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1“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2“ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
3I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
6Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ (Revelation 2:1–7, ESV)
Many people often see churches as religious places where folks gather. Instead of being seen as a building, a church is described as a group of Christ followers according to the New Testament usage.
By His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ founded His own Church. Shortly before His ascension to heaven, He told His followers to carry out His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). Its essence is to take His Gospel to the world and make disciples of all who accept His saving grace. The very first step of being a disciple is the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour of your life, and continue to live out His principles thereafter. The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ can be boiled down to: love for God and love for people (Matthew 22:35–40).
The message of the Gospel is about the love of God. Because of our sins, all human beings are alienated from God and His love. But, because God is love, He is determined to love us no matter what (1 John 4:16). As a demonstration of His Love, God sent His one and only Son to die for our sins (John 3:16). As for those who have responded to His message of love, we are obligated to pass on His Love to others and live out His love for the rest of our earthly existence. In a nutshell, the mission of churches or believers in Christ is love.
God creates the Universe and the attribute of His love is contained in everything; before the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve were in continual loving fellowship with the Creator. Sadly, their rebellion changed all that, and their sinful choice affected their descendant as well.
Originally, the existence of humankind is to experience, enjoy and share God’s love with their fellow human beings. Because of sin, we have thwarted God’s wonderful plan. However, He has given humankind a second chance. By means of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not only believers can experience and enjoy His love again, but we are also called to love God and others in response. God loves to see people responding to His message of love, and He calls His churches to live out His Gospel of love. On the whole, the lifetime mission of Christians is to love God and others. By the way, what’s the mission of your life?
1) Our City (Revelation 2:1)
When we reflect on the topic of our mission, we can learn from the counterexample and example of the church at Ephesus. Let me tell you briefly about the city of Ephesus. It was the port of access for Asia and it was the largest commercial centr in the province. Speaking of religion, it’s a great centre of faith. As you might have heard, there was a temple in the city dedicated to the goddess Diana (Acts 19:35). Additionally, it was a centre of emperor worship.
Many people around the world live in cosmopolitan cities, and I am one of them. Cosmopolis is a cultural and religious hub where all kinds of people will interact and influence one another. Although city life is fascinating, it is not without its challenges. As followers of Christ, we should not be bigots, but at the same time, we should not compromise our faith for the sake of friendship with non-believers. The Ephesian Church was facing a lot of cultural and religious challenges back then, and so are we. All in all, Christians are called to love God and others as a testament of God’s love to the world, and that’s why the letter to the Church at Ephesus is very important.
Comparatively speaking, the pace of small-town life is much slower than in the large city; also, the cultural impact on small-town inhabitants is less pronounced than on the cosmopolitans. But, whether you are living in a rural area or a city, you have to face all kinds of cultural and social problems. The world is moving at a fast pace, thus cultural and social values keep on changing with the passage of time and place to place. Living in our era, we have to be mindful to what we say, and we must be sensitive to others’ needs, but at the same time, as Christians, we should hold on to our standpoint. In John’s days, the Ephesian believers have to respond to the pagan culture and the demand of emperor worship. Likewise, we have to react to the ever-changing culture and social norms. Without any doubt, the worldly standards keep on changing, but God’s truths remain immutable and eternal. Therefore, Christians have to live out our belief in this constantly changing world. Whether you like it not, these are the challenges that we have to face every day!
2) Our Lord (Revelation 2:1)
The Lord Speaks
Based on the description of Revelation 1:19, it is safe to assume that Jesus dictates the seven letters to the seven churches and the Apostle John is the penman. The first letter that Jesus Christ wanted to address was the Church at Ephesus, and John wrote it to the angel of the church. Although scholars offer several interpretations, the most logical explanation of the angel is the pastor of that local church.
Back in my learning years as a child, I had to take dictation. If I wanted to get my 100 marks in a dictation test, I had to pay extra attention to every punctuation and word. Similarly, when the Lord spoke to John, I am sure he was very attentive to the voice of Jesus Christ!
Nowadays God still speaks to people, and the main means of communication is through the Bible, therefore we can hear His voice by reading His Word.
The Lord of the Ephesian Church
In Revelation 1, the Apostle John received a special vision, in which he saw Jesus Christ holding the seven stars in His right hand and walking among the seven golden lampstands. The stars were the angels or messengers of the churches and the “lampstands” were the seven churches (Revelation 1:20).
The Lord of Our Life
Whether you are aware or not, all people have a lord of some kind who lords over them. Their lord might be a physical thing or a spiritual being. Money, social status and deities are some of the examples that I can think of. According to the revelation of the Bible, not only Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Church, but He is also the Lord of lords. Whether we like it or not, whether we are aware or not, Jesus Christ is the Lord of all beings and things (Colossians 1:16). Moreover, the Bible’s message is plain and simple – by confessing our sins and committing ourselves to Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, He will become the Lord of our life!
3) Our Strengths (Revelation 2:2–3)
The Strengths of the Church at Ephesus
People with inferiority complex often cannot see their own strengths; but in fact, everyone in this world have strengths. As a local church, the Ephesian believers have their strengths as well. First of all, Jesus Christ commended this church for their unrelenting labour. Very likely, they were fervently spreading the Gospel. Their second strength was their pursuit of doctrinal purity. The third strength is the extension of the second. Like the Lord Jesus Himself, the Ephesian believers hated the works of the Nicolaitans. They hated the practices of the Nicolaitans, but not the people themselves (cf. Ps 139:21). Their emotion of hatred is consistent with God’s nature and truth. There is a common saying among Christians: love what the Lord loves, hate what the Lord hates. Who are the Nicolaitans? There are many speculations throughout the centuries, but no one can be sure of their real identity. According to the context of this passage, one thing we can be sure of is that the Nicolaitans are heretics.
Bible Knowledge versus Bible Application
Bible knowledge is very important, and that is why most churches are keen on having Sunday School and Bible study! Likewise, if not more so, Bible application is very crucial as well, because Christian faith is not what you know but how you live with what you know! The Ephesian Christians upheld their belief and this is a commendable example that we must follow suit.
4) Our Problems (Revelation 2:4)
No human being is perfect and no churches are without blemishes as well. Ephesian Christians are vigilant in practicing correct doctrine, but after years of practicing their faith, they have become dull to correct practice. One of the greatest spiritual ailments of the Ephesians is their insensitivity to live out love.
Your relationship with your family
Have you heard of similar cases like this? A father is working very hard for the financial needs of his family. After his work hours, he still does the chores at home. To the general public, this man is a good husband and father. But, does this gentleman really have a close relationship with his wife and children? Not necessarily! In a nutshell, a hardworking husband and father doesn’t equate to close relationship with his family members.
The Ephesian church is diligent in serving the Lord, and Lord Jesus commended the Ephesians for doing so, but He was dissatisfied with their love for Him and humankind. One thing I would like to point out is that serving diligently is not an absolute or very accurate means of measuring spirituality.
Your relationship with God
Brothers and sisters in Christ, how do you measure your relationship with God? I hope you are not using the quantity of your ministry as a criterion to measure your own spirituality. As Christians, I know we have to serve God, but we simply cannot use the quantity of our ministry to equate with our relationship with God. You might work five days a week and devote the rest of the week for ministry, but I am sorry to say, that doesn’t mean you have a close relationship with God. All in all, believers should be aware of spiritual numbness, and should constantly check on their own spiritual health condition.
5) Our Needed Repentance (Revelation 2:5)
The Reason to Repent
The Ephesian Christians had strengths, but they had a major flaw as well, which is damaging to the Christian faith. The Lord Jesus rebuked the Ephesians of forsaking their first love (Revelation 2:4). What does “first love” mean? Very likely, it means their love for God and others. As Christians, we should love God and others, but the Ephesian believers have overlooked the most important thing in their spiritual life. Since God is using His Church as a vessel to manifest His love to humanity, a loveless church would lose its function as a church. No wonder Jesus Christ came to warn the Ephesian believers and asked them to repent.
The Consequence of Unrepentance
The consequence of unrepentance is very serious and the Ephesian Christians should not take it lightly. Jesus Christ sternly says, “If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” If the believers do not respond to the injunction of Jesus Christ, the Lord will remove its lampstand, which appears to signify the total destruction of the church. Apparently, the Ephesian Church had not repented, as neither the city nor the church exists today.
Some people equate repentance with sorrow, but it is more than an emotion or state of mind. Theologically speaking, repentance involves regret or sorrow, accompanied by a true change of heart toward God. Therefore, the Ephesian Christians should turn back to Jesus Christ and start to love God and others all over again.
A Bible scholar says, “Most of the Ephesian Christians were now second-generation believers, and though they had retained purity of doctrine and life and had maintained a high level of service, they were lacking in deep devotion to Christ.”
According to a pastor’s observation, second-generation Christians might be familiar with the Bible but lack in applying these known truths. In some cases, many second-generation churchgoers assume they are Christians by virtue of “living at church” and spending so much time there. All in all, all people must repent before becoming a Christian. It is not only a reminder to the second-generation Christians, but to everyone who considers of being a believer in Christ!
6) Our God-given Promise (Revelation 2:7)
Promise of Being a Victor
Jesus reminds the Ephesian believers, 7“Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. I will give the victor the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in God’s paradise. (Revelation 2:7, HCSB) So, who are these victors? Here are three different views:
The first view considers the victors as Christians.
The second view sees the victors as Christians who are faithful and obedient, and for those who fail to become victors, would lose their salvation. According to my understanding, no true believers could lose their saving grace, as I believe the doctrine of “once saved, always saved” is a biblical truth.
The third view states that these victors or conquerors are faithful and obedient Christians, and as for those who fail to overcome, they would lose their reward, but not their salvation (1 Corinthians 3:15). After much study, I have come to favour the first view. The reasons are as follows: first, the Gospel of John affirmatively states that Jesus Christ is the ultimate Overcomer of the world (John 16:33), and because of personal faith in Him, believers have become overcomers as well. Second, according to 1 John 5:4–5, all true believers are said to be overcomers. In a nutshell, all Christians are saved by God’s grace and power, who overcome the damning power of the evil world system. Dear believers, you might have the feeling of being defeated now, but let me remind you one thing – Jesus Christ is the ultimate Overcomer or Victor, and we have become victors because of our faith in Him!
The Content of the Promise
The Lord Jesus promises to grant the victors to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. So, what is paradise?
Paradise is synonymous with heaven and there are three New Testament passages that affirm it (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:2; Revelation 22:2).
Tree of Life
When our first father and mother sinned in the garden of Eden, they and their descendants were barred from the life-giving presence of God. However, the saving grace and power of Jesus Christ enables all believers to reconnect with God’s presence once again. In God’s paradise, all Christians are granted to eat from the tree of life, that is to say, we can enjoy God’s presence forever. It is a kind of spiritual intimacy with God. The right to eat from the tree of life can be seen as a reward, but also a God-given privilege or promise as well.
Reclaiming the Promise
Jesus Christ rebukes the loveless Ephesian church to repent of their wrongdoing, and He reminds them the blessed promise of God’s presence that they can enjoy in heaven. His reproach is to prompt the Ephesian believers to love God and others again. Loving God and others are not a chore, but rather, our privilege and appreciation of responding to God’s love.
In many parts of the world, people are fighting against racism. In many corners of our society, individuals are fighting for human rights. I agree all these actions are noble and commendable, but what does the world really need most? My answer is, God’s love; and the prime mission of the Church is to live out His love!