“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:I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. 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.You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
(Revelation 2:1–7 NIV)
I have always said that I am not a baby person. Whenever people look at a baby and say ‘how cute,’ I think the kid needs to grow up a bit. It is not that I hated babies, but I was looking for an increase in maturity so that I could interact with the child. I was looking forward to talking with and playing with my children. I still hold to that. What I did not take into account as I was looking at these babies and looking forward to a couple of years down the line was that there would come a time for correction. As much fun as I have with the children, at certain times I have to correct their behavior. I do not like doing this, but what is the alternative? If the children got away with everything, they would end up hurting themselves and likely each other. In some ways, the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 are like that. These are letters of encouragement, but not just a simple ‘good job‘ and a pat on the back. Jesus wants them to be the best possible church and so he is not afraid to correct them or if necessary rebuke them. Each letter ends with a challenge for those with ears to hear. This is our invitation, despite the fact that we are reading other people’s mail, to learn from their mistakes and victories and to adjust ourselves and our church accordingly. Let us begin with the church at Ephesus.
My experience is that then you need to correct someone, unless they are really really bad, it is better to start with what is going well. If you start with a long list of everything they have done wrong it can easily build a wall, stopping the correction from being effective. The Ephesian church was not perfect, but they were not horrible. There were a few areas that they were strong in. The first area was that they were hard working. This is important. Being the church is not about being passive, just taking in the blessings of God. We are expected to be doing something. That is not to say that we try to earn God’s love, nor are we to burn out by overworking. We need to find that balance of what we are supposed to do. The test is to ask the question: would the community notice if we ceased to exist. The second area that they were good with was the area of truth. From the very beginning there have been those who have tampered with the truth. This was something that the Ephesians had to watch for. The apostle Paul gave this warning to the Ephesians as he left them: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28–30 ESV) The Ephesians were good at this, able to discern the good from the bad, the true from the false. This continues to be an important quality in churches. There are certain doctrines in which we can have some flexibility with. There are others that we need our eyes open, watching for subtle changes. Doctrines like the Trinity, the incarnation of Jesus, salvation by grace and the authority of Scripture are vital. Television shows, movies, books and the Internet are always trying to whittle away at these doctrines. It is not the crazy ideas, the wild systems such as Scientology that we need to worry about. It is the subtle changes, the ideas that are 90% true and 10% false that we have to watch for. We can learn from the Ephesians when it comes to staying strong with regard to the truth.
So far things looks good. To be a hard working church that knows their faith so well that they can detect false teachers seems like the ideal church. What more could anyone expect? Jesus does expect more. Jesus tells them that they have lost their first love. That is not to say that the Ephesians were filled with hate. There is a love that is there at the beginning that without effort can diminish over time. The opposite of love is not hate but apathy. One can get to the point of going through the motions without any true feeling. This happens in marriage all too often. There is a vivid picture of what took place at Ephesus. Amanda and I travelled to Ephesus a few years ago. All that we heard about Ephesus was the importance it played in the ancient world as a harbor time. However our cruise ship did not dock at Ephesus. We landed at Smyrna and then took a long bus ride to Ephesus. When we arrived at Ephesus, we looked in every direction and could find no water. Long ago the harbor was filled in with silt and it has gone from being a coastal city to being an inland city. That was not something that happened overnight. The silt deposits were a regular occurrence and they needed to be taken care of constantly. Once it was let go, the city was on its way to losing what they had. That is the case with human relationships and our relationship with God. We do not go one day loving and the next not. The silt begins to build up as we neglect the work that is needed to keep love going. How do we keep our first love? First of all make the choice, do not depend on feelings. Be aware of the human nature that allows love to decrease. Listen to the other person, this also goes for our relationship with God. Finally, keep an attitude of self-sacrifice, putting the needs of others before that of ourselves. These are the things that the Ephesians did not do and are the exact things we must work on.
The Ephesians were pretty good. They were hard working and they knew the truth well. But Jesus is looking for more than just pretty good. We are never going to be perfect, the one thing that we can never let slide is love. When Jesus had to summarize the law, he spoke of love for God and love for people. The love we need is not just a gentle contentment that we are not at war. Jesus wants our first love, the love that we have when we first fall in love. Have we fallen out of love? Take the steps to recapture that first love. Do not neglect the other things, but keep your eyes on your love level. God still has his first love for us, let us keep our first love for him.