************ Sermon on Revelation 2:1-7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 21, 1999
"Ephesus: Orthodox and Loveless"
The first of the seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor is to the church in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was the greatest city of the Roman province of Asia. Ephesus was an important commercial and export center for Asia with three major trade routes converging at the city harbor.
Ephesus was a free city, granted by Rome the right of self-government. It boasted a major stadium capable of seating some 25,000 persons, a market place, and a theater. Going from the harbor to the heart of the city was a magnificent avenue 35 feet wide and lined with columns. It also boasted one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Temple of the pagan god Artemis or Diana.
The Christian faith first came to Ephesus through the ministry of Priscilla and Aquila, around the year A.D. 52, when Paul left them there en route from Corinth to Antioch. They were assisted by Apollos, a Christian Jew, who arrived in Ephesus shortly after they did (cf Acts 18:18-28). On his next missionary journey Paul remained in Ephesus more than two years (Acts 19:8-10), and some time later Timothy ministered there too (1 Tim 1:3). It is the Apostle John, however, who is most closely associated with this city and her church. So, at the command of Jesus, John writes the first of the seven letters to the church at Ephesus.
We need to keep in mind that the words in front of us are the words of Jesus. Notice how the letter begins:
(Rev 2:1) "To the angel 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:This image is explained to us in chapter 1:
(Rev 1:20) The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.The description of Christ here is very instructive: Christ "holds" the angels – i.e., they are in His control – and Christ "walks" among the churches – i.e., He is present in their midst, He is concerned for them and cares for them. So, these are the words of the Christ Who is the head of the church and loves her very much.
Did you catch what Jesus calls His church? Jesus says the church is a lampstand. This is true not only for Ephesus but also for the other six churches of Asia Minor; it is true for the more than 200 churches of Visalia; it is true for us and for every single church or congregation of believers. The church is a lampstand. That's what we are. We are lampstands. Notice, we are neither the light nor the lamp itself. It is Christ Who is the light, the lamp. And we, we are lampstands. That says so much about our purpose, our task, our calling. A lampstand, of course, is a place upon which a lamp is set so it can give light to everyone in the room. It is the church's job, then, to show forth and display the light of Christ.
In this letter to the church of Ephesus, Christ says He has seen much to praise; but, He also has seen something to criticize.
I Praise: Doctrine and Life
A As the One Who walks and lives in the midst of the churches Christ is able to say, "I know your deeds" (vs 2). These deeds are described by the following words: "your hard work and your perseverance" (vs 2).
The Lord praises the Ephesian Christians for their hard work for the gospel and the kingdom. They boldly proclaimed the Good News of the gospel even if it meant suffering. Don't forget, they lived in a society that said, "Caesar is Lord." And, their witness that "Jesus is Lord," could lead to the charge of treason and death.
The Lord also commends the church of Ephesus for its perseverance. Perseverance means they never gave up. They had to endure malicious slander from the unbelieving Jews living in Ephesus (Acts 19:9). They had to endure persecution from the craftsmen who made miniature copies of the god Artemis (Acts 19:23ff). Yet, they never quit on their faith or their hope. They remind me of John Wesley.
Topic: PerseveranceLike Wesley, the church of Ephesus persevered.
Title: John Wesley's Perseverance
A page from John Wesley's Diary reads as follows: Sunday morning, May 5, preached in St. Ann's, was asked not to come back anymore. Sunday p.m., May 5, preached at St. John's, deacons said, "Get out and stay out." Sunday a.m., May 12, preached at St. Jude's, can't go back there either. Sunday p.m., May 12, preached at St. George's, kicked out again. Sunday a.m., May 19, preached at St. somebody else's, deacons called special meeting and said I couldn't return. Sunday p.m., May 19, preached on the street, kicked off the street. Sunday a.m., May 26, preached in meadow, chased out of meadow as a bull was turned loose during the services. Sunday a.m., June 2, preached out at the edge of town, kicked off the highway. Sunday p.m., June 2, afternoon service, preached in a pasture, 10,000 people came to hear me.
B The Lord further praises the Ephesian church:
(Rev 2:2) I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.The Ephesian church does not tolerate, it does not bear, it does not endure, it does not put up with wicked men – described in our passage as "false apostles." This church does not allow herself to be led astray by these false apostles. In the city and in the church there were always people coming and going because of the importance of Ephesus in the ancient world and its crucial location for world trade. Some of those who came to the church falsely claimed to be apostles. This could have been a problem for Gentile converts who were not schooled in the Old Testament Scriptures. Knowing this, the Apostle Paul urged the Ephesian elders, "be on your guard" (Acts 20:31). And the Apostle John could say, "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (I Jn 4:1). And Jesus said, "by their fruit you will recognize them" (Mt 7:20). The Ephesian church listened to this advice. They kept up their guard. They tested those who called themselves apostles. And they found them to be false. The Ephesian church had an eye and an ear for orthodoxy, for right and sound doctrine. It is a discerning church.
C That's not all the praise Christ gives to this church. Our Lord says in verse 6,
(Rev:2:6) But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.Nothing is known about the Nicolaitans other than what is recorded in Revelation. This much we do know: the Nicolaitans are an heretical Christian sect who compromised with the pagan society in which they lived.
What was their compromise? I already mentioned that the temple of Artemis or Diana was located in Ephesus. This made Ephesus a major center of pagan worship. Two elements of the pagan worship of Artemis or Diana that the Nicolaitans adopted was the eating at pagan feasts of meat sacrificed to idol gods and sexual immorality. I want you to note that these were the two things the Church Council held in Jerusalem expressly warned Gentile Christians not to engage in (Acts 15:29). The Nicolaitans ignored this ruling and compromised totally here with the pagan ways of the city of Ephesus.
The Ephesian church is praised by the Lord for hating these practices of the Nicolaitans. The Ephesian church puts a strong emphasis on a holy, pure, and clean life.
D In praising the Ephesian church for its hard church and kingdom work, its right doctrine, and its holy life, the Lord can also say, "You ... have not grown weary." After a while it is so easy to stop trying and fighting and working as hard as you can for the gospel and kingdom. It is only natural to let up, to ease back a little. But not the Ephesian church.
E I am sure that as the Lord walks among us – and He does walk among us as surely as He walked among the seven churches of Asia Minor – I am sure that as the Lord walks among us He can say about us what He says about Ephesus. Like the Ephesian church we work hard for the gospel and the kingdom. We can point to our many programs and ministries and the many willing volunteers participating in them. We can point to our commitment to Christian education. We can point to our generous contributions to the causes of the church and kingdom. In fact, this church has a reputation throughout the area for its emphasis on sound and right doctrine; we in Trinity are known for our orthodoxy, for our adherence to the Creeds and Confessions of the church. Like the Ephesian church we quickly discern false teaching and false teachers. Furthermore, like the Ephesian church we do not tolerate wicked deeds; those who persist in wickedness are put under the discipline of the church. We too insist on holy, pure, and clean lives. And, I think it can be said of us what was said of Ephesus: "They have not grown weary."
I would urge you, congregation, to continue in all of this.
II Criticism: Lack of Love
A The Christ Who walks among the golden lampstands, the Christ Who knows the works done by His church, can look into hearts and see what is really there. This Christ looks at the church of Ephesus and says, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love" (vs 4).
"First love." Do you remember your first love? Do you remember how you felt? Your heart turned to jelly every time she or he looked at you. You would have given a kingdom, or half a peanut butter sandwich, only to have been kissed by her or him. You were crazily in love and would have done anything for her or him.
The Ephesian church had a "first love." When they were first formed they were known for that love. The Apostle Paul could write to them, "I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love ..." (Eph 1:15). They were known for their love for God, their love for each other, their love for their fellow man. They were crazily in love, and for this love they were willing to do anything.
But now it is some 25 or more years later. And, says Jesus with pain and sorrow in His heart, "You have forsaken your first love" (vs 4).
What a devastating charge! The Ephesian church has and shows little or no love.
Jesus says they have "forsaken" their first love. That word "forsaken" implies deliberate action on their part. Purposely – not accidentally – they have set aside, they have let go of, their first love.
What happened? How come this sad state of affairs has come about? As already mentioned, one of the strong points of the Ephesian church was her emphasis on sound doctrine, correct teaching, and lack of tolerance for false prophets. However, in their zeal the Ephesian church carried this too far and created a climate of suspicion in which brotherly love could no longer exist. Their (over)eagerness to root out all error ended in a sour and rigid orthodoxy. Church and kingdom work, pure doctrine, and holy living became substitutes for love. The Ephesian hatred of heresy and their involvement in the works of faith became more important than love.
B Love, however, is one of the marks of the true Christian and the true church. You all know what the Apostle Paul says:
(1 Cor 13:1-3) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (3) If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.Hanging on the wall in my office is a plaque with one of my favorite Bible texts:
(Jn 13:34-35) "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (35) By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Remember what the church is? The church is a lampstand. Its place and task is to show forth the light which is Christ. A church without love fails completely to show forth the light of Christ; in fact, without love a church cannot show forth the light of Christ – it is simply not possible.
C Jesus appeals to the Ephesian church to return to her first love:
(Rev 1:5) Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.The church's first love is pictured as a "height." Like any new lover, the church was flying high, it was scaling the mountain tops. But it has fallen from the "heights" of its first love. And, it has fallen quickly. "Repent," says the Lord. That word "repent" comes up twice in our passage. It means to turn around, to change direction, to turn over a new leaf.
D And then comes a warning, a terrible frightening warning: "If you do not repent," if you do not turn around, if you do not change direction, if you do not return to your "first love," says Jesus, "I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (vs 5). To remove the lampstand is to destroy the church. If the church of Ephesus does not return to the way of love, it will be destroyed.
Tell me, where is the church of Ephesus today? I'm afraid it is no more. It has disappeared. It has been destroyed. Which leads us to suppose they did not listen to this warning from the Lord.
E We cannot look at the church of Ephesus without taking a close look at ourselves. We need to ask, "has our love also grown cold?" Does Christ have reason to criticize us too? Does He Who holds the seven stars and walks among the lampstands have reason to tell us to also repent and to return to our first love?
Let me tell you something I have noticed. When a church first starts everyone is full of enthusiasm. There seems to be so much love, unity, fellowship, and peace in the body. But after 25 years – when the next generation has taken over – it seems to be a different story. Much of the enthusiasm is gone. And, there is not near the love, unity, fellowship, and peace that there was before. I have seen this a number of times. When this congregation is 25 years old – the same age as the church of Ephesus in front of us this evening – will your pastors (myself, Rev. Klompien) find that you have forsaken your first love too?
Let me ask some questions that only you can answer because I cannot look into your heart. Those of you before me this evening are very faithful in church attendance. Why do you come so faithfully – because you love the Lord, or out of habit? The Trinity congregation gives so generously to the poor and needy. Why do you give so generously – because you are filled with love for the needy, or for some other reason? This congregation supports Christian Education very strongly. Why do you do this – because you love the kingdom, the covenant, and our children, or because it is the thing to do? This congregation is so orthodox and Reformed. Why – out of love for the Reformed faith, or because we know no different? Do we speak about and to each other in love? Do I write my sermons in love and do my visits in love, or is it just a job? The elders and deacons, the organists and pianists, the Church School teachers and Coffee Break leaders, the GEMS and Cadet counselors, the youth leaders – do they serve in love, or for their own glory?
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (vs 7).
What has the Spirit said? That the Lord praises us when we work hard for the gospel and kingdom, when we are doctrinally pure, when we live holy lives. But the Spirit also tells us that the Lord wants us to be filled with love – love for God, love for each other, love for our fellow man.
This message of the Lord is not only for Ephesus or the other six churches of Asia Minor. This message is for all those in whom the Spirit works and lives; this message is for the church of all ages – including us.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (vs 7).
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page