Love’s Grown Cold: The Church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)

Love’s Grown Cold: The Church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)

Introductory Remarks

The letters to the seven churches share a similar structure. They each feature:

  • An address to a particular congregation.
  • An introduction of Jesus.
  • A statement regarding the condition of the church.
  • A verdict from Jesus regarding the condition of the church.
  • A command from Jesus to the church.
  • A general exhortation to all Christians.
  • A promise of reward.

As we go along, keep in mind, we can see the state of each of these seven churches – and the state of our own walk with Jesus – by looking at what Jesus has to say to each church in each section.

 

 

  1. The Ephesian Church’s Pedigree
  • Ministry endeavors were begun by Aquila and Priscilla. (Acts 18:18-19)
  • Apollos came along to preach (Acts 18:24-26)
  • Paul’s Second Missionary Trip saw him briefly engage in the city (Acts 18:19-21)
  • On Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey, we see Paul begin to formally organize the Church in Ephesus. (Acts 19:1-7, 20:31) Paul spent three years with the church.
  • Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3) and, later, Tychicus (2 Timothy and Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 1:16-18) served as leaders of the Church in Ephesus.
  • At the time of his arrest, John the Apostle (son of Zebedee) was the pastor.

 

If there was ever a church that was the place to be, Ephesus was it.

 

 Jesus describes Himself to the church at Ephesus.

‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:

We look back to the vision in Chapter 1 and see that Jesus is here, emphasizing His Lordship over the whole Church. The statement that He is holding the seven stars in his right hand is a statement of absolute sovereign authority. Christ is not merely Sovereign Lord (Kurios), He is Absolute Lord (Despotes), unrivalled, unchallengeable and in total control of the Churches

 

 What Jesus knows about the Christians of Ephesus.

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.

 

I know your works: Jesus looked at His church, and He knew its condition. It was no mystery to Him. There may be sin or corruption hidden in a congregation, but it isn’t hidden to Jesus. He would say the same thing to us today, both as individuals and as a congregation: I know your works.

 

Your works, your labor, your patience: Jesus knew what this church did right. They worked hard for the Lord and they had godly endurance. Patience is the great ancient Greek word hupomone, which means “steadfast endurance.” In this sense, the church in Ephesus was rock-solid.

 

You cannot bear those who are evil: The Ephesian church pursued doctrinal purity. Paul warned the Ephesians in Acts 20:29-31For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. From this commendation of Jesus, we know that the Ephesians took Paul’s warning seriously.

 

Most of what passes for Christianity, today, would not pass muster with the Church in Ephesus. Much like the Church in Antioch of Berea, they knew the Scripture and they tested these alleged pastors and apostles against Scripture.

 

I said in one of my lessons on 2nd John, I believe that the “Elect Lady” is both a real person and a metaphor for the Church and that metaphor seems to fit Ephesus. While there are some false converts in the church, her children (the congregation) are largely walking in the truth.

Spurgeon on Ephesus:

“This was grand of them: it showed a backbone of truth. I wish some of the churches of this age had a little of this holy decision about them; for nowadays, if a man be clever; he may preach the vilest lie that was ever vomited from the mouth of hell, and it will go down with some.”

You have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary: Also, the Ephesian church continued doing these things without becoming weary. They showed a godly perseverance that we should imitate while guarding against passivity.
To the untrained eye, everything you could want in a church was to be found here. If you were pastoring, Ephesus was where you wanted to get your start. Passing muster with the Ephesian church would make you in that world. That was your credential so to speak. Unfortunately for the Church in Ephesus, Jesus did not have an untrained eye. If you remember, the Lord is described as having eyes like a flame of fire. This is immovable, penetrating discernment from which there is no escape. This really is terrifying if you think about it. All of your motives, thoughts, etc. are laid before Christ in utter nakedness- nothing is hidden.

 

 

What Jesus has against the church at Ephesus.

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

 

Nevertheless I have this against you: Jesus used a sobering word – nevertheless, which means “despite all that.” Jesus took into full account all the good in the Ephesian church, yet despite all that, He had something against them. All the good in the Ephesian church did not cancel out the bad Jesus is about to describe.

 

You have left your first love: Despite all the good in the Ephesian church, there is something seriously wrong. I suppose that is an understatement. What is wrong is so terrible, so egregious that disaster is at the door.  They have left – not lost – their first love.

 

It’s a tragedy, really. The language Jesus employs indicates that this was a conscious choice. The distinction between leaving and losing is important. Something can be lost quite by accident, but leaving is a deliberate act, though it may not happen suddenly. As well, when we lose something we don’t know where to find it; but when we leave something, we know where to find it

 

Let’s consider for a moment how this can happen. Believe it or not, one of Jesus’ most familiar parables actually gives us a clue. Remember, if you will, the parable of the sower. Thorns, a symbol of the cares of the world, come and choke out the seed. We can reasonably conclude that this is what happened to Ephesus. It is also possible that this resulted from being neglectful of the Gospel. This rebuke from Jesus came about 40-45 years after Paul’s departure, about one generation.

 

  1. Left your first love: What lovedid they leave? As Christians, we are told to love God and to love one another. Did they leave their love for God? Did they leave their love for one another? Probably both are in mind, because the two loves go together. You can’t say you love God and not love His family, and you can’t really love His family without loving Him first.

 

The Ephesian church was a working church. Sometimes a focus on working for Jesus will eclipse a love relationship with Him. Sadly, an overemphasis on works can kill your love.

 

The Ephesian church was a doctrinally pure church. Sometimes a focus on doctrinal purity will make a congregation cold, suspicious, and intolerant.  “When love dies orthodox doctrine becomes a corpse, a powerless formalism. Adhesion to the truth sours into bigotry when the sweetness and light of love to Jesus depart.” (Spurgeon)

When Jesus says that the church has left its first love, we are talking about priority not chronology, the key is in the Great Commandment. The Great Commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Jesus tells us that this is the first and greatest commandment. (Matthew 22:38).  I cannot help but be overcome with sorrow when I read the rebuke to the Church in Ephesus. There is a lot that you can get wrong in the Scripture and still be saved. You can misunderstand baptism, eschatology, ecclesiology and others but if you miss that Jesus, who is, Himself, God is your first love, your main priority, the only satisfaction your soul will ever feel, and your only respite from sin, then you will miss it. Hell is full of people who never wanted to be there but they did not love the Lord Jesus. Heaven is filled with those who never expected to be there, but they did love the Lord Jesus. Before anyone objects, let us consider this logically for a moment: if a person does not love Jesus now and want to spend time in His presence, what possesses them to think they will be in His Heaven where every single solitary object and being is designed for His glory and His delight. That is the real message to the Church in Ephesus, “ You have left Me and in so doing, you jeopardize your soul.”

 

What Jesus wants the church at Ephesus to do.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its placeunless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

 

Repent: We don’t really get the importance of this, yet. As we go through Revelation we will see that all of the judgments, except two, are designed to elicit repentance. Bowl Judgment number five is the last time that we see repentance mentioned.  In the final two bowl judgments, there is nothing but unfettered retribution.

 

I have given you this thought before but I want to give it to you again: Repentance is turning to Christ so that you can forsake your sin, not the other way around.

 

I do not want you to take the picture of a jilted lover here. Jesus is not jilted; He is a father who is being forced to discipline the children. The warning to repent is a mercy. To paraphrase “If you do not stop your bad behavior, I will be forced to discipline you.”

 

 

Or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place: Jesus gave them a stern warning. Unless they repent, He will remove their light and His presence. If their lampstand was removed, they could continue as an organization, but no longer as a true church of Jesus Christ. It would be the church of Ichabod, where the glory had departed (1 Samuel 4:21).

 

When we see Jesus removing His presence, this does not mean that the Godhead has moved; God is omnipresent. Rather, Jesus is removing the relationship. Even in hell, the Godhead will be present inflicting judgment. Hell is not the absence of God, it is separation. Those who have not repented and find themselves in hell will be forever cut off from the benefits of a love relationship with Christ. Every person will have a relationship with Jesus for all eternity. In Heaven it will be a love relationship. Conversely, in hell it will be a relationship of unrelenting punishment. The choice is afforded to all. Repent and be saved, do not repent and be damned.

 

This is important: while you still draw breath, you still have hope of Heaven. Whoever wants to come, may come. The key is wanting to come.

 

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