In the beginning of John’s Revelation Jesus addressed seven letters to seven congregations in the Roman province of Asia. The first of these is addressed to the Christians in Ephesus.
The congregation in Ephesus had a wonderful beginning. Paul visited the city at the end of his second teaching trip, spending time debating with the Jews in their synagogue. Such was the interest that he returned on his third teaching trip. He spent two years teaching in this Roman city which was steeped in paganism. Such was the success of Paul and his companions that those who made images of Artemis, the local goddess, started a riot in protest. (All of this can be found in Acts 18-19).
When Jesus sent his letter, the Christians in Ephesus were still holding true to God’s word.
“I know your works as well as your labor and steadfast endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have even put to the test those who refer to themselves as apostles (but are not), and have discovered that they are false. I am also aware that you have persisted steadfastly, endured much for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary… But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice – practices I also hate” (Revelation 2:2-3, 6 NET).
Their adherence to God’s word seems to have centered on their zeal to not tolerate evil in any shape or form. There were those who called themselves “apostles” – but they really weren’t. They investigated and discovered they were false. It would seem that they would then not have anything to do with them. They were steadfast in upholding the truth and, as a result, had endured much for the name of Jesus. But they hadn’t grown tired. They were remaining faithful to God’s word.
The Nicolaitans, from what we can tell from history, claimed to be Christians but taught that you could be a faithful Christian without giving up the immoral practices that were rampant in Roman society. What you did physically, in essence, did not affect you spiritually. Possibly connected with this was the idea that they had a higher form of knowledge, a special knowledge if you will, that allowed them to live this way. Jesus commended them for hating what the Nicolaitans were doing. This was sin and needed to be opposed – Jesus himself hated what they did! Although they were doing so much right, all was not as rosy as the initial picture might suggest.
“But I have this against you: You have departed from your first love! Therefore, remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place – that is, if you do not repent” (Revelation 2:4-5).
They had “departed from your first love.” We are not given the details of what this entailed. Perhaps in their zeal to defend the truth and oppose false teachers they had forgotten that their mission was to make disciples, teaching people both the basics of the good news of Jesus and helping them to grow into the likeness of the Messiah. It is easy to become so involved in opposing false teaching that we forget our primary mission as Christians.
What did they need to do? They needed to change. They needed to remember where they had been and get back to doing what they did when they were first Christians. And this was serious: if they didn’t repent Jesus would remove their “lampstand from its place” – they would no longer be part of Jesus’ people.
We, too, need to be involved in doing the basics of telling others about Jesus. Opposing error is necessary, but don’t forget our first love!
“The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will permit him to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
Readings for next week:
4 June – 3 John
5 June – Jude
6 June – Revelation 1-2
7 June – Revelation 3-4
8 June – Revelation 5-6