VUELVE A TU PRIMER AMOR
El Señor siempre ha estado muy interesado en Su Iglesia. Él la fundó, la estableció, aseguró que ni el mismo infierno podría contra ella. Le dio Su Espíritu para que estuviera en medio de ella y la santificara, la consolara, le enseñara todas las cosas y la guiara a toda verdad. Le dio la misión de predicar Su Palabra, de ir y sanar a los enfermos, de romper todas las ataduras del enemigo y libertar a los cautivos, y le prometió que vendría a buscarla para llevársela consigo y nunca más separarse de ella.
Nosotros somos la Iglesia del Señor y tenemos sobre nuestras espaldas esta gran responsabilidad, por lo cual debemos atender a nuestros deberes entendiendo que el Señor viene pronto. Examinemos el mensaje que Dios le da a una de las iglesias en Apocalipsis, me refiero a la iglesia de Éfeso.
I.- El ángel de la iglesia.
La Biblia nos enseña que Dios ha establecido la autoridad. La autoridad no es un medio para abusar del poder, sino para establecer el orden en un lugar. Nuestro Dios es un Dios de orden, y cuando Dios pone algo en nuestras manos desea que lo desempeños con orden, con rectitud y con responsabilidad. Los pastores nos debemos a Dios, nuestros ojos deben estar puestos en el Señor, si lo ponemos en los hermanos, fácilmente nos desanimamos, si los ponemos en las circunstancias nos atemorizamos, si los ponemos en los desafíos que vienen al ministerio sin duda que nos sentiremos sin fuerzas, ni capacidad para hacerle frente.
Cuando Dios dirige su mensaje a una iglesia, a quien busca para entregárselo es al ángel de la iglesia. La palabra ángel significa mensajero, y quien tiene la responsabilidad de traer el mensaje a la iglesia es el pastor. De la misma manera, a quien Dios le ha de pedir cuenta por la condición de la iglesia es al líder. Y por ese deseo que tenemos de agradar a Dios es que muchas veces encontrará que el pastor no puede permitirles algunas cosas a los miembros, porque Dios no se agrada de ello.
En Apocalipsis los ángeles de las siete iglesias son representadas por siete estrellas, y éstas a su vez se encuentran en la diestra del Señor. Si de una cosa yo estoy consciente es que el Señor me tiene en su mano. Por eso es un asunto grave rebelarse contra el líder, pues éste está en la mano derecha del Señor. No digo esto para infundir miedo, pues soy de carne y hueso como cualquier otro, pero la posición sobre la cual el Señor me ha puesto es muy delicada y muy importante.
El ángel de la iglesia vela por el estado de la iglesia, pero no lo hace basado en los informes que alguien le traiga, ni tratando de buscar qué dicen, qué hablan o qué conversan los hermanos. Él vela por la iglesia cuando dobla sus rodillas, sea en el altar, en la oficina o en su cámara secreta. El Señor pone en nuestro corazón la carga y la inquietud por los hermanos. Y oramos por el que camina y por el que no quiere caminar, por el que está sano y el que está padeciendo quebrantos de salud, por el que acaba de recibir una bendición y por el que está pasando por pruebas, por el que está viniendo al templo y por los que han dejado de venir. Para un pastor, la intercesión no tiene horario, a veces en el trabajo estoy intercediendo, en la madrugada, cuando muchos duermen Dios me levanta a interceder. Por ello cuando Dios tiene un mensaje para su Iglesia se lo dirige al ángel de esa iglesia.
II.- Elogios a la iglesia.
a) El arduo trabajo de la Iglesia y paciencia.
La vitalidad de una iglesia se refleja en el trabajo que realiza. En la iglesia hay trabajo para todos; nadie debería estar desocupado en la iglesia. El que quiere trabajar siempre encontrará algo que hacer. No es necesario esperar a que el pastor me asigne un trabajo, o la presidenta de la sociedad de damas me diga lo que quiere que yo haga; tomar tratados y evangelizar, testificarle a las almas, ir a los hospitales, a las cárceles, etc., son labores que todos estamos llamados a hacer.
Sin embargo, los extremos son malos. Tan malo es no trabajar para el Señor, como trabajar mucho y olvidarse del Señor. La iglesia de Éfeso tenía una cualidad importante y era que trabajaba, al punto que el Señor le dice: “Yo conozco tus obras, y tu arduo trabajo…” Los cristianos de Éfeso se caracterizaban por pagar un precio para servir al Señor, era una iglesia sacrificada y la expresión “arduo trabajo” se refiere a laborar al punto de quedar sin fuerzas. Una de las cosas que es necesario tener presente cuando se trabaja en la Obra del Señor es que se necesita tener paciencia. No toda persona es apta para ciertas tareas. Hay algunos que aún no le han entregado su temperamento al Espíritu Santo y por cualquier cosa estallan en ira. No tienen paciencia con los que no piensan igual que ellos, no admiten que otros pueden tener mejores ideas, mejores planes, mejores iniciativas. Apagan el buen espíritu y el deseo de cooperar que tienen otras personas.
Si Dios te va a usar, lo primero que va a moldear es tu carácter y usará instrumentos: personas y circunstancias para lograr Su propósito.
b) Buen discernimiento.
Los tiempos que vivimos son tiempos tan peligrosos que es necesario discernir quién es quién. A la iglesia pueden entrar todos, pero luego de que la iglesia los examine y los pruebe es que pueden empezar a desempeñar el trabajo que Dios quiere. Los títulos dentro de la iglesia es algo que se toma muy a la ligera, desafortunadamente. Una de las cosas que el Señor elogia a esta iglesia es por haber probado a los que se dicen ser apóstoles, y no lo son. La iglesia no puede dejar de tener visión espiritual y hay cosas que pueden nublar la visión, por ejemplo, el entretenimiento, la diversión, la frialdad, el modernismo, etc.
Es importante que la Iglesia siempre ejerza su visión espiritual para conocer si algo viene de Dios o del hombre o del enemigo. El enemigo le interesa que la Iglesia no tenga discernimiento para así poder infiltrarse. Esta iglesia probó a los que se decían ser apóstoles y los halló que eran falsos.
The believers at Ephesus were a suffering people who patiently bore their burdens and toiled without fainting. And they did all of this for His name’s sake! No matter how you examine this congregation, you conclude that it is just about perfect. However, the One among the lampstands saw into their hearts, and He had a different diagnosis from ours.
Accusation (v. 4). This busy, separated, sacrificing church really suffered from “heart trouble”—they had abandoned their first love! They displayed “works... labor... and patience” (Rev. 2:2), but these qualities were not motivated by a love for Christ. (Compare 1 Thes. 1:3—“work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope.”) What we do for the Lord is important, but so is why we do it!
What is “first love”? It is the devotion to Christ that so often characterizes the new believer: fervent, personal, uninhibited, excited, and openly displayed. It is the “honeymoon love” of the husband and wife (Jer. 2:1–2). While it is true that mature married love deepens and grows richer, it is also true that it should never lose the excitement and wonder of those “honeymoon days.” When a husband and wife begin to take each other for granted, and life becomes routine, then the marriage is in danger.
Just think of it: it is possible to serve, sacrifice, and suffer “for My name’s sake” and yet not really love Jesus Christ! The Ephesian believers were so busy maintaining their separation that they were neglecting adoration. Labor is no substitute for love; neither is purity a substitute for passion. The church must have both if it is to please Him.
By reading Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, you discover at least twenty references to love. You also discover that Paul emphasized the believer’s exalted position “in Christ... in the heavenly places.” But the Ephesian church had fallen and was not living up to its heavenly position in Christ (Rev. 2:5). It is only as we love Christ fervently that we can serve Him faithfully. Our love for Him must be pure (Eph. 6:24).
Admonition (vv. 5–7). “First love” can be restored if we follow the three instructions Christ gave. First, we must remember (literally “keep on remembering”) what we have lost and cultivate a desire to regain that close communion once again. Then we must repent—change our minds—and confess our sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9). Third, we must repeat the firstworks, which suggests restoring the original fellowship that was broken by our sin and neglect. For the believer, this means prayer, Bible reading and meditation, obedient service, and worship.
In spite of the privileges it had enjoyed, the church of Ephesus was in danger of losing its light! The church that loses its love will soon lose its light, no matter how doctrinally sound it may be. “I will come” (Rev. 2:5) is not referring to the Lord’s return, but to His coming judgment then and there. The glorious city of Ephesus is today but a heap of stones and no light is shining there.
Revelation 2:7 makes it clear that individual believers within the church may be true to the Lord, no matter what others may do. In these seven messages, the “overcomers” are not a “spiritual elite,” but rather the true believers whose faith has given them victory (1 John 5:4–5). Sinful man was banned from the tree of life (Gen. 3:22–24), but in Christ we have eternal abundant life (John 3:16; 10:10). We enjoy this blessing now, and we shall enjoy it in greater measure in eternity (Rev. 22:1–5).
The church of Ephesus was the “careless church,” made up of careless believers who neglected their love for Christ. Are we guilty of the same neglect?
I. Ephesus: The Backsliding Church (2:1–7)
The hands and feet of the exalted Christ are emphasized here: He holds the stars (the messengers of the churches), and He walks in judgment among the churches (lampstands). He begins with Ephesus, the city closest to Patmos. It was a great commercial center. The emperor had made Ephesus a free city; it had the title “Supreme Metropolis of Asia.” Most important was the great temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was 425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and 60 feet high, with great folding doors and 127 marble pillars, some of them covered with gold. The worship of Diana was “religious immorality” at its worst. Read Acts 19–20.
The church at Ephesus had works, labor, and patience—but no love for Christ. In contrast, the Thessalonians were commended for their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope” (1 Thes. 1:3). It is not “what” we do for Christ, but the motive behind it, the incentive, that counts. Ephesus had a busy church with high spiritual standards. They could not bear “worthless [evil] people” and would not listen to false teachers. The work had been difficult, but they had not fainted. In every way, it was a successful church from the human point of view. Some of today’s busy churches with their full calendars and weary workers would fit the description.
But the Man in the midst of the churches saw what was missing: they had left (not “lost”) their first love (Jer. 2:2). The local church is espoused to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2), but there is always the danger of that love growing cold. Like Martha, we can be so busy working for Christ that we have no time to love Him (Luke 10:38–42). Christ is more concerned about what we do with Him than for Him. Labor is no substitute for love. To the public, the Ephesian church was successful; to Christ, it had fallen.
His counsel to them is in these words: “remember, repent, repeat the first works” (v. 5). If we get back to our first love, we will repeat the first works, those labors of love that marked our first meeting with Christ. If the church does not get its heart back in the right condition, the lampstand will be removed. The local church is to shine as a light in the world. Without true love for Christ, its light will go out.
He commends them for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans. The Gk. name “Nicolaus” means “to conquer the people.” It refers to the development of a priestly caste (clergy) in the church that throws aside the common believers. While there must be pastoral leadership in the church, there must not be a distinct “clergy” and “laity” in which the former lords it over the latter.
Descriptions of Jesus (2:1)
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” (2:1).
These descriptions reflect what we’ve already learned about Jesus. He is in communication with His Bride through angels, which are represented as stars in His right hand.
He is also in the midst of His Church. Jesus told the disciples, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). This refers to the spiritual presence of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, which is manifested when saints assemble themselves together. The Holy Spirit dwells in every believer, but when two or more assemble, Jesus manifests Himself in their midst by the Holy Spirit. This might take the form of just knowing and sensing His presence or through the exercising of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to edify or build up the Church. These descriptions confirm that wonderful fact.
Commendation (2:2–3, 6)
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” (2:2–3).
Jesus commends them in several areas. First for their works and labor. They evidently had been a church that put its faith into action, probably in the form of winning other people to the Lord, feeding the hungry, clothing the poor and ministering to the widows and homeless. As noted by this commendation, God is pleased when the Church and each of its members reaches out in some way to a needy world. Our works cannot save us (Ephesians 2:8–9), but that is not an excuse to remain idle. We must express our faith in works (James 2:17), performing them all unto the Lord. This church was doing that.
They are also patted on the back for their patience. Several areas concerning patience come to mind. They might have been patient with one another in day-to-day relationships, patient in the gospel work of spreading the news of Jesus Christ and patient concerning the second coming of Jesus, about which other assemblies had become restless (the Thessalonians, for example). Patience is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit, and Ephesus is commended for it.
One reason that patience in a believer or assembly of believers is pleasing to the Lord is that it indicates more of the nature of Jesus in that vessel. God is pleased to see the flesh crucified and the Spirit allowed to manifest itself in us as it did in Jesus.
The church at Ephesus also scored high in the area of rejecting evil. They would have nothing to do with evil, as was commanded by the apostles. Paul specifically told the Thessalonians, “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). That meant evil and sinful practices or anything that even looked like or had the appearance of being evil or sinful.
Individuals within the church who are involved in homosexuality, adultery, slander and other sinful practices must be confronted, as Paul instructed the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 5:1–5). Sin that is not dealt with ruins the lives of the individuals involved. Furthermore, open sin stains the spotless nature of a church, washed white as snow by the blood of Jesus, and it must be purged from its midst. Nothing specific is spelled out concerning the rejection of evil at Ephesus, but indications are that they kept order and discipline in their midst with respect to sin. And God was pleased with that.
Closely connected to the Ephesians’ rejection of evil was their good quality of “testing the spirits” in the area of discerning false apostles: “Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars” (2:2). Most New Testament exhortation along these lines centers on false prophets and teachers. Here we find a warning against false apostles.
An apostle is someone who is “sent forth” (as the Greek word indicates) with the power and authority of God. The apostolic ministry, particularly in the first century, was carried on by individuals who were chosen of God to spread the gospel message and establish local assemblies to strengthen the Church. Not all who came into town proclaiming to be such were apostles. Not all who come along today claiming to have a particular ministry are really called to that ministry, whether it be prophecy, teaching or apostleship. The Body of Christ is to discern what is true and what is false.
Warning after warning is given to us to beware of false ministries coming into our midst (Matthew 7:15; Philippians 3:2; 2 Peter 3:17). You can tell them by their fruit (Matthew 7:20), by whether they proclaim Jesus as Lord (1 Corinthians 12:3) and by discerning their message by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:10). The church at Ephesus had been careful in doing that.
Jesus also says to them, “and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” (2:3). In other words, they hadn’t given up, hadn’t gotten discouraged over little things or thrown in the towel when trouble struck. Churches constantly face situations which test their spiritual strength and endurance. Individual believers experience the same thing. Satan always opposes the proclamation of the gospel. The Ephesians continued to labor, “for my name’s sake.”
One further commendation comes in verse 6, “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.” We do not have accurate records from history as to who these Nicolaitanes were. Martin says they were “a sect or party of evil influence in early Christianity … although we cannot be certain, it appears that the Nicolaitanes held that it was lawful ‘to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.’ ”1
Epp probably has the right idea when he says, “The best explanation lies in the meaning of the word Nicolaitanes itself. It comes from nikao which means ‘to conquer’ and laos which means ‘people.’ It is from laos that we get our word laity. If this word is used symbolically in this passage, then it has reference to the earliest form or idea of what we call a priestly order or clergy which later on in church history divided people, who had an equal standing in the churches, into priests and laity or clergy and laity.”2 According to that explanation, the word Nicolaitanes might have meant those who ruled (or conquered) the people.
The probable reason for the Ephesians hating their works was that the concept of clergy-laity interposed a human element through which people would have to go in order to have fellowship or access to God. Jesus had died on the cross to take all the barriers away. After Calvary, we no longer had a “wall of partition”(Ephesians 2:14) between us and God. There was no need for priest or clergy to intercede on our behalf, because we have but one high priest, Jesus, who “liveth to make intercession” (Hebrews 7:25) for us.
Any order or level of humanity that sets itself up as a mediating force between man and God fits into this deception of Nicolaitanism. God has ordained authority figures in the life of local churches. Ephesians 4 relates the various gifts given to diverse individuals in the church to feed the sheep and tend the flock. Among them are pastors and teachers. But these are ordained of God to guide and prompt, counsel and exhort in the Word of God, that all may be equipped “for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
None of the church leadership as identified in the New Testament is above the other members of the flock. None are spiritually elevated higher. Their office and authority is God-granted. God is no respecter of persons. He looks upon us equally. Anything in the life of the Church that goes against God’s will in this area should be removed. And evidently the Ephesians did remove those who exalted themselves over the people.
One admonishment is given to the church at Ephesus, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (2:4). They weren’t being told that they had lost their love for God and His kingdom altogether. But they were being told that their love was not as fervent and sincere as it was when they first believed and first began assembling in the name of Jesus.
The subsequent exhortation to Ephesus is this, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (2:5). These are very serious words. In restoring their first love, God first asks them to remember from where they had fallen. He didn’t tell them to live in the past. Rather, they were to remember their original fervency and compare it with their present laxness. If they were to ever again experience their first love, they would have to see the need for repentance and come before God with a sorrowful heart. Many Christians are not willing to do that. Because of pride they are unwilling to admit their need for a fresh touch by Jesus. They are not willing to die to self when they’ve been instructed in the Word to do it daily.
This exhortation shows God’s great love for us. He is drawing us to Himself. He is desirous of a close relationship full of love. When that isn’t happening, God would have us reflect, repent and respond by doing the first works. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
If our love for God isn’t what it used to be, we should just reflect for a moment. We always think that it is God who has left us when, in fact, it is we who have ignored God. If we repent and do the first works, our love will be as it was at the beginning.
If we don’t do that, the consequences are spelled out for us (herein lies the very serious warning we find in this exhortation), “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place.” God will remove the anointing of His Spirit in our lives and, in the worst cases, remove His very presence altogether. That can happen to a local church, and it can happen to an individual believer.
The candlestick or lampstand that shines for Jesus is bright and beautiful. But if that vessel is producing little or no light and becomes a poor reflection of the power of God, the source of the true light—the Holy Spirit—is removed for a season, until there is repentance.
It is because of God’s great love that He purges sin from the midst of His Church. He must keep His Word, which cannot fail. That Word has proclaimed a Church that is without spot or blemish. The Church is made up of “sinners saved by grace.” But through Jesus, in whom we are complete (Colossians 2:10) and washed clean by His blood (Revelation 1:5), we stand before God white as snow, without any spot or blemish. The Church or individual believer that drifts away from God and their first love, however, has left that covering and cleansing and must be removed from the midst of those who choose to love God with all their heart.
It is a terrible thing to have experienced God and then to have His Spirit removed. It can be avoided by walking with the Lord each day with a committed and loving heart, one that will open itself to God in repentance, when necessary, to keep a solid relationship with Him. God is in the midst of His Church, and He is going to keep it pure through the blood of Jesus. Repent and do the first works.
Promise to Overcomers (2:7)
The promise given to us through this local church is this, “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (2:7). This being the first promise, we should understand what it means to be an overcomer.
Jesus said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus is the overcomer. He overcame sin and death by obedience to the Father. He was telling His disciples, including you and me, that there would be difficult times for us as Christians, but that our comfort would come in knowing that He had already overcome every difficulty on the Cross. If we will but abide in Jesus Christ, we are overcomers. Revelation 12:11 says, “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.”
Each of the seven churches of Asia is given a promise for overcoming in Christ Jesus. This first promise provides for our sustenance and wholeness through Jesus. Jesus is “the tree of life” (Revelation 22:2). He is the vine, we are the branches. As such, our life can only come in the vine, the trunk, the root. Abiding in that vine, we can eat of that tree and be filled. As we overcome through tribulation and persecution, we can feast more and more on Jesus, relying on Him to provide our life.
He is the tree of life and the focal point of this Revelation. He stands “in the midst of the paradise of God,” right in the very presence of God. Adam and Eve had access to the tree of life (Genesis 2:9), but instead of choosing it, they chose to disobey God and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6). If we can yield our lives to Jesus to the point of overcoming tribulation as we face it, He will make us whole and complete in the paradise, or presence, of God.
Every promise that follows bears a similar blessing. They are ours if we overcome in Jesus.
Wiersbe, W. W. (1997, c1992). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (801). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.
1 William C. Martin, The Layman’s Bible Encyclopedia (© Copyright 1964, The South-Western Publishing Co., Nashville, Tenn.), p. 566.
2 Theodore H. Epp, Practical Studies in Revelation, Vol. 1 (© Copyright 1969, Back to the Bible Broadcast, Lincoln, Neb.), pp. 87–88. Used by permission.