What the Church in Ephesus


Continued from page 1

Let's read over the whole passage - beginning with Revelation 2:1 and extending through Revelation 2:7.

Unto 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 candlesticks;
I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear those who are evil: and you have tried those who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them to be liars:
And have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place, except you repent.
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; To him who overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

Revelation 2:1-7

Ephesus' Description
Notice carefully the description Jesus gives of Ephesus here in Revelation 2:2-3. It begins so full of promise . . .
  • It's a church known for its "works" ("ergon") - meaning its deeds - obviously, its good deeds. What's interesting here in the Book of Revelation is how the word "ergon" is frequently linked to the notion of "judgment" - meaning works motivated by a desire to win God's approbation.
  • Ephesus is also a church known for its "labor" ("kopos"). Sometimes the word "kopos," like the word "ergon," is translated "works" or "deeds." But here what John has in mind is not the deed itself, but the kind of deed for which Ephesus is noted, specifically, wearisome deeds - fraught with "travail" and "struggle." Indeed, "kopos" is often translated "trouble" in secular Greek. Moreover, like "ergon," it's a word that's frequently linked to the notion of "judgment" - meaning "wearisome toil" undertaken to win God's approbation. Certainly, for example, that's its meaning in 1 Corinthians 3:8 . . .

Now he who plants and he who waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor ("kopos").

1 Corinthians 3:8

  • Jesus uses still another word here in Revelation 2:3 to describe the kind of deeds for which Ephesus is known: "patience" ("hupomone") - meaning "persevering" or "steadfast." And, again, it's a word that's often linked to God's approbation.

In short, what we have here is a church well known for its labor in behalf of Christ - hard work - difficult and wearisome work - all undertaken to win God's approbation. So far, so good. An excellent account.

And it doesn't stop there: Jesus goes on to say that Ephesus is well known for her good judgment - her keen and accurate sense of discernment - meaning she has protected the saints from false apostles and, by implication, false doctrine. Simply put, Ephesus is a church resting on a foundation of sound Biblical teaching. She has made a point of cultivating the basic principles of the Christian Faith and instilling them in the minds and hearts of the believers there.

And, then, to underscore once again her character, her upstanding integrity, Jesus adds verse 3 . . .

And have borne, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted.

Rev. 2:3

. . . which, of course, merely sums up all he has already noted about Ephesus: her good deeds - her hard, wearisome toil in behalf of Christ, all motivated by a desire to win God's approbation.

What a record! What church wouldn't want that kind of record?

It's not enough
But it's not enough! In the end, Jesus censors Ephesus more severely than any other church - at least as severely as Laodicia - and, in my opinion - even more so. She's censored for her lovelessness - she's excoriated for having forsaken her "first love." And the sanction Jesus threatens is startling - indeed, horrifying:

. . . repent . . . or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place . . .

Revelation 2:5

. . . meaning her witness falls short of justifying her very standing as a church. That's how far short it falls. Imagine! Jesus threatening to remove her "lampstand" - which is what authenticates her standing as a church!

How is it possible for a church once so filled with abandoned love to fall within one or two generations into such a sorry state? I think I know. Because it's exactly what I've witnessed over the last thirty  five years - ever since the end of the "Jesus Movement." In a sense, I've lived through what happened to Ephesus - and I did so as senior pastor of a pretty good size church.


What love looks and feels like
But first, what exactly does love look and feel like - what's it all about? Anyone who has ever been "in love" - really "in love" - knows that it doesn't accommodate itself to the principles we ordinarily live by and the thinking that normally

Book-keeping terms are foreign to love - its very antithesis. Indeed, love that can be summed up in accounting terms isn't love at all.

  • Love is sacrificial.
  • Love - genuine love - is always wild, reckless, and abandoned.  
  • It's impulsive!
  • It's intoxicating!  
  • There's no looking back in regret!  
  • There's no sense of loss over what has been forsaken in its behalf.  
  • No cost is too much!  
  • No sacrifice is too unthinkable!  
  • No pain is too unbearable!  
  • Indeed, lovers boast in the scars they've suffered in its behalf.

Lovers are ecstatically happy just being with each other. It doesn't matter to them if home is a mansion or a hovel. All that matters is that they're together. That's exactly the kind of love that "drove" God to send Christ to the Cross in our behalf - and it's that kind of love that caused Christ to go there. Think about it! It wasn't at all reasonable for God to have paid that price for the likes of us. We weren't worth it - not at least in terms that can be summed up in a profit and loss statement. Wild, reckless, and abandoned - that's the kind of love that sent Christ to the Cross. And anyone who thinks otherwise is blind and deaf to its meaning. It's that kind of love that Ephesus was so bereft of at the time the Book of Revelation was written - wild, reckless, and abandoned.

What love was like among
Evangelicals thirty five years ago
And that brings me back to the Jesus Movement . . . 
  • college degrees were underutilized;  
  • homes were sold;  
  • savings accounts were drained;  
  • we often lived in dangerous neighborhoods;  
  • we frequently packed ourselves out in communes;  
  • we were always on the streets;  
  • we were always on the move;  
  • strangers were forever closing in on us;  
  • there was little if any free time;  
  • reckless decisions.  

That was the Jesus Movement!

Reckless decisions
"Unnecessary risks leading to uncalled for sacrifices." That's how so many of its "survivors" assess it today - believers who crashed headlong into the consequences arising from those "reckless" decisions. "Couldn't we have been a little more prudent?," they ask. "Couldn't we have been a little less abandoned? A little more calculating? Just a tad more cautious? Didn't we give up too much?"

And our sons and daughters are even more prone to that assessment - many of whom lived through the Jesus Movement as children and have assumed leadership roles in today's evangelical church.  

"Nothing in excess. Balance, sanity, and safety. Let's not play the fool the way our parents did."

That has become their mind-set - not all of them, of course, but far too many. It's the very same mind-set the second and third generation of believers at Ephesus not doubt harbored!

They're convinced they can have Jesus . . .

  • along with all the opportunities a good education affords them;
  • along with a well paying, satisfying career;
  • along with lovely, well furnished homes;
  • along with savings accounts guaranteed to secure their financial future;
  • along with well-kept neighborhoods where their children can play safely.

Yes, they want Jesus, but . . .

  • without being forced into communes;
  • without being closed in by strangers;
  • without putting their families - especially their children - at risk;
  • without going to the streets;
  • without putting their retirement in jeopardy;
  • without giving up too much free time.

Once again, it's not that they want to give up on Jesus; indeed, most of them consider themselves deeply committed believers; it's that they want to be safe and sane at the same time.

Safe and Sane Love is not love at all
Ask your wife!
Safe and sane love! But what kind of love is that? Is it the kind that wins hearts and transforms souls? Of course it isn't. Husbands, ask your wives. Wives, ask your husbands. But if we can't buy into that kind of love, how can we possibly believe Jesus buys into it? If that kind of love turns our stomachs, why would we think it doesn't turn his stomach as well.

Jesus makes it plain that, in point of fact, he doesn't buy into it - and that it does turn his stomach. That's why he warned Ephesus that her very standing as a church was in jeopardy. That's why any church today founded on sanity, balance, and safety is hardly worth calling a church.

When Jesus told his disciples that unless they were willing to sell all they couldn't be his disciples, it's love that he had in mind, not self-flagellation. He was simply saying, "If you don't love me, please don't bother to be my disciple." Jesus doesn't promote masochism; he promotes love - wild, reckless, abandoned love. The kind of love that joyfully sells all.

Jesus wants churches that are madly, wildly, insanely in love with him. And that's exactly what we don't have in many churches anymore. What about your church? What about you?

The truth of the matter is quite simple. It's the same truth that anyone in love will testify to: love never counts the cost. Nothing can take its place. There's no substitute for love - not wearisome toil, not good deeds, not spiritual discernment, not even right doctrine. None of that is bad; indeed, its vital. But it's not good enough! Indeed, it falls woefully short.

It's not safe and sane believers that Jesus is looking for. It's not safe and sane leaders. It's not safe and sane churches. It's churches, believers, and leaders who are wildly, passionately, hopelessly in love with him. And that's in pretty short supply these days.

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