seven letters  ephesus part II

Judging by what we saw from last time, it seems pretty clear that the Christians in the city of Ephesus were doing a lot of really good things. For example, the Ephesian Christians were hard workers who refused to give up spiritually when things got difficult. They were also serious about checking out those who claimed to be spiritual leaders to see if they were really telling the truth. Finally, the Christians at Ephesus patiently endured trials and difficulties for Jesus' sake and received praise from Him for doing so.

Despite all these good things however, there was one serious problem that Jesus felt the need to talk about... 

"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love" (Revelation 2:4 NIV).

What's this "first love" that Jesus is speaking of here? Well to answer that question, we need to look at a conversation that took place between Jesus and a religious teacher that's recorded for us in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12. In this passage, we're told that this religious teacher heard Jesus speaking to another group of religious leaders and was impressed by the easy way that Jesus handled a seemingly impossible question (see Mark 12:18-27 for the story on that). This prompted him to ask Jesus a question of his own...  

"Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" (Mark 12:28).

Jesus responded by saying this...

"The one that says, 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only God. And you must love him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength" (Mark 12:29-30).

This answer helps us understand what Jesus meant by the phrase "first love" in His letter to the church at Ephesus. You see, when Jesus says, "...I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love" it can only mean that the Christians in Ephesus had walked away from their greatest and most important love- their love for God. You see, Jesus taught that the "primary job description" for every human being is to love God "...with all your heart and soul and mind and strength." So this means that our first, greatest and highest-ranking love should always be for God. 

Unfortunately, it seems that the Christians in Ephesus were so busy doing good things that they forgot the most important thing- to love God first and foremost! Of course, Christians today can also fall into this same trap of "busyness" just as easily as the Christians at Ephesus did in the first century. To check and see if this may be true in your own life, just try asking yourself these two simple questions:

  1. Has there ever been a time when I loved God more than I do now? 
  2. Are there things in my life that have a higher priority than Jesus Christ?

If the answer to either of those questions is "yes" then it means that there is a good chance that you are also making the same mistake that Jesus speaks of here in His letter to the church at Ephesus. Fortunately, this is something that can be fixed by following the instructions that Jesus provides next...

"Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first..." (Revelation 2:5a NIV). 

For some people, the word "repent" is associated with the idea of a wild-eyed, crazy-haired guy carrying a sign warning others that "The End Is Near!!!" or something like that. While The Doctor certainly has nothing against wild-eyed, crazy-haired guys (especially since he happens to be one himself), you should know that the word "repent" actually means "to change your mind" and it implies a lot more than just feeling sorry about doing something wrong. Real repentance always involves action, just like a motor vehicle driver might stop from going the wrong way by making a U-turn and going back in the right direction. 

In this instance, "turning around" for the Ephesian Christians meant getting back to the basics and getting to know Jesus again- just like they did when they first became Christians. In fact, talking, listening and spending time with Jesus through prayer and reading the Scriptures each day will help anyone maintain that "first love" priority and sustain that real, genuine, authentic relationship that everyone should have with God.

But having an  honest, loving relationship with God is not only a good idea, there are definite consequences for those who choose not to. Check out the back end of verse five... 

"If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place" (Revelation 2:5b NIV).

A Christian who doesn't give their relationship with Jesus the attention that it deserves sets a bad example for others and may be in danger of losing all the good things that God wants to give those who really love Him. In the worst-case scenario, a church or an individual may continue to call themselves "Christians" without having any real connection with Christ except in name only. Unfortunately, this is apparently what happened to the Christians in Ephesus for this busy, dynamic city of the first century is just a ruin today and the church there has long since ceased to exist.  

Now this is a point where you might expect Jesus to end His letter, but He still has one last comment to make before finishing up... 

"But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate" (Revelation 2:6 NIV).

You know, the word hate is a pretty strong word and there is only one place in the entire New Testament where Jesus says that He hates something. That place is right here in Revelation 2:6. 

So who were these Nicolaitans (pronounced "nic-o-lay-shuns") and what were they doing to provoke such a strong reaction from Jesus? Well, there are basically two theories about who the Nicolaitans were. The first theory holds that the Nicolaitans were the followers of a man named Nicolas who taught that it was OK to for people to get involved in all kinds of sexual activities that the Scriptures say are wrong. Since sexual sin always ends up hurting people eventually, it's easy to see why Jesus would be strongly against those who taught that it was OK anyway. 

There's another view that uses the word "Nicolaitan" itself to help understand who these guys really were. In the original language of the book of Revelation, the word "Nicolaitan" means "to conquer or lord over the people". Because of this, it's believed by some that the Nicolaitans were people who assumed a level of authority over others that really belonged only to God. 

Again, it's easy to see why Jesus would be strongly against such people for anyone who claims to have the same authority as God is sure to lead others into big trouble eventually. Either way, you don't need The Doctor to tell you that it's a really bad idea to be on the side of something that Jesus says He hates.

Jesus then closes His letter by saying this: 

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7 NIV).

The "tree of life" spoken of here first shows up in the book of Genesis in chapter two, verse nine (2:9). "Eating from the tree of life" is just a poetic way of referring to eternal life with God in a place where everything is perfect -a paradise where people will have an honest and genuine relationship with God forever. It's a place where "there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4).

However, it's important to notice that this promise is given "to him who overcomes." What does this refer to? Well, it's been said that there are three obstacles that every God-honoring person has to overcome. The first obstacle to overcome is the everyday world that goes about it's business as though God didn't exist. The second obstacle is our own natural tendency to think and act in ways that are out of line with what God created us for. The third obstacle to overcome is Satan, that powerful, unseen enemy who hates God and wants to crush anyone who loves Him.

Overcoming these obstacles isn't easy to accomplish but it can be done though the ability that God provides through His Holy Spirit. When the going gets rough, remember that God has a terrific future ahead for those who love Him and don't forget Jesus' words of encouragement from John 16:33...

"I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world"

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The Doctor is not a real doctor but he plays one on the Internet. E-Mail prescriptions are also available on an individual basis.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from The Living Bible, 1971, Tyndale House Publishers


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