Ephesus: Loyal But Lacking

Revelation 2:1-7

Ephesus was a great and wealthy city of Ionia.
The population of Ephesus was diverse.
Living in Ephesus were the wealthy and the learned, the poor and the illiterate.
It was a wealthy, cultured, corrupt city.

Ephesus was a natural starting place on the continent for a circular message from the Isle of Patmos.
John, the writer of Revelation, had been the chief leader of Christians
around Ephesus for a quarter of a century.

The history of the founding and early operation of his church is recorded in Acts 18-20.
The church had been in existence for about forty five years when this message was sent.

Identification, 2:1

The Lord introduces Himself to the Ephesian church as the one who holds in His right hand the seven stars,
and the one who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
Because of His position in the midst of them, there is no question as to his knowledge of the church.

He knows what is going on and He is caring for it.
He is holding in His right hand its destiny as it is wrapped up in the pastor.
He observes its every virtue and flaw and sends this message to reveal them.

Commendation, 2:2-3, 6

When there is anything to be commended in the church, the Lord mentions it first.
There are many things for which the church at Ephesus can be commended.

The Lord commends them for their loyalty in practice.
"I know thy works, and thy toil, and thy patience."

"Works" has reference to actual service which is being rendered by the church.
This was an active and aggressive congregation.
"Toil" lies deeper than works.
The word translated toil has reference to the effort that produces work at the cost of pain.

In the word is the echo of men who beat upon their breasts with cries of anguish as they pushed toward a desired end.
This was a working church.

"Patience" reveals the attitude of persistence in the toil that produces work.
In the New Testament, it is not the passive word of current usage.
There is no folding of the hands in waiting in this word.
It literally means "to remain under."

It means staying when the burden is heavy.
It means holding one's own in the face of every difficulty.

The three words together give a strong impression of their loyalty in practice.
They are even more meaningful coming from the lips of the transcendent Christ.

They are also commended for their loyalty in doctrine.
"Thou canst not bear evil men" indicates that the Gnostic teachers had gained little ground at Ephesus.
The Gnostic teachers claimed to be genuine apostles and missionaries, the church had tested them,
and found them to be false, and rejected them.

The Ephesians had endured much because of their loyalty to the name of Christ.
They did not grow weary in the midst of difficulties caused by persecution and of false doctrine.
To the unstable Galatians, Paul said, "Stop getting tired of doing good." (Galatians 6:9)
These Ephesians exercise great strength and did not need such a warning.

The work of the Nicolaitans was met in Ephesus by a righteous wrath against all iniquity.
The Ephesians hated the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
That attitude was the attitude of the living Christ.

Christ also exercised a constant displeasure against evil of every kind.

The exact identity of the Nicolaitans have not been made.
From their relationship to those who held the doctrines of Balaam (2:14-15)
there evil appears to have been the promotion of some form of antinomianism.
Whatever their false teaching was, it was hated by Christ and Christians at Ephesus.

When you hear this commendation, you might be thinking how could anything be wrong in such a church as this.

This is what one would expect from a church which had been blessed by the services of such great leaders.
This church had leaders such as:
Paul, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy, and John, the beloved disciple.
But the Lord looks at this church with a piercing eye of flame and discovers a great flaw.

Complaint, 2:4

"This I have against thee -- thou hast left thy first love."
This brief statement goes right to the point.
The honeymoon is over!

The church had lost their fervor and love which they had in the beginning of their Christian life.
They were conducting an active program of an aggressive church,
but they had lost the right motive for worship.
When love for Christ as a motive for worship is gone, service means little.

Counsel, 2: 5, 7a

The counsel which Christ gives to the church at Ephesus could be stated in three words
-- remember, repent, return.

Remember your early joy and zest in your love for Christ and His work.
Remember the fervor and enthusiasm of that love.

Repent of the condition of service without love, which you have allowed to creep into your life.
Such a condition is deadly to effective work in the Lord's kingdom.

Return to that original state of service out of a heart of love.
Christ warns that if they do not return to that first state, they are forfeiting their right to exist as a church.

He warns them that He will remove the candlestick from its place.
The candlestick is the church. (1:20)
the church has no right to exist if it is not going to carry out the purpose for which Christ has for it.
This is a strong warning to any church!

The first part of verse seven serves as a transition from a warning to a promise.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Those with spiritual perception are warned to listen.

This is not just the message of a man.
The eternal God is issuing His warning against the deadly peril of spiritual apathy.

Promise, 2:7b

"To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life which is in the garden of God."
The concept of overcoming is one of the outstanding ideas of the Book of Revelation.
It means to be victorious over the circumstances in which one finds himself.
Its context in this book appears to mean living a life of service to God out of a heart of love.

To one who is living such a life the Lord promises fruit from the garden of God.
In symbol He is saying, "I will give spiritual food and sustenance to one who is loyal to me."
God never fails his people in their time of need.
Just when we need Him -- He always provides.
God is able to provide all our needs, but He expects victorious living on our part.

Adapted from Worthy Is the Lamb by Ray Summers