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Displaying items by tag: Love

1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things says he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands;

2 I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them who are evil: and you have tried them who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars:

3 And have endured, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted.

4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.

5 Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place, except you repent.

6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

 

PART 2

 

*** Recipient -> "To the Angel of the Church of Ephesus" ***: As we studied in lessons #9 and #12, we know that the word ‘angel' refers to the messenger or leader of that church. Good part of the letter is addressed to the leader of the church. As we read the message, we can see what a great responsibility a leader has before God. The conditions described are directed at the leader, but they reflect the general state of the church.

*** Sender -> "he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the middle of the seven golden candlesticks" ***: In Revelation 1:20, we read that the seven stars in His right hand are the seven angels, or leaders of the churches, and that the seven candlesticks are the seven churches. He is telling the leader of the church in Ephesus that He is in control of everything. He is among the church members, and He has never abandoned the church leaders. He literally knows them like the palm of His hand.

*** Assessment -> "I know…" ***: Here Jesus is describing how well He knows the situation in the church. These are the things Jesus points out about the leader and the church:

Works: the church of Ephesus is praised for their incessant 'hard work' or labor (from the greek kopon), and patience. They are still not tired from laboring for Jesus’ sake. They have endured evil people coming along threatening the truth they stood for.

True doctrine: they tested the apostles that arrived at their church or that came from within the members, and were able to identify the ones who were not telling the truth. The church was able to stay faithful to the original instructions of the Gospel, and rejected the false teachings of the Nicolaitans.

Problem: losing their first love. The problem with checking everyone who comes along, but without love, is that we run the risk of becoming legalist and overly critical. Separating the liars from the truth-tellers was and still is extremely important. But it looks like the emphasis in Ephesus was on the “trying” the so called apostles. Yes, they were right in finding out if those people were telling the truth or not. But all the good works a church may do are worthless if there is no love (1 Corinthians 13). Only love can maintain the balance between church responsibility and interpersonal relationships.

*** Appeal -> "Remember, repent, and do, or else" ***: The first step was to keep remembering, or to keep in mind the place from where they had fallen. They had lost focus on what is central to the church: love. The second step was to repent. Repenting requires an action. It gives the idea that someone is walking on the opposite direction, and needs to make a 180 degree turn. They had forgotten who God is, because God is love (1 John 4:8). The church of Ephesus was walking away from God. Jesus is here calling them back to God. After doing the first two steps, the third step should then come naturally. If you have in mind that the God you serve is love, you will want to walk towards Him, and so you will automatically want to do the things which are pleasing to Him. Just as you did it in the beginning. That is why the Bible tells us that we can recognize people by their fruits/works (Matthew 7:16). Works with meaning (love) indicate in which direction of the path you are going. Now, Jesus does warn the leader that if the church does not repent, judgement will fall upon them, and they will lose the privilege of being light bearers. Jesus will remove their lampstand from its place. Ancient Israel lost their first love (Jeremiah 2:2), and their condition after that was very serious (Jeremiah 2). When Israel rejected Christ, God removed their lampstand from its place (Jeremiah 32:30-31), and gave it to the spiritual descendants of Abraham, through Jesus’ new covenant signed with His blood on the cross (Hebrews 8). All who believe in Jesus and His sacrifice are called to be light bearers of His truth. When we consciously refuse to bear His light, as He instructed us to, we become responsible for our own sentence, and therefore, with our actions, we are choosing to have our lampstand removed from His presence.

*** Call to hear the Spirit -> The Spirit says to the churches ***: The Spirit is saying this message about loss of love loud and clear to all in the churches (plural). There are no excuses for not listening. If someone didn’t hear the message, it is because they chose to show their backs to God, and not their faces (Jeremiah 32:33). This call back, although very serious, is a call coming from Jesus’ love for the sinner. This is not a call of hopelessness. If the situation was hopeless for all the members in the church, there would not be a need for a promise made to those who overcome it. Since we do have a promise, we can still decide to turn back to God and follow His love.

*** Promise -> To the one who overcomes ***: Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (1 John 4:16). By turning away from God (Love), the church in Ephesus was starting a journey down a very dangerous path that inevitably leads to falseness and death. The further we move away from God, the closer we move towards Self. And Self leads to destruction. Not surprisingly, the promise to the one who turns away from this path of eternal death is a promise about eternal life. The tree of life was first mentioned in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9), and it was located in the middle of the garden. To eat from the tree of life meant that the ones who ate from it would live forever (Genesis 3:22). Because of Christ’s death, we are able to remain in the path towards eternal life. When people choose His path, they will be able to enjoy the benefits of the tree of life that is in Heaven.

*** Church history view and prophetic application ***: We cannot ignore what Jesus said to John when He told John to write this letter. The message to the churches was about the first century Christians, but was also about the churches that were to come (Revelation 1:19). After Jesus resurrected and ascended, the church experienced an exponential growth. But, around the last decade of the first century, by the time John wrote the book of Revelation, the church started to experience the loss of the feeling that first sparkled the church growth. And so, they started to depart from the freshness and clarity of the original teachings of Jesus: "[…] Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. […] and […] love your neighbor as yourself". (Matthew 22:37-39).

*** Overview ***: The church in Ephesus was a good church, with many good qualities. But it was starting to go down a very dangerous and deadly road, the road of lovelessness. When we move away from the purity and simplicity of the Gospel and start on the path that points to ourselves, we place our life in jeopardy. When we move away from love, whether individually, or as a church, and regardless of the time in history we are in, what we are actually doing is rejecting the call to hear the Spirit. When we remove love from the church equation, we are left with empty laws and rituals, and meaningless talk. True Christian religion cannot exist without love. When Love is out, Self is in, and the church becomes just a building and stops being the body of Christ. Jesus is extending His right hand to us today, just as He extended His right hand to the church in Ephesus. He wants to show us that He still has a place for us there among His stars, and His lampstands. Through His death we become overcomers, and can receive His promise of eternal life.

1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things says he that holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands;

2 I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you can not bear them who are evil: and you have tried them who say they are apostles, and are not, and have found them liars:

3 And have endured, and have patience, and for my name's sake have labored, and have not fainted.

4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love.

5 Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand out of its place, except you repent.

6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

7 He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches; To him that overcomes will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.

 

We will divide the letter to Ephesus in two. Part 1 will be dealing with a historic overview of Ephesus, and also with what the Bible tells us about this church. On Part 2, we will be looking at every aspect of the formatted letter.

 

PART 1

 

*** Historical setting ***: Ephesus was about 60 miles from Patmos, and was the most important city of the Roman Empire besides Rome. It was the capital of Asia Minor. The name of the city means “Desirable”. Ephesus was a very modern metropolis, and had one of the best harbors of the region. It also had a very large library (Library of Celsus), and an impressive theater that could sit 25,000 people (the Odeum). Historians estimate a population of up to 225,000 residents. Some of the amenities available were: water system throughout the city (advanced aqueduct system), indoor plumbing, heated pools in bath houses with heated floors, public restrooms with a type of flushing mechanism, cooling system (a form of air conditioner) for the most expensive homes, and more. The city was a powerful commercial and intellectual center. Perhaps the most important hallmark of the city was the temple of the pagan goddess of fertility Artemis of Ephesus (or Diana), who was worshiped throughout Asia (Acts 19:27). It is said that the temple of Artemis offered the right of asylum. That meant that any criminal reaching its perimeter of the temple before being arrested would be safe. Therefore, not only was the temple a deposit of extremely valuable artifacts, it was also the place of choice for outlaws. The temple of Artemis was not the only pagan temple. They also had a temple of Julius Caesar, a temple of Augustus, and a temple of Domitian. Pagan worship was very prominent in Ephesian culture. A number of citizens were involved in sorcery (Acts 19:19), and local businesses took advantage of such pagan beliefs and turned them into a strong source of income (Acts 19:23-27). Any threats to the trade associated with pagan worship would affect the overall economy of the city.

*** Biblical view ***: It is in the middle of this extremely pagan society that we find the church in Ephesus. On his brief first visit to Ephesus, when he was traveling from Corinth to Antioch, Paul went directly to the synagogue and preached to the Jews there. This first encounter was very positive, and they asked Paul to stay longer. Paul was unable to stay, but promised to return (Acts 18:21). He left his friends Aquila and Priscilla in charge of continuing the ministry. They were the starting point of the church in Ephesus, and the church met at their home (1 Corinthians 16:19). Aquila and Priscilla were also the ones who taught a Jesus-believing Jewish preacher named Apollos the complete picture of Christ’s gospel (Acts 18:24-28). Eventually, Paul did return to Ephesus. He spent over two years there, preaching to Jews and Greeks (Acts 19:10) and strengthening the church. When the Jews in the synagogue would not listen anymore, Paul moved his lessons to a lecture hall where he discussed the Word of God daily (Acts 19:9). Paul’s ministry was flourishing and soon the city had a bonfire of sorcery books that were worth a fortune (Acts 19:19). The growth of Christianity started to affect the local economy, and a silversmith named Demetrius brought together other trade members to discuss the decrease and impending crisis on the sale of Artemis souvenirs and shrines, and potential discrediting of their goddess (Acts 19:23-27). This debate grew to the point where they had to move it to the Odeum, and even then it almost reached a level where they could be accused of rioting. The confusion of the assembly had to be controlled by the city clerk (Acts 19:32-41).

Some time later, while in prison, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, which today is the book of Ephesians in the Bible. In this letter, he tells them about the joy of unity and of relationships. This makes sense since the congregation in Ephesus was a mix of “Jews and Greeks”. Paul also commended their "faith in the Lord Jesus and [their] love for all God’s people” (Ephesians 1:15). In that letter, Paul wrote an important prayer, which was also a message to the Ephesians. Part of this prayer was very specific, and addressed the issue later described by John. We read in Ephesians 3:17-19: "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Then, in Ephesians 5:6-7, Paul warns the church: "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.” Paul ends the letter to the Ephesians by saying: "Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Ephesians 6:23-24).

In his later letter to Timothy, Paul feels the need to advise the church on a pressing issue. 1 Timothy 1:3-7 has a key message from Paul regarding the state of the church in Ephesus, and Paul is calling Timothy to help the Ephesian church: "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm." Paul was concerned with the false teachers now coming from within the church. False ideas and behaviors began to permeate the congregation. He could be talking about the Nicolaitans, the group mentioned in Revelation 1:6.

*** The Nicolaitans ***: We see mention of a group called Nicolaitans in the writings of early Christian authors, such as Irenaeus and Hippolytus. According to them, the Nicolaitans were the followers of Nicolas of Antioch. He was a convert to judaism, and was chosen to be one of the seven deacons of the early church (Acts 6:5). Somehow, Nicolas, who was viewed as being "full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), moved away from the truth and became the founder of heretic teachings. The church in Ephesus seemed to have, in general, rejected the teachings of the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:6), but the church in Pergamum seemed to have some members who supported the teachings of this group (Revelation 2:15). As we further read the message to Pergamum, we can see that the Nicolaitans are connected to the group of those “who hold the teachings of Balaam” (Revelation 2:14-15). Both groups were teaching in like manner things directly opposed to the true message of God. So let’s check the etymology of both names. Nicolas, from the Greek Nicolaos (nikaō + laos) means “conqueror of people”. And Balaam, from the Hebrew baal + am, means “to destroy” or “to swallow” people. In the church of Thyatira, we see yet another teacher who is leading God’s servants into false doctrines: Jezebel (Revelation 2:20). It is unlikely that there was a member in that church named Balaam or Jezebel. But we see Balaam and Jezebel in the Old Testament. So let’s look in the Old Testament and see what we can learn from their story, in order for us to understand the symbolism of this reference.

Balaam: Balaam was a non-Israelite unfaithful prophet of God. He was from Pethor in Aram Naharaim, Mesopotamia (Deuteronomy 23:4). Balak, king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse the Israelites while they were camping near Moab. Through divine intervention, Balaam was not able to curse them, and for 3 times blessed the Israelites instead (Numbers 23 and Numbers 24). Balak was furious. Since he could not curse them verbally, Balaam found another way to bring a curse to Israel. 2 Peter 2:15-16 tells us that Balaam “loved the wages of wickedness”. He "enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident”, and so "a plague struck the Lord’s people” (Numbers 31:16). The Peor incident is reported in Numbers 25:1-9, when the Moabite women seduced the Israelite men. They "began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods.” (Numbers 25:1-2). Now we can better understand Revelation 2:14-15, where it talks about those “who hold the teachings of Balaam”. His teachings were about enticing God’s people to break God’s law by worshiping idols and committing adultery. In Micah 6:5 we read that God is calling His people to never forget this episode with Balaam, so we "may know the righteous acts of the Lord”.

Jezebel: She was a Phoenician princess who married Ahab, king of northern Israel (1 Kings 16:29-33) around the time of the prophet Elijah. She worshiped Baal, and influenced her husband to abandon the true God. Ahab also started worshiping Baal (1 Kings 16:31), further promoting idolatry among the Israelites. Ahab’s actions after he turned to idolatry "did more to arouse the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than did all the kings of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:32-33;  1 Kings 21:25). At some point, Jezebel began killing the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4), and also threatened to kill the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 19:2). By deceiving, lying, and cheating, she worked to manipulate the ones around her, including her husband; and because of that, God brought disaster upon them (1 Kings 21:1-23). Now we can understand Revelation 2:20. Just as Balaam was the reason the Israelites involved themselves with idolatry and fornication, Jezebel was the reason why the Israelite king “sold himself to do evil” (1 Kings 21:25) and turned to idolatry. Ahab consequently became involved with all the rituals associated with pagan worship, and as king, led God’s people to behave the same way.

Throughout Asia Minor, the Roman Empire required that the people would pledge allegiance to the Emperor, recognizing his divinity. Also, the different trades were required to pay homage to their specific gods as part of their good business practices. It was hard being a Christian citizen or a Cristian business person and still remain separate from social pagan practices. They were faced with a choice: to remain faithful to the truth, or to pretend that social paganism doesn't affect one's spiritual life. The Nicolaitans were likely teaching the churches in Asia a modern version of Balaam and Jezebel’s pagan philosophies: compromising and adjusting the true doctrines of God in order to make dealing with their civic pagan duties more convenient and give the impression that such philosophies are not really conflicting with Gospel teachings. That in itself is an illusion, because no matter how much you twist and adapt the truth to justify wrong behavior, wrong behavior is still a sin, even when people lie to themselves in order to try and feel better about their choices.

*** Overview ***: We can see that Ephesus had its share of true prophets, incomplete preachers, and false teachers. From the establishment of the church, the members had to assess and react to what was being presented in the social and religious circles of their city. Aquila and Priscilla did this with Apollos, whose message even though true, was missing some key points. The church members also had to assess the teachings of sorcery books, and once they understood they were false, they didn’t think twice and burned them all. Timothy had to address the false teachers coming from within the church in order to restore love. This church was in serious danger of becoming just a group of people, like Paul said, who were confidently discussing things they actually didn’t know, and promoting a “meaningless talk”. By the time John started writing the letters, the Church in Ephesus had already grasped the concept of true doctrine and of how to recognize false teachers (Revelation 2:2). But it seems that Paul’s goal to restore love had not been reached (Revelation 2:4). They were not showing the "undying love” that Paul had mentioned to them before. As we can see, the love issue was not a new topic to them. They already knew that having a complete doctrine without love is the same as not having anything at all.

   
   
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