Ephesus: A Loving Church
Resources: McGee; Vines; Criswell; Robertson; eSword Software
In the book of the Revelation there are letters to seven churches of Asia minor. These letters are our Bible basis for helping us learn to be the kind of church God wants us to be and the kind of Christians he wants us to be. This morning we are looking at the church of Ephesus.
Ephesus is located in what we know today as Turkey. It was a great sea port town.It was a commercial center. It was a very, very prosperous city. People came from all over the world to trade their wares and to sell what they had to offer. Millions of people regularly passed through the city of Ephesus.
If you and I were to take a journey to the city of Ephesus we would come up the Aegean Sea and into the Ephesian harbor. On the main street of the city of Ephesus we would see many buildings built of white marble. A theater there held 24,000 people and the amphitheater would hold over 100,000. There was a massive library.
Right outside the city of Ephesus was the temple of Diana, which was one of the seven wonders of the world. It was the largest temple built in the Greek Empire. It was massive, about 425 feet in one direction and 225 feet in the other direction, and It was 60 feet high. It had 127 pillars in it. Each one of these pillars was a gift of a king.
The temple of Diana became a place where people brought money. It was a bank. It was also a refuge where fugitives could come and claim asylum. It was a museum where many of the great art works in the ancient world were deposited. It was also a place for the worship of the goddess Diana. Just inside a purple velvet curtain, there was this hideous image of Diana. There were temple prostitutes and players and singers, and all kinds of immorality went on there.
Ephesus was a city in great need of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. No wonder the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 16:8-9, said, “But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.”
In the city of Ephesus God had planted a church. You can read about it in Acts 18 through 20. You will discover there some of the greatest victories of grace that took place in Ephesus. Some of the greatest leaders of the Christian faith were there. Paul stayed there three years. Apollos, the brilliant Bible orator, was there. Young Timothy, the preacher boy, served a period of time there, and John, the beloved disciple himself, who, by the time this letter is written to the church, is on the isle of Patmos receiving these letters, served as the pastor of the church at Ephesus. Our text this morning was written 30 years later. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself is writing a letter to the church at Ephesus.
I want us to learn from the church of Ephesus. There is a message which God has for us which can be helpful to us as a church, and it can be helpful to you and me as individual believers.
Jesus begins in this opening verse saying that He is walking in the middle of His churches. He is examining and searching the hearts. He is looking at the life that is going on in that particular church. Here is a picture today of the church of Ephesus, and I want you to listen to this message very carefully.
I. A WORD OF COMMENDATION
First of all he begins by giving some positive things. There are about nine positive things He has to say about the church. He commends them for their activity. He says in v2, “I know thy works.” In v3 He says, “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake has labored, and hast not fainted.” He praises them for their activity. “I know your works.”
If you had visited the church of Ephesus on any given weekend or week, you would have discovered a very busy church. You would have found a great deal of activity going on in that church. I can imagine they had retreats, seminars, fellowships, and programs. They had all kinds of activities going on in that church. I believe the Lord would want every believer to find a church where there is a lot of activity.
We are not saved by works, but the Bible says in Ephesians 2:10, that “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them..” We are not saved by our good works, but we are saved unto good works.
He says not only in v2 that “I know your works,” but He says “I know your labor.” Here is a church that has great labor. The word labor is the idea of working to the point of exhaustion. It means costly labor. When I read that I thought about a verse in II Samuel 24:24, where David said, “Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing.” Anything that is worthwhile has a cost attached to it.
I think about the sacrifices so many of you have made. Your sacrifice financially, your sacrificing your time, your sacrifice in lending of your gifts and talents and efforts. Someone said a number of years ago and I agree that when we bleed, we bless. When we sacrifice and when we labor for the Lord, it is then that we become a blessing.
He not only talks about their works and their labor, but He says also “Thy patience.” The word “patience” means endurance. It means to stay under the load and keep going on. When I read that, I see something very positive. It is something about this congregation here. So many of you have continued on.
We have a number of people who have worked in the same area in the ministry of our church for a number of years. We have people here who have served in their place of service for 10 years, some 20, some 30 years. We don’t want to take for granted those of you who have endured and stayed with the work of the Lord. Our church has been and is being built by people who work, people who labor, and by people who endure.
Sometimes people complain about a busy church. Sometimes people say, “There’s just too many services.” They say that it takes too much of their time. Sometimes people want a church to cut the services. That desire begs a question. What do you want to cut back for? Do you want less Bible teaching to add time for more TV or sports? Do you want to pull back from taking the Gospel to others in order to do something of greater eternal importance?
If a church is going to accomplish the divine mandate that God has given to it, has to be a church with activity. We’re involved in serious business. We’re talking about heaven and hell. We’re talking about lives and human beings. We’re talking about young people and boys and girls. We’re talking about families that have turmoil and chaos. So there has to be great activity going on in a church where love really is. He praises and commends them for their activity.
But there is something else He commends them for. He commends them for their doctrine. He says in v2, “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars.” What He’s saying about the church is that you are a Bible-believing church.
Paul the apostle had warned them in Acts 20 that there would be false teachers that would come in the church. He said they would be like grievous wolves entering in not sparing the flock. Then he said there would be men of your own selves who will arise speaking perverse things and it’s already happened. In fact, he mentions a particular heresy in v6. He says that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans which I also hate.Then in v15 He says, “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.” The doctrine of the Nicolaitans he talks about in v15, and in v6 he talks about the deeds of the Nicolaitans. They go together. Deeds affect doctrine. Doctrine affects deed.
In this church they had already encountered false teaching, false doctrine, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The word means “to conquer the people.” It seems to be that there were those who were setting up a hierarchy among people in the church. But this Ephesian church was alert doctrinally, and did not allow false teaching to get in it. He says that you have tried those who say there are apostles. You have put them to the test.
That is very important. You need to be always careful to put things to the test, whatever you hear. I John 4:1, says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God.” Just because a preacher says it, don’t believe it necessarily. Check it out and see if it’s so in the Bible. If it disagrees with the Bible, then you don’t buy it. Reject it. This was a church that was characterized by right doctrine. They were Bible believers.
Our church is known as a Bible-believing church. If you are choosing a church, you want to choose a church where the Bible is believed. Find out if they teach the Bible.
Jesus commends them for their activity and their doctrine. He also commends them for their consistency. In v3 it says, “You have borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and has not fainted.” He says you are persistent, you haven’t given up. They were keeping on. When I read that I think of many of our dear church family members just keep on keeping on. You have stayed with the stuff. You have been faithful.
The apostle Paul said, “I have finished my course.” No matter your age, make up your mind that you are going to keep going all in for Jesus Christ until He comes or you go to be with Him. Let me encourage you to be a Christian and church that endures,and goes all the way with Jesus!
II. A WORD OF CORRECTION
He commends them. He had some very positive things to say to them. But as you read this, you are aware of the fact that a little something is wrong. In v4 He gives the negative message. “Nevertheless.” That’s a strong word. “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” The Great Physician has put His finger on the problem of the church of Ephesus. He says to the church, “You have left your first love.”
This is ironic that He would say this about the church of Ephesus. It is ironic because one of their pastors was none other than John himself, who is known as the beloved apostle. It is John who writes such beautiful words about the love of God. It is John who gave us John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.” It is ironic because of the very letter that was sent to the Ephesians by the apostle Paul.
In Ephesians 1, Paul says about this church in v15, “Wherefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints.” He mentions love 14 times in his letter to the Ephesians. Here was a church characterized by love and known for its love, and yet Jesus says that after a few years they have left their first love.
What is first love? First love is original love, beginning love. First love when you fall in love with Jesus for the first time. Some of you remember that first love. Listen to these verses of scripture. Jeremiah 2:2, says, “Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” That is first love. 2 Corinthians 11:2, love says, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.”
Do you remember how precious Jesus was when you first met Him? You just fell head over heels in love with Jesus Christ. By the way, there’s nothing strange when you talk about loving Jesus. When you think about someone who was willing to come all the way from heaven to this world and willing to die on a cruel cross to shed His precious blood that you might be forgiven of your sins, it is the manliest thing in the world to love someone like that. First love, original love.
Jesus says, “You lost your first love. You’ve left it. You don’t love Me like you used to love Me.” I think one of the saddest things a mate will ever hear is to hear their mate say to them, “You don’t love me the way you used to love me.”
Do you know what first love is? It’s emotional love. Love is a decision, but love is also emotional. Love is enthusiastic. It is easy for that original love to lose its fire and excitement. Sometimes after the wedding and the honeymoon, after a time, life begins to come at you. You experience the pressures of life and other things begin to get involved and take your time and effort from one another. The next thing you know life has so crowded in that you have lost the enthusiasm. Then for some, it becomes formal and mechanical. It’s still there. It’s just lost its luster.
The same thing can happen to your life spiritually in your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. If you’re not very careful, your relationship with Jesus Christ can become formal and mechanical. In Matthew 21, Jesus said because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. If you’re not very careful you’ll lose the fire.
Some Christians, think they have become spiritually mature when the truth is they’ve become spiritually frostbitten. There are some people who have gotten beyond the exciting stage in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, but the truth of the matter is they have a cold heart in their relationship to Jesus Christ. If that describes you this morning, is Jesus saying to you that you have left your first love. You don’t love Me with the same enthusiasm you used to love Me.
Let me ask you a question this morning. Which characterizes your relationship to Jesus Christ? Fire or ice? I heard about a deacon praying one Sunday. He said, “Oh, Lord, if there is a spark of fire among us this morning, dear Lord, water that spark.” Is your relationship to Jesus ice or fire? Love is exciting and emotional and overflowing. When Mary came to anoint the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible says she poured everything she had on the Lord Jesus Christ. Love is an emotional thing.
How is your relationship to Jesus? Jesus said, “You’ve left your first love.” It is original love and emotional love. It is also motivational love. Jesus has commended all of these positive things in the church, but the problem was the things they were doing were not motivated by their love for Jesus. It is fine to do all of these things, but if you don’t do these things out of love for the Lord Jesus Christ then they became mundane and ordinary and there is no blessing.
Some of the most miserable people in the entire world are people who are just going through the motions of church, serving for other reasons except a genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ.
In I Thessalonians 1:3 Paul about your labor of love, labor which comes from love. Listen to this very carefully. You can labor and not love, but you can’t love and not labor. Let me ask you a question during this time of forced pause in so much of the ministry of our church. Why are you doing what you do? Why are you singing in the choir? Why are you playing in the orchestra? Why are you serving in the capacity in which you serve in our church? Genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ is motivational.
It solves a multitude of problems. It solves the attendance problem. When you genuinely falls in love with Jesus Christ, you won’t have to be reminded or coaxed to come to church. If you love Jesus Christ, it solves the problem of giving. Love always gives. “God so loved the world that He gave.” Christ loved the church and He gave. If you love, you give. It solves the problem of complaining. It is a clear giveaway when all we do is complain that you don’t love Jesus Christ the way we used to love Him. So to this Ephesian church, Jesus gave a word of commendation, then a word of correction. Finally:
III. A WORD OF REDEMPTION
He gives a positive word and He gives a negative word. But don’t you love it that Jesus always gives a redemptive word. He always gives us a solution to the problem. If there’s a problem in your heart, in your love life between you and Jesus, He tells you exactly what to do. I’m going to use three words drawn from v5 which will give you a prescription to solve a heart that has grown cold in your love for Jesus.
The first word is the word in the verse “remember.” V5 says, “Remember, therefore, from where thou are fallen.” What He’s saying is literally keep on remembering. Don’t forget. Think back to when you first met Jesus as your Savior. Do you remember how old you were? Do you remember where you were? Do you remember what Jesus did for you? How you asked Him to forgive you your sins and invite Him into your heart? Do you remember that great joy and peace that came into your life? Perhaps you remember those tears that you shed for the Lord Jesus. Do you remember just how sweet it was to know you had someone like Jesus who loved you the way Jesus did? Remember. Don’t ever, ever forget what Jesus has done for you.
The second word in v5 is “repent.” A cold heart is a sin. Not loving Jesus the way we ought to love Him is a sin. Jesus says, “Repent.” That means to turn away. Ask God to forgive you.
The third word I want to use is “repeat.” He says in v5, “Do the first works.” Go back to doing the things you used to do when you were in love with Jesus the way you should be in love with Jesus. Do the first things. Maybe it means that you’ve got to get back to that daily quiet time where you read God’s Word and talk to Him in prayer. Maybe it means you need to be more faithful to His house so you can come and learn more about Him. Maybe it does mean that you need to begin to tell people about Jesus again. If you really love someone, you can’t help but talk about them.
CONCLUSION: He says in v7 “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Historians tells us that in the middle of the temple of Diana in Ephesus they had a tree where Only the elite were allowed to see. But Jesus said, “I’ve got a tree in paradise. If you’ll come to Me and overcome in Me, you’ll meet Me in paradise. You can tell Me face to face how much you love Me, and you can serve Me perfectly for all eternity.” If you’ve never received the Lord Jesus Christ, let me tell you about your tree of life. I Peter 2:24, says that Jesus Christ “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” This tree is your tree of life if you are lost. It is the cross where Jesus Christ died in your place to pay for your sins. You can meet this wonderful Jesus and have the love of your life in a person