"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
"'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.” (ESV)
Read all the messages to the churches (Rev 2 and 3). We aren’t going to study all of them at this time, but we need to read them in order to see that Jesus has set a pattern for His messages. As you read, look for similarities and repetition in phrases.
You may not use the same title for each section as I have, but the key words and content should match.
Description of Jesus
Each letter begins with the same phrase to introduce Jesus’ letter, “These are the words of ...”
Each description has some special significance for the church being addressed as well as for us. The words of Jesus are a direct message from our Creator. It is an awesome thought to realize that He had a specific message to these churches and He is speaking to us through these messages as well.
Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Matt 24:35 KJV)
Since His words will never pass away, they have relevance for us today.
Commendation or Rebuke
In each letter, Jesus states, “He knows...” It is what He knows about each church that brings the commendation and or the rebuke.
"I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve." (Jer 17:10 NIV)
For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 NIV)
The Lord knows everything about us as individuals as well as a local body of believers. It makes me stop to think about what kind of church I want to be involved with as well as how I live my own life. Judgment is going to come upon churches that allow evil practices and heresies; we will see this when we study the each church.
Counsel and/or Warning
Jesus is quite specific when He counsels the churches. If the church is out of line, He tells them what they need to do to get things back on the right track. He doesn’t hide the consequences of their misbehavior or their faithfulness. On one hand, their misbehavior will bring repercussions from the Lord. I know that I don’t want to be anywhere near when the Lord brings His discipline on a church because I know that even those that are on the right path will suffer some consequences. As an example, you can look at the life of Jeremiah. Even though God called Him to preach to unfaithful Judah, he suffered much at the hands of the officials as well as the rest of the people who were starving during the Babylonian siege.
On the other hand, the Church’s faithfulness brings attacks from the enemy.
Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. NASB (Matt 5:11)
Unlike those who preach a prosperity gospel, following Jesus can be costly in earthly terms. He stated this from the beginning of His ministry and the message should never have been changed. It is our choice when we seek membership in a church to become part of a church that is Biblical or one that seeks to bend His Word to its own desires. There will be consequences either way.
The promises are addressed to those who overcome. They are the ones who hear what Jesus says and it results in godly lives.
Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:12 NKJV)
None of the promises of reward for these churches are in this world. Jesus has always told us that this isn’t our eternal dwelling and that true riches are not on this earth. The reward is only for those who overcome. Look ahead to Rev 3:4, 5 to get an idea of what it means to overcome.
Now, we will start with the specifics of the Church at Ephesus.
Ephesus – Description of Jesus
He holds the seven stars and walks in midst of the lamp stands. Holding the seven stars is a reminder that Jesus is in control of all things. As noted before, we are in His hands when are saved and there isn’t anything that can remove us. (John 10:28) However, there is another aspect of His hands that the Church at Ephesus needs to hear.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit! When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah. (Ps 32:1-5 NASU)
His hand is heavy on those who have committed their way to Him but have strayed. The promise in these verses is that He will forgive us when we confess our sins and then we will be blessed. The longer we ignore our sin, the heavier will be His hand.
Powerful is your arm! Strong is your hand! Your right hand is lifted high in glorious strength. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne. Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants. (Ps 89:13-14 NLT)
His arm and hand are a symbol of His power and might. He is not just in control of our salvation and spiritual condition but He is also in control of the events of history. This gives us great confidence and comfort as we think of the problems that could be coming ahead. It would have been a blessing and comfort for the Ephesians as well. Because of His power and strength, He can bring about righteousness and justice as well as showing His mercy and love.
Jesus is in the midst of His Church.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt 18:20 KJV)
This may be the very definition of a church. Anywhere Jesus is you will find His Church.
… And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matt 28:20 ESV)
These last verses in the book of Matthew are directed to His disciples. While applicable to individuals, He is primarily saying that He will always be with His Church.
Commendation or Rebuke
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 NIV)
Peter praises God for our salvation and the inheritance that we have in heaven, which can’t be taken away and will never perish. We receive that salvation through faith. He explains that it is perseverance in trials which proves that our faith is real. The Ephesians have persevered and endured hardships. Their faith has indeed been proven genuine. However, as we look at the rebuke that comes later about forsaking or abandoning their first love, I wonder if their perseverance produced self-pride instead of a deepening faith.
Did they still love Jesus the way they did in the beginning? Had they lost the inexpressible joy that Peter discussed? Is there some warning here that we haven’t seen, such as looking at the track record of the church (how much they’ve done), instead of their dedication to Jesus? The church then loses its perspective and sees the survival of the organization more important than the goals of Jesus. It can’t be called the Church but a church.
Intolerance of Wicked
I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. (1 Cor 5:9-11 NASU)
Paul makes it clear that we should judge and actually shun any Christian who behaves in a wicked manner. Some will point out that Jesus associated with sinners. However, Jesus associated with sinners, not for companionship, but to bring the light to them (Luke 5:30-32). Scripture also teaches that our association with non-believers is not to be close.
Do not be envious of evil men, Nor desire to be with them; (Prov 24:1 NKJV)
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? (2 Cor 6:14 NKJV)
We have to be careful that our intolerance of the wicked doesn’t distances us so much that we miss our mission to be salt and light in the world.
Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. (Eph 5:11 NLT)
I also wonder if the Ephesians’ intolerance of the wicked had lost the temper of Jesus’ love so that they were no longer an effective witness. This can happen with legalistic churches and individuals.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared. (1 Tim 4:1-2 RSV)
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. (2 Tim 4:3-5 RSV)
One of the marks of the coming of the end will be an increase in false teachers; therefore it is very important to be able to discern the false from those who are teaching the Word. One of the reasons the Ephesian Church doesn’t fit the mold of many churches of today is because they were testing the teachers, not gathering the false teachers around them.
Some of our modern day myths are evolution, materialistic life style, and a prosperity gospel. Many other things like re-incarnation are not modern but are being revived in popularity. Nothing is new, it is just packaged in a new name, but it is scary to see what is coming back and not even repackaged.
Isn’t it interesting that one of Paul’s comments to Timothy to counteract this was simply to do the work of an evangelist? Paul tells us to keep our head, not get angry with false teachers and their disciples. See also 2 Pet 2:1-3. In Acts 17:11 we are told that the Bereans studied the Scriptures to see if Paul’s preaching was correct. How much more do we need to do this today? We can’t trust what a preacher is saying just because he is on TBN or has published many popular books. We need to be well grounded in His Word.
Not growing weary
The Ephesian church apparently hadn’t burned out even during times of persecution.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt 11:28-30 ESV)
The first thing to remember is to whom we have been yoked. Our Master is carrying the largest portion of the load. Our bodies may become weary but if it is our souls that are weary, then we have been taking a load upon ourselves that doesn’t belong.
Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. (Mark 6:31 NIV)
Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. (Mark 6:45-46 NIV)
After a strenuous mission, Jesus took the disciples away to a quiet place for rest. However, the crowds followed. Later, Jesus sent His disciples away from the crowd so that they could get away while He dealt with the crowd. He then went away to pray. Many other times, after a strenuous day, Jesus would get by Himself and pray. We need to make sure our bodies don’t become so exhausted that we can’t continue; we need physical rest. One way is to take the time to get away from the usual routine for rest and another is to make sure we take time to pray.
And when the apostles returned, they gave an account to Him of all that they had done. And taking them with Him, He withdrew by Himself to a city called Bethsaida. But the multitudes were aware of this and followed Him; and welcoming them, He began speaking to them about the kingdom of God and curing those who had need of healing. (Luke 9:10-11 NASB)
It was Jesus’ intent to spend some time alone with His disciples after their trip. Again, anytime we become weary from the work of the Lord, we need to take retreats and focus on Him. Either small breaks for prayer or longer weekend times for refreshing. It’s interesting to note that on both this occasion and the one above, their break didn’t prevent them from ministering. Sometimes our interruption is our most important ministry.
And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, "It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!" Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, "Arise and eat." (1 Kings 19:3-5 NKJV)
It was appropriate for Elijah to flee, and he needed the rest. But his problem was that he took his focus off his Savior and placed it on himself. When we start to focus on ourselves we lose our ability to see what the Lord wants us to do. We imagine what He wants and can start doing things that are not appropriate. That leads to burnout. Sometimes He has to get us alone to get our attention. When we are working in His will, he will sustain us.
I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. (Phil 4:13 KJV)
Suffering can drag us down even if we do not become physically weary. We usually start by saying, “Why me Lord?” It is possible that the Ephesians saw Paul’s suffering and became discouraged. When Paul wrote this, they hadn’t come before God in confidence and couldn’t do their work, perhaps out of fear. There is no question that we should seek Him to see if He is trying to get our attention or just testing our faith so that it may be proven. The more we know Him, the easier it is to come to Him and ask Him in confidence what is going on and ask without complaining. This encouragement from Paul must have helped the Ephesians because Jesus commended them for not growing weary.
Let’s keep our eyes on Jesus so that we can hang in there and hear His commendation!