Revelation 2:1-7, The Church at Ephesus: Duty, not Delight

“To the church at Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:  “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.  Nevertheless I have something against you, that you have left your first love.  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 place – unless you repent.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘
(NKJV)

As we go through these seven letters, we’ll look at the city in which the church lived.  Our Lord uses what they experience there in His counsel to them.  Then we’ll look at the description Christ uses of Himself, descriptions which come from the vision opening the book.  Then we’ll look at the content of the letter and what our Lord said to each church.

The City of the Epistle.

Ephesus was a very important city of the Roman province of Asia, which, as we’ve seen, was not in the Far East, but was in what we know as Turkey. Until the harbor filled in with silt, it had been a prominent sea port.  It remained a center of commerce, a point of contact between Greek and Asiatic cultures and was noted for its riches and trade.

By NT times, Ephesus had enjoyed a rich and varied history.  A focus of that history was the famed Temple of Diana (Artemis), the pride of the city.  It had been burned down on the night of the birth of Alexander the Great, but was rebuilt larger and more beautiful.  Its construction took 220 years and required contributions from the whole province of Asia.  Paul saw it at the height of its glory, when it was listed among the seven wonders of the ancient world.  There was, in addition to and connected with this temple, a tremendous emphasis on magical powers.  Paul had to deal with this while he was there.

The NT records a period of intense activity, Acts 20:20, 31, and of unusual miracles by Paul, Acts 19:11.  These “unusual miracles” (Gk. “uncommon works of power”) are no basis for the so-called “prayer cloths” or “handkerchiefs” some have offered, but were designed to counteract the pagan focus of the city.  Even to  Paul, these things were “uncommon.”  And “signs and wonders” weren’t permanent, even to the apostles.  We read later in the NT of the sickness of one of Paul’s associates.  We read nothing of Paul “healing” him.

As a result of Paul’s ministry, we read that many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds.  And many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all.  And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.  So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed, Acts 19:18-20.

Now this true revival and work of God in turning many from falsehood to the worship and service of the true God led to a tremendous decline in the commercial side of the worship of Diana, with loss to the business of selling the little shrines used in her worship, and the consequent loss to those who made and sold them.  And about this time there arose a great commotion about the Way.  For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen, vs. 23, 24.  The resulting riot forced Paul to leave Ephesus and there are no further recorded visits to the city.

The Christ of the Epistle, 2:1.

Each of the seven letters begins with a characterization of Christ taken from the vision John saw in chapter 1, a characterization suitable to the spiritual condition of the church addressed.  In this letter, Christ is described as the One holding the seven angels, or ministers of the churches, in His right hand.  He is the One who places them there, and it is to Him they are answerable.

Christ says, “I know.”  The word He uses here is instructive.  One of the words the NT uses for “knowing” means, “to progress in knowledge.”  We might say, “to learn” because there’s something of whatever we do “know” that we still  don’t “know.”  That’s not the word our Lord uses here.  The word He chose means “to know completely.”  There’s nothing about this church, or about us, that He doesn’t know everything about or that He has to “learn.”

This means He knows our “secret” sins, our failures, our shortcomings.  There’s no use trying to hide them or to gloss them over.  He knows them.

But it also means that He knows our secret struggles and sufferings.  Sometimes Christians are amazed when suffering in one form or another comes to us.  And there are those who make a good living teaching that the Christian life is “without a care,” as an unfortunate “Gospel” song used to say.  But the fact is we live in enemy territory.  This world, under the leadership of Satan, “the god of this age,” 2 Corinthians 4:4, is no friend to us.  In this country, we’ve been spoiled because we’ve enjoyed many years of relative peace and protection.  That’s coming to an end.  It probably won’t too many years, maybe months, before Christianity and the Bible are declared illegal in this country that was founded by those who had respect for both of them.

Further, we live in a world that’s been cursed because of sin.  It should be no surprise then to find “thorns” in whatever “field” we are in, Genesis 3:17-19.

Our Lord knows all about it.  In fact, I believe He knows it far better than any of us could, having experienced it Himself.  We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with out weaknesses, but was in all points tested as we are, yet without sin, Hebrews 4:25.

He walked in our shoes.

The Contents of the Epistle, 2:2-7.

1. commendation, vs. 2, 3.

– Our Lord commends the church for their faithful labor:  “your works, your labor, your patience.”  They had labored and persevered to the point of exhaustion.

– He commends them for their faithful diligence.  They could not bear those who are evil.”  There are two main words used in the original for “evil,” often interchangeably, but there is still some distinction between them.  One word is “poneros,” which means destructive, injurious evil.  It’s used of Satan, that “wicked one,” in several places in the NT.  The other word, used here, is “kakos,” and denotes what is useless, incapable or bad.  It describes one who is “useless” in an area in which he ought to be useful:  a cowardly soldier, a lazy student, an unproductive employee.  The Ephesian church could not bear those whom we might call “dead wood,” for example, folks whose bodies are in the pew, but not their minds and hearts.

– He commended them for their faithful listening:  “you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars.”   Elsewhere, John put it like this, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.  I wonder what he would say today, with all the means of communication we have:  TV, radio, the internet, print, Twitter.  More than ever, we need that attitude of some who heard Paul, who searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so, Acts 17:11, emphasis added.

Satan has no problem quoting Scripture, cf. Matthew 4:5.  In fact, he probably “knows” it better than most folks.  I once received a tract denying the Trinity, which claimed that Jesus is the only God there is.  It had about 90 Scripture references.  The thing that fascinated me was that several of these same Scriptures are used by Jehovah’s Witnesses to “prove” that Jesus isn’t God at all, but only a created being.  Thus both groups totally miss the point, though using lot of Scripture.

We need to know what it says!

Actually says….

– He again commends them for their faithfulness in serving Him, v. 3. “and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”  This is the second time He’s mentioned their works and labor.  One would think that’s enough; it certainly seems to be in our time.  Church calendars are full of activities of all kinds.  But there’s more….

2. complaint, v. 4, “Nevertheless….”

Oh, what a solemn word this is!  The average pastor would likely be glad to have a zealous church like this, yet our Lord sees a grievous imperfection:  “you have left your first love.”  Note, they left, not lost, that love.  The love of Christ and the church is compared to that of a bridegroom and his bride, yet how little fervency there is in the average Christian.  I’m afraid we’ve grown to want what He gives us, but not Himself.

“Love” is a key word with regard to this church.  In Paul’s letter to this church, there are some 18 references to “love,” beginning with God’s love toward us in eternity past in choosing and predestining us to adoption as sons, then focusing on Christ’s love and the effect it should have in our lives as believers, and closing with that grand crescendo of a man’s love for his wife.

With regard to this last, I think of Genesis 29:20, which happens during Jacob’s troubles with his father-in-law, Laban.  Remember the story in Genesis 29.  Jacob had fallen for Rachel, the younger of Laban’s two daughters.  He agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to be able to marry her.  However, when the time came, Laban tricked him and gave him his elder daughter, Leah.  Genesis 29:20 gives us Jacob’s attitude during this first seven years, and I like the KJV rendering here:  And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed to him but a few days, for the love he had to her.  “Seven years…a few days…for love…to her.”

Ephesus had lost that view, that lightness of spirit that make hard things easy.  Serving Christ had ceased to be a delight; it had become simply a duty.

What should they do?

Our Lord tells them.

3. Counsel, v. 5.

– remember (lit. “keep remembering”).  See the same word in Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesian elders, Acts 20:31.  Remember the first ardor of salvation.  Remember who He is.  Remember what He did.  Remember what He has promised.  Remember, remember, remember!

Yet how quickly we forget!

– repent.  There are those who tell us that repentance is a “Jewish” doctrine and that it’s now unnecessary.  Yet our Lord told His church in Ephesus to “repent” (twice).  He told five of the seven churches to “repent.”  Ephesus was to repent of leaving His love (cf. Jude 20, 21), and to –

– return, “do the first works.”

This is not a call to “service”!  What is needed is not just more “service:” more activity, more items on the church calendar, more “things to do,” but a return to that supreme love to and for Christ.  This love is the only acceptable motive (to God) for our service, a love that would make that service so much easier, not because we would do less (we likely would do more!), but because such love would change it from a “duty” (which is usually a burden) to a “delight” (which is something altogether different!)

– remain, “or else….”

This refers to our Lord’s coming in judgment to remove the church’s witness as a light-bearer.  The church in Ephesus has been gone a long time.  So have the other six churches.  We wonder how many Christians and churches are still going through the motions, but have their true witness removed.  And how many church buildings have been sold and are being used for something else.  I think of one here locally that’s now a beauty salon.  There are countless others.

It’s a solemn thought.

4. Commendation, “But this you have, that you hate the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

There is some discussion as to what this means.  I tend toward the view that it refers to the separation of Christians into “clergy” and “laity.”  This distinction has no basis in Scripture and introduced a great evil into the churches, namely, the evil of seeking for, and pride in, “position.”  Such easily becomes the goal, instead of that love of and for Christ that is the only worthy and acceptable motive for service.

5. Conclusion, v. 7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

What does this mean?

It’s pretty clear that it means salvation.

“I thought we’re saved by grace through faith.”

Amen and amen.

We are.

Hear, or read, Paul:

In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love, Galatians 5:6.

There is a lot of stuff in this world that calls us away from the Lord Jesus.  As we saw in our study of Hebrews, there’s danger in leaving Him; it might mean we were never His to begin with.  This is why He calls the Ephesian church, and us, back to that loving faith in Him which is the only acceptable motive for Christian living, and that perseverance which is the only real evidence that we’re His.

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Hebrews 2:1, God Has Magnified His Word….

The reference behind this post’s title is Psalm 138:2, where the Psalmist said, “I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; for You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” (NKJV)

We are inundated with sermons and cards and fb posts which emphasize God’s love, but we don’t hear nearly as much about God’s truth.  Yet here the Psalmist joins them together:  God’s love and God’s Word.  And he makes an astonishing statement, that God holds His Word in greater honor even than His own name.

That’s something to think about.  We live in a time when God’s name isn’t very highly thought of.  We’ve even abbreviated things because of the limitations of texting and such.  You ever see the letters “OMG”?  We think little of God’s name, and I’m afraid we think little of His Word, as well.  We shouldn’t.

God has a great deal to say about His Word, those who proclaim it, and those who hear it.  In this post, we’ll only look at a sampling of what He says.  All quotes are from the NKJV.

Deuteronomy 18:9-22:

9]When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations.  10]There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11]or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead.  12]For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you.  13]You shall be blameless before the LORD your God.  14] For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not appointed such for you.  15]The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.  Him you shall hear, 16]according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’  17]And the LORD said to me:  ‘What they have spoken is good.  18]I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.  19]And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.  20]But the prophet who presumes to speak in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’  21]And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD had not spoken?’ – 22]when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

Deuteronomy 12:32-13:5:

32]“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.  1]If there arises a prophet or dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2]and the sign or wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’ – which you have not known – ‘and let us serve them,’  3] you shall not listen to the words of  that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  4]You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.  5]But that prophet or dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk.  So you shall put away the evil from your midst.”

I’ve quoted such lengthy portions because we don’t usually take the time to look up references.  And it’s important to see or hear what God says, not just what a preacher or teacher, even me, says that He says.

In these portions, there are several things.

1. There are true spokesmen for God, 18:18.  It’s true that the main reference is to the Lord Jesus, John 1:45, but there are men who are called by God into the ministry.

2. We’re not to use “worldly” methods of worship or to seek guidance, 18:9-14.  God declares all such things to be “an abomination.”

3. There are men who speak in God’s name who do so falsely, 18:20.

4. How do we know which is which, v. 21?  God gives us two tests by which all teaching is to be measured.

a. The prophecy doesn’t happen, as given, v. 22.  We’ve mentioned this in other posts, so won’t dwell on it here, just to say that there’s no room for a “partial” fulfillment “literally,” and the rest fulfilled “spiritually.”  There may be a partial fulfillment in that the thing prophesied may have more than one “stage,” if you will, but it all has to come to pass eventually.

An example of this is the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, 10:  9]“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.  10]I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off.  He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”  

In Matthew 21:1-11, we read of the “Triumphal Entry” of our Lord into Jerusalem.  The preparation for that entry, vs.1-6, sets the stage for the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, which is quoted in v. 5.  But that’s only half of what Zechariah prophesied.

According to Deuteronomy 18:22, the other half, v. 10, also has to come to pass.  As our Lord actually sat on a donkey and entered Jerusalem, so also must He actually have dominion…from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.  Zechariah 14 describes this time further.  I think it’s safe to say that this hasn’t happened yet.  Our time and society certainly shows no evidence of it.  Not even “spiritually.”

But there’s another possibility:

b.  Suppose the prophecy or sign or wonder does happen.  Remember, when Moses confronted Pharaoh about releasing Israel from bondage, that Pharaoh’s men were able to duplicate the signs Moses did, at least for a while.  Some believe that they faked it, but I think that they actually were able to do those things.  Further, our Lord foretold of a time when men will show signs and wonders which, if it were possible, would deceive even the truly elect, Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22.

What was Israel to do if that happened?  What are we to do?  Deuteronomy 13:1-5 tells us that any such thing must be in accord with the revealed Word of God.  It cannot be accepted as true if there is anything which goes against that Word.  While it’s true that Scripture wasn’t yet complete in the OT, in our time the Bible is a completed, objective standard by which everything is to be judged, not something to be received subjectively, that is, you have your belief and I have mine.  Nor is there further or private “revelation,” as some claim.  To the law and to the testimony!  If they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isaiah 8:20.

You might also consider Jeremiah 2:8; 6:10, 6-19; ch. 23 to see how well or not Israel obeyed these instructions.

And one more,

2 Chronicles 18:10, 18,  22-23.

10]Now Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah had made horns of iron for himself; and he said, “Thus says the Lord; ‘With these you shall gore the Syrians until they are destroyed.'”…18]Then Micaiah said…  22]“Therefore look!  The LORD had put a lying spirit in the mouth of these prophets of yours, and the LORD has declared disaster against you.”  23]Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah went near and struck Micaiah on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit from the LORD go from me to speak to you?”

This is a story of a confrontation between a false prophet and a prophet of God.  The thing is, the false prophet was fully convinced that he spoke for God and was greatly insulted at the idea that he didn’t.

It is true that “prophesying” doesn’t always have to do with foretelling the future.  Sometimes it just refers to “preaching,” with no element of prediction at all.

Many today, like Zedekiah of old, talk of “the spirit from the Lord”.  Now, we have no right or authority to kill false prophets, like Israel did.  Nevertheless, John warned us, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world, 1 John 4:1.

Lord willing, we will have one more post on this, because…

God has magnified His Word.