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Ephesus: Committed, But Compassionless (Revelation 2:1-7)

October 5, 2014 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Happy Ever After (Revelation)

Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 2:1–2:7

Happy Ever After

Ephesus: Committed, But Compassionless
Revelation 2:1-7
(One Body: Love One Another)
October 5th, 2014

 

I. What Does Committed Look Like?

If I picked up a dictionary and turned to the word “committed”, I just might find a picture of Herman Goldman. In 1941, the same year the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Goldman (who was 28) got a job at Capitol Lighting in East Hanover, New Jersey. And as unbelievable as it might sound, Herman Goldman will, just like so many of you, go to the same job tomorrow morning as well. That's right. Goldman has had the same job for 73 years. And if that doesn't impress you, the 101 year-old still drives himself to work.

Herman Goldman. Committed.

Almost two-thousand years ago, the church of Ephesus might have also been described as committed. In fact, Jesus himself seems to confirm that very assessment in Revelation chapter 2. Turn with me to Revelation 2:1-7. This morning we are continuing our ongoing study in the book of the Revelation. And before we dig into these verses I just mentioned, let me remind of the five key principles that we are using to safely navigate our way up to the summit of Mount Revelation. If you recall, I referred to these as “five firm footholds”.

1. Foothold #1: Revelation is the Revelation of Jesus Christ
2. Foothold #2: Revelation was Given to Seven Real Churches
3. Foothold #3: Revelation was Conveyed Through Symbolic Number and Images
4. Foothold #4: Revelation Should Always be Taken as a Whole
5. Foothold #5: Revelation is Meant to be Kept

As we embark on a seven-week journey through the short, individual letters that make up chapters 2 and 3, I think it's very important to remind ourselves of those five principles. Why? Well, let me answer that as we work through this passage.

 

II. The Passage: “The Church in Ephesus” (2:1-7)

Look with me at verses 1-7 of Revelation chapter 2. These are the words of Jesus...

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus [again, I think the most basic meaning of the word angelos should be used here, that is, “to the messenger of the church of Ephesus: (that is, to the one who will be declaring this letter to the Ephesians)] 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.’”

Now, as we think about how to make sense of both the parts and the whole of this short letter to the Ephesians, it would be good to compare this letter to the other six letters we find in chapters 2 and 3. Since time doesn't allow us to do that, let me share with you something interesting that we would discover if we were to do that this morning. We would find that every letter is structured exactly the same way.

Let me explain what I mean. As you can see from your outline, each of these seven short letters begins with a description of Jesus, followed by a diagnosis of the believers being addressed, followed by a directive to action. After this there is a danger to consider, and finally, a declaration of reward for those who conquer or overcome. Let's think about how that pattern is expressed in this message to the church in Ephesus.

 

A. Description of Jesus (2:1)

First of all, we discover in verse 1 a description of Jesus that takes us back to the vision of Jesus that John beheld in chapter 1. In this first message, Jesus chooses to repeat what was first revealed in 1:12, 13, and 16. What John, and eventually the Ephesians are about to hear are “‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.'”

So do you see how this verse points us back to footholds #1 and #3? The revelation of who Jesus is is preceded by the revelation of what Jesus declares. But we also see, in connection with foothold #3, that the stars and lampstands are meant to point us back to the church. You may remember that the symbolism was already explained for us back in 1:20. Look there...

"As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches." (Revelation 1:20)

So the Ephesians need to understand that He who speaks to them is the Lord of the Church. The messenger is in His hand, and the recipients are in His presence. He is her bridegroom. He is the flock's Shepherd. Is the head of the body. And when He speaks, they must listen, carefully. Are we listening?

 

B. Diagnosis of Believers (2:2-4, 6)

But as we move into verses 2-4, we find a diagnosis of the church's spiritual condition. In regard to this church in Ephesus, we read here that the diagnosis begins with a recognition of healthiness, with words of commendation.

Knowing the works of this church family, Jesus is able to praise them for the fact that they are a committed church. Look again at how this is spelled out: they are committed to working hard, they are committed to patiently standing firm in the midst of trials, they are committed to moral purity in the church, they are committed to purity in terms of leadership. They will not bear with “false apostles”, but they will bear up under the weigh of persecution.

And if you look down to verse 6, we also see how the church is committed to purity in regard to healthy teaching, sound doctrine. Next week we will talk more about this group known as the Nicolaitans. But this morning, it's enough to emphasize that this church was exemplary in their commitment to perseverance, patience, and purity...and all for Christ's name!

But the Great Physician does not stop there, does He? His diagnosis also contains a recognition of some unhealthiness in this church body. Look again at verse 4. Jesus states...

"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”

What exactly does Jesus mean by this? Well, I think we need to continue into the first half of verse 5 in order to understand the full sense of what Christ is communicating.

 

C. Directive to Action (2:5a)

Look at the directive to action we find in the next sentence. Verse 5...

"Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first."

The action to which this church is directed is repentance. Jesus wants them to humbly make that inner U-Turn, a “180” of the heart. And with a repentant spirit, He wants them to remember where they once were spiritually. Did you notice that the word “first” is found in both verses 4 and 5? Think about what the Master is saying in these two verses: “Go back to where you were at first, that is, to the works that once characterized your church. You remember. Go back to the love that was once expressed in those works. You've abandoned that love. Go back and do the works you did before.”

Here was a church that was absolutely committed to guarding, but no longer giving. Here was a family who was totally committed to a Christ-centered confession, but no longer to a Christ-centered compassion. And Jesus doesn't simply want them to tweak what they're doing. He says, “Repent! Repent!”. The seriousness of His words is evident from the second half of verse 5.

 

D. Danger to Consider (2:5b)

Look back at the warning of danger that Jesus wants the Ephesians to consider...do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.

If this church fails to act. If they fail to take the words of Jesus seriously, there will be serious consequences. As we see here, Jesus will “remove [their] lampstand”. What does that mean?
Well, if the lampstands symbolically represent the churches themselves, as is clear from 1:20, then what else can it mean but that the church in Ephesus will no longer be a true church?

This possibility should grieve us, but it shouldn't surprise us. There are many churches in our own country over the last 100 years that have ceased to be true churches. They might still hold services. They might still be active in their communities. They might even be growing numerically. But there is no longer a lampstand. There is no true light. There are no longer godly leaders, or biblical teaching, or Spirit-inspired expressions of love and grace.

Is the danger serious. Absolutely. Remember who is speaking here.

 

E. Declaration of Reward (2:7)

But the Savior's desire is NOT to remove their lampstand, but to fan into flame the love they once knew. He eagerly wants them to repent. And look at how His heart for them is revealed in the final verse, verse 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.’”

What an incentive! What a reward! Isn't this exactly what James told his readers in James chapter 1: Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. (1:12)

This mention of “the tree of life” not only points us back to the opening chapters of Genesis, where are first parents lost access to the tree because of their rebellion, but it also points us back to foothold #4. When we take the book of the Revelation as a whole, we recognize that Jesus will go on to explain in chapter 22 more about “the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”. We read there...

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2] through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2)

Just think about the fullness and satisfaction and wholeness those images evoke. Isn't that what you want? Who can enjoy the tree of life? Verse 7: “the one who conquers”. Who is the one who conquers? Well, based on the whole message to the Ephesians, the one who conquers must be the one who, in regular repentance and faith, is committed to both the truth about Christ and the love of Christ.

 

III. Defining Faithfulness

And so, as is our practice, as we should always do when we understand what the Scripture is teaching, we must also ask, “Why does this matter to me? How should this challenge and change me? How should it challenge us?”

And those questions point us back to footholds # 2 and #5. While we understand that Revelation was written to real churches, we must also remember it was written to SEVEN real churches. And this book, along with the rest of the Bible, confirms that seven is a symbolic number representing completion, perfection, or wholeness. Therefore, while this message was sent to Ephesus two-thousand years ago, the Lord of the Lampstands is also declaring these words to the whole Church, regardless of geography or chronology.

Therefore, holding onto to foothold #5, we, Way of Grace Church, must hear the words of the One who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. Aren't we a lampstand? Aren't I, as a communicator of this message to you, aren't I a star in His right hand? Remember, seven versions of the Revelation were not sent out. One version was sent that included all seven shorter letters in the opening chapters. That meant that every church could read what Jesus said to the other churches. All of it was for all of them, and all of it is for us!

Way of Grace, are we committed? Are we faithful? If so, what does our faithfulness look like? Is it coming week in and week out? Is it serving in some way or in some ministry, week in and week out? Is it a constant commitment to healthy teaching? To choosing solid music? To giving financially? To opening up our homes? To carefully selecting leaders? To training our children? To not giving up or giving in, in spite of the challenges we face as a church?

If those are the ways we are faithful, then praise God! Jesus is commending us, just as commended the Ephesians. He is pleased with all of these things. They are noteworthy.

But...but is there love? Do we really love one another? Do we love our community? Is the love of Jesus evident in us and through us? If our knees are not bowing in service to one another, if our arms are not extended to comfort and support one another, if our hearts are not breaking for those perishing in our own neighborhoods, then there is a cancer at work in this body. And if left unchecked, it will kill us. To the extent that this describes us, the danger is just as real now as it was back then.

But listen. Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Savior, our King, is calling us to conquer; to conquer the fears and pride that keep us from this love; to conquer the compromise we've accepted in regard to what defines complete faithfulness; to conquer the love of the world that pushes out the love of Jesus; to conquer the busyness, and distractedness, and the indifference that can infect each of us.

Remember the hope of the gospel. Remember what Jesus accomplished for us. 1:5, 6... To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood [6] and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father... And because of that hope, Paul can say in Romans 8:37...in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. It is that reality, and only that reality that makes this possible.

Do you want to be faithful? Than it means declaring AND demonstrating the love of Jesus. It means a Christ-centered confession, and a Christ-centered compassion, for all people. Where does it begin? It begins with you. If Christ were giving your diagnosis, what would He say? As each of us weigh these things personally, and seek to KEEP them (#5), including the leadership, then the whole church gets healthier. Brother and sisters, the tree of life awaits us. Let's ask God to help us get healthier by His grace this very week. 

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