What can we learn from them?
With almost all these churches, there is a commendation, a criticism, and a correction.
To the Church in Ephesus-wrong priorities
Ephesus was the first church to be founded in Asia Minor and could be described as the church that no longer loves as it should.
Revelation 2:1 “To the angel [a] 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 people, 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.
Jesus Christ is speaking and shows His authority over the angels of the seven churches by indicating that they are in His right hand and shows His intimate care and concern for the seven churches by walking amongst them. Jesus praises their works, their endeavour and the ‘stick-ability’ to His cause. He also praises the fact that they cannot stomach false teachers and have rightly discerned such even including false apostles. Nevertheless the Ephesian church had stuck fast to their faith putting up with the various difficulties and persecutions and continued in a tireless way with their Christian service.
2:4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far 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 favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Their initial spiritual spontaneity and vitality had given way to a dour routine service done out of duty rather than out of love. They have fallen away from the intimate first love of the Saviour and he commands them to do a U-turn back to Him and rekindle the first love with Him again. If they refuse to do this Jesus threatens that He will take away the witness of this church, in other words they will no longer bear the light of the Gospel and will cease to be a ‘spiritually alive’ church. It is sad to think that this actually happened. The Nicolaitans are thought to be those people who made light of sin (anti-nomianism) and were happy to join in the pagan festivals eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols and taking part in immoral pagan practices.
2:7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To those who are victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
They need to hear this message with their spiritual ears and take onboard what the Holy Spirit is saying to them. This is like military combat and the prize of eternal life is waiting for those who overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. The fruit of the tree of life is infinitely better food than the meat that has been sacrificed to idols and brings everlasting life.
The Ephesus church had got its priorities mixed up!
If your church is like the one in Ephesus, you will be getting some things right.
Jesus commends them for three things:
1. Duty and responsibilities: They were hard-working, busy servants. Lots of work--but busyness in a church does not always mean the Spirit is at work. Often when things are simple, you can focus your energy on what is most important, things like in Acts 2:42 instead of all the flurry of things some churches expend all their energy doing. But Jesus was commending them for their good works.
2. Doctrine: The church at Ephesus could not bear those who were evil. They would check out, test, and confirm if someone were true or false according to Biblical orthodoxy, and if they were false, the church would rightly reject with their teaching. The word "bear" is the same word used of Jesus carrying the cross. This church could not bear the weight of wrong doctrine. They could not carry it and would not tolerate it. The church of Ephesus knew good doctrine; they knew what they believed. Oh that, the church of Jesus Christ today be more like Ephesus on that specific point! Many Christians today cannot even explain the Gospel clearly or communicate sound doctrine.
3. Determination: They were persevering and hanging on in there despite a lot of hardship, attack, and suffering. Jesus says, "You have not become weary." That is incredible! They were the marathon runners of the church! Many people give up as soon as there is a problem in their faith, but not the church of Ephesus.
So, with all these positives, did Jesus just stop there? Ephesus seems a great church to be a part of. However it is less important if you are doing amazing things for God, than if you have separated yourself from the love of God.
How could we possibly forget our first love, the Lord Jesus? Here are four possible ways that we can leave our first love:
1. We can replace love for the Lord with rules and duty.
Our dealings with the Lord must be more than a set of rules which are not based on a personal relationship with him. Perhaps this is what happened to the Ephesian Church? Perhaps they began to set up rigid rules and guidelines and end up serving God but out of duty, not out of desire. Obligation does not necessarily mean love. How does your own church rate in this matter?
2. We can replace love for the Lord with feelings and emotion
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. God created us with emotions, so we could be limiting our personal expression of the imago Dei if we suppressed all emotions? Jesus wept over Jerusalem, had compassion for the crowds who were unshepherded, drove out in anger the money changers from the temple. We read in Scripture that the Holy Spirit can be grieved. These are all emotional responses, and we would probably be stinting on our love for God if we were always suppressing our joy or sadness. But by the same token, we should not base the quality or reality of our love simply on how we raise our hands, pray our prayers, or cry our tears.
''True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision." (Dr M Scott Peck)
Have we replaced our love for the Lord with emotion? Has your church fellowship left your first love?
3. We can replace love with works.
The church at Ephesus had gotten so bogged down with their heresy hunting that they forgot that church is where people experience the love of God and the love of God’s people. What we tend to find in most modern churches is that our people are saturated with committed busy-ness. How many of us stand exposed as being bogged down in the busy works of Christianity instead of choosing what is better (like Mary vs Martha)?
4. We can replace love with disinterest
Sometimes we become desensitized to the things of God because they become over familiar. Instead of keeping our zeal for the Lord as we serve Him, we get bored by the same old routines. When there is a lack of desire in your heart for the things of God it is time for a renewing of your mind! The church of Ephesus had warm hands but cold hearts. Could that describe us today in our relationship with God?
Once a thriving spiritual community, the Ephesian believers diverted their attention from Christ, to works done in His name. They had lost sight of what was most important in their relationship with Christ— their love for Him.
Perhaps that is where many modern churches are today. Forgetting the height from which we have fallen, we need to repent that we may experience times of refreshing from the Lord once again. We must return to our first love and remember that He first loved us. That first love--that pure love--the love that never lets you go--the love that accepts you even now--with all your rebellion and coolness toward Him--is available for each one of us. We may not find the perfect church--but we have certainly discovered perfect love.
Summary: This type of church needs to get their priorities straightened out and return to their first love.
Remedial Actions (pardon the alliteration): Remember. Repent. Return.
Further thoughts on Ephesus
It is widely accepted in business circles, that often our strengths and weaknesses can be two sides of the same coin. An example might be our determination to forge ahead is usually an asset but what about the other side of the coin, by which we ignore what other people are saying, this can indeed be a weakness!
Could it be that the Ephesian church because of their zeal for duty and pure doctrine became desensitised to love and gave it a lower priority? Our first love for God cannot be easily separated from our love for the church. They had lost the balance and were putting doctrine and duty ahead of their for the church family. This is tricky because duty and doctrine are indeed important but must be balanced with our love and care for the Lord and his church family.
It is possible today that many churches have got their priorities mixed up? What about your church?
For an in depth treatment of the Church in Ephesus we recommend Pilgrim Benham (Calvary Chapel): A letter to a modern church.
For full text for printout and access to the other 6 churches