The Church in Ephesus
At the conclusion of the New Testament, we come to a curious little book called Revelation. It is perhaps the most discussed book of the Bible that is least understood. The book of Revelation reads like something you might find in a fairy tale, an ancient epic or legend, or even a dream journal (in fact, John the Elder describes his encounters with God as a “spirit-inspired trance). And yet, the book is grounded in the fact that it is a message to seven churches in Asia Minor. John writes these words from God to these seven churches. Revelation is not a fairy tale or a legend. It is not a prophecy in the sense of telling us all what will happen in the end of days (although there is much more that needs to be said on this topic as that is a central theme of the book).
Revelation is ultimately just that: a revelation. A revelation of God to these seven churches to bolster their faith, lead them to repentance, and to guide them in their faith in the midst of uncertain and troubling times. Over the next seven weeks, we will explore the messages found in Revelation 2-3 that God sends through John to these seven churches. I hope that we will find that God’s message to those churches is still applicable to us today.
The Church in Ephesus
Take a moment and read the message given to the church in Ephesus: Revelation 2:1-7.
John writes from this message from Jesus. In chapter 1, John sees the Son of Man walking among the seven stars (the angels assigned to each of these churches) and the seven lampstands (the seven churches themselves). And now, Jesus has a message to each angel and to each church. To the church in Ephesus, Jesus gives both a piece of encouragement or acknowledgement and a warning.
In fact, this is a pattern for several of the seven churches which John records these messages. Acknowledgement and caution.
The church in Ephesus has patiently worked for the sake of the Gospel, particularly testing those who claim to be apostles to ensure that their message is true. They have endured the process of holding others accountable to the standard that Jesus calls them to live by. However, John writes, they have abandoned the love they had at first. Where once they were vigilant in maintaining their faith and not allowing false prophets, apostles, or teachings into their midst, they seem to have grown weary of the love they had at first. Perhaps they have lost their passion for Jesus in the midst of maintaining the life that Jesus calls us to live.
This is one of the oldest tricks of the Satan in the book. Our passion and zeal for the Lord gets misplaced onto the works that we do in the name of the Lord, and suddenly, we no longer love God–we just like rules. We forget the heart of worship and replace it with a critical heart, bent on making sure that every “i” gets dotted and every “t” gets crossed.
And to the church in Ephesus, Jesus warns them that this will ultimately end with the light of their lamp being removed. Their witness will fail, and the lampstand will be taken away.
You see, Jesus cares about what you do. He cares that you do the right kinds of things. But he cares so much more about why you are doing them than that you are doing them. God is a God of mercy–he will forgive us when we fail and turn back to him. But, if we do not have a heart of worship focused on God, then our light has gone out.
This message is so important for our world today, for Christians today. In a part of the world where the Christian worldview is diminishing, and where secularism is replacing it as the dominant worldview, the temptation to become pharisaic is strong. The temptation to become the moral police of the world or of society is right there, beckoning us to come and to do that. But Jesus warns that this is not enough. We must get back to our first love–God. Our hearts must be pierced so that we can repent. It is not our responsibility to pierce other people’s hearts, especially when we haven’t allowed that in our own lives.
To the church in Ephesus, Jesus longs to see a church in love with the Lord. I think the message to the church today is the same. May we love God with all that we have, living every moment to bring honor and glory to the name of Jesus.