Jesus said in the first chapter of Revelation the apostle John was instructed to write concerning “the things which are.” (v. 19) This resulted in the messages to the churches as recorded in chapters two and three. Although this message was to seven actual churches of his day, they are also relevant for today and representative of churches in every age. The message is to the “churches.” (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)
Ephesus is the first church John writes about. As you read his messages to them, it initially appears that they have it altogether. First of all, they do not tolerate evil men or false apostles. This is exactly what the apostle Paul warned the Ephesian elders about over 30 years earlier. He told them, “…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.” (Acts 20:29, 30) They were to be on guard. Apparently they took his admonitions to heart, for they remained vigilant in this matter. No false teachings or deceptive person would gain a foothold.
Secondly, they persevered and had patience, and labored for His name’s sake and did not become weary. (2:3) They were very busy, laboring for Christ. As we all know, results from our spiritual labor often take time. Usually people and situations do not change overnight. Yet the church at Ephesus persevered and continued to work. And even as John wrote to them, they had not grown tired of laboring and continued in patience.
Since the seven churches are descriptive of present day churches, let’s consider how the church of Ephesus might look today? To begin, such a church would not affirm sinful lifestyles. It would teach that the grace of God leads to Godly living. This church would not bear with evil men in their midst.
As the church at Ephesus exposed false apostles, such a church today would not allow false teachers to infiltrate the flock. The elders would guard the flock. It would affirm the doctrines of the Christian faith – the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, Salvation by grace through faith, the Bodily resurrection of Christ, heaven and hell, the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, etc. It would be a place where you would not be misled doctrinally. You would have heard the truth in Ephesus and you would hear the truth in such a church today.
Observing the activities, one might see Sunday Schools, Sunday morning and evening worship services, Wednesday night services, and outreach programs to the community. People would seem to be serving. They would have energy and would be involved in the ministry of the church. Outwardly, it would be a church that appears to be on the move for Christ. Without looking to deeply, it might be a church that you and I would join.
But then Jesus says to them, “…I have this against you that you have left your first love.” (2:4) What a disturbing appraisal! How could a church that is apparently faithful and actively working have left their first love?
When the apostle Paul met with the Ephesian elders on his third missionary trip, he told them that they would not see him again. They began to weep aloud and embraced Paul and repeatedly kissed him. (Acts 20:37, 38) Paul had spent three years in Ephesus and had not shunned from declaring the whole counsel of God. (20:27; 31) For this reason they certainly had a spiritual and emotional connection with him. They loved him and all the saints. (Ephesians 1:15)
The love that they had at their inception stemmed from their faith in the Lord Jesus. (Ephesians 1:15) That is where all Christian love begins and ends. “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:16, 18) Humans are unable to exhibit Biblical love if we are without Christ. If what we are doing, accomplishing, and/or experiencing does not have its roots in the love we have for God, then it has no value. It may look good on the outside, but it is only bringing glory and praise to ourselves.
The church at Ephesus had become service oriented. They were doing many of the right things, but from the wrong motivation. It is amazing how the flesh can seem to produce good fruit! The Lord admonishes them to “do the deeds you did at first.” (v.5) They were to do those things that they had done at first – those deeds that were motivated because of their love for Him.
The alarming point about this is that each one of us must safeguard our hearts from falling to the same place as those of Ephesus. We need to continually ask ourselves, why are we doing what we are doing? Has our service lost its meaning or purpose? Do we relish adulation and praise rather than offering our thanks to Him? Are we just going through the motions of Christianity? Do we still desire that ‘quality’ time with Him in prayer and study? Have we forgotten that we have been bought with a price?!
No matter where you have fallen, you can be restored to that intimate relationship with the Lord. Like the church at Ephesus, He gives all the opportunity to repent and to do the deeds done at first. In His grace He gives everyone a chance to return to his first love!