Allen Raynor Weblog: “Ephesus: The Loveless Church” (Pt. 1)
(May 16, 2019)
The famed “Seven Churches” in Revelation 2-3 are “types” of churches as well as literal churches in literal cities, which Jesus addressed. The issues covered in chapters 2-3 with the seven churches of Asia Minor are characteristics/tendencies of “the church” throughout time. Each of the letters to these churches are addressed to “The angel of the church of . . .” The “angel” or “messenger” of the church is, most likely, referring to the pastors of these churches. The letters are, with only minor exceptions, organized in a particular pattern. 1) A description of Christ based on the vision in Revelation 1. 2) A compliment(s) of the congregation. 3) A rebuke of a problem(s) or spiritual deficiency. 4) A correction of the problem or wrong. 5) A promise to those who overcome.
The word “love,” and the concept of “love,” saturate our modern culture, but many only partially understand what love really means. Those who have no real background in church, for instance, do not understand Christian (Christ-like) love. Further, they do not understand the fact God sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of people, therein demonstrating an incomprehensible love, for which all are undeserved. The world’s understanding of love is severely limited. Often lust is mistaken for love. Frequently sentimentality is mistaken for love. It is not unusual for warm and fuzzy feelings to be mistaken for love. Even when there is real/genuine love it often lacks the depth it could have if Christ were involved.
Children, beginning at an early age, have an understanding of love that is developing. It can be comical to listen to how they understand it, but there is also an unmistakable seriousness. Ideally, children are simultaneously learning love by experiencing love given to them in their home by their parents and other family members. Simply by observing the love between parents and other adults, children can potentially learn a lot about God’s love for them and people in general. Children, even with limited knowledge and understanding, would really struggle to understand a “loveless” marriage, knowing it was just not supposed to be that way. What about a “loveless” church (not loving one another), or a church that no longer loves Christ supremely? These would seem like glaring contradictions! Indeed this is a contradiction and it was exactly the problem identified by the first church Jesus addressed - Ephesus.
In Revelation 2:1-7 we read Jesus’ Words “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: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars, and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore 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. 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 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.’”
Ephesus was the most important city in Asia Minor at the time Revelation was written. It was the center/hub of the worship of Artemis (or Diana; Acts 19:28), who was the goddess of fertility. It was a strategic commercial center and great seaport much like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, or San Francisco would be today. Because of these realities, the Apostle Paul had invested a lot of time there. Nearly 3 years he had spent establishing the church at Ephesus. By the time of John’s writing, Ephesus had obviously declined from where it was when Ephesians was written and Timothy had been the pastor there. The second half of vs. 1 clearly points back to the vision of chapter 1 of the book and points directly to the person of Christ. Christ’s position was to be front and center, or in the place of the most prominence within that church and in all the churches. Yet, often He is not. Christ can be crowded out much easier than many realize.
In verses 2-3 the Lord pays a compliment to the congregation. As the judge of everything, Jesus particularly mentions that He has evaluated their works, their labor, their patience, and the fact they could not bear those who are evil. Evidently, they were hard-working people. They exhibited a great level of patience, or long-suffering. And, they recognized and dealt with evil, or evil people very swiftly. Further, they had held firm (persevered) with patient determination all in the name of Christ and had displayed no signs of weariness in doing so. In modern terms, they were a church very busy with all sorts of programs and activities which were all done in the name of Christ. They had sincere desire to see great things happen. Jesus wants that from the modern church. After all, He commends the Ephesian church for it all. But, there is just one problem, and beginning in verse 4 we will see what it was.
Dr. Allen Raynor