The Message to the Church in Ephesus
2 “Write this letter to the angel[a] of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first![b] 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. 6 But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
7 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.
We will look at the churches Jesus addresses one at a time.
The church at Ephesus needed something to jolt them out of their regular routine. This was a church with 30-50 yrs. of history under their belt. They had begun well, under the discipleship and teaching ministry of Aquila and Priscilla, then especially the apostle Paul (Acts 19-20). Through the years, other influential men like Timothy (Paul’s apprentice) and the Apostle John had also served them as pastors, not to mention other unnamed men who served them, too. Even the mother of Jesus, Mary herself, had spent her final years as an elderly widow in their congregation. During Paul’s ministry to this church, Luke tells us that they were so effective at what they were doing that “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:10). They had a rich heritage for sure.
This church was situated in a pagan city called Ephesus. Next to Rome, this was one of the largest, most influential cities in the Roman Empire at that time. It was a hub for commerce and economic activity, was a major tourist attraction, and featured the Temple of Diana (Artemis), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. As such an influential, active city, this location was strategic, but it was also challenging. Believers faced constant pressure to let down their guard in an attempt to get along with people, keep their jobs, prosper financially, and avoid being persecuted for their faith. In addition, they also faced constant temptations to tolerate or even practice immorality as a way of life and to participate in pagan social and religious functions just to get along.
Jesus starts by with encouraging words for them regarding the things they had done well. They had endured that constant pressure to turn away from God, they recognized false teachers and all around suffered hardships for simply following Christ.
But Jesus says, “however”. He charges the church with forgetting about love. Love for Jesus and for each other. Although the church was doing everything right in action, it seems in heart they were going through the motions. This would be what we might call “religious”, not relationship.
Perhaps we should recognize how strongly Paul emphasized love in his previous letter to the church at Ephesus. In this letter, Paul emphasized the importance of love as an underlying motive for all their conduct and doctrine. In fact, love appears 19 times in 14 verses throughout Ephesians.
Here’s what Paul had taught the church at Ephesus about love:
- Paul taught that God has chosen us before the foundation of the world to be “holy and without blame before him in love” (Eph 1:4).
- He heard they had stayed faithful to Christ and had “love for all the saints” (Eph 1:15).
- He taught that we have been saved not because we deserve to be so, but because of God’s “great love with which he loved us” (Eph 2:4).
- Paul prayed for them to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17).
- He also wanted them to “know the love of Christ which passes knowledge” (Eph 3:19).
- They were supposed to “bear with one another in love” (Eph 4:2).
- They were supposed to “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
- Whatever they did for the church and one another was to be done in love (Eph 4:16).
- They were to “walk in love” just as Christ loved us in a sacrificial way (Eph 5:2).
- Husbands were supposed to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25).
- They were also supposed to love their wives as they love their own bodies (Eph 5:28).
- They were also supposed to love their wives as they love themselves (Eph 5:33).
- Paul closed hoping they would practice their faith with love (Eph 6:23).
- He also prayed they would have grace to love the Lord with sincerity (Eph 6:24).
Although this letter was specifically addressed to the Ephesian church, it would not be in the Word if it was not meant to teach us too. This is a warning to not only the church, but to each of us individually, as we are the church. I think we can see that the danger of becoming “religious” rather than “relational” is a very real possibility we all struggle with. It would be very simple to check our spiritual condition if all we had to do was check a bunch of boxes to make sure we were acting correctly. But we know that Jesus wants so much more for us. To be filled with love. For every word and action to be motivated and saturated in love. He says to repent and remember how it was in the beginning. I often think of that, how exciting everything was when I was first saved. Everything was so new and thrilling, and everything I learned and every “good deed” we did for others was so amazing and I just wanted more. It is easy to get caught up in life and begin to go through the motions.
Let’s speak to God today to renew and refresh ourselves to that first love again!