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. 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. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken the love you had at first. 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. But you have this in your favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
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 (NIV)
If you have been to Ephesus (in modern Turkey) you will probably have been struck by a number of things; the extent of the ruins of the city, the fact that it is now a long distance from the sea and that there is very little left of the Temple of Artemis (which was Ephesus’ claim to fame). I visited Ephesus some years ago with my family and was struck that as I stood in the amphitheatre mentioned in Acts 19, I was close to the history of our faith.
The church in Ephesus is mentioned in several places in the New Testament; in Acts, 1 Corinthians, the Letter to the Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy and in Revelation. The Letter to the Ephesians especially gives us great insight into life in the early church and contains material not mentioned in any of the other letters written by Paul (e.g. the armour of God – 6:10-20). We need to read all these accounts to gain an accurate picture of what the church in Ephesus was like. Looking at the account in Acts 19 we read:
In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. Acts 19:20 (NIV)
If we did not have the letter to the church at Ephesus as recorded in Revelation 2, we would probably presume that Ephesus was a lively, Spirit-filled church with no problems.
What we read in Revelation 2 is that Jesus commends the church for its hard work in persevering in their faith despite facing opposition. The church also had taken seriously the need to test what their teachers say and to have the courage to stand up against false teaching. This is something that the church still faces today. There is a general liberalising of Christian teaching and watering down of the teaching of the Bible and Christians must decide how they challenge false teaching. In Revelation 2 the church in Ephesus is commended for standing up against falsehood from outside (those who claim to be apostles and are not) and also against the teachings of the Nicolaitans (false teaching from within). The Nicolaitans are mentioned rarely in Scripture, so it is not possible to say with any certainty what their false teaching was. However, we do know that they had infiltrated the church and were teaching falsehood from within the body of Christ.
Having been commended, Jesus tells the church in Ephesus that he holds one thing against them: that they had left their first love. There has been debate over the years as to what is meant by the term ‘first love’. The obvious and most likely meaning is that the church had lost its enthusiastic love for Christ. This makes most sense, as the penalty for not repenting and returning to their first love is the loss of their lampstand (in other words they would no longer be a church).
While each of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation is commended, not all are condemned, but all are given a promise. For the church at Ephesus the promise given to them is: 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.
So what is the application of this to Christians today? Firstly, we need to look at everything that happens in our church life to get an accurate picture of spiritual health. It would be easy to concentrate upon the teaching, worship or service as separate aspects of church life and to draw the wrong conclusions. I mean that a church where the teaching is sound, is failing if there is a real lack of love for the Lord and each other. Equally a church where the worship is uplifting and people are serving each other and the community, is failing if they do not teach sound doctrine. What we need to ask ourselves is: what would Jesus commend us for, and what would he condemn us for? We need then to repent over any issues in our church life where Christ is not glorified.
Secondly, we need to test those who come forward as teachers to discern if their calling is real and their talents are suitable for this calling.
Thirdly, we need to test all teaching against Scripture, to ensure that sound doctrine is taught. This involves every member taking responsibility to ensure that what their pastor teaches is Scriptural. What I mean is that it is not good enough just to listen impassively to a sermon, we need to engage with it. It also involves a church having the courage to speak up when their denomination adopts an unbiblical stance on any issue.
Lastly, we need to keep our focus on our ‘first love’, so that we do not drift away from the Gospel of Christ.
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