revelation-2

Revelation 2

Today’s reading is Revelation 2.

I know I’ve said this before, more than once, in these devotionals: the church in Ephesus got a lot of attention in the New Testament era. We see one evidence of that here, right at the beginning of Revelation 2. It was the recipient of the first of the letters to the seven churches.

Jesus had many commendable things to say about the church in Ephesus. They worked hard (v. 2a), persevered through hardships for the name of Christ (v. 2c, 3), and even repudiated false teachers (v. 2). This last one is significant since that was an issue Paul talked about in this church in 1 and 2 Timothy.

But, despite their hard work, perseverance, and doctrinal purity for Christ, they had “forsaken the love” they “had at first.” This doesn’t mean that they lost all love for Christ; the fact that Jesus had just said that they “endured hardships for my name” in verse 3 shows that they were still devoted to him. But their enthusiasm for Christ had cooled. They remained orthodox and faithful but didn’t have the passion for Christ that they once had.

This happens to many churches and can happen to any of us believers, too. What do we do about it? “Repent” Jesus said in verse 5b. In other words, change your mind. Stop being satisfied with faithfulness to Christ and choose instead to remember how amazing his grace really is. Once their minds have changed in repentance, Jesus commanded them to “do the things you did at first.” Things like meeting together often to talk about God and pray, sharing Christ with others, singing and making “music from your heart to the Lord” (v. 19c).

Look back on your walk with God. Has your love cooled off? Do you find reading his word, prayer, coming to church, and other activities that once excited you to be more like chores? Change your mind! Remember what it was like when Christ was your passion, then immerse yourself in the things that fueled that passion. May God be pleased to use those means of grace to re-ignite your love and mine for our Lord.

Deuteronomy 4, Psalms 86–87, Isaiah 32, Revelation 2

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Deuteronomy 4, Psalms 86–87, Isaiah 32, Revelation 2. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read Revelation 2.

Few churches in the New Testament era or since have a history like the church of Ephesus. Paul got the thing going by preaching in the synagogue there at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19) but he declined to stay longer when they asked him to stay. Instead he left Priscilla and Aquila there (Acts 18:18) and promised to return if God wanted him to (Acts 18:21). After he left, Priscilla and Aquila continued there and Apollos arrived preaching the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-26). When Paul returned to Ephesus in his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1) he found a small group of disciples there, but they needed to be taught about Christ. Paul did that as well preaching Christ to Jews and Gentiles for three years (Acts 20:31). During that time, the gospel message spread like warm butter on a hot muffin (Acts 19:10) but there was also severe opposition, even resulting in a riot (Acts 19:23-41). The church in Ephesus continued under local elders after Paul left, yet he warned that false teachers would harm the church in the future (Acts 20:13-38). Paul wrote an important letter, the book of Ephesians, to this church and he later sent Timothy there to address the false doctrine and disorders that did erupt there (1 Tim 1:3). 

The situation must have stabilized because a few years later when John wrote our passage for today, Revelation 2, the Lord commends the church of Ephesus because “you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.” Furthermore in verse 6 he said, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” But in verse 4 the Lord pointed out that they “have forsaken the love you had at first.” The “first love” mentioned in this phrase is not defined any more specifically, but it seems clear that this is describing their love for Christ. This doesn’t mean that they lost their salvation or that they had just become unfeeling Christians. It means that they no longer valued Christ so much that they wanted to spread the knowledge of him everywhere. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, Acts 19:10 talks about how the gospel spread everywhere during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. This was due to his preaching, of course, but his preaching was effective because those who believed it told others about the message and, in this way, it spread. What’s missing, then, is the witness of this church. This is suggested by Revelation 2:1 where Christ is referred to as the one who “walks among the seven golden lampstands.” The lampstands give off light and that light reveals Christ as he walks among them. Although the light of the gospel once burned bright in Ephesus, their passion to spread the knowledge of Christ had cooled off. Although they eventually came orthodox defenders of true Christian doctrine, they no longer proclaimed the saving grace of Christ like they once had. Jesus warned them because, if they did not enlighten others to see him through the gospel, he would “remove your lampstand from its place” (v. 4b). The prescription was to “repent and do the things you did at first” which means to turn from inclusive orthodoxy and become diligent about representing Christ to the world like lights on a lampstand should. 

Pure doctrine is important in the church. 1 and 2 Timothy, which were written to Timothy while he was serving in Ephesus, make that clear. But, in addition to clinging to the truth of the scripture, we need to remember that Christ has saved us personally and has commanded us to tell others about what he will do for them if they trust him. Let’s not become so satisfied with our own salvation and so assured of our own orthodoxy that we stop sharing Christ with the world. You know that each Sunday I talk about what Christ did for us in salvation and give everyone a chance to respond by indicating their desire to know more about becoming a Christian. Would you consider inviting someone to hear that life-giving message this Sunday?

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.