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The Churches of Revelation – Ephesus

Posted by on Oct 29, 2007 in love, scripture, service | 5 comments

The first church addressed in Revelation is the church 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. 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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 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. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 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.’ (Revelation 2:1-7 ESV)

The church in Ephesus is mentioned more in Scripture than any other church except the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch. What can we learn from this short passage written to the church of Ephesus, but also said to all churches by the Spirit.

What does Jesus say about the church in Ephesus? 1) He knows about their works, difficulty/labor, and patience. 2) He knows that they could not bear patiently with evil people (or deeds). 3) He knows that they tested those who falsely claimed to be apostles, and found them to be liars. 4) He knows that they had patience and had patiently endured because of Jesus’ name without growing weary.

Patience seems to be a continuing theme in verses 2-3 as Jesus describes the church in Ephesus. The noun “patience” is used twice and the verb “bear patiently” is used twice. Similarly, the idea of testing those who falsely claim to be apostles also demonstrate the patience of the church in Ephesus. We also see that this church works and labors tirelessly, and that they stand against evil people (or deeds) and liars.

What does Jesus have against the church in Ephesus? According to Jesus the church in Ephesus has left their “first love”. This is variously translated “first love” or “love you had at first”. The object of their love is not stated. It sometimes assumed to be Jesus himself, but that seems incomplete given the remedy in the next verse. Perhaps it is best to understand this as saying that the Ephesians were working and being patient, but they were not motivated by love – both the love of God and the love of others. It is not necessary to separate the two types of love, since according to Scripture they operate together.

Despite the Ephesians’ works and patience and standing against evil and testing false apostles, Jesus considered everything void without love. Even though the Ephesians persevered and labored and did not grow weary, Jesus was ready to remove their lampstand because they were not doing these things from love. Apparently, love is more than a good idea. Love is absolutely necessary for those who are following Jesus.

What is Jesus’ remedy? 1) They are to remember from where they have fallen. 2) They are to repent. 3) They are to do the first works, or the works they did at first.

It seems that works – even good works – do not please God if those works are not motivated by love. Also, I think the order here is very important. First, they need to recognize their problem and recognize what has changed. Only then can they repent. Then, only after repentance – having a changed heart and life – will they be able to do works as they did at first, that is, they will be able to work from a motivation of love.

Can we hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches? It seems that works are good, but that Jesus’ expects works that are motivated by love. If our works are not motivated by love – if they are motivated by a sense of duty, or fear, or pride, or money, or fame, or respect – then we must recognize our sin, repent, and allow the Spirit to create his love within us to motivate our works.

To put this into perspective: We can build our buildings, but without love they are meaningless. We can schedule our programs, but without love we have done nothing. We can teach our classes, but apart from love the teaching is nothing. We can hold weekly meetings, but if they are not motivated by love, then we have not done anything. We give money and time to the poor, but if we are not motivated by love, then we deserve to have our lampstand (church) removed. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 13, and it is reinforced in this message to the church in Ephesus.

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The Churches of Revelation Series
1) Introduction
2) Ephesus
3) Smyrna
4) Pergamum
5) Thyatira
6) Sardis
7) Philadelphia
8) Laodicea
9) Summary


5 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-29-2007

    Good first installment. Why do you think this is? Why is it that something that seems good could be wrong? I have thoughts, but I am interested in yours.

  2. 10-29-2007

    Hey Alan,

    I love this book… I find it very intriguing and have heard many theories about what it tells us. Of course I have not come to any hard conclusions but I would like to add some observations.

    1) I think you’ve pretty much already stated all this but, as you pointed out he mentions their patience twice. Which seems to be used as a link. I think he also does this with “first” when he said they have lost their first love and need to do their first works. It might be a stretch, but it seems like he is saying that their works will reflect their love. Their remembering and repenting will align their love with their works.

    2) Continuing with the love/works theme he says that they hated the Nicolaitan’s works, just as he did also. I is an argument from silence, but I think it is interesting that neither him, nor they, are accused of hating the Nicolaitans – just their works.

    It seems like the Ephesians were able to recognize bad works… but had misplaced their love along the way.

    Great post!

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

    The Pursuit Online Store

  3. 10-29-2007

    Bryan,

    Love is foundational. The Spirit produces love within those who are his. Those who are walking in the Spirit will demonstrate love.

    Lew,

    Thanks for adding to this post. I think works reflect love, but even more, works should be motivated by love. It is possible to do works without love, but it is not possible to have love but not works. Thanks also for bringing in the Nicolaitans. It is interesting that the focus is on the Nicolaitans’ works.

    -Alan

  4. 10-30-2007

    Yes, love is foundational. i think it also tells us that things that seem “good” to us may not be the best – that which is loving. Perhaps it comments on the fact that the self cannot truly understand good absent love in their hearts – selflessness.

  5. 10-30-2007

    Bryan,

    Great observation! I think the church of Ephesus in this passage is a good example of doing good, but not best. Thanks for adding this to our discussion.

    -Alan