Revelation 2:1-5: 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: 2 “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; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 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.
Example of employment reviews; business exams/audits; quality control of manufactured good; reliance on the authority of reviewer for review to be credible; steps followed for improvement with appropriate rewards.
In this text, we find the critique of the church at Ephesus. In this evaluation, the church was reproved-reprimanded because of a weakening condition that had developed in the church since its inception. But the good thing that resulted from the evaluation was the opportunity for the church to be restored to its acceptable former standing. This was no ordinary critique in that this critique was made by the only person qualified and with the authority to make such an evaluation, that person being the exalted and glorified Christ. In chapter one, we find that the Apostle John was exile to the Isle of Patmos by the Roman government that was persecuting the churches under it rule. John tells us that while he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, he heard a loud voice behind him that sounded like a trumpet. The voice said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last,” and the voice went on to say, what you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches in Asia. When John turned to see who was talking to Him, he saw Christ in all of His majesty, in all of His splendor and all of His glory. His glory was of such magnitude that John said that, “he fell at His feet as dead.” John tells us that when he first looked, he saw Christ in the midst of seven golden lamp stands and holding seven stars in his right hand. Jesus told John not to be afraid, and identified himself again, this time as the First and the Last; that He is the one who lives, and was dead, and now lives forevermore; and that He has the keys of Hell and Death. John is again instructed to write what he sees, i.e., things which are and things that will take place. Jesus goes on to tell John the meaning of the seven stars, which represented the angels (messengers/pastors) of the seven churches and the lamp stands, which represented the seven churches. The first church on the list was the largest and most prominent, the church at Ephesus.
As we study the text we begin to see the methodology that Christ uses as he begins an assessment of the seven churches and the process begins with a commendation, moves to reproof, and ends with restoration.
As in any evaluation, the purpose is to allow the reviewer the opportunity to form a credible opinion of performance. It is designed to highlight, not only the strengths of the object of the review, but also the weaknesses. In this instance, Christ assessed a weakness in the church at Ephesus and reproved/reprimanded them. The reproof was not made out of malice, but to bring to their attention their weakened condition. Make no mistake, each of us, individually and corporately, is under spiritual scrutiny by the same Jesus through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. It’s a terrible thing to believe that we can have unresolved sin in our lives and live any kind of way and think that we’ll somehow escape any rebuke by God. But as with the church at Ephesus, Jesus doesn’t dwell on the fault, but as He always does, He offers the solution to correct the problem. And we’ll see that as Christ took the church at Ephesus from reproof to restoration, He does the same thing to us in our daily lives. [and] So an important question to ask, whether about your life or about your church, how do I go from reproof to restoration? The Word provides the answer.
Revelation 2:1- 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:
John re-identifies the originator of what he wrote so the people would know that he was not the source. Why? There were two reasons he had to do this: first, to establish the credibility of the source; second, although John was credible, John was an old man, in his eighties, his body was probably deteriorating because of the hard labor he had to do on Patmos and they might have thought he had gone crazy.
What was life like in Ephesus? What was the environment/culture that the church was in?
Ephesus was the leading city of the Asian province. It had diverse population of approx. 300k people. It was a major seaport in the region, making it a major commerce center, with wealth. It was a major cultural center where the main part of the city had theatre, baths, library, paved streets. It was a religious center for the emperor cult and for the fertility goddess Artimis or Diana, to the Romans. The worship of Artemis included the use of prostitution and mutilation in the rituals. One of the features of the city was the great temple built in her honor that was considered as one of the seven wonders of the world. They had an amphitheater that could seat 25,000 people. It was also a city that flourished in the occult. Paul’s preaching was so effective that the Ephesians that burned their books of magical arts, and started to abandon the worship of Diane. The silver-smiths, the idol makers started a riot because they were afraid that the gospel would destroy their business of idol making (Acts 19). Not only did the church have to deal with persecution from the Romans, they also had to deal with idol makers and occultist. 42 years had past since Paul founded the church and when John wrote the Revelation (A. D. 54 - A.D 95/96). Enough time has past for the church to develop and mature.
Revelation 2:2-3- 2. 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; 3. and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.
Christ approaches His critique by employing the biblical concept of corporate solidarity to address the church and, i.e., He gives the church a personality and then treats the many as one (He speaks to the church collectively (corporately) but at the same time, He’s speaking to the individual members (singularly). Christ begins His assessment with the commendation. There’s a lot we glean from the commendation that tells us something about the church. The church was very active, hardworking, resolute/determined, upholders of righteousness and sound in their doctrine, they were suspicious, and they were not quitters. All of these characteristics are noteworthy. [but] In spite of all of the great things the church had accomplished over the years, Christ noted a significant flaw that undermined and diminished greatness of their accomplishments. And so we come to the heart of the matter, the reproof, i.e., the “nevertheless”.
Revelation 2:4- Nevertheless, I have this against you (here is the basis of my reproof, my disapproval) that you have left (abandoned, forsakened, departed from) your first love.
There are three questions that have to be answered to understand Christ’s rebuke.
What was the first love? Why did the church lose it? How did they lose it?
What was the first love? You can get a sense of the first love of the church of Ephesus by reading the book of Ephesians. If you have a good bible, there will be an outline or analysis of what the book is about. Some bibles will divide the themes of the book around between doctrine and practice of the Christian. When you read Ephesians you discover that Paul emphasizes love as the binding element for a successful life in Christ, i.e., the love of God and Christ for the church (chapters 1-3), and love that should be shown to one another (chapters 4-6). Paul uses the word love 14 times and loved three times in Ephesians, more that any other letter he wrote to the other churches. (e.g. live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us; …bearing with one another in love; … speaking the truth in love; … love your neighbor as yourself; …being rooted and grounded in love). So it’s clear that love/agape was the foundation for the survival of the church and that the church was operating from a strong doctrinal position and developing strong practical applications for Christian life centered around agape (love). So the first love was love of Christ, love for one another, and love for others. [and] It was out of this mindset, that the church did the things that Christ commended them for.
Why and How was the first love lost? With all the scholarly works available, from your own studies, there are numerous interpretations of how and why the church might have lost its first love. Thompson Chain Reference Bible suggests that the church’s love had grown cold, that they had become indifferent, that they had backslid. Maybe the church got so busy that they fell more in love with their activities than love of spreading the gospel. Maybe their motive for service changed (e.g. operating out of duty rather than from love). Perhaps they started doing things in the name of Christ rather than love for Christ. Perhaps they became distracted by their success/accomplishments and decided to make money off the church, after all, religion is big business. Maybe the church began to compromise itself in the meaning and practice of love. Had they become self righteous (vs.2- cannot tolerate evil; testing so called apostles and finding them to be liars).
I am suggesting that the church lost focus of its ordained purpose and their perspective of salvation, unknowing to them, and had been refocused from being faith based to works based. Ephesians 2:8-9- 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of
yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
I submit that after the death of Paul, another generation was born that may not have had the same zeal for the gospel as their parents and may have developed a more liberal view about they were doing. The result being the first love, agapelove became philoslove, i.e., “let’s go along to get along.”
Romans 10:1-3 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.
We have seen Christ’s evaluation unfold. We preached about what the first love was. We preached about why and how the church lost its first love. Now we come to the most important aspect of any evaluation process. After your strengths have been acknowledged, after your weaknesses have been disclosed, a good evaluator will instruct you on the steps you need to take to correct the deficiency. He tells you how to go from reproof to restoration. So we see Christ does the same with the church at Ephesus. There are three things Christ instructs the church to do:
Revelation 2:5- 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.
In many evaluation processes, the one being reviewed is asked to do a self-evaluation. This is important because tit allows the one being reviewed to acknowledge their weaknesses and to discover other areas of weakness that should be dealt with so that they can perform above and beyond what is expected. The self-examination leads one to a point where they must make a choice, to either change or remain the same.
Tonight I believe that through the Word, the Spirit of Christ is speaking to someone here saying, take an honest look at yourself. It doesn’t make a difference of your status or your position.
7 … To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.