When considering books of the Bible to study, Revelation is the one that people want to study, but are always nervous to do so due to the level of figurative language it contains. However, we have two chapters in the beginning of the book that do not use figurative language, and address seven churches in Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Three of these congregations had good qualities as well as some negative; two of the congregations were only commended; and, another two congregations were only condemned and charged to repent. These churches are relevant to study because whether on a congregational level or on an individual level, if left unchecked, we could fall into the same traps as some of these churches in the first century.
The first church we read about in Revelation 2:1-7 is the church in Ephesus. Ephesus had some unique challenges as it was home to the Emperor’s cult and the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis (Acts 19:23-40). Despite these challenges, this congregation receives much praise in their actions. Jesus tells them through the writing of John, “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary … But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:2-3, 6). This congregation was doing all the right things, they were following all the right steps. When it came to exposing wickedness in the world, and shining their light, you could not find a better congregation.
Despite all they had done, they were still found lacking. Jesus also condemns them in vv. 4-5: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.” This first love refers to their passion. They at one point were full of zeal for Christ, but over time it had deteriorated. They had begun to go through the motions, being motivated by the actions themselves rather than Christ motivating them. They had to be reminded that it is not works that save, but rather doing good works because of their faith and love for Christ.
Making application from this, I cannot be one who sits idly by and allows false doctrine to be taught. I have to be the type of person that Paul talks about in Ephesians 5:11 when he says, “Do not have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” Jesus refers to us in Matthew 5:14 as “the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” When people look at us, they should clearly see that we are different, and we are different because we will not tolerate nor take part in worldly things. Furthermore, I have to remember that whatever I do, it cannot be to appear greater in the eyes of man, or to check an item off my spiritual checklist. Whatever I do, I must do so “… in the name of Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). I do everything because of my faith in Christ and a zeal to help others reach heaven.
There are multiple lessons we can pull from the church of Ephesus. Like Ephesus, we are surrounded by wickedness and people who do not follow the doctrine of Christ. However, we can still be strong and not fall into what they teach. Like Ephesus, we should be the kind of people that will stand against the world, and teach others how to be saved. Unfortunately, like Ephesus we can also become so wrapped up in our works that we forget the reason why we do them, and lose the passion we once had. If we do fall into this trap, then like Ephesus, we have the opportunity to repent and turn back to being zealous, but only if we will “hear what the spirit says …” (Revelation 2:7).