Ephesus – Church in Decline

Rev. 2:1-2:7

Royal Caribbean cruise ship Anthem of the Seas, storm experience 02/06-02/07/16, 75 mph winds, 40 foot seas, one of largest cruise ships in world… 4000+ passengers.

“It was horrifying. The boat was tipping so much from side to side that you could hardly get out of bed. I was literally just lying in bed shaking and crying and trying to stay calm… I was afraid for my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been as frightened as I was for those 12 hours in my whole life.” Jessica Sheridan, passenger

Have been times in past, will be again in future when that is experience of Christ’s church.

“those that have most fortitude are not without some fears; and when the church is in the storms of persecution, and almost covered with the waves, the stoutest passengers in it may suffer as much from the boisterous passion within, as from the storm without; and all for want of thoroughly believing, or not seasonably remembering that, the Lord high Admiral of all the ocean, and Commander of all the winds, is on board the ship, to steer and preserve it in the storm.” John Flavel

Gracious Lord of the church has given us his Revelation to equip and strengthen us for such times as that, serving to remind us who is indeed on board the ship. Is equal parts encouragement and warning, just as much as Old Testament prophets. True not only for postcards to each church, also for remaining body of letter to all the churches. Warning of wrath to come applies to all who look toward idols of world for safety, whether inside or outside the church. Truth is, we should fear God far more than Satan and that should draw us closer to our King.

A. context

Large city, 250,000 people. Arena or Stadium of Ephesus could seat 25,000; had its own mega-church, Temple of Diana, one of 7 Wonders of Ancient World… more than 2 acres under roof. A religious center, among other things. Place of money, power, entertainment, pleasures, a real Vanity Fair:

“[The Fair] was to be a festive market in which there would be sold every sort of vanity, and it would be open all the year long. Therefore at this Fair every type of merchandise was sold, including houses, lands, trades, places, honors, promotions, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, and pleasures; there were also delights of all sorts such as prostitutes, madams, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and much more. And moreover, at this Fair there is the constant entertainment of jugglers, cheats, games, plays, clowns, mimics, tricksters, rogues, and many other amusements.” Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

Christian church had stellar start in spite of its circumstances: Paul present there for 3 years, taught at Tyrannus’ theological school for 2 years; also Apollos, Timothy, most recently Apostle John. Paul offered no criticism, only encouragement in his letter to them in early 60’s. Because of its location, the fact that Paul a missionary worked there several years, and that in some of oldest manuscripts “in Ephesus” missing from Paul’s greeting. Ephesus thought to be the mother church for the rest of the seven… and perhaps more.

Something has changed – 3 decades later, and its not surrounding culture. Lord of the church has commendation for church in Ephesus, also has criticism for it. In fact, one of strongest threats Lord Jesus makes is against this church.

B. character of Christ v.1 Rev.1:12-13,16,20

Christ as: the Lord of the church – presently with his church for the purpose of building it; he has not left them, they have left him

ascended to heaven does not mean distant from his people: “who holds (is holding)… who walks (is walking)” – see Matt. 28:20

Jesus has not relaxed his authority, is not holding back on use of his power on behalf of church: still in place of security

his presence embraces intimate knowledge – I know…; Jesus not working on old capital, speculation – has current and full grasp of facts

is ideally positioned to know all that is truly commendable, all that is merely surface appearance without right substance

C. commendation v.2-3, 6

over their history: worked hard (2x), patiently endured hardship (2x), strong stand for the truth

Ephesus a place where Paul could minister effectively for three years: told Ephesian elders Acts 20:17ff he “kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house”

had worked hard to understand truth as they were taught – not easy when they were minority in surrounding city diametrically opposed to God and his truth

had labored to maintain and spread the truth – “tested those who say…”; “labored for my name’s sake”

if Christ’s church is to grow, takes a lot of work, hard work, by everyone – yes, is Jesus who builds his church… with living stones

church building materials must cooperate with the Builder, do their part to contribute to construction and maintenance

Jesus didn’t say “if you want to follow me get on the bus”; said “deny self, take up cross, follow” – all require personal effort

Ephesian church had done that, labored diligently without becoming discouraged, in challenging circumstances

knew truth from God’s word, had all doctrinal ducks in neat rows, recognized those who deviated from truth, zero tolerance

did hard thing with church discipline – “cannot bear those who are evil”; screening false teachers –
“tested those who say… found them liars”; hated immoral / impure behavior

hard working, hard thinking group zealous for truth and First Church of Ephesus, the one with portraits of Apostles Paul and John, with Apollos and Timothy in vestibule

D. challenge v.2-3

Satan – raising questions/challenges by those outside the church about “What is the Gospel”

Paul had warned: “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” Acts 20:29-30

had to deal with temptation of easy life, pressure to satisfy pleasures in surrounding culture, then had similar pressures trying to get in the church

pretend apostles and Nicolaitans offering some flavor of Christianity Light – don’t have to be so scrupulous, give up those fun things

easy to gain lots of traction when – Christian identity is costly, surrounding culture is especially seductive

you want it now, use credit card; you want that kind of relationship, is it loving and committed; you professed faith in Christ, he doesn’t expect you to give everything up; God promised to bless his people, decide what you want and claim it

E. criticism v.4

Danger: losing opportunities; walls raised that guard truth at the expense of evangelism; head without heart

Jer. 2:2Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, “I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness”

true love for God always accompanied by love of truth and others – never stands by itself: Jesus… first command and second

in Jesus’ mind, two commands were / are inseparable – means leaving one means leaving the other: if have left first love, God, have left off loving others

how can they be guilty of idolatry, of sinning as Eve did? Jesus had such good things to say about them!

had strong commitment to truth – clear statement of faith, process to make sure everyone was in full compliance with doctrine

strong commitment to working hard – were determined to do church the right way, programs for all ages, something every night of week, opportunities for everyone to serve

truth and principles and programs and work had taken place of Christ – people were doing but not loving Christ and one another

perhaps even some pride that even if no one else was standing for truth, taking heat for truth, suffering for sake of the church, First Church of Ephesus was

had become religion of the head, not head and heart – cold, intellectually and doctrinally precise without loving edifying relationships

their own intellect and ability to declare and defend the truth precisely became their badge, measure of self-worth, their idol

Eve loved God up until point when she loved her own abilities more, reasoned she could make own choice better than God, left her first love for God and her husband

F. call v.5

turn back to living Lord of the church, abandon all the idols the world supplies – remember / recover warm love for God at conversion

kind of love that had best interests of brothers and sisters in view, building them up in faith and faithfulness

is serious situation – to persist in decline is to be ultimately disqualified from being a church… by Christ’s assessment

motivation just as important to God as actions – obedience even to letter of law without love displeases God

participation in every church activity a liability, not an asset, if not done out of love for Savior and King Jesus

must have same zeal for God and loving him as we have for truth; must have similar zeal for others – brothers and sisters

that all needs to be demonstrated by commitment to bring truth of Gospel to lost, despising what they do and perhaps believe, desiring to see them reconciled to God

compassion for someone’s physical needs is good – Jesus fed the hungry; but… Jesus rebuked those who only wanted food for their bellies and not their souls (John 6:26-27)

like Jesus, must have spiritual needs in view when interacting with others – strive to draw them closer to Christ

G. conquerors’ reward v.7

remember… primary audience the church, just like the disciples; those with ears given by the Spirit will hear, all others will be hardened

is why Jesus spoke in parables during earthly ministry, continues to do so in his Revelation – truth hidden from hardened, heard by humble

the one who has ears and hears will overcome; one who does not have ears will not hear, will experience God’s judgment

result of Adam and Eve’s sin by leaving first love and disobeying God – ejected from Garden, cut off from access to tree of life

promise Christ gives to overcomer – return to Paradise and free access to tree of life, complete undoing of consequences of Fall

Necessary prerequisite for restoration: sincere love for God demonstrated by love for his truth and his people, carried out in acts of obedience. Our prayerful desire: that our love for Christ would grow, as we love him more become more like him.


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