Let’s dive in and look at the first letter (Rev 2:1-7).
“To the angel[a] of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
As the letter opens we have some strange imagery. The seven golden lampstands represent the 7 churches mentioned in these letters. The one who holds the 7 stars and walks among the seven lampstands is Jesus himself and thus it is he who is dictating these messages. He both holds the church in his hands and walks among the churches. This imagery tells us that Jesus cares deeply about the church. Jesus is personal and he gets into what is going on in the church of Ephesus. Ephesus was a large, influential city. It had a population of around 225,000 at this time and was the fourth largest city in the entire Roman empire.
The message opens positively. The church at Ephesus is active and productive. People are working hard for the Kingdom of God. They are persevering even in the face of challenges. This church and its members faced some very difficult cultural challenges. Ephesus was a center for worship of the god Diana and many people would come to Ephesus to worship this god. This religious tourism was a booming business. If someone became a Christian, they naturally tended to stop supporting the business that thrived on idol worship. Sales went down, businesses lost money and people were upset. This very situation led directly to the Apostle Paul being involved in a riot in Ephesus as recorded in Acts 19:21-40. It was very likely that by not supporting the worship of the goddess Diana, that Christians in the church in Ephesus would have suffered economic losses, losses of friendships and had their reputations in the city suffer. Yet they persevered through these difficulties. They had not grown weary. This is some encouraging stuff! However, as the message continues, we get to some bad news.
Jesus has a problem with this church. While they are doing many things right, they have lost their passionate love for Jesus. Anyone who has been in love can probably remember those early days of love. You will do just about anything for the one you love. You will shift your priorities and change your lifestyle in order to be with the other person. It’s often similar in our faith journey. The initial passion when meeting Jesus launches us on the honeymoon phase. We are passionate. We are in love with Jesus. We relish every opportunity to be with him. This is first love.
Then time passes…Life goes on. The passion for Jesus seems to fade. Day to day concerns crop up. We no longer spend the time with Jesus we used to. It seems to be a chore to read the Bible, pray and head to church. There are other things to do. Maybe work, finances, family, or any number of other things become more important in our minds and lives. Maybe we still love Jesus, but we aren’t in love with him.
This is what has happened in the church at Ephesus. If we are not careful it can happen to us. The warning is that good deeds, church programs, correct doctrine, discernment, and even perseverance are not enough in the face of the loss of love for Jesus. Christian service, volunteering, being in a leadership position; without love for Jesus it cannot be sustained. The Bible makes it clear that without a vital connection to Jesus we cannot thrive. ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:5-6)
For the Ephesians then, what is Jesus’ solution? First, “Consider how far you have fallen.” Be realistic. Have you fallen out of love with Jesus? The first step in addressing the problem is admitting it. Second, “Repent.” Repent for what has gone wrong in the relationship. Apologize to Jesus for the lack of relationship. Have you placed things like work, money, or achievement ahead of Jesus? Time to take action. What are you going to do differently? Do you need to change your schedule? Shift priorities? How do you restore intimacy in the relationship? “do the things you did at first.” Do those things you did when you were in love. Get back to basics. Like any good relationship it takes time, dedication and work.
As we conclude this message to the Ephesians the final warning is stern. “If you do not repent I will remove your lampstand from its place.” A church can fail. Many churches over the years have closed the doors. The warning is stern but there is hope: “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” This is the promise of eternity spent with Jesus. There could be nothing better than an eternal relationship with Jesus. What an amazing promise.
What is the message here? Get back to basics. Love for Jesus must come first. It is the foundation for everything .