Church of Ephesus: Flame that Became an Ember :: By Donald Whitchard

Revelation 2:1-7; Acts 17:11, 18:19-21, 20:17-38; 1 Timothy 1:3

Summary: Revelation, Chapters 2 and 3, deal with seven specific churches located in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) that were given words of encouragement and criticism by the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to read what Jesus says to them because it applies to us as well.

Revelation 2 and 3 deal with seven specific churches listed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 1:11). He gives orders to the apostle John to write down what He says and send it to the pastors of these churches in order to let them know that despite the circumstances in which they find themselves, He is aware of what they are doing and what they are having to endure. He gives each of them words of rebuke, commendation, and counsel for the purpose of renewing their love for Him, to refute the influences of the world, and refocus on the task of preaching the Gospel and being a light in the darkness.

The counsel that the Lord Jesus gives to these churches is still in effect for every church today. If we want to avoid being merely “spiritual comfort zones,” or worse, gatherings of those who practice religion but avoid the reality of Christ and the cross, we need to read what He says, think on our spiritual condition, and give Him our total devotion, love, and dedication. He expects nothing less.

With that in mind, let us look at the first of the seven churches, located in the city of Ephesus. This city and the church in which it was located were of prominent note both in the realms of ancient history and in the pages of Scripture.

Ephesus was a major port city within the Roman Empire, located on the western shores of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). It was located on the Castor River, a few miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Ephesus was known for its magnificent harbor, and ships from all over the known world brought their goods and wares there to sell and trade. Ephesus was the richest city in the realm of Asia Minor, and because of its past services to Rome and its empire, it was granted the right to be what was known as a “free city.” This meant that they were given the right to govern themselves. They were given the freedom to make whatever decisions they wanted for the benefit of the city and region.

In the past century, when the British Empire was at its peak, countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand were given the right of being “self-governing dominions,” where they pledged allegiance to the Sovereign but were allowed to govern their own affairs. This is still in effect today within several of the nations under the British Commonwealth. Ephesus operated their affairs in an equivalent manner within the boundaries of the Roman Empire.

Ephesus was also known for its religious significance. It was where the temple of Artemis, or Diana, was located and known as one of the “seven wonders of the ancient world.” Diana was known as both the goddess of sex and fertility, represented by a grotesque statue of a multi-breasted woman. The temple was filled with hundreds of temple prostitutes, and the way someone worshipped Diana was to engage in sexual practices with one or many of the prostitutes there.

The temple was also used as a place for the safekeeping of valuables, much like a bank, and served as a museum for fine art. It was also a place of refuge for criminals. If a lawbreaker could make it to the temple, they would be safe from prosecution. Little wonder that Ephesus was viewed by many of the ancients as a place of degeneracy, wickedness, and vice. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was reported to have said, “No one could live in Ephesus without weeping over the immorality which he must see on every side.”

The Lord sent the apostle Paul to minister in Ephesus (Acts 18:19-21, 20:17-38). He ministered in the city for two years and founded the church there. It was in Ephesus where he wrote 1 and 2 Corinthians. His “son in the faith,” Timothy, served there as pastor (1 Timothy 1:3). Acts 18 records the work of Aquilla, Priscilla, and Apollos for the sake of the Gospel, and later, John spent his later years there, writing both his gospel and three epistles. It is also said that according to tradition, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was buried there. Ephesus was privileged to hear and know the “cream of the crop” in the early days of the church.

Now thirty years have passed, and save for John, the other “champions of the faith” are all in their graves, having been either martyred or died by “natural means” for the sake of the Gospel. Still, Ephesus has “held on to the faith,” and there is much to commend them for taking this stand. There is also a word of rebuke to Ephesus, showing that even the most “faithful” of churches need to remain devoted to the LORD of the work and not just the “work of the LORD.”

Jesus is giving a personal message not just to Ephesus but to all churches that bear His name. We would be remiss to think that these words are only applicable to what was happening then. The words of Scripture apply to all ages and all circumstances, and we are no exception. We need Jesus more than ever. Ephesus shows us this truth.

Jesus begins His remarks to this church (2:2-3,6) by talking about what is right with them. They had a lot going for them, and He lets them know that He has seen all the good they have done in His name. He commended their service, using three words to describe their activity. First, He commends them for their WORKS. They have done much for the glory of the LORD. They have been at work, and He has seen it all.

He still sees what we are doing and saying for Him. Nothing is hidden from His sight (Luke 8:17).

Second, they have been at LABOR, doing the intense work with a sense of fervency. They were working their fingers to the bone, showing that they were not just a “Sunday morning crowd.” They were actively working for the LORD at great personal expense and sacrifice. The church of Ephesus also demonstrated PATIENCE, or a sense of “steadfast endurance.” They were working in the midst of persecution and opposition.

If we are truly serving the LORD in a spirit of love and devotion, you can be certain that the devil and his kin are not going to sit by idly and watch people turn from darkness to the light of Christ. Is it any wonder that where there is immense persecution and strife, the church of Jesus Christ finds its greatest growth and influence? Think of countries like Iran, North Korea, China, and others where the name and message of Jesus is cursed, hated, and His followers are “Public Enemy No. 1.” The spirit of Ephesus is working mightily in these and other places that we will know about only when Jesus returns to make all things new.

Jesus commended Ephesus for its determination to keep separate from the evils and influences of the world system and their dedication to upholding the standards of the faith (2b, c, 6). They checked out the credentials of teachers and preachers to see if what they taught lined up with the Scriptures, like the Bereans did with Paul (Acts 17:11).

I want my congregation, readers, or respective Bible class to do the same with what I present. I want to be held to a standard when I approach the sacred desk (James 3:1-2). I shudder at the number of false teachers and preachers who grace pulpits in America and other places with flattering, “ear-tickling” tales of fancy and fantasy that are in conflict with the truth of God’s Word (2 Timothy 4:3). The church of Ephesus, if possible, would rise and rightfully condemn us for allowing the proliferation of nonsense and trivia that passes for preaching today. We are biblically ignorant and susceptible to every type of drivel. The commendation that Jesus gave to Ephesus for its firmness and stand on Scripture and doctrine ought to put us to shame.

As we read further, we also see that while Jesus had much to commend Ephesus, He also had words of condemnation we need to read and use to examine our own walk with the LORD. Have we become so devoted to the work of the LORD that we forget the LORD of the work? Have we lost our love for Him and yet hold on to the things that represent Him? Have we let our own merits and efforts take the place of sincere and honest devotion to Him? Has our worship turned hollow and nothing more than a way to take up time in the “service”? Have we attached ourselves to mere doctrine and not a desire to know Him more closely? After all, we will be spending eternity with Him and our brethren.

We need to keep this in mind and look forward to it with a sense of joy, love, and wholehearted devotion to Him for what He has done for us.

Ephesus is a wake-up call” for anyone who is serious in their walk with the LORD and desire to please Him. It is also a “wake-up call” for the church in the last days to get our minds off of what the world would demand of us and redirect our focus on the Lord Jesus. We need to be about His business, not the agendas of a system and mindset that will go the way of the dust. Let us return to the fire of the faith and not be content with the embers of what could have been. Amen?