The Church at Ephesus
Who can remind me of what we talked about last week? That’s right, last week, we talked about John’s vision of the Son of Man, who we identified as Jesus Christ. In this vision, John saw the absolute power and majesty of Christ, and he saw how Christ was surrounded by seven candlesticks, which represented the seven churches that John was writing to. We talked about how this church is a candlestick, and how our primary job as a body of believers is to hold up the name of Jesus so that everyone can see Him. For the next several weeks, we are going to look at how seven different churches did in their task of holding up the Son of Man, and we are going to draw some applications as to how our church can grow from their strengths and weaknesses. So if you are not already there, please turn in your Bibles to Revelation chapter two, and we’ll be reading verses one through seven. Again, Revelation chapter two, verses one through seven.
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; ‘These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.’”
Let’s pray that God will bless our time studying His word.
Tonight we are going to look at several of the things that the Ephesian church was doing correct, then we are going to look at what they are doing wrong, and finally we are going to look at how this evaluation can strengthen our church. But before we do any of that, I want to give you a brief glimpse of the city of Ephesus that John was writing to. The city of Ephesus is actually one of the most prominent cities mentioned in the New Testament. Paul spent three years of his time there, as recorded in the book of Acts, and then later on he wrote a letter to the church there, which we now know as the book of Ephesians. Paul wrote the book of Ephesians around the year A.D. 53, and this is what he had to say about the believers there. In case you are wondering, I am reading Ephesians 1:15-16, and I am reading out of the English Standard Version of the Bible. “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” So as you can see, Paul had very high praise for the Ephesian church. And this church had an extremely high level of opposition against them. The ancient city of Ephesus was home to the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The entire city was given over to idolatry, and practiced just about every kind of sin you can imagine. And when John wrote the book of Revelation, the city was no better than it was in Paul’s day. Probably the only thing that had changed was that Christians were being persecuted more in John’s day than they had been in Paul’s day.
So now that we know a little bit about the city of Ephesus, let’s see what the Bible says about this church. But before we look at the specific good things and bad things, we need to see Who is was who was talking to them. Let’s read verse one of our text again. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; ‘These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;” According to this verse, who is it that is speaking to the Ephesian church? The Bible says that it is He who holds the seven stars in His hand, and Who walks in the middle of the candlesticks. Who last week did we say held the stars and stood in the middle of the candlesticks? That’s right, we said that it was Jesus Christ Himself. So it is not John who is giving advice to the church at Ephesus. It is Jesus Christ Himself, who is the second member of the Trinity. So when we examine these verses, we do not need to see this as fatherly advice from John the Apostle. We need to see these verses as commands from the very mouth of God. To look at the good things that Jesus has to say about the Ephesian church, we need to look at verses two and three of our text again. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.” While Jesus says ten distinct things about what they are doing right, I think we can boil all these things down into three main categories. The three categories are their good deeds, their perseverance, and their fight against heresy.
First let’s look at the good works of the Ephesian church. The first phrase of verse two says, “I know thy works, and thy labour.” Isn’t it nice to know that Jesus notices the good things that His followers do? Some of the most faithful Christians are those who do all of their work behind the scenes. People may not notice them because they aren’t teaching or preaching, but they are sometimes the most dedicated people in a congregation. Isn’t it nice to know that we serve a God that sees? Jesus saw that the Ephesian Christians were doing good deeds, and He appreciated them for it. But something these verses imply is that we do not need to broadcast our good deeds from the housetop, because God has already seen them, and He will reward you. So if you are here tonight, and you constantly behind the scenes serving the church, and praying for the church, I want you to know that I appreciate you. And even more important than that, our Savior in Heaven appreciates you, too.
The second area that Jesus praises the church at Ephesus is with their perseverance. The catchphrases that Jesus uses to describe their perseverance are “patience,” “has borne,” and “has not fainted.” We’ve already talked about how this time period was filled with persecution, and you can imagine that a city with one of the world’s biggest temples would crack down on anyone who did not worship that false god. But by and large, the Ephesian church was surviving the onslaught of persecution. They did not give up, even though things were extremely difficult. And when we suffer for the sake of our Messiah, the Bible says that Jesus notices, and He appreciates it.
The third area that Jesus said He liked about the Ephesian church was their fight against heresy. In the simplest terms, heresy is any belief that claims to be Christian but does not believe what the Bible says. In the early church, there were many false teachers lurking about. Some groups would try to convince them that they had to practice the Jewish festivals to be saved. Some groups said that Jesus was simply a good person, and not God. And some groups said that Jesus was God, but that He did not have an actual human body, and that Jesus’ physical appearance was just an illusion. So how did the church here defeat the onslaught of heresy? Look what the text says in the second half of verse two. “and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” Jesus says that they refuse to bear with the people who are teaching false doctrine. And their secret to success was that they tested everyone who claimed to be a teacher. What does this implication have for our church? As a pastor, it means that it is my responsibility to examine potential teachers and make sure that they are teaching the true gospel, and not a false gospel. And for you, it means that you need to examine everything I say and see if it affirms the message of the Bible. Because if I ever start spouting things that disagree with the Bible, you better be ready to take me down; because Jesus encourages every church to test those who are their teachers, to see if they are telling you the truth.
Before we move onto the bad stuff, Jesus applauds them for defeating a specific heresy in verse six of our text. Verse six says “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” There is some disagreement over who the Nicolaitans were, but most theologians believe that they were a group of false Christians founded by Nicolas, who was one of the seven deacons appointed in Acts chapter six. History tells us that Nicolas later on gave up his faith, and began teaching that people needed to experience every type of sexual sin for themselves. And so there were actually false teachers going around telling people that part of being a Christian was committing adultery. And believe or not, some churches were falling for it! But Jesus commends the church of Ephesus, because they did not fall into the Nicolaitan heresy.
While the Ephesian church did many things very well, Jesus had some stern words for them in verses four and five. These verses read, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” The main problem in this church is that they had left their first love for Christ. Do you remember how you felt during your first days as a Christian? Everything was so fresh and exciting, because you realized for the first time what it felt like to be a Christian. For many Christians, at first they are “on fire for God,” but as time goes by, that fire simmers to the point that they are “burning piles of embers for God.” That is what had happened to the church at Ephesus. And Jesus told them that they needed to repent of this sin, or else He would remove the church from existence. Those are really stern words, aren’t they?
In some ways, I feel for the church at Ephesus. I mean, they were doing good works, they were persevering in the midst of persecution, and they were fighting off all of the false teachers. And yet, they had lost the kind of love that they had for God when they started. In the forty years since Paul had written his epistle, they were no longer passionate about Christ. I mean, they still did all of the right stuff, they had just forgotten why they did the good deeds in the first place.
So what does this mean for us today? It means that we cannot simply go through the routine of church because we have for over 100 years. We must go through the routine of church because we love the Christ who died for us on the cross. We do not come together just to sing songs, hear the Bible read, and listen to a sermon. We come here and do those things because we love God. And as soon as we lose that passion, this church might as well not be in existence.
So I would encourage all of us tonight to learn from this ancient church. We must all be filled with good works. We must always persevere no matter what the world says or does. You must always test what I tell you from the pulpit for accuracy. And when we do all of these things, we must always do them solely out of a deep love for the God who saved us. Because Jesus does not just want our head and our hands. He also wants our heart.
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