While I was in seminary I cooked breakfast for a homeless shelter six days a week. Doors opened at 5:45AM and breakfast was served at 6AM. I woke up in just enough time to shower, brush my teeth, and jump in my truck and make the 15 minute drive. I started cooking with no seconds to spare in order to feed 100 hungry people.
On this particular morning I jumped in my truck and was greeted with a low fuel light. I responded, “Surely I can make it.” I was wrong. A number of blocks away from my destination my truck chugged to a stop on the side of the road.
I was up early. I was doing a good deed. I was feeding the homeless. But first things come first. You don’t make it to your destination with no gas in the truck.
Today we look at the first of seven church letters found in the book of Revelation. In this letter you find a church commended for many things but over time they have failed to put first things first.
Read Revelation 2:1-7 and check out my introduction to the book of Revelation.
We have Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus. What does Jesus have to say? Jesus begins by commending the church. He provides three commendations:
Deeds: v2 I know your deeds, your hard work.
The church in Ephesus is commended for their actions. They have exhibited good deeds. They’ve worked hard. I imagine Wednesday night Bible study, Vacation Bible School, shared meals, helping those in need.
Endurance: v3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Due to their allegiance to Jesus Christ, the church in Ephesus has experienced persecution. Yet, they did not back down. They remained faithful.
Orthodoxy: v2 I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. v6 You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Orthodoxy: right thinking. The Ephesians have not been deceived. They encountered false teaching and false teachers and exercised the spiritual gift of discernment. They stayed true to the gospel.
Scholars and historians have offered suggestions about the teaching of the Nicolaitans. We won’t take time to recount these suggestions. Rather, be aware of the forms of false teaching/teachers often encountered today:
Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for their deeds, endurance, and orthodoxy. We want the same said of us. Yet, the transition happens in v4: Yet, I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
It appears that years of good deeds and battling for the faith has caused the church in Ephesus’ heart to turn cold. The recipient of the church’s lack of love goes unmentioned. That leaves us to conclude, given the severity of the verses to follow, that their love for both God and neighbor has diminished.
Three challenges Jesus provides to the church in Ephesus:
Remember: v5 Consider how far you have fallen!
Remember what it was like when you first gave your life to Christ. Remember when you first felt God’s love for you. Remember when you first loved God.
Repent: v5 Repent.
Repentance is a change of mind which leads to a change of behavior. Jesus challenges the church to confess their loss of love and make the necessary changes to correct the problem.
Resume: v5 Do the things you did at first.
There is no time for waiting. There is no time for wavering. The church must return to its first love.
This should not drive us to fear but it should drive us to obedience. Keep first things first. Let us love God. Let us love others. May we never merely go through the motions.