Summary: The danger of being dutiful and pure without love for Christ Jesus.
Verse 1 - The message is sent by the One Who walks among the congregations and Who supports and holds accountable the leadership of the congregations.
Verse 2 - Jesus begins with the statement "I know". Because He walks among the congregations, He knows everything about each congregation. Jesus knows each congregation's virtues, faults, challenges, and prospects. Nothing is overlooked so that He can know the needs of each congregation and can judge it fairly.
Jesus first commends the congregation for its strengths.
He first says that He knows that this congregation is an active congregation. They are so active that Jesus describes their work as "toil", which means in the Greek "intense labor united with trouble". This congregation was not characterized by simply coming together to worship or holding a Gospel Meeting a few times a year. They labored intensely in meeting the needs of each member and labored intensely to add new members. Verse 3 says that they persevered or were stedfast in their labors, they endured and did not grow weary. This reminds me of Paul's admonitions in Galatian's 6:9, "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary." and 1 Corinthians 15:58, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be stedfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."
Secondly, Jesus commends the Ephesians for not compromising when it came to sinful behavior and false doctrine. They did not "tolerate evil men". It is one thing to fall into sin on occasion but it is quite a different matter to continue in a consistent pattern of sin or think that a particular sin is permitable. In verse 6, Jesus says, "you hate the deeds of the Nicolatians, which I also hate." The Nicolatians were a sect that condoned sexual immorality - pre-marital sex and extramarital sex - and they condoned practicing some idolatry. One can imagine that the Nicolatians felt quite at home in Ephesian society because, as we can read in Acts 19, Ephesus was the center of the worship of the goddess Diana. Diana was the goddess of fertility, primarily sexuality. The priestesses of the Temple of Diana were prostitutes.
America may not actually engage in the worship of the goddess Diana, but America is pre-occupied with sex. It saturates the movie industry, television industry, music industry, advertising industry, fashion industry, and its educational system which promotes safe-sex rather than chastity. As it was in Ephesus, today if you condemn immorality, you are considered a prude and religious freak.
Lastly, the Ephesians were praised for maintaining sound doctrine. Verse 2 says that they "put to the test those who call themselves apostles...and you found them to be false." Paul spent over two years ministering in Ephesus.
When he was ready to leave Ephesus, he addressed the congregational leaders, saying, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God." The Ephesians knew the truth and we find they did not tolerate false teachers and their false doctrines. 40 years after Ephesus received this letter from Jesus, they were still known for their standing for doctrinal purity. Ignatius observed in his letter to the Ephesians: “You all live according to truth, and no heresy has a home among you: indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone, if he speaks of anything except concerning Jesus Christ in truth. . . . I have learned that certain persons passed through you bringing evil doctrine; and you did not allow them to sow seeds among you, for you stopped up your ears, so that you might not receive the seed sown by them. . . . You are arrayed from head to foot in the commandments of Jesus Christ.”
Verse 4 - The congregation at Ephesus had great traits. However, they had one flaw which threatened their existence. "I have this against you, that you have left your first love." That is to say, the Ephesian brethren had let their love of Jesus to wane. Their love affair with Jesus had come to an end.
Isn't interesting that a congregation or an individual Christian can be active in ministry, toiling in good deeds and spreading the Gospel, stay free from evil and sinfulness within and in others, hold firmly to the truth and not tolerate false teachers and false teachings...they can do all these things without having a love for Jesus.
We can be devoted to our Christian Faith and carry-out the commandments of God for a lot of different reasons:
(A.) We can do it all because it is a family tradition; that is, we were raised in the Church and so we are just carrying-on from what was part of our up-bringing. (B.) We can do it because it is a habit or routine. (C.) We might be devout and obedient because we appreciate righteousness and truth. (D.) Perhaps, we go about our religious duties because it makes us feel good inside. (E.) Many follow Jesus and go to church because they simply want to go to Heaven rather than burn in Hell.