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Ephesus: A Church of Dangerous Preoccupations

 

7 Churches in Revelation: (Part I)

by Rev. Jerry Lepasana


Revelation 2:1-7 (NIV)
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 lampstands:
2 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.
3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
5 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 lampstand from its place.
6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
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 book of Revelation has been getting a lot of attention since the beginning of 2012 because of some Alarmists who have predicted that the world will end on December 21, 2012, claiming their basis on the Mayan Calendar. According to them, based on the calculations of ancient astronomers, there will be a planetary alignment of the Sun with the Milky Way’s black hole on December 21, resulting in cataclysmic events happening on Earth such as destructive sun flares, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and other calamities. Now, many of the people who are really worried are turning to the prophecies of the Bible, curious to see if it says the same things about the end of the world.

Well, as a Bible teacher, I’m hoping that these people will truly be compelled to examine the Bible. If they do this, I’m sure they won’t miss these two important truths.  First, the Bible does not provide the specific date for the end of the world. Jesus Himself declares that only the Father knows when that day will be. (Matthew 24:36) Second, the intention of prophecies is not to scare people but to guide people on how they can properly prepare for the things to come. In fact, when you read the introductory part of Revelation 1:1-3, it says,

1 The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,
2 who testifies to everything he saw–that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”

Verse 3 is the key.  The truth is: God gave us these prophecies so that we can be blessed. In what way are we going to be blessed? Knowing the time is near, God gave us the prophecies so we would always take care of the way we are living our lives today (blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it). Certainly, the best way to prepare for the future is to live faithfully for God today.

This is going to be the premise during this entire series on Learning from the Seven Churches in Revelation. With all these predictions about the end of the world, I believe we need to take some time to study the book of Revelation this year. We will divide the study into two major sections. The first section will be about the 7 churches, which centers on the present. Then after the summer, we’ll pick it up again in order to talk about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the end times, which will be about future events. This will naturally lend to the outline of this great book as seen in Revelation 1:19, “Write, therefore, what you have seen, and what will take place later.

When you carefully consider this great book, written by the apostle John while he was in exile on the land of Patmos, you can see the two divisions from this verse.

  • What is now (Revelation 2-3)
  • What will take place later (Revelation 4-22)

 

As we begin our study on these seven churches, it would be good for us to know that these were actual churches existing in real places in Asia Minor around A.D. 95. Since the number “seven” is commonly known in the Bible, indicating perfection or completion, seven churches, therefore, represent the total church. I’m sure there were other Christian churches at the time, but Jesus intentionally selected these seven churches because they represent the different spiritual conditions of Christ’s churches throughout the history of the church. Almost all Bible interpreters also agree that these messages are definitely applicable to individual Christians as well, meaning the church issues Jesus Christ dealt with are also issues that individual Christians may also face. In almost every church today, you will find “Ephesian” Christians, “Sardis” Christians, and “Laodicean” Christians. The strengths, the problems, and the struggles addressed here are the same issues believers continue to wrestle with. Will they be victorious? Are we willing to make the necessary adjustments so we can receive the blessings the Lord has in store for us? Again, as we move closer and closer to the end times, we need to make sure we are realigning our lives to be overcomers. You find this truth repeatedly stated after dealing with every church – “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes. . .

Let’s begin exploring the seven different churches in Asia Minor, the first of whom is the church in Ephesus. We can easily divide our text into three truths.

I           THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS WORTH PRAISING:

In all the messages to the seven churches, you will find a pattern in the introductory portion. First, Jesus addresses the church through a designated angel. Who is this angel? The term angel literally means messenger. Bible scholars believe this does not refer to a spiritual being. Instead, it refers to the minister or pastor of the church. Just like in the pastoral letters, the instructions to the churches are channeled to the pastor, who has been given the responsibility of teaching them. Secondly, Jesus also provides a significant description of Himself. In verse 1, He describes Himself as the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. This speaks of Christ’s lordship over the church. The “seven stars” in his hands are the pastors of churches and the seven golden lampstands are the seven churches. Both the pastors and churches are solely dependent on His ministry to them. After this description comes the message to the chosen church.

The first church is the Ephesian Church. This is obviously an important church because of its location. During those times, Ephesus was known as the first metropolis of Asia, the center of commerce because it had the greatest seaport in Asia Minor. But more than its commerce, it also became very popular because of its religion. It was here that you would find the temple of Artemis (Diana), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Diana is viewed as the sacred goddess of sex and fertility. Her worship promoted sexual immorality and sacred prostitution within the city of Ephesus.

The good news is: right in this dark and desperate city, there was the light of the Gospel of Christ through the church. Early on, this church had the privilege of having Paul as their pastor for more than two years. (Acts 19:10) Then, after him, came Timothy and John, the beloved. For sure, these great men contributed much to the strength and maturity of this church. If you look at verses 2-3, Jesus praises them for their accomplishments. He starts by telling them – “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.”

Let me ask you, do you still believe that nothing is really hidden from Christ? Do you still believe He knows exactly whether or not we are dedicated to Him or not? God’s word states it plainly:

Hebrews 4:13
13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Concerning the church in Ephesus, Christ praised them for the following:

  1. A. Performance“I know . . . hard work”

The Lord Jesus Christ was pleased to see these believers serving with great intensity in their labors. They were willing to work hard to advance the cause of Jesus Christ.

  1. B. Purity – “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men”

They maintained a high standard of purity in their ministry. They served knowing that they were rendering their services to a holy God.  In verse 6, you also see this statement – You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. The Nicolaitans were people who professed faith, yet lived licentious lives. The Ephesian believers hated such a lifestyle.

  1. C. Perception“You have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false”

Jesus also commended them for their maturity and discernment. They knew exactly where they stood in doctrines, being able to identify true Bible teachers from the false ones.

  1. D. Perseverance “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary”

Lastly, they kept serving the Lord despite all the persecution. Even when their lives were in danger, they never gave up in their commitments to the Lord.

If Christ examined our Christian lives today, would He find something worth praising? My challenge for us is to be intentional in living a life He could honor. One of these days, for sure, we will all stand before Him. I hope we are working hard, aspiring to be commended.

II         THE AFFECTION WORTH PRIORITIZING:

How I wish the words for the church in Ephesus ended with verse 3. Based on those accomplishments, this church could have been regarded as the best church. However, the Lord needed to address a specific area that they seriously overlooked. This is definitely an area where we often easily fail as well – the affection towards God.

Notice verse 4. Christ worded it – You have forsaken your first love.” What is this first love? Bible scholars explain first love in two ways:

  1. A. Greatest Love

God demands that believers give Him their highest love. No one and nothing should compete with their love for Him. In the greatest commandment, He requires that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Mark 12:30
30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

The Ephesian believers allowed their love to be diverted to other objects. Their love for Christ was no longer the priority.

  1. B. Grateful Love

Warren Wiersbe defines it as the devotion that so often characterizes the new believer – fervent, personal, and uninhibited. This is the love that one experiences after Christ comes into his or her life. This love comes from a grateful heart because of the salvation that he or she has received from God. The problem is: as the years go by, believers often lose passion and everything becomes mechanical in their walk with Him.

Most of the time, we lose our “first love” because we become preoccupied with other things. For the Ephesian church, their preoccupations were not the bad and evil stuff. It seems to show that they became more concerned with being involved in ministries, being doctrinally sound, and being morally right more than keeping a passionate relationship with the Lord. However, Jesus demands no substitute for love. He demands our love more than all of these things. He conveyed this clearly to Peter.

John 21:15-17
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

For Peter, to be asked three times allowed for some serious self-evaluation. If Christ would confront us personally and ask the same question, how would we respond to Him?

I realize that we too should warn ourselves about the things that preoccupy us. Satan has always been subtle in his strategy to keep believers from devoting their hearts to the Lord. Dr. David Jeremiah illustrates this truth in his book, I Never Thought I’d See the Day, using this imaginary story of Satan addressing a worldwide convention of demons and promising them victory in believer’s lives if they faithfully did the following twelve things:

  1. Keep them busy with nonessentials
  2. Tempt them to overspend and go into debt.
  3. Make them work long hours to maintain empty lifestyles.
  4. Discourage them from spending family time. When homes disintegrate, there’s no refuge from work.
  5. Over stimulate their minds with television and computers so they can’t hear God speaking to them.
  6. Fill their coffee tables and nightstands with newspapers and magazines so they’ve no time for Bible reading.
  7. Flood their mailboxes with sweepstakes, promotions, and get-rich-quick schemes; keep them chasing material things.
  8. Put glamorous models on TV and on magazine covers to keep them focused on outward appearances. That way, they’ll be dissatisfied with themselves and their mates.
  9. Make sure couples are too exhausted for physical intimacy. That way, they’ll be tempted to look elsewhere.

10.  Emphasize Santa and the Easter bunny in order to divert them from the real meaning of the holidays.

11.  Involve them in “good” causes so they won’t have time for “eternal” ones.

12.  Make them self-sufficient. Keep them so busy, working on their own strength, that they’ll never know the joy of God’s power working through them.

Then he concludes it by stating that sometimes being B-U-S-Y simply means Being Under Satan’s Yoke. If you rated your love for Christ on a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest and one being the lowest, how would your love for Christ measure up? If you know that your love for other people or things would get a higher rating, then we need to take the necessary steps to restore our “first love.” This leads me to my final point.

III        THE ACTIONS WORTH PERFORMING: (vs.5-7)

For the Ephesian believers, it required a lot of humility to accept their shortcoming of loving other things before their Savior. But He had to impress to them in verses 5-7 that restoring their first love would definitely be to their advantage. But before we highlight those advantages, let us first consider the three key actions they needed to perform for restoration:

  1. A. Remember

The process of restoration begins with the effort to remember the time when the love for the Lord was the most important thing in their lives. Perhaps they needed to take a short break from all their preoccupations to recapture the warmth and joy they had when Christ first became real in their lives.

  1. B. “Repent”

In the Bible, repentance means a change of mind and conduct. So if they wanted to repent, it would take more than saying, “Lord, I’m sorry and I want my first love again.” They needed to think differently about their priorities and start manifesting that difference in the way they think, speak, and perform. They needed to show a radical change in their lives.

  1. C. “Repeat”

Lastly, they needed to go back to the things they did at the beginning of their relationship with Him, perhaps the basic things like spending time with the Lord by reading their Bibles and praying to Him, or telling other people about their new found faith. The Lord did not mention specific activities, but they needed to recapture those activities that stimulated an intimate relationship with Him.

Now, these actions may sound simple, but failure to do them can result in some serious consequences. The last part of verse 5 captures it – “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

In the context of our passage, the lampstand represents the church because their primary purpose is to be God’s light in this dark world, drawing people to the light of Jesus Christ. The warning for the Ephesian church is clear, if they failed to restore their first love, their influence on the lost world would be removed. It would be tragic to exist as a church without accomplishing the very purpose of your existence. A church like that is literally good for nothing. May this never happen to our church!

Let’s close by emphasizing 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.”

First of all, if you have heard the message, you must respond by restoring your first love. Then there is this amazing promise. If you analyze it, it expresses that true believers are expected to respond to His demand. Why do I say this? 1 John 5:4 will help establish this truth.

1 John 5:4
4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

Wherever you go to the Bible, it clearly teaches that a true believer will go to heaven and partake from the tree of life. John clearly says we have become overcomers when we exercise faith in Christ.  So, if you are truly a believer, you will be an overcomer. A true Christian would definitely take the words of Christ to heart, responding to what you have heard, and then overcome the problem of going back to your first love. If you don’t respond, the reality of your faith comes into question.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus expects that, if we truly belong to Him, we will give Him our best love. If we need to recapture it, let’s do it now. Let’s not wait for Him to remove our light, our very purpose for existing today. May we find Him worthy of our greatest love!