Sunday, October 30, 2011

To The Church in Ephesus Write

Ephesus was not the capital of the Roman province of Asia (that honor went to Permamum), but it was one of the great cities in Asia.  It was a port city with a population of some 250,000.  The temple of Artemis was there.  It was four times the size of the Parthenon, 100,000 square feet or about two American football fields in size.  Ephesus was wealthy, cosmopolitan and pagan.

The church in Ephesus may have been founded by Priscilla and Aquila, when Paul left them there on his way to Antioch (Acts 18.19).  It was in Ephesus that they met Apollos and "explained to him the way of God more adequately" (Acts 18.26).  Paul later came back and worked there for two years (Acts 19.10).  Paul left Ephesus after the silversmith Demetrius started a riot because he was concerned "that our trade will lose its good name" and "that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited..." (Acts 19.27).  When Paul was traveling to Jerusalem he stopped to speak to the Ephesian Elders and warned them some of them would become false teachers and distort the truth (Acts 20.30).  Paul wrote one letter to the church at Ephesus: Ephesians.  He also sent Timothy to work there 1Tim. 1.3.  Tradition states that the apostle John lived and was buried there.  We know more about the church in Ephesus than we do about any other church in the New Testament. 

Jesus addresses all the letters to the to "the Angel" of the church.  At first I assumed that this was referring to some sort of guardian angel, but that doesn't fit with the letter; the letter is obviously speaking to the church.  Do we believe that the "guardian angel" of the church in Ephesus had left it's "first love" (Rev. 1.4), or of the one in Sardis "you are dead" (Rev. 3.1), or of angel of Laodicea "you are neither hot nor cold" (Rev. 3.16), and "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Rev. 3.17)?  The word for "you" is singular in these letters.  Jesus seems to view the church as his messenger (which is what 'angel' means), and so he refers to the church in these letters as his angel.

Jesus refers to himself as the one who "holds the seven stars in his right hand" (Rev. 2.1). This refers back to chapter one were John describes Jesus: "In his right hand he held seven stars..." (Rev. 1.16).  The word for "hold" here is very strong.  Jesus doesn't just hold the stars, he grasps them so that they can not be taken away from him.  As he said in John 10.28 of his disciples "who can snatch them out of my hand"?  In Rev. 1.20 Jesus explains that the seven stars are the seven angels, which we understand now to be the churches as his messengers.  Jesus holds the churches in his right hand, that is the hand of strength and honor.

Jesus also refers to himself as the one who "walks among the seven golden lampstands."  We were told in Rev. 1.20 that the seven golden lampstands are symbols of the seven churches in Asia, just as the seven stars are symbols of the seven angels.  Lampstands give light, and the churches give light to the world, "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1.5).  Gold does not rust or tarnish. The lamp stands are golden to show how precious and sacred they are.  Stars don't provide much light, but the do help to guide people.  The church is a light to drive away the darkness and a light to guide people in the direction they should go.

In verse two Jesus said "I know."  The word used here is one that indicates personal knowledge   Jesus didn't hear about their troubles from someone, he knows what they have endured because he walks among the churches.  Think about this: When Saul was struck by the blinding light on the road to Damascus, Jesus said to him "Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9.11).  To the best of my knowledge, Saul never did anything to Jesus, but he did harm Christians.  When the church is persecuted Jesus is persecuted.

Jesus knows their "deeds" and their "hard work" and he knows their "perseverance."  These three words are in a progression of intensity.  They didn't just work, they worked so hard that they were having to force themselves to continue to work.  They were like the runner who is tired and she wants to stop, but she knows that she won't win the race if she doesn't finish the course.

One of they things they had dealt with were "evil men."  They could endure hard work, but they could not endure wicked men.  Paul had warned the elders that after he left "fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20.29).   Also, Paul told Timothy that "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer..." (ITim. 1.3).  The church in Ephesus had done what they needed to do; they had "tested" those who claimed to be apostles and found that they were liars.  

They had suffered hardships because of the Name.  In Acts 5.41-42 "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name...Jesus is the Christ."  They had endured much, but they were not weary of suffering for the name of Jesus.

Their battles with evil men and false teaching had changed them; they had become a loveless congregation, "Yet I hold this against you:  You have forsaken your first love."   The church in Ephesus was orthodox; their doctrine was pure, but they had lost the love and affection they had had in the beginning.  When they left love behind, they left Jesus behind.  There was something could do; they could remember what they had once been.

People often think that they have to choose between love and doctrine.  We have to have both in order to be pleasing to God.  Doctrine is like the skeleton in our body.  It give us strength and backbone, but by itself it can't move and is like the lifeless bones in the Valley of Dry Bones.   Love is like the muscle and flesh of our body.  It gives us the ability to move and have life, but without our skeleton is has no backbone and no real strength.

Jesus warned the Ephesans that inspite of all the work they had done to keep their doctrine pure, their lack of love made them an unworthy congregation.  He was in the process of removing their lampstand from it's place.  If they were going to correct their problem they had to act immediately.  We don't know what happens to a congreation that has it's lampstand removed, but it can't be good.

There was something that they were correct in not loving; that was the practices of the Nicolaitans.  We don't know much about this group, but they are also condemned in the letter to Pergamum (Rev. 2.15).  Jesus didn't hate the people, but he did hate what they were doing.

To those who were willing to obey what he was saying he wrote "He who has an ear, let him hear...."  This is what Jesus said in Mark 4.9, and in verse 12 he quoted from Isa. 6.9 "...they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing buy never understanding otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!"  Most people are capable of hearing the message, but they choose not to obey and be forgiven.  To those who do hear the message and overcome the trials that were coming Jesus promises they will eat from the tree of life.  In Rev. 22.2, 14 and 19 we  learn that the tree of life is in the New Jerusalem, the Holy City of God.  The promise is not just to them, it is for all of us who hear the Gospel message and obey it.


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