The church and her priorities
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write . . . I know thy works” (See Revelation 2:1-7, RSV).
Ephesus was known in the ancient world as the “Gateway to Asia”. At the time of the New Testament it was considered a great cosmopolitan city – the seat of commerce, politics, religion, and entertainment. The Ephesian church was marked by a very conspicuos beginning (see Acts 19-20), and was associated with Paul, Timothy, John, and Aquila and Priscilla. Christ presents himself to this church as the One who is in control, the One who is concerned for their welfare, and the One who knows all about them.
The Ephesian church received a three-fold compliment from the Lord (2-3, 6). He commends them for their work (“labors”), for their beliefs/doctrines, and for their patient endurance. They were a busy church and willing to work hard for their faith. They embraced the truth and refuted heresy. They demonstrated patience as a Christian virtue, a fruit of the Spirit, and a mark of maturity.
Nevertheless, Christ had a complaint against this congregation. They had “left their first love”. Reading about this church in the New Testament epistle which bears their name, many references to their love are found. Martin Luther, the great reformer, said, “Love God and do as you please.” In its beginning the Ephesian church loved so strongly and faithfully that everything they did seemed to please the Lord. Some have wondered about this “first love” that had been abandoned. Commentators have suggested that the first love was witnessing and evangelism. Others have suggested that this first love is a reference to their Christian love for one another (and all the saints). The best answer is to see their “first love” as a reference to their love for Christ himself. It is actually the love for Christ which leads to love for others and a willingness to share one’s faith. How had this first love been lost? Perhaps they had sat down to rest and began to rot! Maybe they assumed they had arrived in their faith and no longer needed God to do ministry! One writer suggested that in their zeal to oppose heresy they became judgmental and unloving (un-Christlike).
The command given to this church is also three-fold. They are told to “remember” their first love, to “repent” of their behavior, and to “do” their first works. Unless they do, Christ will cease to use them, though they will receive eternal life. This congregation reminds all churches and all Christians that Christ knows our works. He even knows our motives. He calls us to loving faithfulness. The solution to all of our problems as churches is “more love for Christ”. Are you “in the candlestick” (church), “letting your light shine” for Him, and loving Him?
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.