Summary: A look at the church at Ephesus

Intro: Turn with me this morning to the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation. Here in this book, we find a message that is given to us by God to prepare us for the future. In chapter 1, we these words: the revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John. And verse 3 tells us that we will receive a special blessing for reading this today: Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. As we see though, the blessing is not just for reading these words, but applying them to our lives. So let’s pause and pray that God would help us to apply what we read today. PRAYER - to be doers and not hearers only.

For the setting of the book of Revelation, we have John, one of the original 12 disciples of Christ, exiled onto an island called Patmos, off the coast of Turkey. It is about 95 AD, some 30 years after the other disciples have died off. While he is there, he is given a vision of Christ. Christ comes and gives him a message of what currently is happening in the churches of Turkey as well as a message to the church to what the future holds for them.

In 1:11 we see this: Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. There were more than just 7 churches in Turkey - we know that. So it appears that these may have been distribution centers - they would get a letter and pass it around to all the local churches in that area. In Colossians 4:16, Paul writes, After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. So even though we find here in chapters 2 & 3 messages for churches in other towns in others ages, they are messages, encouragements, warnings to us as well.

The first message is given to the church at Ephesus, a town about 60 miles away from John. Ephesus was a seaport town, for all practical purposes the capital of Asia Minor, the area that today we call Turkey. Ephesus was a wealthy city. It was a large city, the largest in the area, with a population about 300,000 in John’s day. We remember that the book of Ephesians was given to the church in this town. Let’s see God’s message to these believers. Read Rev. 2:1-7

John starts in verse one with a reminder that God is active in the church. He writes, To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: This is a reference to what was written in chapter 1. In verse 20 we see that the stars are the angels or messengers of the churches, most likely the pastors. The lampstands represented the churches themselves. John reminds us that God walks about among the churches. God IS active in the affairs of men.

There is a religion that was popular a couple hundred years ago called Deism. Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. Deists believed that God started the worlds, like a clockmaker, but once everything got running, he got out of the way and was not active in the affairs of men. I believe that if we did a survey, most of us would admit that we don’t believe that. But the tragedy is that if we did a study of our lives, the WAY we live would betray that many of us are practical deists. We SAY we believe in God; we say we believe in prayer; we say we believe in a future judgment; but our lives show that we only care about pleasure in the here and now.

Let’s understand that God has given us His word, NOT so we will have an oppressive list of rules and regulations, but so we would be reminded that He IS at work in our lives, and so we would be encouraged to live lives that are obedient to His will so that He can offer His blessing on our lives. So John starts by saying that God is active in our church. What does He see?

When we look at the church of Ephesus, the first thing we notice is . . .

I. The Workers: The church at Ephesus was a church that was active. They had . . .

A. A working church - look at the description of these workers. Jesus says, I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. This was a church that had a lot of activity going on. The worked, they worked hard, and they kept on working.

In fact, down in verse 3 Christ says, “you have ... endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary”. It is easy to look at churches that are big or churches that have a lot of programs and envy them. We think, If only our church was like that. . . We take a church like Rick Warren’s in California, or Joel Osteen’s in Texas, or like Trinity in East Lansing, and we think that God must be happy with all they are doing in ministry. Yet we will see that God has a message of rebuke to this active church. It is good to work for God, but sometimes God wants us to not be so busy working; He rather wants us to be busy “being”.

Remember the story of the time Jesus came to the house of Mary and Martha. Martha was busy in the kitchen preparing the meal. Mary wanted to just sit and listen to what Jesus had to say. Martha didn’t like that a whole lot, because she saw everything that needed to be done. She complained, “Jesus, make Mary help me!” Jesus told her, “Martha - you’re so busy working - we only need one thing to eat: we don’t need a seven course meal. Mary has chosen the best thing she could: she’s sitting listening to me.”

The church at Ephesus was a church full of works. Remember at this time there was only one church in the city. All the Christians in this city of 300,000 would have met together. No wonder they were a busy church: there were a lot of Christians meeting together, a lot of needs to be met, a lot of fellowship going on. But far more important than WHAT we DO is WHO we ARE! Often we tie our identity and our worth to what we do for a living, what job we hold down. But we can’t make that mistake in the church. We are not spiritual if we DO a lot. Spirituality comes from relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s who we ARE!

**Think: how do you judge your spirituality: by what you DO or who you ARE? If I asked you what characterizes your relationship with God, would you think about things you DO or about a relationship you have, how you relate.

The church at Ephesus was a working church. It was also. . .

B. A Well-taught church - vs 2 - “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.”

What do you do with Christians in the church who are off doctrinally. It’s not easy to deal with. Sometimes it’s not even easy for us to identify. We can watch a preacher on TV, and he can have the smoothest delivery of sermons. He can be funny, and inspiring, drive us to both laughter and tears in the same sermon. But then he might say something that sounds “just a little off” -- yet we just let it pass without questioning it. Because, after all, he’s written several best-selling books or he pastors a large church.

Don’t ever believe anything just because someone you like tells it to you. In Acts 17:11 it says this: Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. They would sit and listen to Paul, and then they would go home and check to see whether Paul was telling them the truth.

The church at Ephesus was a well-taught church. They knew error when they heard it, and they confronted it with the truth. They knew the word of God.

**Let’s do a reality check: How well do we know the word of God? One of the things we have available to you right now is a class on Thursday and Friday nights called “The Truth Project.” It just started last week. If you want to develop a biblical worldview and understand what it means to follow GOd’s truth in every area of your life, this would be a good class for you to get involved in.

The only way we can confront error is with the word of God. The Bible is to be the sole source of faith and practice. Our society is one where people say, “Well, I just FEEL that this should be true.” Yet feelings are not a basis of belief. People say, “well God led me to do this.” Yet, God never contradicts what his word tells us. If someone says, “I’m divorcing my spouse because God led me to someone who loves the Lord and wants to serve God with me” tell them they are a LIAR. God won’t lead anyone to go against scriptural commands. Paul told the church at Ephesus in Acts 20 that they would have to deal with false teachers - even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth.

The church at Ephesus not only dealt with false teachers in the church, but they dealt with those of other religions around them every day. Ephesus was the center of the worship of Diana. Remember in the book of Acts, chapter 19, there is a great uproar in the city, for the people had a great temple built to worship the goddess Diana. It was such a big temple, there were peddlers outside the temple who lived off the profits of selling little trinkets. The temple served as the bank of the region, with everyone in the area bringing their money there to be safeguarded. The believers were confronted all around with idol worship. The church was a well-taught church, a church that faced error over and over again on a daily basis. But it was also . . .

C. A Weathered Church - they had been through a lot -- been there, done that!

Look at verse 3: You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. They had faced trial after trial: problem after problem. And what’s so amazing is that they weren’t weary. Sometimes we get sick and tired of things, and sometimes we just get tired. I know that it’s easy to get tired in serving Christ. There are a lot of times that we say, “Let someone else do it . . . I’m tired of serving in the church.” Yet the church at Ephesus didn’t have this attitude. They went through hardships, but they didn’t get weary. Twice in his epistles Paul encourages believers to not be weary in well-doing.

The church at Ephesus was a working, well-taught, weathered church. But God shared a great concern for the church at Ephesus.

II. The Warning to the Church - Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.

Loving devotion to Christ can be lost in the midst of active service, and certainly no amount of orthodoxy {right teaching} can make up for a failure to love one another. “First” (protos ) love would suggest that they still loved, but with a quality and intensity unlike that of their initial love. Very likely this is not just first in the sense of the beginning, but also first in the sense of primary importance. What did Jesus say would be the sign of Christians? Their love! We need to have love for Christ and love for one another.

It is easy to “come to church” instead of “being the church.” One of the reasons apathy sets in is that we fail to see ourselves as the church, the body of Christ. We see church as something to come to instead of something we are. We see church as an event instead of as a family.

If others are to see Christ in this world today, they will not see him through our buildings, or through our programs, but they will see him as each one of us becomes a picture of Christ to them and lives out our faith in our lives. What did Jesus say in the sermon on the mount? In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. One of the biggest obstacles unbelieves face in following Christ is other “Christians” they have known who live anything but like a Christian.

We can be a busy church, a church that stands for the word of God, a church that perseveres - and all that is good. But let’s make sure that we are a church that loves God completely.

**Reality Check: Do you love God as much as you used to? Was there ever a time in your life when you loved God more than you do right now? You will show how much you love God by the way you live your life. Remember what Jesus said, If you love me, keep my commandments.

The problem at Ephesus was they had become apathetic: they lost their first love. They still had programs, but they lost the heart of what they were doing. It’s easy to lose the meaning when we forget what we are to be all about. That’s where I think most of the churches in our country are. We have forgotten what the church is all about. Why do we come to church? What is supposed to happen here? The Bible has a lot to say about the church, and we need to rediscover what it says. Being the church is not about coming out on Sunday mornings for an hour and coming away “feeling good.” Rather being the church is living out Christ’s call to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow. Why would we do that? Because we are hopelessly, desperately in love with God. That’s where the church at Ephesus failed. They had ritual, but they lost their love.

So going back to Ephesus: let’s look at the cure.

III. The Way back: God gives the solution to the lost love of the church at Ephesus.

A. Remember - they are told to remember their initial condition. They are to remember their first love. Think with me about some couples you might know, and then compare them to a newly-wed couple. Something changes over the years. Should it? NO! But often it does.

A boy and girl walk down the street: She trips. He murmurs, “Careful sweet”

They wed, and tread the selfsame street. She trips. He growls, “Pick up your feet!”

What changed? The first love was lost!

When we were first married, Ronda would be up to see me off to work, and she’d cry that I had to leave her. That’s first love. The church is told to remember what it was like to have consuming love for God.

B. Repent - not only are they to remember, they are to change. They are to do whatever is necessary to get back that love. Far too many times we see love is lost and we say, Well I can’t do anything about it. Yes you can. Both in marriages as well as your love for the Lord. We need to come to the place where we are ready to change. As a church, we need to be willing to BE the church that God wants us to be. Whatever stands between you and your love for God is a mistress. It needs to be eliminated.

C. Repeat - We are to “do the things you did at first.” We are to focus on the primary things. “The main thing is to make sure the main thing stays the main thing.” What is it that the church is really all about? It all goes back to two instructions from Christ: the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

Matt. 22 - ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Matt 28 - All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

As a church, we need to focus on what is really important: loving God and loving others.

Concl: Why aren’t we the church we should be? Because we have forgotten what it is that we are to be. It all starts with the right heart attitude. This morning, pause long enough to ask if you care about your relationship with the Lord. I’m not asking if you are a Christian, I’m asking if you care about your relationship with the Lord. There are a lot of couples who are married but don’t care about their marriage. Do you care about your love for the Lord? Is it as deep as it used to be? Are you weary in serving because you haven’t been serving out of a love for the Lord? Let’s remember what it used to be like. Let’s repent and commit to changing to increase our love for God. Let’s repeat the first works; let’s be active in committing ourselves to loving God and loving others. Shall we pray!