This is the second part in the Bible study series: The Churches of Revelation. The church at Ephesus had more written to it then to any other of the seven churches in Revelation. What is behind this message Christ gave to Ephesus that is vitally important for the Church in today’s world? We will find that important message and hold it up to ourselves for instruction.
[Darris McNeely] Alright, good evening, everyone. Welcome to our Wednesday night Bible study here at the home office of the United Church of God in Milford, Ohio. We are about ready to begin. The sun has come out here on us. It has been storming on and off today while we have been here. But we have sunshine and people who are gathered here and, for the most part, have full stomachs. We had dinner and now we are ready to get into some spiritual food in regard to this tonight. So, before I ask the blessing and get into it tonight I want to mention that I want to give proper attribution to the study tonight. The outline that I am basing my study on tonight is not original to me. I am borrowing it from my youngest son, Ryan. About a year and a half to two years ago he gave a sermon over in Indianapolis on the subject of Ephesus and being the proud dad that I am I listened to it and said to myself, “I don’t think I can do better than that!”at the time, long before we got into this Bible study series. So when I drew the lot to do the city of Ephesus, the church of Ephesus, I went back and listened to his sermon and he had a very good outline and so I am basing my presentation tonight on that. It is not often that a father in the ministry can do that. Usually perhaps the son is borrowing from the father but in this case the father is borrowing from the son. I wanted to make sure I gave proper attribution and credit to my son here tonight. But I will ad lib and add in a few other things that are my own individual work and contribution as well. But I do want to acknowledge that.
So, as we begin the Bible study tonight, let’s go ahead and ask God’s blessing. So, if you would all please rise I will do so.
Our Father in heaven, we bow before Your holy throne. We come through the office of Your Son, Jesus Christ, as our high priest, Father, and humbly ask you to guide and direct this study. We also know, Father, that Your Son is the head of the church, the living head of the body that bears His name well and as we are embarking on a series of Bible studies that reflect His message to seven of the churches in the book of Revelation. And ultimately for His church, Your church, for all time we pray, Father, for Your blessing, and guidance that this would be a edifying series that helps all that listen to it and study into this subject to come to a very important and relevant message for us today as we ready these living words and apply them to us at this point of time in the church and in the body of Christ. So, we ask your blessing tonight and give you thanks and we pray in Christ’s holy name, Amen.
Peter Eddington kicked this off a couple of weeks ago with an overview study of all of the seven churches of Revelation and I listened to it a few days ago, having not been present at that study, and I appreciated the fact that he had covered a lot of the historical background of all of the churches in that region in Asia. That set the stage for what the rest of us will cover over the next seven studies as we go through these seven churches that are referenced in Revelation 2 and 3, beginning with Ephesus and winding up all the way over here with Laodicea. It is an exciting study, always has been. It is not the first time, I know that many of you have been through it and I have taught it myself. But every time there is much to learn and it is a fascinating study from the book of Revelation from church history and certainly from the teaching that we can gain through Christ’s message to all of the churches.
So, tonight I am going to kick it off with our Bible study, as we delve into the story and the message that Jesus Christ has in Revelation chapter 2, to the church of God that was founded here in the city of Ephesus. And it is the first in line for a number of reasons. Primary, of which we will talk about here for a few minutes, is the fact that Ephesus, not only these 6 other cities, but the entire region of Asia – in what is now Turkey – was the chief city. Ephesus was the main city in the entire region. It was called the light of Asia in the in ancient world. William Barkley, in his daily Bible study series, says that Ephesus was Asia. And being the largest city and centrally located on the rivers and trade routes that emptied into Ephesus from the north, from the east, and from the southern regions, it all came into this area of Ephesus and provided a very important city for that particular period of time. There was an ancient geographer in the ancient world by the name of Strabo. And Strabo called Ephesus the market of Asia. Again, because of its location on the Caster River and also right here as a port city on the Mediterranean sea and all of the other roads here bringing commerce in and out of the region. This was the market of Asia. Because of the traffic and commerce that flowed through Ephesus at this particular point in time. Pergamum, I should mention, I we will get to it later in the series, where there was a church and a message to the church, but the city of Pergamum was the actual capital, administrative capital within the Roman Empire at this time for the region. Ephesus was not. The capital was up there and we will talk more about that when we talk about the message to Pergamum. In fact, when a Roman governor was appointed and came to the region, he would come to Ephesus first. It was required that he do that. And then he would park himself in Pergamum, again to recognize the importance of the city of Ephesus at this particular juncture of all these roads, both the highways (the land roads) and the waterways of the time. There is another name of Ephesus that we should know. It was also known as the highway to and from Rome. And also called in later years after even this period we are going to talk about tonight with the letter to the church there, it was also called a “highway of martyrs’.
There is letter that was written early in the second century by one of the early church fathers, a man by the name of Ignatius. And he was arrested in the region and he was going to be martyred in Rome. And he passed through Ephesus in that way. And he, Ignatius, called it the highway of martyrs because of the Christian martyrs who had been gathered in that region and then sent to Rome to die a martyr’s death. So, they all came right through the city of Ephesus. Now, another point about the city is that it was a free city within the Roman Empire. You have to understand that as the Roman was the big dog on the block at this point in time, the dominating power. As they had conquered various cities within the region, Rome took captives but they would also place garrisons of soldiers and their own administrative officials there. Certain cities, however, did not need a garrison of Roman soldiers. Ephesus was one of them. It had the designation of a free city, which ties into the story in the book of Acts about Ephesus, as well. So, it is important to understand that and remember that.
It was probably because of their extreme amount of loyalty to the Roman Empire that they were allowed to be self-governing and they wanted to maintain. Which is why, when there is a riot there in the time of Paul, they are very quick to get on top of it and quell that riot so that they don’t bring undue notice to them and jeopardize the status of a free city. So, that is a very important point. Ephesus was also the center of the worship of the goddess, Diana, one of the chief deities of the Roman world. The Greek name was Artemis. Diana was the Roman name. And the chief temple to her was situated in the city of Ephesus. It was a very grand and ornate temple. It was among what was called the seven wonders in the ancient world, a very large an wondrous temple. Within that temple was the figure of the goddess. And if you were to go to the city of Ephesus today, I haven’t been there but I know many people have on some of the tours that have been conducted by the church, you don’t see anything, really, left of this temple. You will see a few standing columns, I have been told, but there is not much else there. Which is interesting because that temple was later vandalized and robbed and plundered of most of its materials and taken to the city of Constantinople, you will see it further up to the north, by the Roman emperor, Justinian who was building the huge church known as the Ayahsofya. Today it is still there in the city of Istanbul. It is a Muslim mosque today but it was built by the emperor Justinian out of materials from the temple of Diana, which is the reason that there is not much left there for anyone to see. This is something from the ancient world that you would have to understand. All the various pagan temples throughout the Greek and Roman world that were built in Athens and Rome itself they were plundered and they wound up, in many cases, in the larger Christian churches that were there and later built in Europe, and, in this case, in Asia and Constantinople. And so the marble, the gold, and the ornate furnishings wound up being recycled. They were into recycling even back then, didn’t want to let those things go to waste, obviously, with the cost of them. The image of Diana was one of the most sacred images in the ancient world. And the cult worshipping her centered here was extremely important and extremely lucrative. Ephesus had this distinction with that particular temple and also other temples, as well. There were, interestingly, two other temples to two Roman emperors; Claudius and Nero, both of whom play key roles in the story of New Testament in the book of Acts. Claudius expelled Jew from Rome, two notable Jews that we take note of in Acts were Pricilla and Aquila who come in contact with Paul. Nero, who succeeded Claudius, was the emperor under whom Paul was martyred.
So, Ephesus had two temples to those two Roman emperors as part of the cult of emperor worship that was very big at that particular time as well. So, because of the temple of Artemis and all the other center of pagan worship, Ephesus had a very lucrative economy because of this high intense worship of the pagan superstitions. People came from all over the world to buy amulets and trinkets with supposed magical power to heal and to help barren women to become pregnant or to help people with diseases.
It is key and important to understand that because, in Acts 19, when the apostle Paul is in Ephesus you see that the city has this very large preoccupation with pagan spiritualism. In one of the scenes that we have in the book of Acts, people even brought out their magic books to be burned as they responded to the true gospel. They renounced a lot of the superstition and sorcery and black arts. They actually burned their books which contained their supposed secrets into the darker side of the spirit world. So, this was centered in Ephesus. And so, with the mixture of ethnic peoples there and the superstitions and the pagan worship it makes for a very interesting city within which we begin to study this church. And so you see the picture of the temple of Artemis here and what it contained. There was a great deal, also, of sexual immorality that was associated with the cult of the goddess - therefore, what is known as sacred prostitution. Immorality in the guise of worshipping this goddess was a common part of life that represented the accepted features of cultural in the pagan world. One other interesting fact about the temple of Diana…it was also a place of asylum for criminals. You read in the Bible about cities of refuge for people who might be wrongly accused or where there may be a case of accidental death. Cities of refuge were set up as places where people could flee to where they could stay until the high priest died and at least had a place where they were safe. The temple of Artemis was such a place in the city of Ephesus in the region where criminals could flee and get asylum. So, again, it created a refuge for all kinds of evil, if you want to put it that way, pagan superstition, immorality, black magic, and even the criminal sorts who could find refuge there, as well. So, again, an interesting mix of people in the city of Ephesus.
When we come down the church at Ephesus we are looking at the story of a very interesting church. It is a very dynamic church that we read about in the Bible. It was raised up by the apostle Paul in Acts chapter 19 and it grew in scope because of the work that Paul did there. We find in Acts that he stayed there for two years, the longest known residence of Paul as a free man in his work of evangelizing the churches in the Roman world during that time. And it was probably during this time, if you read in Acts 19:10 Acts 19:10And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelled in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
American King James Version×it was probably during this time of Paul’s sojourn here in Ephesus where, as we are told, people responded in the entire region as the gospel was preached. It was during this time, likely, that these other churches, the other six churches of Revelation were actually founded as satellite churches from the work that began right here in Ephesus as ministers and people went out to these other regions the gospel was preached and other groups were raised up. So this is probably the time setting for all of these seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 to have had their birth and their time of formation by the apostle Paul and others that were working with him in the church there. But it was a dynamic church and a very key and significant city in the empire at the time. And when you look at the story of the church from what we are told both from Revelation and from the rest of the Bible there are a number of parallels for us to understand in our view of the church today and in our work. And it is important that we understand that because we know a great deal about the church at Ephesus…a great deal. In fact we know more about the church at Ephesus that we know about Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, or Laodicea. Why? Because of the record we have in scripture. If you go back to Acts 19 and 20 you find where Paul was when he came to Ephesus. We have a lot of details of the stories that took place there where Paul lived for two years. Even down to his farewell address to the elders of the church here in Mileedis where he met them at a later time in Acts 20 and said goodbye to them knowing…as he said there “I am not going to be coming back here, likely. This will be the last time you will see me. Here are my final words of advice and encouragement to you.” Right here. We know that.
Secondly, we know that we have a letter addressed to the church called the book of Ephesians. And in there is a great deal of teaching to that church which, if you read that in the context of the time and other things that we know about the church particularly chapter 2 of Revelation, you can glean again, more insight into what was going on in the church and what they were being taught. We also have two letters called first and second Timothy. Timothy was the pastor of Ephesus. You read in the first verses of I Timothy chapter 1 Paul said I left you at Ephesus. So, we have two whole letters, pastoral instruction (we call them the Pastoral Epistles) and in that instruction we can also look and see some of the issues and matters impacting the church in Ephesus during that time. That is quite a bit of information.
Now, of course, then we have Revelation 2 verses 1-7 which is the letter sent there within that context from Christ to the church there which gives us some more information. There is one other little piece of information that we have from another writing in the Bible, in the New Testament. It is the epistles of John, I, II, and III John. You see, after John came back from exile on the isle of Patmos down here where he received the revelation from Jesus Christ tradition tells us, now the Bible does not explicitly tell us this but the tradition that we do have which is fairly reliable is that he went from Patmos to Ephesus, probably back to Ephesus. And it is there that, according to the story, he died. Part of the story is that he also had the mother of Christ, Mary, with him and that this where she died as well. You will remember that when Jesus was dying He commended here to John. And so these are all part of the extra Biblical traditions but it is a strong tradition that we can learn from. IF we look at I John, as we will a little bit later, and glean some of the things that John writes in that letter it can give us a bit more insight into Ephesus. So we can say that we have more Biblical information about the church at Ephesus than we have about any of the other six churches mentioned here in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. So, that is important. That is very critical to us. So, let’s go to Revelation 2 right now and let’s look at what we are told in this very important message that is given to the angel of the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 beginning in verse 1
Revelation2:1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, these things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:”
So the message is coming from Christ. That was covered in chapter 1 in the last Bible study. It is Christ’s message to the churches. It is not the Revelation of the apostle John. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ to the churches. And here is where He gets down to giving a direct explicit message to the churches at Ephesus.
He says in verse 2 ; “ I know your works, your labor, your patience ” Alright, they have good works, they are hard workers, they are a patient enduring people. “ and that you cannot bear those who are evil .” Now, you remember that I said Ephesus had a lot of evil going on in the city with the temple of Diana being an asylum for criminals and the pagan worship that went on there, the black magic that caught up the city as well. Those members that came out of that could not bear those who are evil, who continued in the practice of all the forms of evil that are associated with it, the sexual immorality, sorcery, criminal behavior, not to speak of just the regular normal human nature of lust and envy and greed and everything else that even good middle class folk would normally be fighting as well. You had all this other dark side going on and its impact on the culture. He said “you cannot bear those” . “ And you have tested ” He goes on; “ those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars ;”
This is one of the first things we want to mention and understand about the church at Ephesus then for our purposes tonight. They had to deal with false teachers. We will just call them false apostles, people who called them false apostles. They didn’t bear with them. They tested them and found them to be liars. In other words, they didn’t follow them out of the church. Somebody rose up and said, “I have a better idea! My name is Ford and I have a better idea. Let’s go over here and start our own church. We will call it the church of what’s happening now. Or the church of whatever personality you might want to call it or whatever Biblical trait or whatever.” They didn’t do that. They were patient and they stayed firm where they were.
He said in verse 3 “ you have preserved and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary .” So, they persevered. That is another key trait that we want to understand is a key theme here. They tested those who claimed to be apostles and found them to be liars and they persevered. We are going to find out what they persevered in here a little bit later. But we go on “ Nevertheless I have this against you that you have, left your first love .” You have left your first love. So, this is the third theme, that they left their first love. These are kind of the three areas we are going to focus on as we look at this story. He tells them “ Remember therefor from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent .” Chapter 1 shows us Christ standing in the midst of those lampstands, representing the various churches. “ But this you have” – he said – “ you hate the deeds 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 to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God .”
So, to the first church here mentioned, Ephesus, the tree of life that they are promised to be able to eat from in the midst of the Paradise of God, referencing back to Genesis, is promised to them if they repent, if they overcome. Now, they resisted false teachers, men who claimed to be apostles. They held to the faith, but were told they left their first love and they were to repent and do their first works.
Just for a moment let’s focus on this group called the Nicolaitans. We are going to see them again when we talk about the letter to the church a Pergamus. They are reference again there. I am not going to say a whole lot about them. I am not going to go into a whole lot of detail. But, historians feel that this was a group of people that were associated with the gnosticism that was rampant during this period of time. People with a special knowledge, special revelation and mixed in with all kinds of other practices that essentially allowed them in their way of thinking, in their particular brand of Christianity was to be able to participate in any type of libertine behavior that they wanted. And, again, the city had plenty that they could choose from, but allow them in their own thinking to still be called righteous, to still be called part of the church, still be considered a Christian, but yet participate in by their choosing and degrees in the pagan society and participate, even, in the Roman civil religion. This is what some feel that this particular group seemed to summarize and evidence. And we will probably talk more about them when we come to them in the letter to the church at Pergamum. But they were Christians who wanted to have it both ways. And probably people for whom it didn’t matter what you did in the flesh, you could do whatever you want, in terms of morality and the flesh as long as you professed in your own mind God and Christ or the faith you could do whatever you wanted because the spirit dominated and trumped anything done in the flesh. Those were particular idea that were prevalent as a part of gnosticism in this time and had unique expressions through various groups like these known as the Nicolaitans. We don’t know a whole lot about them except through scraps of information that we get from early history but this is generally what is felt along with the message that we have.
So, we will leave that and let’s go back and dig a little deeper into this story of the church at Ephesus and put some flesh on the bones of these particular ideas that the letter addresses within the church. Let’s go back to the book of Acts. Acts 19 is a quick summary. Let’s look at it here. As I have already mentioned, a region-wide work was done when Paul came to Ephesus and found 12 disciples. He baptized them and you have the nucleus of a church. They had been disciples with only the baptism of John and they were, in a sense, re-baptized and, with the laying on of hands, they received the Holy Spirit and they spoke in tongues. And Paul began to reside there and a large work began to grow up. We know, also, from Acts 19, that many miracles were a part of Paul’s ministry. People were healed, demons were cast out, and we find that this would be normally expected because of the emphasis upon the sorcery and black arts within the population – and also the emotional condition of the population, as well. People who would be caught up in that practice would have certain emotional proclivities that were not, shall we say, balanced. And that comes out in what you read in Acts 19 and 20 as well. But there was a great response to the gospel – this is what Acts 19 tells us – so much so that people brought out their books, had them burned, indicating that there was a great need for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.
In Acts 19:17 Acts 19:17And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
American King James Version×we are told that God’s name was highly magnified and honored in Ephesus. And verse 17 of Acts 19 really summarizes the response that the people had there and something that characterizes the church in the city of Ephesus.
Acts 19:17-18 Acts 19:17-18 17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds.
American King James Version× “ And this became known to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. And many that believed came, and confessed, telling their deeds.”
Burning their books, also, and verse 20 tells us that the word of God grew mightily and prevailed. The people responded to the preaching of the gospel. There was a great need and hunger for that. It was so large that the entire economy of the city seemed to be impacted because when we come down to verses 23-27 we find that there was one Demetrius, a silversmith, whose income and that of other silversmiths who crafted these images of Diana and sold them, their income began to be hurt. They had a big hurt come on. You know the line, follow the money. You want to understand certain things…follow the money. Always follow the money. This is a great story where you follow the money and you realize that the work Paul was doing was large enough and significant enough that it was getting into the pocketbooks of the guild of silversmiths and they reacted and they made these charges against Paul. This gives us a key indicator of the work that was being done.
Remember, Revelation 2, what does Jesus tell the church? To repent and do the first works…anybody with me? Time to wake up! The first works! Repent and do the first works. What are the first works? We read it here in chapter 19. A great response to the message of the gospel, people coming into the church. People renouncing immorality and paganism, the cult of the emperor, the cult of Diana, burning their books, turning from a life of darkness to the light. This is showing exactly how strong this was taking place.
Now in chapter 20, I mentioned Paul’s last visit where he left Ephesus and went on a little soiree through the region, but he was going back to Jerusalem and Acts 20 shows him stopping at Miletus and he calls for the church, the elders to come down, and it is a very moving passage in Acts 20 where Paul says “you are not going to see me anymore” but he gives them this warning of false teachers and says “after my departing false teachers are going to come in and rise up out of your midst. Don’t follow them. False apostles.” The church resisted false apostles and found them to be liars, we are told in Revelation 2. That is the very warning Paul gave to them, to the elders. He said “you are going to have false ministers rise up from among you after my departing. Don’t follow them. They didn’t. Christ, a few later, roughly thirty years later when he gives this message to John he says “you stood up to these false leaders”. What Paul predicted came to pass and the church withstood them.
Have you ever stopped to think how the church that we are part of today would be so much different through the last 20 years of our own time space, had more members and a good deal more elders stood up to false apostles, false leaders, and said “you are liars! You are a liar”? Beginning 20 years ago and in other subsequent episodes since? How different would our fellowship, our church, be had more people, more members and more elders, recognized false apostles, false ministers, wolves in sheep’s clothing and said to them “you are a liar” and called them out instead of believing the lies, whether is was a doctrinal lie or a personal slander against individuals or a group? How different would it be today? The Ephesian church stood up to them and Christ commended them for it.
The second piece of evidence that we have in the New Testament is the letter of Ephesus, the letter to the Ephesians. You see Paul came to through Miletus, he goes to Jerusalem, and he gets himself arrested and, after circumstances, he winds up in prison over in Rome. And it is in Rome that he writes the letter back to the church in Ephesus. And we have it in our Bible today. In the book of Ephesus we read Paul talking to the church about the grace of God. He reminds them of the power of Christ’s resurrection. He tells them that it is a very key and important doctrine. He also tells them in Ephesians 2:10 Ephesians 2:10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.
American King James Version× that they have been created for good works. Again, Christ commends them in Revelation 2 for their labor, their patience, and their good works. Paul tells them that they are raised up to sit together. And, in essence, if you compare Ephesians back with what you read in Acts 19 you see that what he writes to them a few years later are the core teachings that moved them to come into the church at the beginning. Core teaching about the resurrection, about Christ being the head of the church, about their common role to be together. And it was among those teachings that they persevered. They held on to them. They understood what it meant that some were given to be apostles, some teachers (as Ephesians 4 talks about), they caught the vision of how each part of the church, in Ephesians 4:16 Ephesians 4:16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in love.
American King James Version×, supplied that which knit together the church, because they persevered, they held together, they resisted false apostles and found them to be liars. The church had bonded together and they would not let anything deter them from that and they did not move off of sound doctrine and teaching. The people that came into the church at Ephesus were coming out of a pagan culture, as Gentiles, that was completely exhausted. Even the Romans in this first century world realized just how exhausted the pagan cults were. In some cases, in Rome especially, they were even importing old cults in Egypt, the cult of Isis, calling it new, calling it new temples in Rome, calling it Isis just to get something new, because their old gods, their old pagan cults, had proven to be worthless and were exhausted of hope. When the people came out of that and responded to the gospel they were looking for something that was far better with far greater hope, the gospel of the Kingdom of God. And they responded to it and they held on to it.
The book of Ephesians also tells us something else. That Paul gives instruction in chapter 4 about being kind to one another, not letting bitterness take over. Not letting even…if you read carefully what he is showing, he says “don’t let the culture, the pagan culture of the Roman world divide you against each other.” In chapter 6 of Ephesians, in that very famous passage. In I Timothy 1:3-4 we find where Paul tells Timothy he is leaving him in Ephesus. And here is why. We’ve made this connection here.
1 Timothy 1:3-4 1 Timothy 1:3-4 3 As I sought you to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that you might charge some that they teach no other doctrine,
4 Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
American King James Version× “ I urged you when I went into Macedonia, remain in Ephesus, that you might charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” Paul had told the elders to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing – that they are going to rise up in the midst and inject false doctrine. He tells Timothy “ charge some that they teach no other doctrine. Nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes, rather than godly edification which is in faith, so do .”
So Paul goes through first and second Timothy, two letters to the pastor at Ephesus, to tell them to teach sound doctrine, to preach as you’ve been taught. Don’t get caught up in fables, endless genealogies, things that lead to disputes rather than godly edification…rather than the godly building together of a group of people knitted them together by that which every joint supplies and causing them to persevere. The church at Ephesus held the line against false teaching. Their pastor in those initial years, Timothy, was charged with that responsibility. And they did that. The letter that Christ gave them of commendation verifies that. That is in the 90’s. So, the 50’s roughly 30 to 40 years later, by the record of the Bible we can see that the church did persevere and they held on to tight doctrine. In Timothy Paul goes through and tells them a great deal about that. He told Timothy that if you fall for false teachers in your midst you will fall for many other things. He tells Timothy to pursue righteousness and godliness and faith and love and endurance and gentleness. In chapter 1 verses 5-6 he mentions something very interesting.
1 Timothy 1:5-6 1 Timothy 1:5-6 5 Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned:
6 From which some having swerved have turned aside to vain jangling;
American King James Version× “ The purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of sincere faith. From which some having strayed have turned aside to idle talk.”
Love from a pure heart. What was it that Christ says to the church at Ephesus? They left their first love. That is the heading for this study…the Loveless Church. Timothy is admonished to hold onto a pure love. The purpose of the commandment is to bring that as you hold onto sound doctrine and resist those who inject false teaching and make outlandish claims of authority and superiority you will be holding fast and firm in the way of a pure heart and engendering love in truth. But there is a very interesting side effect that often sets in, we will come back to that.
Paul warns Timothy to deal with false teachers and he basically says don’t let false teaching of any kind get a toehold within the church. This happens as he shows the love of members will was cold. I want you to think about it. People who claim to be apostles and are found to be liars, false teachers trying to divide and lead people away. And, inevitably they make certain inroads. And then years of persevering and holding on there is a tension that is created here. Think about our own experience. Think about 20 years of holding on to sound doctrine, reproving things that went through a period of denial, holding onto it, living it, fighting for it in many ways, and even dealing with people who make claims to authority and try to separate and divide the church. There is tension that year after year will have an impact. Which is why Paul says to Timothy not to let this get a toehold in the church. Because inevitably it will impact the bonds of love of people. There will be a weariness that will set in. Now the Ephesian church is commended for what they have to deal with but there are indications that this endurance comes at a price. Paul will later say that a lot of people have forsaken him in this region. And he stands alone in his final imprisonment. Nobody is standing with him. All of Asia has forsaken me, he said. But there is a core group here that holds on for quite a long period of time. You know, when Paul tells Timothy don’t get caught up in false doctrine, preach as you have been taught. Charge some that you teach no other doctrine. That has a big lesson for us today. We have 20 fundamentals of belief in the United Church of God. They are very important to us. We have a process for dealing with ideas that might arise from member or minister alike, if there is a different teaching of other that what we have taught or accepted within the church by which that they can be examines and the merits or lack thereof can be determined by a responsible group of elders. We have a process that every minister must live by. And it is there to protect the integrity of our doctrinal teaching. Every year when I teach the fundamentals of doctrine at Ambassador Bible College I explain what it takes to change a doctrine of the church. Three quarters of the ministry must agree to it (Folks, three quarters of our ministry hasn’t agreed to anything…sometimes much less!) to the changing of one of our fundamental beliefs. Now, that speaks to what we have in place and it is important that we, in the ministry, as we teach, we respect that process and we don’t go off teaching our own ideas or even subtly injecting our own ideas that are different from what we taught and hold and teach in our literature and our belief system within the church. No minister, frankly, has the right to do that publically. We can all study the Bible and perhaps hold by our conscience our own ideas, I will allow that and that is where we are but in terms of a minister teaching or even a member promoting a teaching or ideas that are contrary to our established doctrinal teaching creates division. We have process. If someone feels that they have a better teaching, put it to the test and prove it. But don’t go into the church either by subtle means, lifestyle, or coffee table chatter to promote teaching that will ultimately divide the church and create problems. It is wrong and it is not biblical. And all of us need to understand that because, as a said earlier, had more members through the recent decades stood up to that they wouldn’t have been carried away with every wind of doctrine and slight of men. We would be a different church as a result.
Well, I mentioned that the letter from the apostle John, called I John, also can be associated with the church of Ephesus by virtue of John being there in his last years, by tradition. If you look at the message in I John it is very interesting. John is the epistle of love. But he also talks about antichrists. He talks about an antichrist and antichrists. One antichrist and many antichrists. False teachers. And he basically shows that…he says if you beware of them they will come from among you and they will go out, an indicator that they were never really among us. And he is basically saying that if you fall for false teachers in your midst you will fall for the great antichrist to come. If you fall for the little antichrists, the little false apostles and leaders, you will fall for the big one, as well, because you will be falling for the lie of the other, not holding a sound doctrine and he very clearly shows that true godly righteousness requires obeying the commands of God in I John 2 and 3. And to practice righteousness you must have a deep love for one another, he says in I John 3:10 John 3:10Jesus answered and said to him, Are you a master of Israel, and know not these things?
American King James Version×. So John touches on the commandments and holding on to true teaching and loving one another and letting that practice of true religion to develop that love for one another as well as love for God. It is all through I John. If that did go to the church at Ephesus, even into the 90’s we have teaching from John to shore up the whole story that begins with Paul’s ministry there, Timothy’s instruction, and the commendation letter that Jesus gave to the church in Ephesus to resist antichrists, identify them, don’t go after them, hold on to the commandments and to the true teaching, and love one another. But the Ephesian church had left their first love, Christ says. They had resisted false apostles, they persevered, they held to true doctrine just as we have. And the question, perhaps, for us to consider tonight as we study the letter to the Ephesian church is have we left our first love. Has our love, our first, any part of our love, second love, third love, first love, last love, however we want to define it…has any part of our love for God and for each other been impacted by tension caused by false teachers and division? And holding fast to true teaching and doctrine. Well, I think we have to be honest that the tension is there and if we give in to that tension, that stress, by not staying close to God and by not understanding the Biblical record, by not understanding what Jesus says to the church at Ephesus and, by extension, to the church at any time and especially to us today as we read this message and all the other message and glean understanding of what it means for us today, why it is relevant.
There is a very important lesson that I have to bring out to us and we all have to look at when it come to our love for one another and when it comes to our love for God. Has it been impacted in any way? By any of these other matters as it seems to have at the church at Ephesus? He said repent and do the first works. Now, if the first works involved any part of this first love, what does the record of the scriptures tell us? What was the first works of the church, of the people at Ephesus?
Go back to Acts 19:17 Acts 19:17And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
American King James Version× “ When this became known to the Jews and Greeks” Theseworks, these miracles, this preaching, the miracles that God worked at the hands of Paul, and his teaching about the kingdom of God, and all the other doctrines that he taught them . “as this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of Jesus was held in high honor.” And again, a great work was done as people cast off the works of darkness and moved toward the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. And as they began to move out of that culture, the pagan world of the first century, and no longer walked according to those ways of their neighbors and their past associations, because in Ephesians 2 (I didn’t intend to turn to this but it just reminded me).
Ephesians 2:1-2 (Paul says) “ You have been made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience.”
Those members at Ephesus once walked in those ways. They went to the Roman baths, which were baths, and gymnasiums, and pagan shrines, and places of all kinds of lewd behavior but it was an everyday part of life. They had walked into the temple of Diana and engaged in sacred prostitution, thinking that they were worshipping the goddess and it was ok. What that did to their minds over a period of time as they dabbled with black arts…this is what Paul is talking about when he says “you once walked according to this world”. And he tells them to come out of that and don’t walk that way.
Ephesians 5:8 Ephesians 5:8For you were sometimes darkness, but now are you light in the Lord: walk as children of light:
American King James Version× ; “ You were once darkness but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.” These are the first works that they were admonished to go back to and to remember and, in that sense, rekindle a first love.
Let me tell you something: A first love is far more than every emotional feeling you had when you first came to know the truth and first came into the church. Whatever it was that you felt then and there is not exactly the sum total and definition of first love. You can never go back to that. You can never be 18 again, or 28, or have that emotion again. But you can do the first works. You can understand the love for the truth whether you are 18, 28, 48, or 63…going on 64. You can have that at any time. You can have a love for God and kindle or rekindle and go deeper into a commitment into God’s way of life, into a deeper understanding of it at any age, as any point and that be classified as your first works. You are walking toward that light. Our first love in more than an emotional feeling we had when we were first called.
In Acts we see examples of people burning their books of darkness and abandoning idolatry, coming out of the dark dominant pagan culture of the first century and moving toward the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. They are all in…no turning back. That is what they to turn back to and that is what we should learn, I think, from the letter to the church. That we must rekindle those first works and the love for the works of God in our life and what it can mean for others. That can come to us at any time. And if, at any time, we find ourselves wavering in that because of the stress, the doubt, the fear, the uncertainty, the irritation, yes even the anger that might come from holding fast or seeing doctrine challenged by some or where false ministers, wolves in sheep’s clothing have risen and told lies and led people off and had that emotional impact and drain on us. We can move past all of that. We can regain that first love by doing the first works. That is what needs to be done. That is the question we need to ask ourselves when we put our hearts and minds to seek only the kingdom of God and its righteousness.
In conclusion let’s go back to Revelation 2:7 Revelation 2:7He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit said to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the middle of the paradise of God.
American King James Version× “ He who has an ear let him hear what the spirit says to the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God”
Let’s take to heart this letter to the Ephesian church. Let’s take to heart the letters to all the other six churches that we will be going through in the coming weeks. And let’s, especially as it says here, that we are eating from and enjoying the fruits of the tree of life that God has called us to the light of the glorious gospel.
Thanks, to all of you, for coming tonight. Be careful as you drive home. And hope you have a good rest of your week.