Dear Loveless Church (Rev. 2:1-7)
This may be one of the most important sermons I ever preach regarding the longterm viability of Grace Clovis. I’m convinced there is something very important for all of us to hear in this letter to Ephesus. At some point in the next thirty minutes all of us should feel targeted by this passage. These are not words the Lord has for a handful of individuals. This is a message for us all. I am praying that the Holy Spirit does a work in our hearts through this passage that leaves us on our faces like John (Rev 1:17).
John has been commissioned by Jesus to write in a book his revelation which contains a letter to seven distinct churches in Asia Minor. These churches were in a semi-circular formation probably following a typical postal route.
Prior to this, John had seen the son of man standing in the midst of the lampstands, which represent the churches. The appearance of Christ in his glorious splendor left John falling upon his face as though dead. But Jesus placed his hand upon John and spoke words of comfort and encouragement to him.
Jesus now dictates letters to the seven churches. Over the next seven weeks we will look at each letter individually. They begin with a reference to the son of man informed by the vision. They typically contain several commendations, words of warning to repent, and promises for those who persevere.
Although these letters are referring to specific instances within these congregations, their contents were meant to be read by all believers in every place and age (Rev 1:3). The problems they experienced are relevant to every church and they stand in contrast to the peace that is enjoyed by the church in glory (Rev 21:1-22:5).
Read Rev. 2:1-7
This letter comes from the son of man who is tending to the lampstands (1). He commands John to write to the “angel of the church in Ephesus.” Although the angel is addressed, the content is clearly meant for the members of the church. The angel is simply the representative who receives the message on behalf of the church.
Ephesus was the church John was pastoring, although currently exiled to Patmos. It was the most important city in Asia with an estimated population of 200,000 citizens. It was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Artemis was the virgin huntress of Greek mythology, often depicted with a bow and arrow. The Temple of Artemis was 450ft long, 225ft wide, and 65ft tall. It had 127 columns supporting its massive roof.
When Paul was establishing the church in Ephesus (52-55 AD), a silversmith named Demetrius (who sold replicas of Artemis) gathered a crowd of citizens in the theater to protest (Acts 19:21-41). The theater, which seated between 17,000-25,000 (about half the size of Wrigley Field), was filled with people chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for two hours!
With the rise of emperor worship, portions of a smaller temple near the theater was consecrated for the worship of Julius Caesar in addition to Artemis. Temples for Domitian and other emperors were erected later which earned Ephesus the title of “Neokoros” (Temple Warden). For over a century the title had been awarded to Pergamum, which was the first city in Asia to build a temple for the emperor. This was an honor they competed over. Numerous inscriptions throughout the major cities in Asia Minor point to the importance of the worship of both Artemis and the emperor. However, Ephesus was exceptional in their practice.
In that context, it may be surprising to begin with…
I. A Word of Commendation (2-3)
This sounds like an amazing church. They work hard. They suffer for Christ with patience. They have not grown weary in their task. They remain committed to the truth and their kingdom labors.
They had defended the apostles’ teaching against false teachers. They had been well equipped by the leadership which included Paul, Timothy, and John. Their doctrine was solid!
This is quite praiseworthy among the churches of their day. Christ is genuinely encouraging them. They had guarded the truth in the face of tribulation. John’s exile to Patmos indicates some familiarity with persecution there.
We might be commended for the same things. Some of you have labored alongside my family from the time we were meeting in our home. Michael Jameson can remember gathering with us in our living room for our initial bible study in the summer of 2013. Shortly after that, Ray and Liz Sanchez taught our first Sunday School class in the garage. Many more of you joined us when we began weekly worship services at the end of 2014. More than half of you can still recall our first location in Old Town Clovis. You have patiently endured alongside us through several challenges.
You haven’t charged me with false teaching, for which I’m thankful. There is a palpable commitment to the truth here. The conversations I overhear are filled with biblical and theological questions, or reflections upon the sermon.
Many of you open up the word in private and with your families. You labor to know and apply the truth in the context of your daily lives. These are evidences of your eagerness to grow and deepen in your understanding of God’s word. You should be commended for that. Be encouraged! Remain steadfast and patient in your growth, and the growth of Christ’s church.
Spurgeon, “By perseverance the snail reached the Ark.”
Although the church in Ephesus had some wonderful qualities, they also had a significant problem which needed to be dealt with. For that Jesus gave them…
II. A Word of Condemnation (4-6)
As they had grown in their commitment to kingdom labor, it seems they had also grown cold and callous in their labor. The text is not clear whether their lack of love was directed to those they served, or those they served alongside, or even toward the Lord himself. Several commentators suggest it could be a general love that includes all three categories.
However, since they were so thoroughly commended for their faithfulness, it seems less likely that this would refer to their loss of love for Christ. This is probably a loss of love for others.
Since they were living in a very immoral culture, their love towards outsiders was probably beginning to weaken. Maybe they had isolated themselves and become pessimistic and critical. Ephesus was filled with idolatry and cult prostitution. The Temple of Artemis, had become a refuge for criminals, which increased crime. Ancient philosopher Heraclitus said, “no one could live in Ephesus without weeping at its immorality.”1 With the increase of lawlessness in these latter days, Jesus warned that “the love of many would grow cold” (Mt 24:12). This was already evident within a single generation of believers in Ephesus.
But there is another aspect of love. Writing to the same church some thirty years prior, Paul commended them for their “love toward all the saints” (Eph 1:15). If that is the kind of love they were known for shortly after the church was established, then it seems likely that discord and division had developed within the church since those early years.
Without love every other quality is worthless (1 Cor 13:2). The remedy is clear. Jesus gives them three commands:
- Remember from where you have fallen. Reflect back upon the love you had toward others when you first believed. Has your compassion for the lost begun to wane? Remember your love for other believers. This is critical to your growth in Christ, and it’s easy to take for granted. Jesus is telling the Ephesians to remember their “love toward all the saints”. Remember these things so that you might long for them again.
- Repent of your loveless activity for the kingdom. Do you have a true sense of your sin? Do you understand the mercy of God offered in Christ? Do you grieve over your sin? Do you hate your sin? How are you actively turning away from that sin and turning towards Christ?
- Return to the works you did at first. Take action! Make every effort to change the current course you’re on! Walk in obedience of Christ’s command to love others. Repeat the works you did at first that were full of love.
The consequences for disobeying these commands would be to have their lampstand removed. Their situation was not a minor disturbance. Their lack of love was seriously jeopardizing their witness in the world. Jesus would remove their lampstand If they continued in their current state.
Wilcock, “Such a failure is only too possible. It has to be confessed by all Christians who have cast themselves in the role of Mr Valiant-for-Truth, and forgotten that they are also expected to be Mr Great-heart.”
Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we can love God and simply tolerate each other. The same patience and endurance we have for Kingdom labor, we must also have for each other! If you have fallen into a rut of indifference or impatience with one another, remember, repent, and return to a former time of camaraderie.
A church that has lost its love will sooner or later lose its light.
At this point, Christ transitions to another word of commendation. You hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which he also hates (6). Having just expressed their lack of love, it stands in stark contrast to commend them for something they hate. Isn’t this part of their problem? They do a good job of hating. Won’t this only add confusion?
Most scholars agree that the Nicolaitans were a heretical group associated with the teaching of Balaam and Jezebel also found in Pergamum and Thyatira (Rev 2:14-15, 20). We will consider them a bit more fully in those letters. In brief, they advocated for compromise with pagan culture and religion.
Maybe concerned that the pendulum would swing too far in the opposite direction, Jesus clarifies that true love is not the absence of hate. A church that loves well, will hate whatever disrupts that love. Their passion for the truth was not the problem. They ought to remain passionate about defending the gospel against the corruption of false teachers. But even that is done out of love for God and others.
The letter concludes with…
III. A Word of Promise (7)
The reward of heaven is granted to those who have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying and persevere to the end.
Around 97 AD John was released from exile to finish the final years of his life and ministry in Ephesus.
The early church father, Jerome, says that when John got to a point where he could no longer walk, he was carried into the church where he would exhort them with the words “Little children, love one another.”2
Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, writing to the Ephesian Church about five years later, commended their impeccable knowledge of the gospel. Half a century after they were established, they remained impenetrable by false teaching. He also noted their unity and their love. It is a remarkable testimony of their swift response to this letter. They wasted no time in turning things around.
Appropriately enough, the third General Council took place in Ephesus in 431 AD, where they condemned Nestorianism3. Eventually, the city was separated from the sea due to progressive silting, and everything was abandoned. But the remains of the fifth century church can be seen to this day.
What will be said of this church 500 years from now?
A church that has lost its love will sooner or later lose its light.
John 3:16 teaches us, out of God’s love for the world he gave his Son. In 1 John 3:16, John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Out of love for us, Jesus died. And he now calls us to die to ourselves and live for others.
The same Christ who lit the lamp of Grace Clovis and is able to remove the lampstand. If we lack the humility required to hear our faults and repent of them, we should have no expectation of persevering.
But, if God has given you ears “to hear what the Spirit says to the churches” then you will repent. You will learn to love what God loves and hate what God hates. And after you have conquered, you will be received into paradise.