Diagnosing the Health of the Church (Ephesus 2:1-7)

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How to Interpret the Bible-1 INTERPRETING THE BIBLE how-to-study-your-bible1
Kieran Beville (D.Litt, Ph.D, BA, PGDE) is Pastor of Lee Valley Bible Church (Baptist), Ballincollig, Co. Cork, Ireland and Visiting Professor of Intercultural Studies and Practical Ministry at Tyndale Theological Seminary, Badhoevedorp, Netherlands. He has written several books and numerous articles and he has taught intensive courses in Theology and Biblical Studies on leadership training programs in Eastern Europe, the Middle-East and India.

The ‘Prologue’ to the book of Revelation reveals that this is a prophetic book. It speaks of things that were yet to happen.[1] It is a message from the Alpha and Omega, the one who was and is and is to come. The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches of Asia Minor. The one walking among the seven churches is Jesus. The beloved apostle John had been exiled on the island of Patmos because of his commitment to the Word of God. He maintained a faithful testimony in spite of opposition and persecution. Imbued by the Holy Spirit, on the Lord’s Day he was instructed to write to the seven churches:

Revelation 1:9-13

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.

APOSTOLIC FATHERS Lightfoot APOSTOLIC FATHERS

Asia Minor

Asia Minor, a peninsula also called Anatolia, comprised all of the Asian part of Turkey. Today the people there speak Turkish. The seas surrounding Asia Minor are the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Because Asia Minor is between Christian Europe and Asia, many different cultures have lived there. Remnants of these cultures are there today. Many great historical peoples, like the Hittites, Greeks, Persians, Armenians, Romans, Goths, Minoans, Byzantines, and Turks have lived in or occupied Asia Minor.

The Roman Empire had a province called Asia, which was in Asia Minor. Later people started to call the entire continent Asia, so the peninsula Asia was called Asia Minor (little Asia).

Important Commercially

The first letter was addressed to the church located in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was important in its day for several reasons. First, it was important commercially. Ephesus was located on the Castor River, just a few miles inland from the Aegean Sea. It was noted for its magnificent harbor, and ships came to Ephesus from all over the known world bringing their goods and their wealth. It was the richest city in Asia Minor at that time (around A.D. 95).

Important Politically

Second, it was an important city politically. Because of past service to the Empire of Rome, Ephesus was granted the right to be a ‘free city”. This meant that they practiced self-government. At a time when many countries and cities in the region were ruled by the colonial authority of Rome, being an independent, autonomous, self-governing entity was a privilege not taken lightly. Ephesus was proud of its privileged political position.

9781949586121 BIBLE DIFFICULTIES THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Important Religiously

Third, it was an important city religiously. Ephesus was the home of the temple of Diana (Roman), or Artemis (Greek). In its day, it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People came from everywhere to that temple. Diana was the goddess of sex and fertility. A hideous statue of a many-breasted woman represented her. This temple had many prostitutes and the way one worshiped Diana was to have sexual relations with a temple prostitute. 

The temple also served as a repository for valuables and as such, it was a kind of bank. People brought their possessions there for safekeeping. It also served as a museum for fine art. Art from all over the world was housed in this ancient temple. Furthermore, it was a refuge (sanctuary) for criminals. If a lawbreaker could get to the temple, he would be safe from prosecution. Ephesus had a reputation (dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries B.C.) as a wicked place. One Greek philosopher from that period commented on its infamous notoriety: “No one could live in Ephesus without weeping over the immorality which he must see on every side.”[2]

Paul Sent with the Gospel

It was to this vile city that God sent the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:19-21; 19; 20:17-38). He preached there for two years and founded this church. While Paul was there, he wrote the books of first and second Corinthians (c. A.D 55) at the end of his three- year residency. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus for a period of time to help establish the church and to help resolve some serious leadership problems. Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos all labored in the Ephesian church.―Acts 18.

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

 Active Church

This was an active church, serving in a wicked hour. By the time that the book of Revelation was written (A.D. 95), many years had passed since the founding of this church. Then the Lord came to them to speak about where they were spiritually and where he wanted them to be. He came to them with a message of comfort. They were reminded that he had them safely in his hand (2:1). He ‘holds the seven stars in his right hand’. This speaks of the Lord’s absolute control and sovereignty.

A Wicked Hour and a Watchful Lord

In a society that was out of control morally and spiritually the Lord, let them know that he was in control. That same message is needed today. He reminded them that he was with them, observing them and sustaining them. The Lord is ever watchful over his church, sustaining it by his grace and power. These seven letters reveal that the Lord had something personal to say to each of the churches. He came to this church in Ephesus and spoke about his presence among them. Jesus made some observations concerning this church. 

Commendation

He began his remarks by talking about all that was right with this church. The Lord let them know that he had seen all the good they were doing in his name. He came to them with precious words of commendation. He praised their service: 

Revelation 2:2-3

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.

THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST by Stalker-1 The TRIAL and Death of Jesus_02 THE LIFE OF Paul by Stalker-1

Works, Toil, Patience

Jesus used three words to describe the activity of this church. First, he referred to their “works”. This word speaks of the good things they had done. They had been working and Jesus had noticed their activity. Second, Jesus referred to their “toil”. This speaks of intense labor coupled with trouble. It suggests that they were active at some personal expense and sacrifice. Third, the Lord referred to their “patient endurance”. They were steadfast in spite of opposition. Whatever resistance, resentment, ridicule, rejection and persecution they encountered they continued to serve the Lord faithfully.

As Jesus began to speak to this church, he did so in glowing terms. He commended them for their works and their doctrinal purity. It appears that this was a very busy congregation. They were active with many ministries occupying their time. In verse 2, Jesus used three words to describe the business of this church. The word “works” refers to their accomplishments. This church had been used of the Lord to do great things in the community. The word “labor” speaks of intense work involving toil and pain. The word “patience” implies that they carried out their works for the Lord in the midst of great persecution. The surrounding city hated them and the message they preached. Therefore, this was a working church.

This church was not a country club where the believers met to congratulate themselves on their salvation. A healthy church is one where the saints gather to worship and to be equipped for service. Then they go out to work for the glory of God in their homes, schools, communities and places of work. God did not save the redeemed for a life of ease. Rather, he rescued a people to be active in his work. This begs the question: If Jesus were to appear in any given local congregation of believers today, would he be pleased with its works, labor, and patience? 

Separation

Jesus also commended them for their separation (v.2b); “…you cannot bear with those who are evil”. Their lifestyles were in keeping with their holy calling and vocation in Christ. These people were living a separated lifestyle. It was most likely this fact that led to their persecution. They were not characterized or contaminated by the immorality that defined and defiled their society. They took a stand on the side of morality and they lived differently than the world around them. God still expects this from all of his children. He demands separation from this evil world:

Ephesians 5:1-8

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

This is a clarion call to holiness in walk, talk, dress (modest, irrespective of the fashion trends), choices of entertainment and so on. If Jesus were to speak to the church today, would he commend it for being a separated people? Followers of Christ are to be in the world but not of the world. In other words believers are occupants of this world but ought not to be occupied (or preoccupied) by it. That means not being influenced by its worldview and lifestyle. This is a missing note in today’s church. Many Christians are scrambling to present themselves in a way that minimizes differences that should be emphasized. This is driven by a desire to be accepted or a fear of being rejected. The Christian is not, however, called to a monastic lifestyle, quarantined from the world in hallowed cloisters for fear of contamination. Every church community in contemporary culture must face the challenge of evangelism and engagement in meaningful but uncompromising ways.

Stand and Standards (vs. 2, 6)  

These people were praised because they held fast to correct doctrine. They tested the teaching of others. Heresy can only be identified for what it is if the truth is understood clearly. The best way of identifying counterfeit banknotes is not to study them for their differences but to be thoroughly familiar with the authentic article itself. The Ephesian believers checked out the credentials of others and they examined their teaching. If what they said did not line up with the Word of God, they refused to hear them, or to fellowship with them, but they exposed them to be the liars they were.

They were commended for their stand against the Nicolaitans. No one knows for sure who these people were, but there are a couple of possibilities. The word comes from two Greek words; nikao (to conquer) and laos (the people). Therefore, the Nicolaitans could have been a group of church leaders who wanted to control the people in a domineering way. Another possibility is that the Nicolaitans were followers of somebody named Nicolas who attempted to lead the people away from the Lord and into heresy and/or immorality. It is possible that he preached a doctrine that allowed people to serve the Lord and still lead immoral lives. The Ephesian believers refused to allow false doctrine to exist in their fellowship.

Berean Model 

How did they do this? They placed every teaching alongside the Word of God. If it did not line up with the book, they refused to receive it. That same attitude is needed today. Sadly, too many Christians believe everything they hear. There is nothing wrong with listening to sermons online but there are many sermon surfers, who are not as connected to local churches as they ought to be. They are feeding on a diet from celebrity preachers who have a cult following and their ideas for good or ill are infiltrating churches under the radar. The Berean believers put everything they heard to the test. Here is what the Bible says about them:  

Acts 17:10-11

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue.11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.[3]  

The veracity of truth claims must be verified in Scripture.

THE NEW TESTAMENT DOCUMENTS

Steadfastness (v.3)

This church had been enduring opposition in an evil culture and laboring without any signs of weariness. They were steadfast. On the surface, the church at Ephesus is what every church should strive to be. The people of God should be busy for the Lord. This was the good advice from the apostle Paul to the Corinthian church: ‘Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.’ (1 Cor. 15:58) Would Jesus commend us for our steadfastness?

 Complaint

Jesus exposed the reality of their situation. After offering this church some words of commendation, Jesus then spoke some words of complaint. The Lord expressed his disappointment. What a sad situation this is. While they looked good on the surface, there were problems in the heart that needed be dealt with. The Lord was grieved by the problems he saw in this church.

Jesus sees what Christians do, but he also sees who they are. He is able to look beneath the surface of people’s lives and see the condition of hearts. When he finds lukewarm love it grieves him and it hinders the Christian’s ability to enjoy God’s blessing. If the Christian allows the wrong kind of things to linger in the heart, it grieves the Lord. Scripture cautions against giving offence to the Holy Spirit: ‘And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.’―Ephesians 4:30.

Diagnosis

The great physician of the soul examined the life and witness of this church. It should be borne in mind that this church like all churches consists of individual believers. Each one has a responsibility to submit himself regularly to the scrutiny of the Lord. This is not negative introspection but careful self-examination in the light of Scripture.  Jesus looked at the people whom he loved and for whom he died and told them that they simply do not love him as they used to. He said, “you have abandoned the love you had at first”. They still had love, but the quality of that love had diminished. That deep, fervent, burning love that once filled them with passion had cooled. They loved their church; but they did not love Jesus like they used to do. They loved their doctrine; but they had lost their passion for the Lord. They loved their work; but they were not motivated in that work by a passionate love for Jesus. They were busy, but their hearts no longer burned for him. The flame that had burned so hotly and brightly when it was first ignited had become merely a smoldering ember. 

AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

A love Affair

The Christian life is basically a love affair with the Lord Jesus Christ. Being saved is falling in love with him. It begins with the quickening of the Holy Spirit, which induces a conviction of sinfulness that leads to repentance and faith. Growing in salvation is falling deeper in love with him. This love is the highest motive for all the believer does in his name. Works, witness, worship and service must all flow out of an ever-deepening love for Jesus. If the Christian loses that love for him, then service means nothing at all:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is a living, organic and dynamic thing. It is not meant to be static. Love is meant to grow. Love for Jesus can grow or just grow cold?

What is first love anyway? What makes it so special? First love is fervent. It is emotional. It moves the heart. It is vibrant and makes the one in love feel excited, hopeful, joyous and content (not complacent).

Jesus Paul THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

Personal Illustration

First love is extravagant. The most important thing in my life as a young man was my record player. I loved music and I had a good stereo sound system. Then I fell in love with a beautiful young woman and I sold my stereo so that I could buy an engagement ring for her. I was glad to do it. She was worth everything to me and I wanted to marry her and spend the rest of my life with her. After three years of courtship and thirty-five years of marriage, I love her more now than ever.

Mary and the Alabaster Jar

The Gospel account of Mary the disciple of Jesus with her alabaster box of ointment is instructive. It was an expensive perfume but she poured it all on the Lord. Others condemned her actions as extravagant but Jesus commended her for what she did. Every believer ought to love Jesus like this. Service for Christ ought to be conceived in love not from a loveless sense of duty. There is nothing wrong with a dutiful attitude, if it is motivated by love for the Lord. It is possible to labor without love; but it is impossible to love without labor. 

Martha

The church of Ephesus was active in the Lord’s work, but it seems they were serving out of a sense of duty and not out of a fervent love for Christ. They had become like Martha (Luke 10:38-42). She labored, but not out of love. This is a challenge to every believer. Service may be conducted to fulfil the expectations of others rather than love for the Lord? Love for Jesus should be the basis of all Christian service: ‘Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men’ (Colossians 3:23).

This is the litmus test. If Christians cannot honestly say that their hearts are still filled with that first, fervent, emotional, extravagant love for Jesus then it is time to take corrective action. Jesus desires reciprocal love. That means loving him with all the heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30). Such love is developed by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

THE CREATION DAYS OF GENESIS gift of prophecy

Three Perspectives

This is the first of seven letters written to different churches that existed in Asia Minor in the first century. These letters could be considered from three different perspectives.

First, they can be viewed prophetically, speaking of things yet to come.[4] This church in Ephesus existed in a period between the Day of Pentecost and A.D. 95. This was a time of great and rapid expansion for the early church. It was also a time of intense persecution. Some believers began to lose their zeal and fervency as the hope of Christ’s imminent return waned.

Second, these letters can be viewed practically. They were sent to real congregations that were actually functioning at the close of the first century. While they were written to real churches existing in that day, they still speak to every church in existence today. The apostle Paul writing to Timothy said: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim. 3:16-17). This begs some important questions. In what way are these letters in Revelation profitable? What teaching do they offer? Is there some reproof or correction to note? In what way do they facilitate training in righteousness? It may be noted that the end in mind is to equip the Christian for service by developing competencies that can be practically applied.

When Paul refers to ‘Scripture’ here, he is not merely referring to the Old Testament. The apostle Peter confirms this: ‘Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures’ (2 Peter 3:15-16). The last phrase here, ‘as they do the other Scriptures’, indicates clearly that Peter considered the writings of Paul to be of equal status with the books of the Old Testament. In other words he deemed them to be inspired, inerrant and authoritative in all matters of faith and practice. 

Third, these epistles can be viewed personally. These letters speak to congregations, but one needs to be mindful that the Lord has a word for the individual in these letters as well. He has something to say to Christians now. He has something to say about the quality of the believer’s relationship with him. 

Mosaic Authorship HOW RELIABLE ARE THE GOSPELS

Doctrinal Purity

Verses 2-3 and verse 6 also indicate that this church was doctrinally pure. They stood for the truth and against evil. They publically exposed false prophets. They were not allowing the world to influence their worship or their walk. Anyone looking in from the outside would have concluded that they were a rock solid congregation. Anyone attending their services would have been in awe of their work and their calendar of activities. While those around them were looking at them, someone far more important had his eye on this church. The church is to bear witness to the Lord before a watching world, but it must always be conscious that the Lord beholds the thoughts, words and deeds of people. The Lord Jesus Christ was walking in their midst (verse 1) but they were unaware of his presence.

While they had much to commend them, there were problems in the church of Ephesus. The Lord knew what the people around them did not know. The Lord knew what the church itself did not know. The Lord knew that this church was just going through the motions of serving him. He knew that they did not love him as they had once loved him.

Considering the Lord’s letter to this ancient congregation exposes the Christian church today to some uncomfortable questions about its true spiritual condition. As it was in Ephesus, many today are merely going through the motions. Many just do not love Jesus like they once did, and it shows.

The Lord’s Case against This Church (v.4)

After commending them for their works, Jesus condemned them for their lack of love for him. He told them that there was a real problem in their hearts. What is the nature of this problem?

Personal Problem

This was a personal problem. Jesus said, “I have this against you”. The Ephesians probably thought their biggest problems were the pagans around them and the persecution they faced. Jesus told them that the biggest problem they faced was a personal problem with the Lord himself. The Lord cares about his people. If he did not have his eye on them, he would have been unaware of their problem. Verse 1, says he walks among them. In verse 2, Jesus says, “I know”. He knows his people far better than they know themselves. Nobody in the church of Ephesus would have guessed that there was a problem between them and Jesus, but there was.

Many Christians are smug and self-satisfied in their faith. The problem with gauging one’s state of rightness is that one tends to make comparisons with others and rarely with others who live holier lives. Everybody wants to make favorable comparisons that present them in the best possible light. I have a few mirrors in my home and I confess (to my shame) that I prefer to look at myself in one particular mirror that is slightly tinted because it makes me look better than I really am. This is how it is morally. People want to view themselves in the most positive and advantageous way. God’s standard of holiness is a lot higher than that. His standard of righteousness is Christ himself.

DEFENDING OLD TESTAMENT AUTHORSHIP Agabus Cover BIBLICAL CRITICISM

A Passion Problem

Jesus told them exactly what they had done and failed to do to offend him. He said, “…you have abandoned the love you had at first”. In other words, they just don’t love him like they used to. They had not forsaken love altogether but they had neglected it. There was a cooling off in their passion for Christ. The word “first” means first in rank or importance. They still loved their church and doctrines. They still loved their activities and busy schedules. They still loved all they did. They just did not love Jesus more than these other things. He was not first and foremost in their affections.

Some might think that falling out of love with Jesus is a minor thing. Some might think it is something that happens to many people and that it is not such a big deal. Some might think it is normal or natural that there would be a cooling off in the area of love after a time. One could argue that such intensity and fervor is difficult or even impossible to sustain over a long period. Those who might advance such arguments fail to understand the application, which ought to be rightly derived from this letter to the church in Ephesus, that falling out of love with Jesus, is a serious issue and it grieves the Lord. When Christians do not love Jesus as they should, they are in violation of the greatest commandment: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) If Christians are not in love with him, they will not love others, as he expect of them. 

Love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Gal. 5:22) Love for others is the work of God in the heart. (1 Jn. 4:7-12) When believers do not love Jesus, as they should, they will not have a desire to be with him. They will not hang on his every word. They will not miss him when they drift away from him. The nearest thing that humans can say is like the kind of love Jesus desires from the church (his bride) is honeymoon love.[5] This is love that rejoices in the fellowship and intimacy between bride and groom. It is a love that causes the bride to want to be with the object of her affections always. That is how it is for a new believer. In the Christian life, the honeymoon must never end.

Over time, love may fade and the desire to be around Jesus and his people may fade too. What is the problem? It can all be traced back to a loss of first love. A decline in the intensity and purity of love may be almost imperceptible at first but over time, it will begin to manifest itself in obvious ways. When the Christian does not love Jesus, as he should, he will not serve the Lord as fervently as the Lord desires. In fact, the Lord not only desires such love, he demands it and deserves it. Such a person professing faith in Christ may attend church, but he is superficial, merely ticking boxes and going through the motions. This is marking time rather than marching forward in the spiritual life.

Powerful Weapon of Prayer Power Through Prayer How to Pray_Torrey_Half Cover-1

A person might profess to be saved, but never share his faith with the lost. A person might teach a class, preach a sermon, lead a prayer meeting, lead a Bible study, but there will always be something lacking without love. Fervent, emotional, extravagant love for Jesus will always manifest itself in active, public service for him. There is a danger of not loving Jesus, as he desires. Are Christians today consumed with love for him? Has the flame of passion become a dying ember? If so then there is a need to fan that flame into life again. Everybody knows the difference between love and something less than love. Everybody knows which honors Jesus the most. Jesus desires reciprocal love. That is a love that responds to his pure and perfect love. Human love will always be limited but it should not become less than it ought to be as far as is humanly possible. Christians should not have to feign love. It should be a natural response to the love of God: ‘because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ (Rom. 5:5) Expressions of love may be a spontaneous overflow of feeling or a conscious effort of the will.

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A Plan of Action

Having addressed their problem, Jesus gives them a plan of action. This is one of the wonderful things about God’s Word. It challenges, confronts and condemns certain thoughts, words, deeds. It shines a light on motives and the true condition of the human heart. But it never stops there. The Lord always provides a way of putting things right. He told them how they can go about rekindling the flames of passion for him that once burned so brightly. How did Jesus do this?

Remember

First, Jesus called on them to remember: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen” (v.5). It is clear that there has been a descent from a loftier elevation to a lower order of affection. The Lord called them to look back. They needed to remember a time when their love for him was powerful, all consuming, and the most important thing in their lives. They needed to get back to that place again. The first step on this journey of ascent to the region of first love is to remember. However, what if love was never all that intense? What then? Jesus called these believers, and by implication and application believers in every generation and geographical location, to a standard of excellence in love. To recall a time when love for Jesus was better than it is right now is to admit backsliding. Whether or not that initial experience of overwhelming love ever existed, the call from Christ is the same. He wants his people to get to that place where their passion for him reflects his love for them.

The Ephesian believers were to remember those early days of salvation when their love of God was central to their very existence. They were to remember how it felt to be saved and to know that all their sins had been forgiven. They were to remember what it felt like to know that they were no longer dead in sin but had been made alive in Jesus. They were to remember the excitement that the Word of God brought to their hearts. The Word of God ought to arouse such a sense of expectancy. The believer can look to the Lord for direction, counsel, and affirmation through his Word. The search for significance and security find ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. He is all the status people need. A bride rejoices to take the name of her husband and a husband takes great delight in the wholehearted love she bears for his name. It is a powerful symbol of the oneness that exists between them. Is it a joy for believers to bear Christ’s noble name as Christians? Believers would do well to remember that moment of coming to faith and remember those early days of excitement and joy.

Recapture

Christians need not just to recall, but also to recapture the excitement and emotion of those early days. Jesus wanted the Ephesian believers to reflect on what he did for them. He wanted them to look back to a time when their love for him motivated everything they did. It is possible to be saved so long that the thrill of those early days becomes a distant memory. Remembering what it was like to first come to Jesus and have the weight of sin lifted is the first step in recapturing the sense of liberation and joy that ought to fill the Christian soul. The believer’s heart should be tender to Jesus. The Christian ought to take time to reflect on how it used to be and then compare such first love with how it is now. Who can honestly say that they are still head over heels in love with Jesus today? When a saint of God falls out of love with Jesus, they are in a backslidden condition. The Ephesians needed revival. The first step in revival is remembering.

The Church Community_02 THE CHURCH CURE Developing Healthy Churches

Repent

Second, the Lord called on them to repent. Once they remembered what he had done for them, they would see how far they had drifted away. When they remembered they would recognize their sins. The word “repent” refers to a change of mind that leads to a change of action. When they understood the true condition of their hearts, would they turn to the Lord and fall in love with him again? The greatest need of the church in this generation and every generation is to fall in love with Jesus once again. Before this can be done there has to be recognition that lack of love for him is a sin. All the things that the Christian has allowed to come between him and the Lord are idols. There is a real problem with people, who think they love Jesus enough. People who fall into that category certainly do not love him enough. By God’s grace and enabling power the believer should strive to love Jesus better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today. Christian love for the Lord should be climbing that upward spiral that leads ultimately to the eternal joy of being in his presence.

When Christians repent of sin and turn from a lack of love, God will fill them with his Spirit. Jesus told the people that they need to repent of the sin of not loving him, as they should. The same counsel needs to be heeded by the modern church today. It is so easy to allow other things to come before the Lord: leisure, work, even church work can displace God. 

Repeat

Third, Jesus called on them to repeat: “…do the works you did at first”. That word “first” is the same as the word “first” in verse four. It speaks of that which is first in rank and importance. In other words, Jesus called them to return to the things that are most important. What is most important when it comes to relationship with him? The Lord’s call here is for the Ephesian believers to return to the simple fundamentals of the faith. It is a call to return to the altars of prayer. It is a call to come back to the Word of God. It is a call to return to a place of worship. It is a call to obedience to his will. It is a call for the church to walk in holiness. Jesus is still calling the church to return to these basic foundational activities. If Christians do not seek him in prayer, feed on his Word, offer true heart worship, and walk in holiness and obedience then they do not love him properly. If believers do not do these things, they cannot expect the Lord to bless. Doing these things are signs of true love for God. If a church does not do these things, it cannot expect him to move in power among his people who gather in his name. The Lord will respond to the heartfelt and genuine love of his people by manifesting himself in ever-increasing power in their lives as individuals and in the lives of churches.

If Christians want to see souls saved they must fall in love with Jesus and let that love be seen. If Christians want the power of God in the church they must fall in love with Jesus and let him live through them every day. If Christians can recapture fervent, emotional, extravagant, first love for Jesus that is all that is needed. It would transform the child of God and the church of God. The Ephesian believers were told to start doing once again the things they used to do. That is the key for their revival and it is the key to all revival, getting back to the things that are of foremost importance in the spiritual life such as reading the Bible, praying, witnessing and testifying.

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A Challenge from Jesus

The Lord issued a challenge: “If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” The only remedy is repentance. Where there is repentance, there will be restoration. In verse five, Jesus explained the remedy. Jesus had not come to hurt them; he came to help them. First, he offered a word of commendation. Then he offered a word of complaint.

Correction

Then he spoke a word of correction. He told them how they could fix what is wrong in their church. Frankly, they were called to remember their first love and the height from which they had fallen. In other words, they were to understand the distance that now existed between them and Jesus. Somewhere along the journey, their relationship with the Lord had taken a turn that would ultimately lead to estrangement and apostasy. They had not arrived at that destination, but they were on the road to it. They were called to repent. That means to stop going in the wrong direction, take corrective action and go in the right direction. Expressing first love would involve repeating the things that ought to be prioritized in the spiritual life. The stern warning from Jesus to the believer is that if they fail to do this the flickering light of their corporate witness, as a body of local believers will be snuffed out. In summary, they are called to remember, repent, repeat or be removed. 

There was a disparity between their reputation and the reality of their spiritual life. How many people hide behind masks of respectability? The great physician diagnosed the health of the church and identified an issue that needed to be put right. Then he prescribed a remedy. This is good news. This temporal judgment can be avoided by following the doctor’s advice.

It is clear from this letter to the church in Ephesus that Christians can lose their first love. They can become busy in the Lord’s work out of duty rather than love. The challenge is to be filled with fervent, emotional, extravagant love for Jesus. The heart can grow cold to God. Christian zeal for the Lord can diminish. Every Christian church needs to conduct a spiritual audit to ascertain if it needs to remember, repent, repeat the first works, and return to first love.

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[1] See Introduction for a brief and simple overview of different interpretive models of the book of Revelation.

[2] Heraclitus of Ephesus (Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος, c. 535 – c. 475 B.C.) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor.

[3] It must be acknowledged that the Bereans were not believers but their modus operandi, in checking the veracity of truth claims by using Scripture, is commendable.

[4] See Introduction which explores different theories concerning whether the events of Revelation had been fulfilled or partially fulfilled in A.D. 70 or were yet to occur. There is certainly a future eschatological dimension to the book of Revelation.

[5] This is not to be confused with sexual relations, but rather should be understood of the depth of love that is shared at this most precious time in a relationship.

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