In Revelation 1:19 John was commanded to, "Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." What John wrote was to be sent to seven Churches that had been identified by Christ. As we move in Revelation chapter two and three we meet these seven Churches and are given the personal letter they each received from Jesus. Warren Wiersbe says of these letters that the Lord "gave each assembly an X-ray of its condition." In each letter Jesus told them what He thought about their Church, what He saw in their Church, and what He expected of their Church. In each letter Jesus commended them for the good things, and condemned them for the bad things. He approved the positives and reproved the negatives.
These seven Churches are a fascinating study. Lehman Strauss in his book on Revelation suggests that each letter has a 3-fold meaning:
1. A Primary Association: Each letter was written to a local Church that existed at that time and had direct bearings on the Church to which the letters were written.
2. A Prophetic Anticipation: Each of these seven Churches depicts and portrays the Church through successive stages of history. They present a panorama of the Church through out the Church age.
3. A Personal Application: The message applies to every individual Christian. Each letter bears the words, "He that hath an ear let him hear." The spiritual life of a congregation depends of the individual life of its members.
Even thought these seven letters are historical and were written specifically for seven Churches, what Jesus said to them is very relevant to Churches in the present. If we want to know what Jesus condemns and commends in a Church, it would do us well to learn from these seven letters.
The first letter was sent to the Church at Ephesus. This was a church that had been born in revival. In Acts 18-20, we read of how Paul came to Ephesus and preached for three months in the synagogue. Although he was greatly opposed, God did a great work in the city. We read in Acts 19:20, “So mightily grew the Word of God and prevailed.” This was a Church that through the years had been blessed with great pastors. Paul had been there for two years, Timothy followed Paul, and it is believed that the Apostle John himself followed Timothy.
Now understanding a little background about the Church at Ephesus, let’s consider the letter they received from Jesus.
1. THE DAILY LIFE OF THE CHURCH THAT WAS THRILLING
The Lord begins His letter with words of praise. He compliments them for several things that were true about the daily workings and life of the Church. Notice the things Jesus commended and praised in the Church at Ephesus. First, we see:
A. How Fervent They Were In Service
In verse 2, Jesus spoke of "thy labor.” The Church at Ephesus was more than a building where people gathered. It was a body that worshipped on the first day of the week and worked the rest of the week. The word “labor” describes the kind of working congregation they were. The word describes "toiling to the point of exhaustion." It speaks of a "strenuous and exhausting labor." They were such hard workers they were completely exhausting themselves in the work of God. John R. Stott said of the Church at Ephesus that it was “a veritable beehive of industry.” This was a membership made up of working people who were praised by the Lord.
They were a lot like John Wesley. It is said that Wesley traveled 250,000 miles by horseback over 40 years of ministry. He preached more than 40,000 sermons, produced more than 400 books, and learned 10 languages. At 83 he was annoyed that he could not write more than 15 hours a day and at the age of 86 he was ashamed that he could not preach more than twice a day. He complained in his diary that there was an increasing tendency to lie in bed until 5:30 in the morning.
I am afraid that many Christians are "lily" Christians. They neither toil nor spin. It is estimated that in the average Church, 20% of the congregation will give 80% of the time, talent, and money necessary to carry on the work of the Church. Another 40% will supply the remaining 20% and the remaining 60% will do little or nothing.
Jesus not only praised them for their work but also for their faithfulness. Notice secondly:
B. How Faithful They Were In Suffering
Jesus praised them for their “patience” (Vs.2). The word means “endurance under trial.” For these Ephesian believers, it was not easy being Christians. They found themselves exposed to fierce opposition. Much of their persecution came from the many false religions that existed in the city. It was one of the great centers for emperor worship. Many practiced the magical arts from the Orient. There was profound reverence for Diana. All religions except Christianity were accepted, thus the Christians found themselves snubbed in public and maligned in practice.
In our day, it is sometimes beneficial to be Christians. We often use our Christianity as an advantage. But these believers were finding business hard for they were losing their customers. Nobody wanted to buy from a Christian. Others found shopping difficult since many merchants would not sell to Christians. Instead of Christians doing the boycotting as so often is the case, the Christians were ones being boycotted. Yet these believers did not give up, bail out, or fall back. They pressed on in patience.
Probably no book has had greater influence on the Church apart from the Bible as John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. It was written while Bunyan was a prisoner in the Bedford jail. He was preaching to a crowd outdoors when officers broke up the meeting and carried him to jail. His crime was simply preaching without a license. He spent the next 13 years in jail. When his trial came up, he was given a sentence of 3 months. After that time, he was told if he would promise never to preach again, they would release him. Bunyan replied, “If I were out of prison today, I would preach again tomorrow, so help me God!”
That’s the kind of patience and endurance we need. How easy we let things get us down in our life. The least amount of persecution or difficulty and we are ready to call it quits. We need a faith that will endure under trial. The kind Jesus praised.
We also see:
C. How Firm They Were In Separation
Thirdly, we see that Jesus praised them in “how thou canst not bear them which are evil, and hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (Vs.2). Also we read, “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” (Vs.6). It seems that there were those in the Church that were teaching false doctrine. They were called Nicolaitanes. No one knows for sure who they were, but the name means “destroyer of the people.” The name itself indicates they were false teachers who were destructive in their behavior and belief. Yet these believers were well grounded in truth and would not tolerate false doctrine in any form or fashion. They had tried those who were false in doctrine and had so marked them. Jesus praised them for their ecclesiastical separation and doctrinal stand.
Jesus never intended for His Church to be hodgepodge of ideals, theories, and doctrines. He intends for His Church to be doctrinally sound, biblically settled, and theologically straight. Liberalism and modernism must never be tolerated by the Church. Jesus praised this Church for their stand for truth and on truth.
The things Jesus praised about this Church should be important to each congregation. If Jesus wrote your Church or mine, would and could He praise us for the same?
Secondly, we see:
2. THE DYING LOVE OF THE CHURCH THAT WAS TROUBLING
Jesus not only rejoiced in certain things about the Church at Ephesus, but He also reproved them for a certain matter. First He commended them and then He condemned them. Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee” (Vs.4). What was it that Jesus had against this Church?
First, we notice:
A. The Exciting Life Of The Church In The Past
Jesus spoke of their “first love” (Vs.4). The words describe a devotion to Christ that is full of passion, excitement, and fervency that is openly displayed and uninhibited. Warren Wiersbe describes it as the honeymoon love of a husband and wife. Do you remember when you first were saved? Everything you learned was so thrilling. You wanted to read your Bible and pray each day. You could not wait to get back to Church. You wanted everyone to know that you had been saved. Being a Christian was the greatest thing in the world. You were so excited about being saved and the Lord meant everything to you. That is what is meant by “first love.”
These believers in the past had been so excited about being saved. Serving the Lord was a blessing not a burden. Sharing their faith with others was a joy and not just a job. They were in love with Jesus and not ashamed of it. The words of A.J. Gordon are descriptive of the love and zeal they had for Christ.
My Jesus I love thee,
I know Thou art mine;
If ever I loved Thee,
My Jesus tis now.
However, what had been true about the past was not true in the present for there was:
B. The Evident Lethargy Of The Church In The Present
The complaint Jesus had against the Church was, “thou hast left thy first love” (Vs.4). Jesus was saying, “You are a hard working group of people, you are strong, endure persecution, and are doctrinally sound. But you have lost that excitement, passion, and zeal that you once had.”
Paul, when writing to the Church at Ephesus, closed the letter by saying, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus in sincerity. Amen” (Eph.6:24). The word “sincerity” speaks of an undying love. Paul’s charge was to let nothing cool their love for Christ. Now thirty years later the one complaint Jesus had was that their love for Him had cooled, their devotion had chilled, and their hearts had grown cold. They had lost that honeymoon love.
I can imagine that the services were dead. The music was drab and uninspiring. The preaching was gun barrel straight but just as empty. Their zeal, passion, and excitement were gone. They went through all the motions, but it lacked life. They had lost the wonder of their salvation.
Albert Schweitzer, missionary-physician to Africa once wrote: “For the tragedy of life is not in the hurt to a man’s name, or even in the fact of death itself. The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives, the death of genuine feeling; the death of inspired response.”
Thomas Carlyle put it this way: “Soul dead, stomach well alive.” Many believers could thus be described. The soul is dead. Something on the inside has died. The passion has gone out of worship. Zeal has gone out of service. Joy has gone out of the heart.
J.H. Jowett said, “The alluring wonder is largely absent from the Church . . . What then do we need? We need the return of wonder, the arresting marvel of a transformed Church, the phenomenon of a miraculous life.” To that we all must say, “Amen!”
The third thing we notice about this Church is:
3. THE DEVASTATING LOSS OF THE CHURCH THAT WAS THREATENING
Our Lord first commends the Church and then condemns them. Finally He commands them to take certain steps in their life. Notice the instructions Jesus gave to the Church. First, we see:
A. The Conditions Jesus Declared
There were three things Jesus commanded them to do. First they were to consider their former devotion. Jesus said “remember therefore from whence thou art fallen” (Vs.5). The word “remember” means “to keep on remembering.” They were to recall and reflect on the days when their heart was white hot. They were to think often on the days when the Lord was near and His presence real in their hearts. They were to remember how it used to be in their life.
Secondly, they were to confess their fateful decline. Jesus said “repent” (Vs.5). They were to confess their spiritual decline and deadness. They were to come before God in repentance that they had allowed their hearts to get in the state it was.
Finally, they were to change their future direction. They were to “do the first works” (Vs.5). They were to once again work and serve with a honeymoon love. Once again their life was to be filled with passion, zeal, and excitement.
The Lord expects nothing less of us if we have left our first love. If our hearts have grown cold, we ought to fall on our faces and ask God to forgive us and to fill our hearts with a burning love. He demands nothing less and deserves nothing less.
Also, there were:
B. The Consequences Jesus Described
There are two words Jesus said that ought to grip our hearts and get our attention. Those two words are “or else” (Vs.5. Jesus was saying if there is going to be survival there must be revival. Jesus told the Church to remember, repent, and return “or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place” (Vs.5). If there is no life there will be no light. Jesus was saying that the glory would depart and that He would remove His hand of blessing if they did not heed His commands.
We all know of places where the “candlestick” has been removed. I recently was taken a tour through a Church by its pastor. He has only been there for a short time and has a great vision for the Church. As we walked through the impressive buildings and beautiful auditorium, he told me a shocking story. Years ago the Church was one of the largest in the city. Its history included large crowds and pastors of reputation and influence. Yet, in a business meeting the Church voted not to do any more evangelistic work in their community because of the kind of people that were moving into their area. One man stood up with tears in his eyes and told them they had made the worst mistake in the history of the Church. He was exactly right, for the Church now consists of buildings that a small handful of older people are struggling to maintain. It is nothing but a memorial of a great past. The light was removed and woe be unto any Church when the light is removed.
History tells us that after the Church at Ephesus received their letter from Jesus, it rallied for a while. But later it lapsed again and by the middle ages it testimony had been obliterated. This Church with such a glorious history ceased to exist. One traveler in that time tells about visiting Ephesus and “found only three Christians there and these had sunken in such ignorance and apathy as scarcely to have heard the names of Saint Paul or Saint Peter.”
Jesus warned them such a thing would happen if they did not remember, repent, and return. The Lord by their example warns us that the same thing could happen to our Churches. If the life is gone the removal of the light is next. When the honeymoon is over a divorce will soon follow. May God speak to our hearts and keep our hearts burning with a honeymoon love.