Be a Lover of God and a Lover of Others – The Loveless Church in Ephesus
“1 “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 NIV
What does Jesus value when He looks at a church? What makes Him proud? What angers Him? What saddens Him? What makes a church a success in His eyes? With my human eyes, I tend to look at church success in terms of number of people attending, how big and nice the facilities are, what ministries are available, and what the church budget is. Jesus (by the way, whose view of the church is really the only One who really counts), looks for different things.
Revelation 2-3 give an understanding of what Jesus looks at when He sees His church. When He speaks to the seven churches in Revelation, He gives an idea of what He values in the church.
The first church Jesus speaks to is the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was a famous city in the ancient world and the church there was famous as well. This church had some incredible leadership as Paul himself ministered there for three years. Apollos also ministered there as did Aquilla and Pricilla, Paul’s apprentice Timothy, and the Apostle John himself before his exile to Patmos. It was a place of great preaching and was probably one of the larger and more financially prosperous churches of the day.
When Jesus begins to speak to the first church mentioned in Ephesus, He acknowledges several things. He says “I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance.”
First Jesus recognizes, “your deeds, your hard work…”
Jesus has both good and bad to identify in each church He speaks to (except for Smyrna and Philadelphia which are only well spoken of – we’ll talk about them later).
To every church in the Revelation that Jesus speaks to, I find it interesting that, He recognizes their works first. The first words He spoke to each church was to recognize their works. I find it very troubling that in none of these passages does Jesus say, “I know your heart.” Never does He say, “I know your intentions, and that you have good intentions” nor does He mention, “I know that you have a great Bible knowledge.” When it comes to following God, Jesus looks at the church and recognizes our works because it is our works that reflects our heart. Good works reflect a good heart. A lack of good works does NOT reflect good intentions or a right heart.
Next Jesus recognizes “your perseverance…”
The church in Ephesus had a “steadfast endurance” for following God that we would be wise to imitate in our churches today. They apparently worked hard, had great outreaches, and were diligent in protecting the integrity of the Gospel. The doctrine was pure. Their ministry was refined. Their church was stable. Still there was something missing. That is why the Ephesus church is listed in Revelation as THE LOVELESS CHURCH.
When Jesus looked at the church in Ephesus however, He recognized a major downfall. “You have forsaken the love you had at first.” The New King James Version of the bible says it this way, “4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (emphasis mine). Despite the good deeds of the Ephesians, they left their first love. It is worth recognizing that they had left their first love, but had not lost it. The importance in distinguishing leaving and losing is important because when we lose something, we don’t know where to find it, but when we leave something, we know where to go back and look for it.
The Ephesians’ church probably looked good and strong from the outside working for God, discerning truth and error, and laboring for the ministry, but in the midst of their busyness, they had left their first love. Though their pulpit was filled with great preachers and leaders, it is easy for a church to become proud and forget that pastors and teachers are God’s gift to the church (Ephesians 4:11) who can be taken away at any time. Some churches need to be reminded to worship the Lord and not their pastor!
The church in Ephesus learned the truth that I have had to learn in the last few years. If I am not careful, the busyness of working for Jesus and serving for the church could eclipse my love for Jesus and relationship with Him. I could get so busy working for the church, that I could make the same mistake that Mary and Joseph did, and leave Jesus at the temple!
What to do when the passion fades.
Jesus gives the Ephesians some words of encouragement. “Repent and do the things you did at first.”
1 – Remember – “5 Consider how far you have fallen!” Remember what we have left behind. Remember that close relationship with God you once had. In the midst of their busyness serving God, Jesus urged the early believers (as I think he urges me to do as well) to remember how they used to pray when they were first saved. He challenged them to remember how joyous it was to get together with other Christians when they were new believers. He wanted them to recall the excitement that they had when they told others about their newfound faith in Jesus the Messiah. He longed for them to remember where they had fallen from.
2 – Repent – “Repent” Repent of leaving your first love. Return Jesus says. Be a lover of God once again, and a love of others. Jesus called them to repent and be filled with wonder at His Word as when they first read it long before.
Jesus goes on to tell the church at Ephesus. “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” In other words, if the Ephesus church did not return to their first love, they might still exist as an organization, but their influence and God’s glory would depart. Thankfully, it seems like the church in Ephesus heeded their warning. David Guzik’s commentary states the following:
3 – Repeat – “do the things you did at first.” Finally, Jesus said to repeat what they used to do. Don’t neglect your fellowship with God. Don’t neglect the fellowship. Do the things you did at first. In spite of the privileges the church in Ephesus enjoyed, it was in danger of losing its light! Be a lover of God and a lover of others!
What happened? What was the outcome?
The ending of the story for the church in Ephesus was apparently a good one.
“Apparently, at least in the short term, the Ephesians heeded this warning. In the early second century (not too long after John wrote), Ignatius praised the love and the doctrinal purity of the Ephesians. “You, who are of the most holy Church of the Ephesians, which is so famous and celebrated throughout the world . . . you, being full of the Holy Spirit, do nothing according to the flesh, but all things according to the Spirit. You are complete in Christ Jesus.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 8. From the Ante Nicean Fathers Volume 1, page 52)
From what Ignatius wrote, it seems that the Ephesians returned to their first love without compromising doctrinal purity. That isn’t always an easy balance to keep, but the Ephesians apparently kept it, at least for a time.”
I love happy endings!
Lord Jesus, it is You. It has always been You. May I never forget or depart. May I always be amazed by You. May I always be in awe of You. Lord forgive me for the many times I have been too busy for You. May my heart always be new and fresh for You. Amen.
Ty Tamasaka is an author who hold a Master of Arts Degree from Pacific Rim Christian University in Christian Ministry He is a Bible teacher who loves to encourage people to enjoy Jesus’ grace and extend His Kingdom. Ty just released his new book Starting Fresh: Following Jesus on the Adventure of a Lifetime in addition to More than a Conqueror: 5 Pathways to Personal Revival.