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The Church at Ephesus

Overcomers: The 7 Churches of Revelation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Christ's Message to the Church in Ephesus



I want you to picture with me an older couple riding down the road together. They’re in the same car they had when they got married, a ‘65 Mercury Monterey. Complete with AM/FM Stereo, power brakes, wing windows, and a vinyl bench front seat. The could is taking their Sunday drive through the country together after picking up their ice cream cone, when suddenly the wife looks over at her husband and says, “When we first got married, you’d talk to me and tell me about your dreams. You’d stop and pick flowers for me. You’d have your arm around me, pulling me close as we drove. Now look at us. I’m all the way over here and you’re all the way over there. What’s happened? The old man drove on silently for a few minutes and finally spoke up, “Funny; I’m still sittin’ in the same spot.”
We’re continuing on in the Jesus’ address to the 7 churches of Asia Minor found in the Book of Revelation. If you’ve been following along with us, you know that we’ve spent the last 3 weeks looking at John’s vision of Jesus in the first chapter. Jesus was seen by John in all his glory. Described as wearing a long robe with a golden sash around his chest, hair white a wool, eyes aflame with fire, feet like flaming bronze, and a voice of many waters. Probably reminiscent to John as when he was on the Mount of Transfiguration.
Behind this description is the holiness and righteousness of Christ. He’s God incarnate and in this there is no sin, no impurity, nothing untrue. In John 3:20 we read, “For everyone who does evil hates light.” If you love the world, you will despise the truth of Christ. Part of our postmodern era is a dismissal of an absolute truth, which is why we can pass law legalizing infanticide and sexual immorality, and criminalizing those who disagree. There is a rapidly increasing hostility toward the truth. This is a generation committed to doing evil at an alarming rate. What is even more concerning is the Church’s divergence from truth and tolerating modern paganism.
The church has always been an “island in a sea of paganism” (MacAurthur) and from the very beginning that’s where the church stood. In America we have always lived bountifully under the freedoms of our constitution, which included our religious freedoms. In our country, being a Christian is not a crime, at least for now. What happens when the church looses its love for the truth of God? What happens when we compromise on our faith for the sake of being accepted, or to feel more comfortable in a society that is ever-increasingly hostile toward the truth?
This is why Jesus wrote these letters we find in Revelation 2 & 3 to 7 churches. These are 7 real churches in Asia Minor: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. In fact, in that order, that’s the postal route to go through the whole country. So today, we begin by looking at the church considered the epicenter of this area, Ephesus

The Case in Ephesus

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

The main point of these letters is for Jesus to remind the church and charge the church to be zealous for the gospel, reject false teaching, and live in a manner that resembles the Gospel. Jesus addresses the “angel of Ephesus. Probably the arch angel assigned to the church. The wording of verse 1 describing Jesus, “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” is identical to John’s description of Jesus in Revelation 1:20.
If Jesus were to write a letter us today, what do you think he would say? The greatest need for the church today isn’t programs, buildings, or plans. The greatest need for the church today is to be faithful to Jesus (Hughes). In so the letters follow a shared format. Christ (1) praises the churches, (2) points out areas for repentance, (3) warns the churches of his judgment, and (4) promises blessings for those who overcome in his name. (Phillips). Each church is in a unique situation that can be universally understood and edified. Each letter By addressing these 7 churches, Jesus is essentially speaking to all the churches.
The first of these churches is the Church in Ephesus. If you know your Bible, you know that founded and taught by some of the best leaders found in the Book of Acts. The letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament is Paul’s letter to this church. Likely, it was started by Aquila and Pricilla, a husband and wife team left there by Paul in Acts 18. Paul trained and retrained pastors there at a ministry school. There was a pastor there by the name of Apollos who was very influential to the church and region. Others like, Timothy, Tychicus, Onesemus, and the Apostle John all had strong ties with the church in Ephesus; names that you will find in other letters of the New Testament. The point is, Ephesus was a central, strong, and important church.

17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.

The City of Ephesus is what I would call a hot mess. It was the central port for Asia Minor with a large harbor coming in from the Cayster River. It was known as “The Light of Asia” (MacArthur). Because of the harbor it was a central trading hub for Asia and four primary trade route all proceeded out of the city. It was also known for its paganism and idolatry. The prominent feature of Ephesus was the temple to Artemis or Diana. It could be either one because one of the features between ancient paganism is that it has its distinction between genders.
The temple was made of beautiful glittering Persian marble. It was 425 feet lon and 260 feet wide with columns reaching 60 feet in the air. It was a central hub of licentiousness, prostitution, and crime. It also served as the central bank of the Mediterranean. “Historians say there were scores of eunuchs, thousands of priestesses, prostitutes, singers, and dancers. The worship was a kind of hysteria: debauchery, drunkenness, sexual deviations, frenzies of shameless mutilation.”

Jesus’ Commendation to Ephesus

Situated in the middle of this city of sin is a group of Christians proclaiming the gospel. Early in the church’s history, they started a riot preaching Jesus. They were active. Not a church offering comfort or entertainment. They were laboring in the fields of spiritual filth. That requires maturity, perseverance, and thick skin. This was a church to be commended.

2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

The church in Ephesus was now a second generation congregation. Forty years they labored in Ephesus. There were undoubted times that they wanted to give up and there were undoubtedly many failures. People who betrayed them and the faith, others who became discouraged, and others who became violent. There were many people watching and observing outside the church and inside.
Jesus knows the good things that are done in his name. It can be discouraging when it doesn’t seem to be noticed or we can see the results. Ministry is difficult and often discouraging. It is fighting spiritual, cultural, and all sorts of battles. What Jesus commends them for is their “patient endurance.” Living for God requires patience and persistence. You will feel like giving up because you struggle with the same problems in your life. The battle of life seems to never end. Jesus commends those who endure.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

The other thing Jesus commends the Ephesian church for is testing for false teachers. The Ephesian church was intolerant of false teaching and sin. They recognized the damage sin does to the fellowship and the testimony of the Gospel. Paul told them his letter to them to “never give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:27) and they didn’t. They wanted nothing to do with Satan, his lies, and his schemes to divide the church. Many evil people come into congregations. A priority for the Ephesians was making sure they carefully vetted their leaders and teachers.
If you jump down to verse 6, Jesus also mentions their hate for the Nicolatians. This isn’t the only place they are mentioned. We don’t know much about them, except they were some sort of heresy or cult characterized by extreme indulgence of sensuality. Clement of Alexandria said of them, “They abandon themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” (MacAurthur)
The other side of that is making sure we remain strong in their faith as they serve. Serving Jesus means having a relationship with him first. If you are coming and trying to do “good things” without the relationship, it will be dry and draining. This was the basis for Jesus’s correction:

Jesus’ Correction for the Ephesians

4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

In their zeal for correct doctrine, the Ephesian church grew cold in their love for Jesus and likely became cynical in loving others. Jesus reminds them that the Great Commandment matters to God. I think it’s powerful that Jesus identifies himself to the Ephesians church as the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands. Perhaps he was reminding the church that they are light bearers. We are shining the light of God into the dark places of the world. Places like Ephesus. We cannot do that if we aren’t connected to God and our labor is in vail.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Faith without a love relationship = dry religion. Maybe some of you feel like this right now. The fire you once had for Jesus is gone and you wonder where it went. It always starts with relationship. If serving in church has become dry and cumbersome, then you should take a look at your relationship with God. Pulling back from church isn’t the answer, drawing closer to God is what you need.
Have you abandoned your love for God? Have we as a church become so fixated on doing that we forgot to be loving. Our mission is to love God and love others. That is how we glorify God. The Great Commandment + The Great Commission = Glorifying God.
I think the greatest threat to the American Church is itself. We’ve become so fixated on doing what is popular, entertaining, and trendy that God’s presence and power is optional. We’re more centered around our fellowship and gatherings than we are on loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength. We blame the pastor he doesn’t bottle feed us our weekly milk. We blame others when we should first be looking at our own relationship with Jesus.
How deadly is it for the church to be sound in doctrine but devoid of their love for Christ? I think this is where we fail and drive people away. If you are in leadership and serving without love, you are in danger. If you are in a position of serving and are doing so without love, you are in danger. If you are newer to the faith and that initial zeal for the Lord is dwindling, you are in danger. If the time you spend in the Word, prayer, and worship has faded, you are in danger. If you are compromising in areas of your life with sin, you are in danger. You have lost your first love. Jesus is calling his bride to fall in love with him again

Jesus’ Challenge for Ephesians

5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

Jesus gives us three challenges in our loss of our first love: Remember, Repent, and Return.
The first thing Jesus tells us is to Remember. Do you remember your first love? Do you remember what it was like when you first got married? I remember when I was first married to Andrea, my heart would burst. There was nothing I wouldn’t do to earn her love and show my zeal for her. The first love was passionate, fervent, and all-consuming in our lives. That is the kind of love we are to remember with our Savior.
Do you remember what it was that made your fee that with Christ. That you would sell everything to follow him kind of love for Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus must constantly occupy the higher places of our lives. Just simply thinking about Jesus and what he did for us is enough to begin to fan the flames of your love for him again. When we mediate on the gospel we become people who will lay our lives down for him to see others know His love
The second thing Jesus tells us to do is repent. We don’t like the word today, but we need to turn away from the things and the thinking that keeps us away from Jesus.

29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

What keeps you from your Bible study, prayer, and reliance on Christ? Your soul depends on your ability to repent of those things so that you can cultivate your love that Jesus wants from you.
The Third thing Jesus tells the Ephesians is to “return to the things you did at first.” We must return again to the cross of Christ, seeking forgiveness and cleansing from sin.
The truth is nothing is more satisfying than knowing God, and nothing will make you happier than following Jesus. Our love for Jesus compels us to love others
The Great Commandment + the Great Commission = Glorifying God

Jesus’ Call for Overcomers

7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

The closing portion of Jesus’ message to the Ephesian church and to us is full of hope and power. To conquer in Christ is to confess our sins and seek the atoning power of his death for our forgiveness. To hold fast to the gospel and the Bible is the foundation of our faith
To those who overcomes, Jesus promises to “eat from the tree of life.” Do you see that? Where else do we see the tree of life in the Bible? Yep, in the Garden of Eden. This is heaven; eternal life. Are you an overcomer? You must be. The promise of the overcomer is heaven
Is this saying that there were people in the church at Ephesus who actually failed to abide in Christ and never saw heaven? Could be. Don’t do that; don’t find out. Jesus said, “Stay victorious in the faith and the promise is heaven.
Remember, repent, return.

4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

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