While zeal for biblical truth is vital, it must not be at the expense of love for God and each other.
[Darris McNeely] The church at Ephesus had remained faithful to the truth of God's Word but along the way they had lost something very important to its life. Let's look at the message and see what we need to understand.
Are you one of the many who do not attend a church? You know, more than half of people seldom or never attend a religious worship service. Why would it be that people don't go to church? Well, when you look at what people give for reasons on that, they say they can worship at home. Easier, better, and more complete.
Many say that they just cannot find a church that satisfies their particular form of worship and what they should be doing. What do you say? What would it be that you find yourself not being in church? When I look at how I've heard people feed that back to me, my experience tells me that the number one reason most people do not attend church is because the church is not filling a void in their life. There's something empty, something missing in their life. And the teaching of the churches that they may attend lacks spiritual truth that really satisfies them and gives them hope and meaning in life.
Most people say that they want to know God. Most people say they want to have a relationship with God, but many just can't do it in an organized church. When you look at what the statistics and the surveys tell us about these things, and why people flounder in that, and why church attendance in some areas goes down, you have to come back to, I think, to understand something about what you would call true religion. It's going to stir a passion for God. True religion is going to give people answers in their life for the big questions that they have. In short, true religion is effective. It helps people live happy and successful lives.
The Bible shows us that the church of God, as defined in Holy Scripture, is a spiritual body, the body of Jesus Christ, and Christ is the spiritual head of His church. Jesus said in a very important statement about the church that he would build His church and, he said, the gates of the grave, "the gates of Hades, would not prevail against it." The church of God is to be a very powerful force, working for good, pushing back at the darkness of the world at any given time. In the book of Revelation we read where Jesus Christ spoke directly to His church, at that time located in seven different congregations during the first century, when Jesus gave that message. He gave to each of those congregations a message that was designed to help them to be effective, vibrant churches, holding fast to the true Word of God.
Each one of those congregations was in a city with identifying characteristics and a spiritual condition that was listed for them. Each of those congregations was given a specific message to encourage them to overcome, to deal with the challenges of their time, and to prevail in the world that they were in and those messages apply to the church of God today. In fact, we'd look at those messages and we can see parallels for the church in today's world from what we read there.
In this program, we're going to examine the message to one of those churches in the ancient city of Ephesus. It's the first of the seven messages that are found in Revelation chapters two and three. As we begin a series here going through each of these messages to these seven congregations. So let's begin by getting our bearings and thinking through a few things. The entire book of Revelation was written on the island of Patmos in the last decade of the first century. That is when John, the author of the book, received the revelation from Jesus Christ.
We say that John is the author of the book of Revelation, but it really comes from the Father to Christ, to His servants. John, one of the original apostles of Jesus Christ, had been exiled on this island during a time of severe persecution at the time of the Roman emperor whose name was Domitian. The imperial power at that time was beginning to persecute the church at a very critical moment in its history and in its development. And so the revelation came from Christ to John to show "things," as he says, "which must shortly come to pass." And the Book of Revelation actually contains prophecies that impact the church and the world before the second coming of Jesus Christ, which means that it is a message that impacts us today. And it's very relevant, a truly relevant message for us. And so John was told to write in a book the things that he would see in the vision, and then he was to send the message, the entire Book of Revelation, to the seven churches that were in Asia: in Ephesus, in Smyrna, city named Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and finally to the church in a city called Laodicea. And so the first letter went to the church in the city of Ephesus.
Now Ephesus was a well-known city, a very popular, big, major metropolitan area at that time. In the first century, it was called the first city of Asia for a number of reasons. One of which it was the first city that you entered when you came into Asia from the West, if you look at it on a map. It was a major city with a large harbor and a port where ships could come in. Roads and rivers from the Eastern parts of Asia all came together and they ended at Ephesus as well, so it was very conveniently situated. It was also a great city whose claim to fame was the fact that they had the renowned temple to Artemis, which was one of the seven wonders in the ancient world. The city was actually consumed by having the status of having this major large temple to the chief female, a deity, named Artemis. And Ephesus, like all the other cities of the ancient world, was consumed with pagan temples and idolatry. In fact, the preaching of the Apostle Paul in the city of Ephesus had made a tremendous impact in pushing against that idolatry at the time that he was there, when he spent a considerable amount of time in the city of Ephesus. But 40 years went by. Later, when we read the book of Revelation the church is still there in Ephesus, but there are some problems. Things have changed. The church in Ephesus is holding firm to its belief to the truth but it has lost something. Something very important to its survival and Christ had something to say about that.
But before we look at what Jesus says to the congregation in Ephesus in Revelation chapter two, let me show you about a study guide that we are offering as a companion aid on this series of programs and this one in particular. It is the booklet "The Church Jesus Built." This study guide for this program is a very comprehensive presentation of what the Bible says about the church, the church Jesus built. And so whether you attend church regularly or not at all, you should look at what the Bible says about the church of God, the biblical definition. You're going to find out in this study aid things that you just didn't know, and it might begin to change your mind if you have a problem attending church. So go online to beyondtoday.tv to order a free copy right now, or download it, begin reading it immediately. There's a phone number on your screen that you can call as well. And we'll mail you a free copy of this booklet "The Church Jesus Built."
Now let's get back to the message to the church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus have remained faithful to the truth of God's Word but along the way they had lost something very important to its life. Let's look at the message and see what we need to understand. So in Revelation chapter two, it says, "To the angel of the church at 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.’" This is an image out of chapter one. So what's this angel? Well the word angel can mean either a spirit messenger, which we're familiar with, or it can also mean a human messenger, both ways.
We know from Revelation chapter one that the mystery of the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. So the angel here is likely one assigned to the congregation. We know from Scripture that angels do act as high level spiritual servants to God's people. Angels do many things that we are not aware of. And it says here in Revelation that Christ holds the seven stars in his right hand, which really speaks to the power of Christ to not only rule and to guide His church but the power that He has over the forces of the world to protect the church against satanic forces that are bent upon destroying the church.
In the first century it was the Roman Empire that was aligned against the church. Remember I said earlier that John was exiled on the island of Patmos? The church was beginning to experience persecution from Rome, from that power, but Christ has shown here having rule over all earthly rulers, having power against Rome. Christ is not pictured as a distant, aloof ruler. He walks in the midst of His church, then and today. Now in verse two of Revelation chapter two, He says, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say that they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars."
The members in Ephesus had a legacy of holding on to truth, what we might call the faith once delivered that was given to them. They had good works along with their faith and their faith was shown by their works, their deeds of righteousness. This has to mean that they kept the whole Word of God. What Paul said that he had declared to them as the whole counsel of God when he was in their midst. Their works of faith are further magnified by their labor and their patience. Not only was their conduct good, but they actively worked against anyone who spoke anything other than truth in their midst. They were not a passive group of people, content to rest on their past. They actively resisted those who brought in evil, either through teaching, false teaching, or bad conduct.
In other words if somebody came into their church with beliefs and teachings contrary to sound truth and doctrine, well, they dealt with it. It was a constant challenge in the first century, but they worked to root it out and to keep it out. That took effort, and the church was led by people who were willing to do that. Those people knew their Bible and they could recognize false teaching. This is further testified by what Christ says. He says, "You've tested those who say that they are apostles and have found them to be liars." Who were people coming into their midst claiming to be apostles? Well, probably they were self-styled teachers who thought that they had a divine commission from God, pretending to speak on God's authority.
Paul who had started the church in Ephesus, he was a real Apostle and he warned the Ephesian elders about 40 years earlier. He said, "Men are going to come and rise up from your own midst that they will speak perverse teaching and seek a personal following" and he called them savage wolves. Well, that warning stayed with the church. The elders, they acted on it year after year after year, and managed to hold onto the true doctrine and faith. In verse three Jesus says, "You've also persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and you've not become weary." At this point in the passage, I think good to skip down to verse six where Christ also says, "But you have this, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." He mentions a group of people that are different than those who claim to be apostles. It seems that this group of people called the Nicolaitans were currently, at the time of the writing, impacting the congregation causing problems.
Who were these Nicolaitans? We're going to see them again when we talk about the church in the city of Pergamos and examine that letter. But for now, it's just important to understand that the Nicolaitans seem to be teachers who encouraged the other members there to join with them in two different activities forbidden by church teaching. One was eating food sacrificed to idols, which was idolatry, and the other was committing sexual immorality. Their teaching presented members with a convincing way to compromise with their pagan society in Ephesus. And it appears the members in Ephesus were effectively resisting that teaching because Jesus said, "You hate their deeds, which I also hate."
Well, think about this for a moment. Compromise. Compromise with cultures is a big problem, even today, for people of faith. We're in a culture war that's turning morality and truth inside out. There's a full court press on to label as acceptable all forms of immorality. The sexual revolution of the 1960s has morphed into the LGBT plus phase where all forms of immorality are considered normal. It's come to the point where you must now deny biological fact of gender truth and accept the lie that denies one's sexual DNA. God's Word says that we are "made male and female." A large lie looms over our culture today and people of faith are compromising to go along.
So where do you stand? Do you hate the deeds of those who promote compromise with truth? No wonder many churches and religions have lost members and people are scattered, divided by lies. The Ephesians were faithful to truth, and Christ tells them "you've persevered and have patience. You've labored for My name's sake and you've not become weary." They never stopped resisting heresy and false teaching. They patiently met each problem. But the constant relentless battle did take a toll and it brought on a problem that Christ brings to their attention. In verse four, he says, "Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love." Now that phrase leaving your first love. It includes a love for both God and Christ. And despite their holding to truth and the true teaching and their love for their fellow members in Ephesus, the church after years had struggled and something had diminished, something had been lost. The fresh glow of love and honor and respect for God and for each other had been lost. We shouldn't be surprised. Jesus warned His disciples that there would be a time when those twin dangers would come. And He said, "Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. And the love of many will grow cold." You see it's important to hold on to truth, but that must not come at the expense of an erosion of brotherly love and affection. And that's the great problem in Ephesus.
]Next Christ says, "Remember therefore from where you have fallen, repent, do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent." Now Christ never rebukes or corrects in any part of His Word without showing a path forward, a plan to solve the problem. Remembering is a very powerful tool. You remember the story of the prodigal son? When he hit rock bottom because of his actions, he remembered how good he had it back home with his father. Remember that? He remember his father's servants, that they were eating better than he was. 40 years after its founding, Christ is telling the Ephesians to remember the fresh excitement, the love that they had for one another at the dawn of their fellowship. They were ecstatic to leave behind the moral and spiritual filth of their pagan worship. The joy of knowing the true God opened up bright new vistas of meaning for them. They were not alone. They'd come to realize the fellowship of like-minds created love and respect. It had created a true brotherhood.
The word that Christ uses here to repent means to change your mind. They were told to change from the callous edge that their behavior had taken as they contended for the truth. What would happen if they didn't change their ways? Well, Christ said, "If you don't, I will come to you quickly and I will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." What that means is they were in danger in Ephesus of losing their place among the other churches and their role in witnessing for the Gospel in their world. It's really a severe warning of action that Christ will take if they don't change their behavior toward one another. You know, for a modern ear, something like that from Christ doesn't set well. People may not think of Jesus Christ in that manner. A lot of times people only want to think of Christ as meek and mild, a loving counterpart of the harsh God of the Old Testament. But Christ is very stern with His church, was then, and He is today. He says here in this passage, that if you don't change your ways, I'll stop using you as part of my body, my spiritual work. And that's an important message for the church of God today and we would all do well to listen to that. In fact, that's what Christ says to do. But if you can't recognize God's church how will you be able to fully apply Christ teaching?
Again, we need to begin to search now for that church that Jesus built. The study aid we're offering is a booklet, "The Church Jesus Built" to help identify God's church. You can begin reading this now by downloading a copy at beyondtoday.tv or call the phone number on your screen. We'll mail you a free copy. Either way there's no cost to you. You'll find it a fascinating and interesting study.
So here's the question. Do we love God? Do you love the truth? Do you love those who share spiritual truth? Christ told the Ephesian congregation to return to their first love. And this is a love for God, for truth, and for each other. We do live in a world where truth is relative. Truth is buried and denied. The culture wars today have denied God's clear teaching on sex and on gender. I mentioned earlier the big lie that people are being coerced into believing that we can deny sexual gender, DNA. That's a big lie. It's a falsehood that strikes at the very heart of what it means to be human, created in the image of God. Jesus said, "Have you not read that He 'made them at the beginning male and female,' Christ said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?'"
The sexual gender wars would have us believe a lie about the nature of human life. What is little understood in this is that it dehumanizes each one of us. This evil teaching says there's no nobility to the human creation. It's a deconstruction of a hierarchy of creation. It says that humans are no different in status than any other part of creation. It dethrones man from the God-given position at the top of creation, and in effect, it dethrones God. What we have then as a result is a powerful group of people that society that can control the weak and throw them to the wolves, and the weak and the poor in society are then rendered defenseless. Old values are gone replaced by a cold sterile dogma. The last of biblical values are gone in this battle and a great evil descends upon the world. The end result will be what Christ did foretell, when he said that "the love of many will grow cold." So this message to the church at Ephesus reflects a group of disciples who more than 2000 years ago fought against an ungodly society that dehumanized men and women, round them up in this huge pagan machine of the time. God in His mercy had rescued them from a meaningless life of futility, and by his love had raised them from a lifeless way into a relationship with the resurrected Jesus Christ. And Jesus said that's a defining trait of disciples would be that they would love one another, then and now. And he called the Ephesian church back to that first principle, to recover their love for one another and for God.
And so when we come to looking at the messages to the churches of Revelation, they do speak to us today. They contain a challenge to examine the church where you do attend. Does your church teach the truths of the Bible? Again, the study guide that we're offering, "The Church That Jesus Built," not the church that men built, is one that you're going to want to read and go through and look up the Scriptures in your own Bible. Because it goes through Scripture to show you how to identify God's church today among all the different churches and religions that you see. And this matters. This matters really big time. You should stop putting it off if it is something that has caused you to linger in faith, belief, and fellowship with those of like-mind.
Your eternal life is at stake. Christ is judging His church today. True religion and true faith can be found, but you have to look. Get this booklet, begin your search today using your Bible. Go online to beyondtoday.tv. It's a free copy to you. Download it. It's ready for you now. Or call the number on your screen. We'll mail you a copy at no cost to you.
Christ concluded His message to the church in Ephesus by saying, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him who is victorious I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." And so the question for all of us and for you is will you hear Christ words?
[Narrator] Call now to receive the free booklet offered on today's program, "The Church Jesus Built." Many of today's churches teach and practice ideas that would shock Jesus' first followers. This free study aid "The Church Jesus Built" will give you biblical keys to discerning the church Jesus calls His own. Order now. Call 1-888-886-8632 or write to the address shown on your screen. Learn the fascinating story of the church Jesus built. When you order this free study aid, we'll also send you a complimentary one year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. Beyond Today Magazine brings you understanding of today's world and hope for the future. Six times a year you'll read about current world events in the light of Bible prophecy and godly principles to guide you toward a life that leads to peace. Call today to receive your free booklet, "The Church Jesus Built" and your free one year subscription to Beyond Today Magazine. Call 1-888-886-8632 or go online to beyondtoday.tv.
[Gary Petty] Hi, I'm Gary Petty, a pastor with United Church of God. If you're looking for a church that encourages living with the Word of God really teaches, you found the right place. We're a community of believers dedicated to seeking the truth and preaching the Good News of the coming kingdom of God. We'd like to welcome you to come and join us on this spiritual journey. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. Visit ucg.org to find a church near you. We're looking forward to meeting you soon.