Today we begin a section of Revelation where Jesus addresses seven churches. The ESV Study Bible reveals a helpful pattern to understand while reading these “letters” that will be helpful as we unpack each one over the next few days:
- The royal author describes himself in terms from chapter 1.
- “I know” introduces his diagnosis of the church’s condition, both positive (except for Sardis and Laodicea) and negative (except for Smyrna and Philadelphia).
- Comfort and commands flow from the diagnosis.
- All of the churches are commanded to hear and heed all of the letters (“what the Spirit says to the churches,” 2:7, etc.).
- A blessing is promised to “the one who conquers,” foreshadowing the final visions in chapters 21–22.
Today, we are reading about the church in Ephesus. What does Jesus say about this church?
Positively, Jesus commends them for their endurance and desire for doctrinal truth.
2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. (ESV)
This church is commended for their desire to know what God’s Word says, and they were not easy to give up. But they had a big problem: they had lost their love.
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. (ESV)
What this shows is that you can have the best theology in the world, but if you lack love, it doesn’t matter. The passage doesn’t specify if the church had lost love for God or for people, but it doesn’t matter because they are synonymous with one another—if they don’t love Jesus, they won’t love people; if they don’t love people, it’s because they don’t love Jesus.
As serious as this warning is, there is hope! Jesus tells them they can repent from this sin and return to the love they had at first. But Jesus also warns them: if they fail to repent, he will “remove their lampstand.” This means that their status as a church would be lost.
This passage should serve as a challenging and encouraging warning to us. Challenging in the sense that we must continuously keep the main the main thing, which is our love for Jesus! It is easy to lose focus on Christ and allow worldly things to begin to creep in. But this passage is also encouraging because Jesus reminds us that we have the opportunity to repent and turn back to Him when we stray away.
Can you say that Jesus is your first love? Are other things distracting you from loving Jesus supremely? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
By: Graham Withers — Pastoral Ministry Apprentice