The seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor hold a special place among all the literature of the Word of God. There are many instances when Jesus spoke to individuals and groups, but these letters show Jesus Christ speaking to the very people He died to save. Most of these letters contain words of Commendation; words of Correction; and words of Challenge. One thing all these letters have in common is that each one concludes with a precious promise to the overcomers in each church. The word “overcomer” means “to conquer, or to carry off the victory.” It refers to saved people who remain faithful to Jesus in the face of enemies, temptations, and persecution.
Now, there is a sense in which every believer is an overcomer, or a conqueror. Positionally, because of our faith relationship with Jesus, we are conquerors, Rom. 8:37. Through Jesus and His finished work on the cross, we have overcome sin, Satan, death, and hell! However, there is another sense in which we can become an overcomer. 1 John 5:4 tells us that we as believers will achieve victory over this world and its power.
This seems to be the sense in which the word overcomer is used in Revelation 2 and 3. While every saint of God enjoys absolute victory over death, Hell and Satan, many are not as victorious in their day to day walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
As Jesus looks at and speaks to these seven churches, He sees believers and non-believers. He sees people who are faithful and people who are not. He sees people who love Him and people who love themselves. As He looks at Faith Community Church of the Nazarene, and He sees that we have all those classes of people present with us as well.
As Jesus speaks to the overcomers in each church, He is exhorting the faithful, sold out believers to continue for the glory of God. He is also challenging those who are not where they need to be to get where they need to be so that they too can experience the life of an overcomer. As He concludes each letter, He makes certain promises to the redeemed people in each of these churches. The promises serve as incentives for the faithful to remain faithful. They also serve as incentives for the unfaithful to get faithful. Every promise He makes in these verses belong to the saints.
Beginning with these verses, we are going to be studying the seven churches to which Jesus is writing. He calls these churches by name, which we read in Rev. 1:11. Jesus has a word for each of these congregations. As we study these seven churches, I want you to keep in mind that these churches can be seen in three different ways.
1. They can be viewed Prophetically – These churches seem to represent different stages of the church over the last 2,000 years. If this is true, then the church at Ephesus represents the time period between the Day of Pentecost and 100 AD. This was a time of great expansion for the early church. But it was also a time when some began to lose their zeal and fervency.
2. They can be viewed Practically – These letters were sent to literal, real congregations that were functioning at the close of the First Century. While they were written to real churches existing in that day, they still speak to every church in existence today.
3. They can be viewed Personally – These letters speak to congregations, but we should also be mindful that the Lord has a word for the individual in these letters as well. He has something to say to you and to me about our relationship with Him.
My desire is to take the practical application of these letters and seek to apply them to Faith Community Church of the Nazarene. I believe the Lord has something specific to say to our church from each of these letters.
The first church letter is to the church located in the city of Ephesus. To understand some of the things spoken to the church, we need to examine the city. I have listed a few facts about the ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus was important in that day for several reasons.
1. It was an important city Commercially – Ephesus was located on the Castor River, just a few miles inland from the Aegean Sea. It was noted for its magnificent harbor, and ships came to Ephesus from all over the known world bring their goods and their wealth. It was the richest city in Asia Minor in its day.
2. It was an important city Politically – Because of past service to the Empire of Rome, Ephesus was granted the right to be a “free city.” This means that they practiced self-government. It means that they could make whatever decisions they wanted to make. It also means that Roman troops were not garrisoned there. This allowed the city to thrive.
3. It was an important city Religiously – Ephesus was the home of the temple of Artemis. In its day, it was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. People came from everywhere to come to that temple to worship the goddess Diana. She was goddess of sex and fertility. She was represented by a hideous statue of a many-breasted woman. This temple was filled with hundreds of temple prostitutes and the way you worshiped Diana was to have sexual relations with a temple prostitute. The temple also served as a bank. People would bring their possessions there for safe keeping. It served as museum for fine art. Art from all over the world was housed in this ancient temple. It also served as a refuge for criminals. If a lawbreaker could get to the temple, he would be safe from prosecution.
It was to this vile city that God sent the Apostle Paul, Acts 18:19-21; 19; 20:17-38. Paul preached here for two years and founded this church. While Paul was there, he wrote the books of first and second Corinthians. Timothy was the first bishop of this church, 1 Tim. 1:3. Aquilla, Priscilla and Apollos all labored in the Ephesian church, Acts 18. The Apostle John also spent the last years of his life in Ephesus. It was here that he wrote the Gospel of John and his three epistles. According to tradition, Mary the mother of Jesus is buried in Ephesus. This church was privileged to hear and know the best of the best in those early days.
This was an active church, serving in a wicked hour. But God used them, and many souls were saved. By the way, the same methods used in Ephesus will still work today, Acts 20:17-21. We will not reach our community by sitting still and doing nothing.
Thirty years have passed, and the Lord comes to this church to speak to them about where they are and where He wants them to be. He comes to them with a message of comfort. They are reminded in verse 1 that He has them safely in His hand. The word usage “holds” speaks of “being in absolute control.” In a society that was out of control, they needed to know that He was in control. We need that same message today. He reminds them that He is ever with them, observing them and protecting them as they seek to serve Him.
As we study these seven letters, I want you to notice that the Lord has something personal to say to each of these churches. He comes to this church talking about His presence among them. This was a church that desperately needed to recognize the presence of the Lord in their midst.
Jesus makes four observations concerning this church that I want to share with you today. I truly believe that our Lord Jesus has a word for our us today.
I. v. 2-3, 6 JESUS EXAMINES THEIR WORKS
The Lord Jesus begins His remarks to this church by talking about all that is right with this congregation. They had a lot going for them and the Lord lets them know that He has seen all the good they are doing in His Name. He comes to them with precious words of commendation.
A. v. 2a He Commends Their Service – Jesus uses three words to describe the activity of this church.
1. Works – This word speaks of “that which is accomplished.” It refers to the fact that this church has accomplished much for the glory of the Lord. They have been working and Jesus has seen it all.
2. Labor – This word literally means “a beating.” It speaks of “intense work coupled with toil and trouble.” It tells that this church was serving the Lord fervently. In other words, this was no Sunday morning only crowd. They were actively serving the Lord at great personal expense and great personal sacrifice.
3. Patience – This word speaks of “steadfast endurance.” It tells us that this church was working in spite of opposition. The people in Ephesus did not appreciate these people or their zeal for the Lord and they opposed them publicly and physically; but these people endured the opposition and the persecution and they continued to serve the Lord faithfully in spite of everything thrown against them.
If you had gone to this church on a typical Sunday, you would have heard about a week filled with activity and opportunities for service. These people knew something that the modern church has forgotten.
· They knew that a church will not build itself.
· They also knew that a church cannot sustain itself.
· They knew that it takes people who will stick by and push through the stuff!
· They also knew that it takes work to do these things!
We can turn this place into a country club where the frozen chosen meet to congratulate themselves on their salvation. Or we can turn this church into a place where the saints enter to worship and to be equipped for service; and then they go out of this place to work for the glory of God in their homes, schools, communities and places of business. God did not save us to coast into glory on flowery beds of ease. He saved us to be active in His work until He called us home to His glory, Eph. 2:10; James 2:18; 2 Cor. 9:8; Col. 1:10.
If Jesus were to appear here today, would He commend us for our works, our labor, and our patience?)
B. v. 2b, He Commends Their Separation – “cannot bear those who are evil” – These people were living a separated lifestyle. The immorality and evil that defined their world was not a part of their lives. They took a stand on the side of morality and they lived differently than the world around them.
Guess what…God still expects this from all of His children. He demands that we be separate from this evil world, 2 Cor. 6:17; Eph. 5:1-8. In our walk, our talk, our dress, our choices of entertainment, and in every area of life, we are commanded to be different from the lost world around us. That is the only way we can let the light of Christ shine, Matt. 5:16
C. v. 2c, 6 He Commends Their Standards – These people are praised because they held fast to correct doctrine. When people passed through their town claiming to be men of God, they put them to the test. They checked out their credentials and they examined their preaching. If what they said did not line up with the Word of God, they refused to hear them, or to fellowship with them, but they exposed them to be the liars they were.
They are also commended because of their stand against the “Nicolaitans.” No one knows for sure who these people were, but there are a couple of possibilities. The word comes from two Greek words; “Nikao” – “To Conquer” and “Laos” – “The People”.
Therefore, the Nicolaitans could have been a group of church leaders who wanted to establish a hierarchy in the church. In other words, there may have been some who wanted to run the show and keep the people under their control. That crowd is still with us today!
Another possibility is that the Nicolaitans were follows of a fellow named Nicolas who attempted to lead the people away from the Lord and into immorality. He preached a doctrine that allowed people to serve the Lord and still lead immoral lives.
Either way, what was “deeds” in verse 6 has become “doctrine” in verse 15. This is the reverse of the order the bible clearly lays out. We learn doctrine and the doctrine controls our deeds. The flesh likes to do what it pleases and then devise doctrine to suit itself.
The Ephesian believers refused to allow false doctrine to exist in their fellowship. How did they do this? They placed every teaching alongside the Word of God. If it did not line up with the book, they refused to receive it!
I want to say this loud and clear for today…We need that same attitude today! Not everything that comes down the pike is from the Lord! Sadly, too many church folks believe everything they hear. They will listen to preachers on the TV that they would not tolerate in their church. They praise men that cannot even articulate the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but who stroke their egos and feed their flesh. If someone makes them feel good, they don’t care what he believes. Friends, you are headed for trouble down the line if that is your approach to preaching and preachers. We ought to be like the Berean believers who put everything they heard to the test. Here is what the Bible says about them: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11.
D. v. 3 He Commends Their Steadfastness – This is a church that has been carrying the load, enduring much affliction and opposition, laboring to the point of exhaustion and they have done so without any signs of weariness. They were a very steadfast congregation. And, what they did, they did for the sake of the Lord. They are a church that deserves to be commended.
II. v. 4 JESUS EXPOSES THE REALITY
After offering this church some words of commendation, Jesus now gives them some words of rebuke.
A. His Disappointment – While they look good on the surface, there are problems in the heart that must be dealt with. Jesus let them know that this is a personal matter. It seems that He is grieved by the problems He sees in this church.
We need to understand that Jesus sees what we do, but He also sees what we are. He is able to look beneath the surface of our lives and see the condition of our hearts. When He finds error and sin in our hearts, it grieves Him, and it hinders our ability to enjoy His fellowship and His blessings. When we allow the wrong kind of things to linger in our hearts, it grieves Him, Eph. 4:30.
B. His Diagnosis – Jesus looks at these people whom He loves and for whom He died and tells them that they simply do not love Him like they used to. He tells them that they “have left their first love.” They still have love, but the deep, fervent, burning love that filled them with a passion to serve Him has left their hearts. They love their church; but they to do not love him like they used to. They love their doctrine; but they have lost their passion for Jesus. They love their work; but they are not motivated in that work by a passionate love for Jesus. They are busy, but their hearts no longer burn for Him. The flame that burned so hotly and brightly when it was first ignited is now nothing but a smoldering ember. They have lost their passion for the Son of God!
You see, the Christian life is basically a love affair with the Lord Jesus Christ. Getting saved is falling in love with Him. Growing in salvation is falling deeper in love with Him. This love is the motive for all we do in His Name. Whether we sing, teach, preach, witness, give, etc, it must all flow out of an ever-deepening love for the Lord Jesus. If we lose our love for Him, then our service means nothing at all, 1 Cor. 13:1-3.
Love is supposed to grow! I mean, I love my wife more today than I ever have. I love my children more today than I did when I first saw them. I love you folks more as each day passes. Love should grow. But I wonder if Jesus would have to say to some of us, “You don’t love me like you used to?” It would break our hearts if our spouse said that to us. Would it faze us if we knew the Lord felt that way?
What is this “first love” anyway? What makes it so special? First Love Is Fervent Love! It is emotional. It moves the heart. It causes the soul to thrill. It is not cold, dead, dusty, and dry. It is alive and it is vibrant. Remember when you first fell in love with your mate? Your love was fervent and emotional. It made you write mushy letters and say things you never would have said if love had not short-circuited your brain. Now, can you remember when you were first saved? Can you remember how in love you were with Jesus, His House, His people, and His Word? Can you remember how you prayed, worshiped, and witnessed? Remember the emotion when you thought of what He had done for you? That is first, fervent love!
It is extravagant. Love will make you spend money for things you can’t afford. You ever done that? Buy that special person something you couldn’t afford, but you knew they would love? Just last Sunday, we heard the message of Mary and her alabaster box of ointment. She expressed what was deemed a reckless action…a waste of money. Real love never draws lines! Real love will give anything at any time for the object of that love. Can you remember when Jesus had absolute control of your heart and you would not dare tell Him no? That is first, fervent love!
Does this describe your love for Him? Do you serve Him because you love Him, or do you do it from a sense of duty? It is possible to labor without love; but it is impossible to love without labor. You can work and not be in love with the Lord. But you cannot be in love with the Lord and be inactive. The church of Ephesus was active in the Lord’s work, but they were serving out of a sense of duty and not out of a fervent love for Him.
What about us? Are there some that are serving because it is what people expect from them and not because they love the Lord? Love for Jesus should be the cornerstone of all that we do. Whether we teach, preach, sing, clean the church, serve as a leader in the church, etc., we should do it out of love for the Lord!
Can you honestly say that your heart is still filled with that first, fervent, emotional, extravagant love for Jesus? Or have you left your first love? Now, stop looking at some other person and what they are doing or not doing. You need to read your own mail today and let the Lord speak to your heart.
III. v. 5 JESUS EXPLAINS THE REMEDY
Jesus has not come to hurt them; He has come to help them! He offers a word of commendation, a word of rebuke, now He speaks a word of correction. He tells them how they can fix that which is wrong in their church.
A. He Speaks About Remembering – Jesus calls on these people to look back. He wants them to remember that moment when they came to know Him. He wants them to reflect on what He did for them. He wants them to recall all the excitement and emotion of those early days with Him. He wants them to look back to a time when their love for Him motivated everything they did.
Some of us need to look back and remember. We have been saved so long that we have lost the thrill of those early days. Can you remember what it was like when you first came to Jesus and the weight of your sins was lifted from your heart? Can you remember when just the mention of His name brought tears to your eyes? Can you remember when your heart was tender, and you felt at home at the altar talking to Him. Can you remember? Take a minute and reflect on how it used to be. Now, look at how it is. Can you honestly say that you are still head over heels in love with Jesus today?
When a saint of God falls out of love with Jesus, they are in a “backslidden” condition. They need a revival. The first step in revival is remembering.
B. He Speaks About Repenting – The word “repent” speaks of “a change of mind that leads to a change of action.” Jesus is telling these people that they need to repent of the sin of not loving Him like they should. They need to search their hearts and change their attitude toward the Lord.
This is the same counsel for the modern church today. We have allowed everything in the world to come before the Lord. Family, fun, work, even church work has all taken His place in our hearts. We need to get back to our altars, reclaim that emotional, extravagant first love and fall head over heels in love with Jesus again. How long has it been since you confessed a lack of burning love for Him? How long has it been since you were open and unashamed in your expressions of love for the Master? We need to repent of our coldness and fall in love with Jesus afresh and anew.
C. He Speaks About Repeating – He tells them to “repent and do the first works.” They are told to start doing the things they used to do once again. That is the key for their revival, and it is the key for us as well. We need to get back to the first works; back to reading the Bible; back to praying; back to witnessing; back to testifying; back to crying; back to praising His name; we need to get back to the things that marked us when were deeply in love with Jesus.
D. He Speaks About Removing – If they refuse to get where they need to be, Jesus tells them that He is will remove their candle. That is just what He did to Ephesus too! They failed to heed the message and He took away their light. Now, there is no great Christian work in that city. There is nothing there but ruins and rubble.
I do not want God to take away what we have. I do not want Faith Community Church to become like so many other churches in our world today. But, if we fall out of love with Him and continue in that state, the day will come when He will take what we do have and He will give it to those who will use it for His glory. Mark it down! It is either Remember, Repent and Repeat, or it is Removal!
IV. v. 7 JESUS EXPOUNDS THE REWARD
We have heard our Lord’s words of commendation, rebuke, and correction. In this final verse, He closes with words of consolation. There is hope.
A. The Reward Is Available – Jesus speaks to the “overcomer.” This word means “to carry off the victory.” He seems to be saying that there will be some in the church of Ephesus who will hear the message and heed the message. These people will seek the Lord’s face, fall in love with Him again and be restored to that place of intimacy and fellowship. This reward is available to all who will seek it.
B. The Reward Is Amazing – Those who overcome will be able to experience something that the unrepentant will miss out on. They will get to eat from the tree of life. When Adam sinned in Eden, he was cast out of the garden to prevent him from eating from this tree, Gen. 3:22-24. Those who live this life head over heels in love with Jesus will get to taste the fruit of that tree.
I have some questions for you. I mentioned some of these earlier. What about you? Are there some here that are serving because it is what people are expecting from you and not because they love the Lord?
Can you honestly say that your heart is still filled with that first, fervent, emotional, extravagant love for Jesus? Or have you left your first love? Let’s not look at others and what they are doing or not doing. Let the Lord speak to your heart.
Let’s be honest…honest with yourself and with the Lord for just a moment. Have you left your first love? Are you busy, but busy out of duty and not out of love? Can you honestly say that you are filled with fervent, emotional, extravagant love for Jesus?
In this moment of honesty, would you have to say that your heart has gotten cold; that your zeal is not what it used to be; that you need to remember, repent and repeat the first works? If the Lord Jesus has touched your heart, you need to deal with Him. The time is now, and the place is here.