Revelation: The Loveless Church (Revelation 2:1-7)

We come now to the first of the seven churches of Revelation. The Lord is giving a message to the church at Ephesus. In verse one we read, “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden  lampstands:”[1]  There is emphasis given to the fact that the one giving them this message holds the seven stars in His right hand. The seven stars are the seven angels or messengers of the churches. One view is that the seven stars are the pastors of the churches. This is a very probable argument. The church of Ephesus had some stellar leadership. Those who served in the church of Ephesus included: Paul, Timothy, and the Apostle John. It was a natural temptation for the church of Ephesus to think very highly of their leaders to the point of placing them on too high of a pedestal. These leaders also came and went. Jesus was communicating to the church that He holds the ‘stars’ in His hand and He places them where He wills. The message here should be that a local church should not ‘worship’ their pastor. It must be understood that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. Earthly leaders, such as pastors, will come and go. However, the true head of the church is always there. Therefore, the church should look to their true leader and not fall prey to depending too heavily upon their pastor. If a church depends too much on their pastor, then when God moves him, the church would suffer. However, if the church depends on Christ and follows Him, the church will continue to thrive even in times of transition. Pastors should also learn a lesson here to not do all the work. A good pastor will work to make disciples and develop leaders so that if God does move him, the church will continue to thrive.

The positive aspects of the church. In verses 2-3 we see the positive aspects of the church at Ephesus. Notice what these verses say, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”[2] Jesus gives a list of some of the things He is proud of concerning the church at Ephesus. The first positive aspect is that of good works. He mentions how that He is aware of their good works. The practice of good works is seen in many places in the scriptures. Good works are seen as evidence of true faith. Notice what James 2:14-18 says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? 17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”[3] Works certainly will not save you, salvation comes by grace only. However, good works is a sign of true faith. The church of Ephesus had evidence of true faith because of the good works that they practiced. The second positive aspect of the church at Ephesus was labor. They did not just have good works, they labored in it. The church at Ephesus was a very busy church. They were ‘abounding in the work of the Lord.’ They had ministry taking place on a daily basis. This word ‘labor’ means ‘toil to the point of exhaustion.’ Jesus refers to this labor as a positive thing. It is not a bad thing to be busy in the work of the Lord. Can the same be said of us? Do we toil to the point of exhaustion? Do we abound in the work of the Lord? As a matter of fact, we cannot out give or out do God. There is always work to be done. We can never do enough or do too much when it comes to the ministry of the church. It is interesting how some will complain that the church is ‘too busy.’ Yes, we should not be busy just for the sake of busyness, however, we should be constantly looking for ways to expand the ministry. Thirdly, we see their patience. Jesus identifies the church at Ephesus as a patient church. This word refers to ‘steadfastness’ of ‘endurance in the midst of trials.’ The church at Ephesus did not falter. When they were faced with trials and adversity, they stuck to it. They continued in the work even when they were troubled. Often times, we tend to give up when the going gets tough. We tend to slow down when we are challenged with the trials of life. Instead, we should endure through the trials. We should continue in the work and not allow the cares of the world or the attacks of the enemy to slow us down. Another positive aspect of the church at Ephesus was that they were a separated people. They could not ‘bear those who are evil.’ The church at Ephesus was very careful of who they allowed into their fold. They were very protective of their congregation. They guarded themselves from false teachers that would come from outside and those who would rise up from within. In verse 6, it mentions that they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. They not only guarded themselves against false doctrine, but they also guarded themselves from the deeds of false teachers. Notice what Matthew Henry’s Commentary says concerning the Nicolaitans, “The Nicolaitans were a loose sect who sheltered themselves under the name of Christianity. They held hateful doctrines, and they were guilty of hateful deeds, hateful to Christ and to all true Christians; and it is mentioned to the praise of the church of Ephesus that they had a just zeal and abhorrence of those wicked doctrines and practices.”[4] Do we have the same just zeal and abhorrence of false doctrines and deeds? Too many churches today will accept what is unacceptable in the name of mercy, grace, and love. Yes, we should show mercy and grace and love, but we cannot allow Satan to get a foothold in the church. We must fight against all forms of false doctrine and practices. We must not allow such things to enter into the doors of our church. A final positive aspect of the church at Ephesus was that fact of their suffering. In verse three it mentions how they persevered without becoming weary. In a sense, they suffered through the trials of life and stayed faithful. They did not grow weary in well doing. They continued in their good works and labors no matter how difficult things were. They suffered for the cause of Christ. We must understand here that life is hard and the toil for Christ which we undertake can become wearisome. It is to our credit and advantage if we, like the church of Ephesus, remain faithful to the work without growing weary. We may become weary in flesh, but we must never be weary in spirit.

The negative aspects of the church. Though there were a lot of things that were praiseworthy concerning the church at Ephesus, there was one particular serious allegation against them. Notice what it says in verse four and five: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.[5] What a sad commentary! Here is a church that is alive and vibrant. They are busy doing the work of the Lord. They stand firm in the faith and guard against false teaching. On the outside, this church is nearly perfect. It has all the characteristics of an amazing church. However, all they do is soon to be in vain because their motives are not pure. They no longer serve out of a heart of love. They are wrapped up in the doing that they have neglected the being. They’ve left their first love. The Pulpit Commentary says, “Christ is here speaking as the Bridegroom, and addresses the Church of Ephesus as his bride (comp. Jer. 2:2–13). This thought would be familiar to the Ephesians from St. Paul’s teaching (Eph. 5:23–33).” [6] Does this not happen in marriage? A marriage that was once filled with romance and awe and wonder has soon been forgotten due to the well intentioned busyness of life. Lange writes, “This reproach is a contrast and counterpoise to all previous praise, almost outweighing it, in fact.[7]  This problem is so severe that the threat is given to remove the lampstand from its place. In other words, the light of the church will fade. The influence and the testimony of the church in the community will die. Did the church of Ephesus take heed to this message? Did they repent and return to their first love? Sadly, they did not. As a result, God did exactly what He said He would do. “The church continued and was later the scene of a major church council, but after the 5th century both the church and the city declined. The immediate area has been uninhabited since the 14th century.”[8]All the labor, all the toil, will fade into nothingness when our first love is abandoned. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “Most of the Ephesian Christians were now second-generation believers, and though they had retained purity of doctrine and life and had maintained a high level of service, they were lacking in deep devotion to Christ. How the church today needs to heed this same warning, that orthodoxy and service are not enough. Christ wants believers’ hearts as well as their hands and heads.”[9] This is so true. May God help us to not lose our first love. May our devotion and love for Christ be stronger than it has ever been before. God forbid; that our service for Him should outweigh our love of Him.

The address to the church of Ephesus is concluded with these words in verse seven: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” [10] This verse reminds us to take heed to the message at hand. It is also a reminder that all those who come to faith in Christ will eat of the tree of life and live forever in the ‘paradise of God’, which is heaven. This also shows what a love for Christ is like. “Love for God is not wrought by legalistically observing commands, but by responding to one’s knowledge and appreciation of God’s love.”[11] It is the greater appreciation of God’s love that propels us to service. We have before us an issue of motive. Why do we do what we do? Do we serve with zeal and fervor while forsaking our love for Christ? Are we busy in the work of the Lord to the point that we neglect who it is that we serve? Are we motivated by our doing or by our love of Christ? What about you? Have you left your first love?

[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:2–3). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] The New King James Version. (1982). (Jas 2:14–18). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (Re 2:1–7). Peabody: Hendrickson.

[5] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:4–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[6] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Revelation. The Pulpit Commentary (p. 58). London: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[7] Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation (p. 115). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[8] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 934). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[9] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 933–934). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[10] The New King James Version. (1982). (Re 2:7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[11] Walvoord, John F. (1985). Revelation. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 934). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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