Series on Revelation, I The Vision, D The Perseverance, 1 The Toiling Church, Text: 2:1-7, Title: Love at War


We start with a letter to the church at Ephesus. From a Biblical standpoint the church in Ephesus is the first and most important of the churches in Revelation. The city was the consular capitol of Asia Minor. From AD 52–54, the apostle Paul lived in Ephesus, working with the congregation and apparently organizing missionary activity into the hinterlands. He wrote the first letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus, and Later wrote the letter to the Ephesians  while he was in prison in Rome. The apostle John was renowned for his ministry in Ephesus. He was probably exiled from Ephesus to Patmos where he wrote Revelation. Also Jesus committed the care of His mother Mary to John and there is a tradition that Mary’s last residence was in Ephesus and became the site of an important ecumenical meeting, the council of Ephesus in the fifth century. Early in the second century AD the church in Ephesus was thriving when an early church leader, Ignatius of Antioch wrote to them “To the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory" Ephesus is the first of seven churches  mentioned in chapters 2 and 3, and it is the center of the group, the natural leader, the largest and most influential, perhaps the mother Church of the group, where Paul and John had put in so much time and strength, and whence they reached out to the others. In each of the letters that follow we have the same pattern It consists of a a relevant designation of Jesus taken from the first chapter, and then in most cases a commendation, and in most cases a condemnation, a threat where appropriate, a promise, and a warning to listen up. We should note that the overall context of these letters is a setting of candlesticks and a man of fire and blazing light recognizing the things that have been done, but saying there's something the matter with the candlesticks. Two Churches are true and pure in the midst of sore opposition. Two are corrupt in the very worst way. As for the problems Jesus sees they are problems we see today, churches that are indifferent, sleeping, or dying. These messages are meant to teach us as well as them. Let us look at the first letter and as we will inevitably do with each in turn we will look at the claim of Jesus, His commendation, condemnation and commitment.

I The Claim of Jesus

We read the claim in verse 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 lamp-stands. Jesus is here at the first lamp-stand and he is talking, and what he has to say is more important than anything else they will hear. These are the words of God. Thus he introduces Himself and says he is the one who holds the seven stars in  his right hand. In some cases in these letters it is easy to see the relation between the identification Jesus uses and the needs of the church. Here it is not so easy but I hazard a guess. As we read on about Ephesus we see that it was a very scrupulous church in rooting out heresies. It probably had a reputation for being the most orthodox church around. Perhaps this made them cold, suspicious and unloving in their attitude; it’s been known to happen. This Jesus is warning them that He is in charge. The survival of the Church is in His capable hands. They can rest in Him. They are not the last man standing.

II The Commendation of Jesus

Our Lord’s commendation is in verses 2 and 3, I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Jesus knows it all, and in the case of the Ephesian Christians that is not as frightening as it might be, because He knows a lot of good things about them. The first grades on their report card are A’s. Now in our present day world of ultimate toleration, men do not think it is commendable to point out others’ sins in polite discourse, so they generally flatter one another in public. What Jesus is doing here is not flattery, but a statement of fact. There is no subterfuge in Jesus words. He has no ulterior purpose, but I am reminded that when we have a negative criticism to make to someone, it’s very helpful to start out with pointing to their good qualities and successes. Otherwise we are in danger of shutting them off. I remember that R.C. Sproul in his lectures on Christian marriage talks about criticism and compliments. He says we need 10 compliments to balance one criticism. He also says if someone approaches you and says that they want to tell you something in love, run! People criticize a lot. Jesus doesn’t see just the negative as we often do. Jesus sees the positive and He points it out. He commends them for their hard work in challenging heresy and falsehood, and also for their perseverance. Falsehood is surely present and they have battled it. In Matthew 24, Jesus had predicted that “many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” and that “the love of most will grow cold” Paul addressed the elders of Ephesus at Miletus on his departure to Rome near the end of his ministry. He said in Acts 20:28-32, Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has placed you to take the oversight for Him and act as shepherds to the Church of God, which He has bought with His own blood. I know that, when I am gone, cruel wolves will come among you and will not spare the flock; and that from among your own selves men will rise up who will seek with their perverse talk to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert; and remember that, night and day, for three years, I never ceased admonishing every one, even with tears. Patient endurance is perseverance, an inner quality that is expressed in waiting for Jesus, in whose absence the believer steadfastly witnesses for him even to the point of suffering death through persecution. S. D. Gordon writes, “A man does not know whether he really believes Christ until he is opposed in his believing, and opposed to the real hurting point. He has just as much faith in Christ as he is willing to declare, and stand by, and insist upon, when he is under fire. Opposition is the fire test. Faith isn't faith unless it can stand the fire test.”

III The Condemnation of Jesus

The condemnation is found in verses 4-6, Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which 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 lamp-stand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let me say first in treating condemnation and criticism, that it’s hard to take. William Barclay reminds us that if we refuse to accept criticism because we admire ourselves, we have “no wish to change, and with those who don't want to change, the soul is dead.” A famous hockey goalie once said, “How would you like a job where, if you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?” We had better not boo at the Ephesian Christians because we see the same problem occurring all around us. This is the other side of what Jesus said in Matthew 24, where He predicted that “many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” and that “the love of most will grow cold” The love in the church at Ephesus had grown cold. Much speculation has occurred with regard to exactly what Jesus is talking about because it is a charge that could be levied at many for a host of reasons. However in this case I believe the context tells us. We read that these folks were zealous to stomp out deviations from the truth. Sometimes it happens that the zeal for orthodoxy is allowed to obliterate then zeal for the needs of others. If you think of them being in a small boat you would say that they still had the rudder to steer correctly but they had lost the sail that gives power. When we love Jesus it should translate into loving others. It is not just church organization or creed, or zeal for orthodoxy, but warm love for people that Jesus appreciates. Service, witnessing, all the rest, are valuable to Him in reaching His world as they grow out of a tender love for Himself. Hendriksen writes, “Loss of your first love is not primarily the death of passion, as in a stale marriage, but the failure to maintain the commitment once made to help and serve one another. Here as everywhere in the Bible, love for God and love for one another are inseparable...The first generation in Ephesus exerted extraordinary effort so that in Ephesus “the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power” (Acts 19:20). In later years Paul addressed an epistle to them and praised them for their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for fellow Christians (Ephesians 1:15). The children and grandchildren of these people opposed heresy and demonstrated persistence in fulfilling the needs of the church, but they fell short of genuine enthusiasm for the Lord...These people lacked the enthusiasm their parents and grandparents had demonstrated. They functioned not as propagators of the faith but as caretakers and custodians. This is sometimes called “cold orthodoxy.” There was an obvious deficiency in evangelistic outreach as a result of a status-quo mode of thought. They loved the Lord but no longer with heart, soul, and mind.” Thus it is plainly said to this leader Church that it is no longer of use as a candlestick, except a change come. It fails to give out the light. It is being carried along, patiently borne with for its own sake. It is failing at this point in the mission. This earnest, aggressive, orthodox, patiently-enduring Church is to be rejected as a light-holder, because it is not holding out the light.

IV The Commitment of Jesus

So our Lord concludes his words to Ephesus with a commitment in verse 7, He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. The smoking flax sending out its irritating smoke in place of clear light is not yet quenched. The Holy Spirit life within is being sorely grieved, but is not yet put entirely out. Thus Jesus leaves with a promise that is also a warning. If you hear you will end up in Paradise, but if you are deaf to His plea you will see the gate to Paradise shut and guarded by cherubim with a flaming sword turning itself around to keep the way of the tree of life. The essence of this promise is that the man who continues to the end and perseveres in faith will live forever. Paradise is simply the Persian word for garden, and refers to the habitation of Adam and Eve because it is the garden God planted for them. Then it becomes the place where God walks and talks with them and thus a symbol of being in God’s presence which is why Jesus says to the repentant thief on the cross beside him, that that very day he would be in Paradise. The church’s anticipated victory has its foundations laid in the victory already won by Jesus.  McCheyne the Scottish preacher reminded the church in one of his sermons that Christ advanced through that flaming sword when he suffered on the cross and thereby reopened the gate of paradise. So He said I am the door or gate. Christ won the battle, but the war is not over yet. Not only the martyrs but every believer is personally engaged in this war against Satan and his cohorts. Therefore, every follower of Christ receives the promise of eternal life and all the other promises that he grants the believer. All these promises are given to the overcomer, namely, every true believer. The word “overcome” is a present participle in the Greek “the overcoming one.” This is not a past or perfect tense as a completed action but current and continuous performance. We are in the battle and we must persevere in that battle.