“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” Revelation 2:1-7
With this post we begin a brief study into the seven churches of Revelation. The churches we encounter are all found in the Roman province of Asia (the western part of modern Turkey) and follow the great Roman road starting in Ephesus and ending in Laodicea.
Jesus begins His letter to the Ephesians by giving them three commendations. He tells them, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance,” (v. 2) The Ephesian’s were a hard working church; they visited the orphans, aided the sick, cared for the poor and did all this without complaining. They were well known throughout the city for how they ministered to those in need and desired nothing back in return.
They also were not easily discouraged; they persevered in their labors for the church refusing to back down in face of a hostile culture. “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary,” (v. 3) Ephesus was the great commercial center of the province of Asia and also the home to the Temple of Diana. When John wrote Revelation persecution was well under way by Emperor Domitian and Christians throughout Asia were suffering from both the followers of the goddess Diana as well as the Roman authorities, but they remained solid in their commitment to their faith.
The third virtue Jesus attributes to the Ephesians is that they are orthodox in their faith. “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be Apostles but are not, and have found them false,” (v. 2b) A group called the Nicolaitans (v. 6) had been spreading false teachings amongst the church, but the Christians had tested their claims against the Scriptures and found them to be false. They then rejected the Nicolaitans and their teachings and refused to have anything to do with these false teachers.
Jesus makes it plain that the church at Ephesus operated a well thought out dedicated ministry of caring to the community, they stood true to God in spite of persecution and discrimination and they were students of the Bible who refused to allow false teachings to trap them. Yet, for all this, Jesus had something against them.
“Yet this I have against you; you have forsaken the love that you had at first,” (v. 4) they had left their first love. John Stott writes, “They had fallen from the early heights of devotion to Christ which they had climbed. They had descended to the plains of mediocrity. In a word they were backsliders. Did not Jesus Himself prophesy that when wickedness multiplies, “most men’s love will grow cold,” (Matthew 24:12)? Certainly the hearts of the Ephesian Christians had chilled.” What Christ thinks of the Church, p. 26, 27
We can have the most active church in the world, do the most activities, suffer persecution, be theological sound but if we are not motivated and driven by love for God and our fellow humans then it is nothing but show regardless of the results. We are called in Scripture to love both God and man, and to love is the fulfillment of the law.
Let me quote Stott once again, “Love is greater than knowledge, asserts Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, because whereas knowledge puffs up, love builds up. Knowledge can merely inflate the clever man with wind, while love develops solid character. Besides, knowledge concerns things, whereas love concerns persons, including the person of God; and the knowledge of a doctrine is a one-sided, static affair, while love is reciprocal and growing” (8:1-3). What Christ thinks of the Church, p. 29
In Colossians 3:14 Paul writes, “Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Love is not a pietistic experience where we indulge in cuddly and fuzzy good feelings about Jesus, but a living dynamic experience that is centered outwards towards our fellowman.
“If any man says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have for him, that he who loves God should love his brother also,” 1 John 4:20, 21. Also in 1 John 3:17, 18 we read, “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”
Jesus doesn’t leave the Ephesian church hanging, wondering where they have gone wrong without giving them a solution for their condition. “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place,” (v. 5)
Jesus’ answer for a dry formulated religion that revolves around good works and dry orthodoxy regardless of the good intentions is to:
(a) Remember the experience they once had that led them to Christ and the joy of knowing and experiencing Jesus as a personal Savior. Renew the love that motivated and thrilled their hearts and lifted them to new heights.
(b) In order to regain the first love they need to repent, change their thinking that changes the direction of their lives. They must put Jesus back into the center of their faith and religion.
(c) They are not to abandon their works for the poor, their orthodoxy nor their strength of perseverance against persecution, but to make Jesus the reason for all that they do.
Jesus ends with the first mark of a true and living church, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God,” (v. 7)
Whoever overcomes evil and stands firm in the love of Christ and has love for Jesus and his fellow travellers will eat from the tree of life. Eternal life is offered freely, by Jesus, to all who listen to His words and allow them to dwell within their heart. (see John 17:3; 1 John 4:19; 3:16)
The tree of life forbidden to man since the fall is open again through Christ to all who allow love to direct and guide in their worship, praise, ministry and relationship with others. The Ephesians were doing the right things, but without love, they were just doing things.
* Please remember to pray for the Christians that are suffering under persecution for their faith in many countries around the world. Some of their stories can be found at http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/