Summary: Gods sends a message to the Churches of Asia encouraginf them to persever to the end and promising a reward to those who do.
I receive lots of letters each week, from various organisations, and I have to say, most of them end up in the cardboard file on my floor - waiting to be recycled. Some, though, I take more notice of than others. Some I deal with immediately. Others I put in the pile in the centre of my desk to be dealt with as soon as I can get to them. How do I differentiate between these three groups? Sometimes I glance at the contents briefly and if it’s something like an offer for life insurance or another credit card they go straight in the bin. But in other cases I check who they’re from. I got one from the tax office last week, talking about my next tax return. That one I carefully put aside until I do my tax. The sender of a letter makes a big difference to the attention we pay it doesn’t it?
Well look at the way this first letter begins: "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands." Think back, if you were here two weeks ago, to the vision that John saw of the Son of Man standing in the midst of the 7 lampstands, clothed with a long robe and a golden sash, with his head and hair as white as wool, as white as snow, eyes like flames of fire, feet like burnished bronze, a voice like the sound of many waters, holding the 7 stars in his hand and with a sharp 2-edged sword coming from his mouth, and his face shining like the full force of the sun. It was an overwhelming image of glory and majesty. And now the postman arrives and in his pouch is a letter from that same Son of Man.
So what should they do? Where in the pile of mail should they put it? If the author of the letter sets its priority then it had better be right on top hadn’t it? You can imagine the leaders of the church calling an urgent meeting so everyone can be there to hear this vital message.
And let’s remember, before we begin to look at these letters, that the fact that they’re recorded here for us means that they’re equally important for us to read and pay attention to.
There are seven letters altogether, seven letters sent to 7 different churches in the region of western Turkey, what was called Asia or Asia Minor in the Roman Empire. Each letter is different but they all have the same basic structure. They all begin with a greeting to the angel of the church, then the sender, Jesus, is named, often with a description that reflects something of the glory depicted in ch 1. Then there’s generally a note of praise, of what Jesus has observed about them, followed by some form of rebuke then a warning to pay attention to the message and a promise of reward for those who persevere to the end.
"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false."
This was a church that had fought the battle of Christian orthodoxy and had triumphed. They’d taken seriously the words of Paul to get rid of false apostles, to stand firm in the faith, to rest on the foundations of the apostles and prophets.
He says they hate the works of the Nicolaitans. Now, we don’t have any idea who the Nicolaitans were but there seems to be some connection with the Balaamites mentioned in the letter to Pergamum later in the chapter. They were most probably a sect that thought you could mix pagan practices with the Christian faith. So they had no problem with idolatry or immorality as long as it was within the constraints of normal secular standards. In other words they’d compromised the gospel so they could still live like any other Greek or Roman citizen, much as some parts of the church have done today. But this church wouldn’t tolerate such evildoers.
So the Ephesian Church was doing well as far as orthodoxy was concerned. They’d held on to a reformation faith, they had their theology down pat. The Scriptures determined their moral behaviour.
What’s more they were standing firm against opposition and persecution. "3I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary." It sounds like it’s a church that’s doing very well doesn’t it?
But there was just one problem: "4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." How often do you see Christians who have a high sense of the importance of good morals, of pure doctrine, ending up being so hard on those who swerve from the truth that the idea of Christian love and grace fades into insignificance. How often do those who want to root out all error in the church end up with a rigid orthodoxy that denies the freedom of the gospel. Jesus spoke so harshly against the Pharisees not because they were ignoring God’s law but because their desire to get things right had, in the end, led them to forget the nature of the God they were worshipping, a God who primarily wants his people to love him with all their heart and their neighbour as themselves.