Summary: How does busyness hurt our ability to witness for Jesus? How does ministry sometimes change our focus from loving the Messiah? Learn how to avoid the trap of busyness from Jesus’ critique of the Ephesian church.
I do some writing professionally. I haven’t had much published - but it’s a craft I care about and work on seriously. One of the best tools a writer has is not spell check - but gut check. By that I mean a critique group. A critique group reads what you’ve written - gives you some things they like - as preparation to tearing your work to shreds. It’s not done in a mean or vindictive way - but unless you are ready for it, you can feel pretty slammed. The purpose is to make your writing better. Egos need to be checked at the door.
In a way, the letters to the 7 churches in the Book of the Revelation are like a critique group for the church - except that the critique is performed by the owner of the church - Jesus Christ. Jesus is in the middle of writing a work of art - His body, the church. And the letters are like His critique about how the effort is going as His scribes - us - go about writing His witness in the world.
Like a critique group Jesus starts out (most of the time) with some things He likes in these churches - but then proceeds to challenge them in some very important ways about things they really need to work on. Some are more serious than others. Unlike a critique group, Jesus can actually affect their ability to be a witness according to how they respond. But it’s important to remember that the purpose here is not to rip them to shreds - but to improve what they are doing so that real life can happen.
There are actually several ways to interpret the letters:
1. They are only for those 7 churches (hard to defend when you get to Philadelphia).
2. They represent church ages (possible - but you have to stretch some things)
3. They represent different types of churches in any age (likely, but not entirely)
4. They represent characteristics that can crop up in any church or any Christian
As I’ve mentioned - I take a literal approach to the book - and I think there is enough here to certainly support any of these - that the letters represented literal churches in the first century who faced particular problems - and that it can be applied not only to different types of churches, but perhaps there are parts of each type of church in every church.
I’ve outlined my take on the 7 churches in a separate document on our website for registered users. Once you log on to www.CalvaryChapelNewberg.org then click on Revelation Resources under the Resources menu and you will see the link.
The letters to the 7 churches are the first of several units of 7 within the book. Others include the 7 seals, 7 trumpets, and 7 bowls. The number 7 denotes completeness. With the judgments it represents God’s complete judgment. I believe here it represents the whole church. There were more than 7 churches in Asia Minor (Colossae, for example) - and as Jesus walks through the 7 lampstands, it represents His presence and centrality to the whole church - not just the 7 in the cities named.
So what is the purpose of these letters? I’ve thought a lot about it and though I have no definitive answer I want to make three suggestions:
1. He wrote to the churches to show that the church will not go through the Great Tribulation (there is a huge break between chapter 2-3 and chapter 4)
2. He wrote words of exhortation to them because "For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God." 1 Peter 4:17
3. He wrote to encourage them to stay the course - that He hasn’t abandoned them but wants to purify them.
As we go through this I want to look at this letter from three vantage points. The first is what Jesus’ words meant to that church in that time. Secondly how Jesus’ words apply to the church today, and finally what we as individual believers can glean from His encouragements and his exhortation.
"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. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.5 Remember 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. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He 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.’ ESV