“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”‘“ Revelation 2:1-7
It appears, at least outwardly, that the church of Ephesus was doing everything right. They were doing the work of the Lord even though they were suffering persecution for it. They did not compromise the truth they had been taught from God’s Word but used that Word to rebuke sin and evil, to test the teaching of those claiming to be apostles of Jesus Christ but were not. They even hated the deeds of those who apparently used the grace of God as a license to indulge in their fleshly desires and participate in the evil and idolatrous practices of the Ephesians. They continued in the truth, endured suffering for the name of Jesus, and had not grown weary and compromised.
But what is the condition of a church that does the right things for the wrong reason? A church that holds fast to the truth taught in the Bible about Jesus and the way of salvation but then fails to grasp the love of God given in Christ Jesus and to love God and others in return? Doing the right things but not doing them out of love for God and thankfulness for His mercy toward us in Christ Jesus is legalism and often degenerates even further into disregard for God’s Word and unfaithfulness.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
This was the problem with the church at Ephesus. They were doing all the right things but not out of love for Messiah Jesus and all who trust in Him. They were sharing the Gospel but not out of genuine love for their neighbor. And so, Jesus wrote to them: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.”
Jesus, who is present and walks among His churches, knows the heart and sees our weaknesses and failures. He looks beyond the outward actions and examines our very hearts and minds. He knows not only what we do but why we do it.
Notice that repentance is called for by Jesus — individual repentance and also church repentance. Losing our love for Jesus and for all the souls He died to save is a serious matter. Without repentance and a return to genuine love for Christ and others, the Ephesian church would no longer be acknowledged by Jesus as His church. Its lampstand would be removed from its place.
What of our obedience to God’s Word and our persistence in the truth? Does it flow from genuine love for God and the desire to serve Him who loved us and gave His Son to die in our stead and redeem us? If not, we, too, need to repent. If our faithfulness to Christ is not motivated by love, it becomes nothing more than legalism and an attempt to be righteous in God’s eyes by our own obedience rather than through faith in Christ.
If we have an ear to hear and grasp what Jesus is telling us, let’s hear and heed Jesus’ words and repent, looking to Jesus and His cross for mercy and forgiveness and then seeking to amend our thinking and living to be like Him, walking in His love.
[Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]