven for judging and condemning, but those who are judged and condemned with the truth do not receive that forgiveness unless they repent.  The first word of the true Gospel is “Repent…” for all who repent are forgiven, and when you are forgiven you have hope, a future and life.  You have a second chance.  The ‘gospel’ that says, “Believe and be saved,” offers no hope, for a man who believes is not a man who has repented.  Your faith may move mountains and your faith may heal you and save you, but your faith does not access for you forgiveness, only your repentance does.  Thus those who preach, “Believe and be saved,” are not preaching good news, for you are being saved for judgment by faith, and with judgment can come condemnation.  Yes, God has said, “…the righteous will live by his faith… but who is righteous except those who believe in Jesus, and how can you say you believe in Him if you do not do what He says from beginning to end?  So it is only those who repent as Jesus commanded who will live by faith.  But faith without repentance has no righteousness.  Faith in itself is a substance of things hoped for, but what we hope for may condemn us… unless we are forgiven.

Make no mistake from here on, these words of Jesus:  “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” apply strictly in context to forgiveness first.  Not to money, gifts or anything else.  And if you do not forgive, then they apply to judgment and condemnation.

So a person who happily judges and condemns but does not forgive those he has judged and condemned can be assured that judgment and condemnation will be poured upon him in the same measure pressed down and flowing over… as those ‘church’ elders who tortured, killed and burnt others who held onto a different doctrine are experiencing now.  (Those practitioners of the teachings and practices of the Balaamites who twist these words to apply to worldly wealth will soon pay for their errors if they do not repent.)

So the Ephesians should have forgiven those whom they found to be false apostles, for our willingness to forgive is the proof that we have received the Holy Spirit, for Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  If they had forgiven, then Jesus would have found nothing to hold against them, for they would have not forgotten their first love – the love of enemies.  As to whether those who are false will save themselves, they need to repent, and whether they do or do not is not our responsibility, for they have been told the truth.

Jesus told Saul the truth, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads,” and if Saul did not repent, he would have stayed blind.  If Elymas did not repent, he would have stayed blind.  Paul blessed Elymas as he was blessed by that which led him to repentance.   So Paul’s blinding of Elymas was his way of forgiving Elymas’ sins… but if Paul had not been blinded by Jesus, which led him to repentance, Paul would have had no right to blind Elymas unless Paul could also open his eyes… for the Lord said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  If we are in error and false, the greatest blessing is to be proved false, not accused of being false, no, proved false, and having been judged and condemned, to be forgiven so that our repentance has hope.  For what hope does repentance bring if after judgment and condemnation there is no forgiveness?

God has condemned sin in sinful man by His judgment, but before that, His forgiveness was forged by the sacrifice of His Lamb before the foundation of the world.  Forgiveness is a forethought, not an afterthought of God.  And His people must learn to live with forgiveness as a forethought, grace as a provision that gives hope and a future, for all must be judged, and being judged will be subject to condemnation so that when the weight of the judgment and condemnation falls on them, the repentance that comes from them may yet give them the forgiveness that has a future and a hope.  For men being men do not repent as a forethought, but as an afterthought, and if they are like their father Adam, even when confronted with their sin, they will only seek to accuse and lay blame on others.  God will judge and God will condemn, but that is because He has already forgiven.  Likewise, those who are of the Kingdom of God will be permitted to judge and condemn only if they have already forgiven as they have been forgiven.  Repentance and forgiveness are the lifestyle of the church that has the Kingdom of God with them, and the power of the Holy Spirit that allows them to raise cripples and open the eyes of the blind are to testify to this truth of Jesus:  “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins…”  Then He said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Some have knowledge, others traditions and a proud history, still others have sound doctrines and wonderful theology, but we have forgiveness, for ours is the Covenant for the Forgiveness of Sins in the blood of Jesus.  To love your enemies and forgive them is truly foolishness in the eyes of the world… but what say You… Holy Spirit of God, Spirit of Power?

Amen.

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