Letter to the Church: Ephesus
July 13, 2008
It was the first of the seven. Out of all the church in all the countries Jesus singled out these seven to originally receive the message of the Revelation, but before they were to read the book Jesus had a message for them. You ever wonder why? Why not just jump in with all the weird and wonderful stuff that the Revelation had to offer. There are probably a couple of reasons; first it wouldn’t have been polite. This was after all a form letter, so the least that could be done would be to personalize it. Realize that 2000 years ago there was no mail merge, had John wanted to send a personal letter to all seven of the churches telling them about his vision he would have had to hand write it seven times, which would have been time prohibitive and also very expensive. Remember this letter was not written on paper it was probably written on parchment made up of tanned animal skin.
But I don’t think that it was simply a matter of courtesy or practicality that caused Jesus to include these personal notes to the seven churches in the Revelation. Instead I think it was a spiritual issue. Before these churches could hear from God they had to make sure there were no issues standing in the way.
And it’s the same way two thousand years later; before we can hear from God collectively or individually we need to make sure there is nothing that’s going to get in the way. Sometimes not always but sometimes I hear people say “When I pray it’s like God doesn’t hear me or like my prayers don’t go any further then the ceiling.” And I think: what do you expect you are living in disobedience to God’s law? You understand don’t you that sin puts a barrier between you and God? You can not have it both ways, you can’t flaunt God’s laws and have a relationship with Him. And so Jesus was saying, “Ok boys and girls let’s get things straightened out and then we can talk.”
And so we begin with the introduction Revelation 2:1 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. Last week we looked at some of the different meanings that could be ascribed to this term angel and decided that for the purposes of these letters that the term meant the overseer or pastor of these particular churches. Continuing on in the same verse This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
From Chapter one we discover that it is Jesus who holds the seven stars which are later identified as the seven angels or seven pastors and the seven gold lampstands are these churches. It is important to note a couple of things about this reference. The first is that the stars or angels or pastors are held in the right hand of Christ. The pastor’s primary responsibility is not to please the local church or even the people who make up that church, the primary responsibility of the pastor is to please God, now hopefully when the Pastor makes God happy he will in turn make the people of the church happy, but that isn’t always the way it works, sorry.
The second thing we need to note is that Jesus is walking among the lampstands or the churches. Jesus doesn’t just watch what is happening in our church from a distances but he is to be a part of the daily life of our church. And if Cornerstone Wesleyan Church is to be the church that it’s supposed to be then Jesus needs to be not only a symbolic presence in our church but he needs to be a very real presence. And that happens as he is present in the lives of the believers who make up the church.
And so this letter is addressed to pastor of the church at Ephesus and from there to the people of the church of Ephesus. If we pull up a map we discover that the city of Ephesus was located in what is now Turkey. It was the most important city in the area, while Pergamum was the actual capital of the Roman Province of Asia Ephesus was its greatest city. It was called The Gateway to Asia because it was the home of the largest harbour in Asia. It’s kind of interesting that 2000 years later the ocean is now 10 kms away, and what was once a proud harbour is now beach and marsh where silt from the sea washed in and eventually destroyed the thing that made Ephesus so important. And so once the city’s connection to the sea disappeared so did the city.
The church in Ephesus was started by Apollos and you can read the account in Acts 18. But it was Paul who really shaped this church. Through Acts chapter 19 and 20 we see the influence that he had on the original group of believers. Plus we have one of the letters that Paul wrote to the church, the book of Ephesians in the New Testament. But that was probably 40 years prior to this letter being written.
Now if you are thinking “I should know something about Ephesus that I didn’t learn in church” you are right. If you can remember the ancient history course that you took in High School then you might remember that Ephesus was home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Any guesses? That’s right Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis, or Diana the Greek goddess of the Hunt and nature. Here is an artist’s rendition of what the temple would have looked like when the Revelation was written, It was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide, that would be what 2 acres? It was made up of 127 columns that were each 60 foot high. It was truly a spectacular building. Very similar to our expansion plans. Maybe ours won’t be quite that big. Here is a picture of what remains of the temple, and while we are at it this is a picture of the amphitheatre in Ephesus, to give you an idea of the size of the city this theatre will sit twenty five thousand people, here is a shot of the wide boulevard that leads up to the theatre. You would have thought they would have thought of that when they put the Metro centre down town.
Not only was it a city of commerce and culture it was a corrupted city, funny how those three “C”s so often go together. The temple of Artemis housed hundreds of priestess who were in fact nothing more then sacred prostitutes. And so it was in this the greatest and perhaps most immoral city of Asia Minor that we find the church of Ephesus.
That’s who the letter was intended for.
Some teachers in the past fifty years have put forth the theory that these letters not only refer to specific church in a specific time and place but also represent a period in church history. In the case of the Ephesian church they say that period would be the early church, which existed from Pentecost until around 90 ad when this letter was written. Now when John wrote the Revelation and when the believers in these churches read it they probably weren’t thinking, “Some day these letters will apply to various stages in Church history.” but in retrospect we can make it fit.
There are also lessons for us to learn today, this letter applies to who we are and where we are as believers in 2008. The lessons are there for us as a church. And you need to understand that when Jesus was speaking to an individual church he was speaking to the collective average of the church. Dr. Joseph Kanzlemar in his book “The end of the Age and Beyond” said “The reference to any of these seven churches is to the average of it’s constituency. And we find that the Lord still deals with the local congregation on this Basis.” Under Kanzelmar’s theory the local church will not be judged on the basis of a few on fire Christians nor on the basis of the unsaved in a church. But instead the local church will be judged on the spiritual temperature of the majority of the people in the church.
Luckily we won’t be judged individually on a corporate average, but the church will be.
Then Jesus begins by commending the church for several things. Revelation 2:2-3 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
The scary part are the first seven words did you catch them “I know all the things you do.” We know that, but we don’t think about it do we? We don’t actually stop and think: Jesus is going to know that I did this. Sometimes we need to stop and actually realize He knows what I say, what I do, what I read, what I watch and what I listen to.
And I don’t want you to think that as he sees and hears that he stands there with a big stick ready to whump on us, no he stands there with a broken heart disappointed in us, because he knows that if we really wanted to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives that our lives could and would be different. And on a corporate level Jesus knows all about Cornerstone Wesleyan Church, what we do and what we say we do.
And so here is the message for the Ephesians: Jesus tells them “You know guys it looks like you’ve got it all together, you work really hard as a church, and you do all the right things. You don’t take your faith lightly you work hard at being Christians and you have stickwithinness, doesn’t matter what happens you just keep going and going. You are the Energizer Bunny of Churches. And you know the truth; there is no compromise with you. You have all the “i”s dotted and all the “t”s crossed. When false teachers show up you know your Bible inside out and you aren’t afraid to show them the door. In a city as corrupt as Ephesus you have held the truth high and not wavered from it.”
I don’t know about you but if I was the church in Ephesus hearing all this stuff I’d be feeling pretty good about myself. Thinking “Yes that’s right, we’ve done good.” What a church, they worked hard at being an ideal church, they didn’t lack in good deeds and moral integrity, they rejected sin from their midst, tested teachers and knew how to separate the true ones from the false ones. And were perseverant to the end. You gotta love them. What was it the Toyota ads used to ask, “Who could ask for anything more?”
Well apparently Jesus could because he says “Whoa, not so fast guys, there’s something else. You’ve worked hard, you’ve been perseverant and you have not tolerated evil but. . .” And you know that one of the rules of Biblical Exegesis is that after the “But” comes the “Truth”. Actually that’s just a rule of life. Don’t you just love that word but. You know when you hear “That was a great meal, but. . .” or “That’s a nice looking suit, but. . .” “I really like the sermon, but. . .”
And so here it comes for the Ephesians, Revelation 2:4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Ouch. That’s gotta hurt. You ever hear those words in a personal relationship, you don’t love me like you used to? And sometimes they are right, sometimes love fades and disappears. Maybe because of neglect or apathy, maybe because the person isn’t as lovable as they once were. But yeah sometimes first love disappears, not necessarily because we want it too and we certainly don’t plan it but it does. When I’m counselling couples who are struggling in a relationship I will often challenge them to return to their first love. To remember what it was that attracted them to their partner in the first place, to remember how they felt and the commitments they made. We don’t plan on falling out of love, when we get married we don’t say “Well this will be good for a few years then I’ll fall out of love and move on.” No in most cases we take serious “Till death do us part” We believe that our first love will never change. That’s why Benjamin Disraeli who was the Prime Minister of England in the 1800s said “The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can never end.”
And Jesus is looking at the church and saying, “You don’t love me like you used to.” And we’re not sure how that love had changed. Some would suggest that the love that was lost was their enthusiasm for the Lord. A similar analogy is used in the Old Testament, in Jeremiah 2:2 I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago, how you loved me and followed me even through the barren wilderness. Often times there is a honeymoon period in a relationship but then the first flush of enthusiasm fades. Perhaps Jesus is insinuating that the joy and enthusiasm of the Ephesian Church had disappeared.
And really how many of us can look back at the hunger with which we devoured the word of God right after our conversion, and the urgency and conviction that we shared the Gospel with our lost family and friends. But then everything got ordinary, we just kind of drifted along until we lost our first love.
Our relationship with Christ is much like a marriage and that is it’s not self sustaining but it requires effort and work if we are going to keep the fire burning as bright as it was in the courtship days.
Our Christian walk is not evidence of perpetual motion. Christ doesn’t give us a push at conversion and expect that one touch to keep us moving forever. We have to keep going back to the source of our power and that is Jesus.
Not only does Jesus tell the Ephesians that they don’t love him like they used to he says they don’t love each other the way they used to either. Do you remember the descriptions that were given of the early church in the book of Acts? They had everything in common, and nobody wanted for anything. It would appear that was no longer the case.
It may be that in an attempt to achieve the things that Christ had commended them for, in their heresy hunting and quest for perfect orthodoxy that they had killed the brotherly love that they once had shared.
We’ve all seen churches like that , boy they have the rules down pat, they can quote doctrine inside out, they cross each theological “T” just right and nobody can dot those “Is” they way they can. But there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of love or compassion in their fellowship. They were dead right but at the same time they were so wrong. And when the price of orthodoxy is the loss of love then orthodoxy has cost too much because as William Barclay stated “All the orthodoxy in the world will never take the place of love.”
And Jesus finishes by telling the Christians in the Ephesian church that if they don’t change their way that he will and I quote from Revelation 2:5 I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. That simply means that if we as a church do not maintain our initial love for Christ and each other then we will be marked off that big heavenly list of Christian churches. You understand that a church isn’t a church because it’s called a church right? A church is a church because of it’s relationships with Christ and with Christians.
There are too many churches in Canada in 2008 that still have a cross on their roof and Christ in their name but they are no more a Christian church then the Lions Club or Kiwanis they are just one more social club. And that can happen to any church, regardless of the name on the door, when they forget who they are and why they are here.
But that’s not the way it has to be, this is the advice that Jesus gave to the Church in Ephesus Revelation 2:5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first.
Another translation says it this way:
Revelation 2:5 Look how far you have fallen from your first love! Turn back to me again and work as you did at first.
Summed up in three words Jesus said; Remember, Repent, Return. Story is told about an old farm couple who were driving along in their pickup and she says, “We never sit all snuggled up in the truck like we used to.” He looks over at her and replies “I haven’t moved” When we discover as a church or as individual believers that we aren’t as close to God as we once were, understand this he didn’t move, we did. And it’s up to us to move back. So where are you at this morning? If you have lost your first love you can get it back. All you have to do is remember what it was like, ask for forgiveness for moving and return to where you had been.