The Loveless Church (Ephesus)
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says, He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”.
The church at Ephesus is the only church in the New Testament to which two apostles addressed letters. When Paul wrote to Ephesus, it was at a time when the church stood at the high point of spirituality. Of all the truths revealed through Paul, none excel the truths revealed in the Epistle to the Ephesians. But when John wrote to Ephesus, it was a time of crisis in the church. Paul wrote to the saints, John to the angel.
Christians reading these opening chapters of Revelation often asks, “Which church is ours like?” Surely, a particular church may share positive and negative traits with several of the Asian churches. This is probably why Jesus told John to write one letter to seven churches. They all got to read each other’s mail. Taken together, the letters give us a good picture of what Jesus expects from His church… faithful gatherings, made up of believers who can overcome. Jesus still expects us to overcome and He promises His help along the way. Rather than trying to decide which churches ours resembles, focus on faithful obedience to Christ.
The first letter is addressed to the church in Ephesus it is considered to be a city of great political importance. Aquila, Priscilla, and Paul had planted the church in Ephesus (see Acts 19) Timothy had ministered there (1 Timothy 1:3) John the writer of this letter, was closely associated with the church. A letter carrier would leave the island of Patmos (where John was exiled), arriving first at the port of Ephesus, where he would begin his journey by visiting the seven churches.
The basic problem with the church in Ephesus is that even though church members had stood firm against evil and false teaching, they had left their “first love”, their basic love for Christ and for one another. (The Two Greatest Commands)
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things say’s, He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.
Paul had ministered in Ephesus for three years and had warned the Ephesian believers that false teachers would come and try to draw people away from the faith (Acts 20:29-31). False teachers did indeed cause problems in the Ephesian church, but the church resisted them, as we can see from Paul’s letters to Timothy, who stayed in Ephesus when Paul left for Macedonia. John spent much of his ministry in this city and knew that these believers had resisted false teaching.
Although John was writing… the words are clearly from Christ, “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands”. Christ controls the churches. Christ is described differently in every letter, mainly because each description is tied to the problems of that specific church. That fact that… Christ held these churches in His hand shows that He was in control over the churches. Ephesus had become a large, proud church and Christ’s message would remind them that He alone is the Head of the body of believers.
How easy it is for a church to become proud and forget that pastors and teachers are God’s gifts, also just servant to Christ (Ephesians 4:11) who may be taken away at any time. Some churches need to be cautioned to worship the Lord and not their pastor! (I must admit that in the past I have been guilty of placing certain pastors on a pedestal, only to be disappointed every time I do it, and rebuked by the Lord) That He is Lord.
He holds the seven stars in His right hand. That is to say… Christ holds the Churches in His hand. Our security lies in the fact that we are in the hand of Christ. “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28)
He walks in the midst of the seven golden Lampstands. The Lampstands are the Churches. This expression tells us of Christ’s activity is in the midst of His Churches. He is not confined to any one of them, wherever believers are meant to worship in His name… Christ is there. In the early days of the Church, Christ walked in the midst as the recognized Head, and men took instructions from Him.
22 And He put all things under His feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Christ’s true sheep are safe in His hand and are thus led by Him (John 10:27). His “walking” among the Lampstands may imply an inspection of their condition, one by one. The stars are His light-bearers…He holds them. In every assembly of believers where Christ is honored as its Head, He walks among His own and takes a watchful interest in them.
2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.
From what we have read in these verses, they were doing a good job. These verses was an approval of their service. Christ keeps an account of every work His servants do for Him, and their labor shall not be in vain. Over a long period of time, this church had steadfastly refused to tolerate sin among its members. This was not easy in a city noted for immoral sexual practices associated with the worship of the goddess Artemis. The Ephesian church had been strong in its teachings and had resisted false teachers.
Christ commended the church at Ephesus for five things:
1: Working hard “I know your works”
2: Persevering “your patience”
3: Resisting sin “cannot bear those who are evil”
4: Critically examining the claims of false apostles “tested those who say they are apostles”
5: Enduring patiently “have patience and labored for My names sake”
(From my understanding, this church had continued in its faithful service to God for more than 40 years) and bearing up without becoming weary.
All of these characteristics show a church busy doing good works and suffering willingly for the cause of Christ. The Ephesian believers knew evil when they saw it and did not tolerate it. The Lord wrote, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil.” I know James would never have written to Ephesus with his stinging rebuke, “Faith without works is dead.” This church was full of good works. It was faithful in good works.
The false apostles would be those who claimed to be believers but were not. The church had succeeded in weeding out those who falsely claimed apostleship. Generally, the word “apostle” in the New Testament refers only to the first 12 disciples of Jesus, (minus one) because of their special place in building the foundation of the church.
It was not at all easy going at Ephesus. The believers had their share of opposition and criticism from the world. But they did not give up easily. They kept on year after year, despite lack of fruit and poor results. They may not have been very fruitful, but they were certainly faithful. They struggled on, and God commended them for it. No matter how you examine this congregation, you can conclude that it is just about perfect. However, the One among the Lampstands (Jesus) looked into their hearts and judged fairly. At the time the Revelation was written, John was possibly the only living apostle left.
Despite the commendations, Christ had something against this church…
Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
They had forsaken their first love. This “first love” probably refers to, “Love the Lord your God . . . And your neighbor as yourself” (see Acts 20:35; Ephesians 1:15) It is the devotion to Christ that so often characterizes the new believer. The Ephesians… though commended for their zeal in protecting the faith, had fallen into caring more about doctrine and truth than they did for the person of Jesus. The same thing happened to the sect of the Pharisees, they concentrated so much on keeping all the Law that they failed to love God and to love those who were not Pharisees. You might say, they lost God in His Word.
Every church should have pure faith and root out heresy. But these good efforts should spring from their love for Jesus Christ and for other believers. Both Jesus and John stressed love for one another as an authentic truth of the gospel (John 13:34 & 1 John 3:18-19).
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
And again in…
1 John 3:18-19
18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth and shall assure our hearts before Him.
In the battle to maintain sound teaching, moral and doctrinal purity, it is possible to lose a loving spirit. Yet we need both. Prolonged conflict can weaken or destroy patience and affection. In defending the faith, believers must guard against any structure that weakens love.
It is possible to serve the Lord for a variety of motives, for the praise of men, for prestige or position, for the sake of reputation, because it is simply the thing to do, because of a sense of unity. If service for God is not born out of a devoted passion for the Lord Jesus it is worthless. What we do for the Lord is important, that is why we do it!
When a church leaves its “first love” (or when an individual does), it is a serious and dangerous matter. This was definitely a busy church with lots of great programs, but no amount of activity, however intense, can compensate for a lack of love. This church had left its first love, and this was serious, for the Lord is jealous of our hearts, and it is no small thing for Him to see our love declining. Love is the first essential in Christian character, and when it begins to decline, the soul begins to drift. Most of the Ephesian Christians were now second-generation believers, and though they had retained purity of doctrine and life and had maintained a high level of service, they were lacking in deep devotion to Christ.
5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.
They must consider how far they have fallen. They must repent. If they don’t comply, Jesus will pronounce judgment, and their effectiveness as a church of God will be lost. Our Lord admonishes His Church to turn from her sins to her first love.
If they refused to repent, however, Christ said that He would come and remove the church’s lampstand from its place. For Jesus to remove the church’s lampstand from its place would mean the church would cease to be a church. Just as the seven-branch candlestick in the temple gave light for the priest to see, the churches were to give light to their surrounding communities. But Jesus warned them that their lights could go out. In fact, Jesus himself would extinguish any light that did not fulfill its purpose. The church had to repent of its sins.
The removal of the lampstand as a light-bearer has nothing to do with the salvation of the individual. It has to do with the Church as a whole. Certainly, the lamps which once shown so brightly in this particular part of the earth, especially in the city of Ephesus…had been taken out of their place, and gross darkness engulfs that part of the world today.
Mohammedanism is the religion in the seven cities were these churches were located. So, we see that the lampstand has been removed. The light of the pure Gospel does not shine as it did when Paul preached in Ephesus or even as it did when John was there.
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Christ had added a further commendation (which comes almost as an afterthought) to this church in Ephesus…He credited them for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Christ also hated. While it is clear from this verse that the Nicolaitans represent a heresy, we have only speculation as to the origin and specifics.
The Nicolaitans were believers who had compromised their faith in order to enjoy some of the sinful practices of Ephesian society, including idolatry and sexual immorality.
They were almost certainly people who argued along these lines. (a) The Law is ended; therefore, there are no laws and we are entitled to do what we like. They confused Christian liberty with unchristian license. They were the very kind of people whom Paul urged not to use their liberty as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13). (b) They probably argued that the body is evil anyway and that a man could do what he liked with it because it did not matter. (c) They probably argued that the Christian was so defended by grace that he could do anything, and no harm would come of it. Sounds very familiar from many claiming Christians today. “I’m saved, I can do whatever I want. I have freewill”.
The name “Nicolaitans” is roughly the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for “Balaamites.” Balaam was a prophet who induced the Israelites to carry out their lustful desires (Numbers 31:16). In Pergamum they were very closely connected with those “who hold the teaching of Balaam,” and that in turn is connected with things offered to idols and with immorality. (A few verses after this, to the church of Pergamum, Balaam will be mentioned)
These Nicolaitans had incorporated some Greek, some Christian, and some Jewish practices to form a sort of civil religion. It may have been that they were willing to worship in the imperial cult, worshipping the emperor, and justifying it has a civil duty.
The Nicolaitans were suggesting that there was no reason why a Christian should not come to terms with the world. (Remember from last week’s message, “friend of the world is an enemy of God”.) This teaching naturally affected the upper classes the most, because they had the most to lose if they went all the way with the Christian demand. To John the Nicolaitans were worse than pagans, for they were the enemy within the gates.
Take note that the danger to the church is not coming from outside the Church but from the inside. The claim of these heretics was that they were not destroying Christianity but presenting an improved or other version.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”.
The appeal is made to each individual in the Church. Christ pleads to His church to give the Holy Spirit His rightful place. Literally and actually Christ is not here in Person. He said that He was going away (John 14:2), and that He would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16, 26).
It is the Holy Spirit who testifies of Christ and glorifies Him (John 15:26-27), and it is He who convicts of sin (John 16:7-11). It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates (Titus 3:5) and who chooses the believers body in which to reside (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). It was to the Ephesian Church that Paul wrote exhorting the saints to “grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30) and “be filled with the spirit” (Ephesians 5:18)
Each of the seven letters ends with the exhortation. The words of the Spirit are the words of Christ. Note that all the letters were to be read to all the churches. Those who “hear” what is read should then “listen to the Spirit” in order to understand what the Spirit is saying and to know what should be done. Those who listen and do what the Spirit leads them to do will be victorious (also translated “an overcomer”). Those whom are victorious will remain faithful to Christ no matter what the cost.
It is interesting to me to note that the Lord Jesus Himself will present the rewards. “To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life”. Jesus Himself will grant the privilege. This teaches us how closely believers are connected to the Lord…not only here, but in eternity. Heaven will be a big place, there will be a lot of people there, but it will not be so big, nor will there be so many individuals…that Jesus will not have time for those individuals. Aren’t you glad that we are going there!
The word “paradise” means “Garden of Pleasure,” and that is exactly what God intended Eden to be. It would have been God’s great Garden of Pleasure for Adam and Eve had they not disobeyed God and listened to the devil. Remember what Jesus said to the other criminal on the cross… “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)
In the Paradise of God (yet to come) there will be no tempter, no devil, no sin. It will be the Garden of Pleasure. The devil will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Revelation 20:10). While the close of verse 7 refers back to the tree of life from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24), God’s paradise refers to the future when God restores heaven and earth from the fall of humanity.
Love is a personal matter. We are saved one by one, we must be restored one by one. No hint is given that the entire Ephesian church responded favorably to this letter, but the hope is that
individuals would. Here is a fallen church. It too has lost the paradise of bliss which comes from walking with God. The Lord’s call here is a call to the individual believers to get back to the daily walk with Jesus Himself.
This letter to Ephesus ends with “he who has an ear” (Revelation 2:7), statement used throughout these letters to the churches. It means that if anyone understands the real meaning of what he or she hears, then he or she must respond. Many if not all churches still preach about the seven churches, simply as a warning. As warning was given to them, it is also given to this church age. It’s not too late, the has not returned, there is still time to repent. Trust in the Lord to receive forgiveness, trust in the Lord, the only One that can save you. And by being saved, Paradise awaits’ for the faithful!
6 Then he said to me, “These words are faithful and true.” And the Lord God of the holy prophets sent His angel to show His servants the things which must shortly take place.
7 “Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Pastor Richard Santos
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