Letter to the Church of Ephesus

Rev Mar’s Aug 16, 2020 sermon in text and the slides can be downloaded here:

Letter to Ephesian Believers

  1. Introduction
  1. We need to receive a word of encouragement as a church, as the people of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a dire time for the church. We have bad theology and worldliness compounded by the fact that we are prevented from assembling despite the word from the Lord to not forsake the gathering together and exhorting one another so much more for the day of the Lord is fast approaching. We cannot have weddings or memorial services. There are 
  2. people so scared of the insidious pestilence creeping throughout the land that their fear is killing them more than the disease. Where will these people turn to for hope and encouragement if the church is not there. To the people of God, assembly, fellowship, and prayer, and love support are very essential. 
  3. Our study on the Letters of Jesus Christ to the 7 churches in Asia Minor is timely. Jews and Christians, at this time, were under heavy persecution toward the end of Domitian’s reign (AD 89-96). The Book of Revelation, which mentions at least one instance of martyrdom (Revelation 2:13; cf. 6:9), is thought by many scholars to have been written during Domitian’s reign. The apostles are all gone except for John who is in exile. The letters contain words of commendation, concern, command, and counsel. All of these give strength to the church to overcome all the trials and persecution that they may be included in the Rapture to escape the 7-year Tribulation (“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. [ Revelation 3:10 ]  ).
  4. Where we left off. John was in the Spirit when he saw the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of 7 golden candlesticks and in His right hand are 7 stars. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
  1. His appearance. He looks like a son of man wearing a long robe and a golden sash around his chest. His hairs were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. From his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength (Matthew 17:5; Act 22:6)
  2. His name: I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore. (Revelation 1:17-18)
  3. John is commanded by the Lord to write what he sees in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea. Following are some general observations about Chapters 2 and 3.
  1. The Lord Jesus Christ is quoted word for word for the entire two chapters. These two chapters are also one of the few places in the Bible where the Lord Jesus Christ specifically addresses the topic of what the New Testament Church is and what proper Church conduct is. Chapters 2 and 3 are the best preaching on proper Church conduct for it is Jesus Himself preaching in these chapters. 
  2. The Lord Jesus Christ is speaking not from the perspective of a despised man on earth but as a present Judge in heaven rendering judgment not only on these 7 Churches but even to us, the present last day churches. 
  3. Before the Lord Jesus Christ begins to reveal about “things which must shortly come to pass”, He sets the churches first in order from the sad state of the seven Churches of Asia. Again, just like them, we, the present-day churches need cleansing and correcting, maybe more than they, as a necessary preparation for the things which must shortly come to pass. When the Lord Jesus Christ addresses not the state of the nations but the spiritual state of the Churches, He is unapologetic and unambiguous about it. Christ first sets the record straight, rebuking His Churches for their misdeeds. 
  4. Other churches of Asia were not mentioned but the 7 churches were selected to represent the spiritual condition of various types of local churches. These churches are in different spiritual conditions and they represent the different spiritual conditions of present-day churches so that the messages were not meant only for the mentioned churches but for us, the churches, in these end times. This would require self-examination on our part comparing ourselves to His standard of what we, the church, should be. This would require repentance on our part. Remember that it is the Lord Jesus directly speaking to us from His throne of judgment.
  5. When Jesus talks about the spiritual state of the churches, He judges not like how we judge churches today. The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart (1 Samuel. 16:7). When the Lord judges the churches: 
  1. Jesus does not raise the issue of size. A church of 20 obedient God-fearing people walking soberly, righteously, and godly is more precious in the sight of God than 20,000 disobedient self-seeking rebels. Eight people in Noah’s day were more precious to the Lord than the disobedient, non-repentant 16 billion who drowned. Peter wrote about the longsuffering God waited for them to repent in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, wherein only eight souls were saved by water. (1 Peter 3:20) “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19).
  2. Jesus does not raise the issue about finances. It is the filthy lucre that causes many churches to break up. Jesus does not ask, How large is the church building? How large is the church school? How large is the choir? How many worship services are offered? The Lord does not look at the earthly things but He considers only the spiritual and heavenly things related to His churches. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:1-2) They err not knowing the scriptures (Matthew 22:29).
  1. The Lord Jesus repeats His call 7 times in Revelation chapters 2 and 3, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13 and 22.) Why? Because your soul depends on it. The bottom line to the churches is to repent, watch, hold fast, overcome, and obey. Now, though the messages to the 7 churches were for each of the churches as churches, however, the messages were also addressed to individuals, and promises are given to those who hear what the Spirit says. Each of these messages includes information apropos to each church but from these messages we can draw lessons applicable to our own individual lives today. Remember: Revelation 1:3 says , “ Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
  2. The Lord’s grading system – it is either PASS or FAIL. The Lord Jesus Christ uses a pass or fail system in judging the spiritual state of the Seven Churches. They are either blameless and right in all areas or they fail. A strength in one area does not offset a deficiency in another area and there is no accommodation for failure in any area. deficient behavior is not tolerated, punishment is swift and severe – the candlestick is summarily removed and there is no right to appeal. Failing Churches: Return, Repent, and Reform, or I will remove the candlestick from you – you have absolutely no light! You are in utter darkness and you have no hope of salvation (“Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” [Matthew 25:30] ).
  1. The message to the churches was addressed through the angels (Gr. aggelos) to the churches. However, it seems to be used here to mean human messenger and not angelic beings. (Matthew 11:10; Mark 1:2; Luke 7:24 – John the Baptist was the messenger [aggelos, from ἀγγέλλω aggellō (probably derived from G71; compare G34; to bring tidings] ); a messenger; especially an “angel”; by implication a pastor: – angel, messenger.) sent before to prepare the way of Jesus Christ.) because the corrective messages committed to the angels are to be applied to the church not by angelic beings but by human messengers,( e.g., the pastor or elder of a church).
  2. Christ addresses his judgment, rebuke, and directions to the pastors or elders or bishops. The pastor/elder/bishop is responsible for the spiritual state of the church. Woe to you pastors/elders/bishops that take lightly this charge.  “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” ( James 3:1 )
  1. First, knowing what to do makes one accountable to do it. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”( James 4:17)    You will be judged because you knew what you should do. And the assumption is teachers, by teaching, are claiming to know what they ought to do and, therefore, they have greater judgment if they fall short.
  2. Second, knowing more makes one more accountable. “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48b). Teachers will be judged with greater judgment because they know more. Pastors study the Bible more than most people. Most likely, they know more about the Bible than many people he is ministering to. So, pastors are responsible to teach faithfully. If we do not live up to it, therefore judgment upon us will be more severe. If we are not careful, we will receive no crown before the Lord Jesus in His Bema seat of judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10) This is a judgment for rewards of our deeds while we are in this body. It is not for our sins. If our works survive the fire, we will receive the corresponding reward.  For Christians, judgment for sin has been settled with Christ who is our righteousness. When you committed your all to Jesus and you are faithfully living for Him, judgment for your sin has been settled by the Lord Jesus who died for you and me to pay for all our sins by His shed blood on the cross.
  3. The Letter to the Church of Ephesus
  4. Four decades have passed, the apostle Paul was gone and also many of the first generation of believers converted under his ministry. Under heavy persecution, the best word of encouragement they can receive is another letter, this time, it was from the Lord Jesus Christ, the first of a series of seven letters, penned by the apostle John. The Contents:
  5. The Commendation (Revelation 2:2, 3, 6). Before rebuking them for their failures, Christ commended the Ephesians for their positive actions.
  1. For their “toil” – Greek word denotes “labor to the point of exhaustion.” Ephesians were diligent workers for the sake of Christ. In the midst of the opposition, the Ephesians were aggressively promoting the cause of Christ and they remained faithful to the Lord without getting weary.
  2. They held to a high degree a high and holy standard of behavior sensitive to sin. They refused evil men.
  3. They put those who call themselves apostles were found to be false. Through all the difficulties the Ephesians faced for forty years through hard labor and patient enduring of trials and refusal to tolerate evil. 
  4. Final commendation:  “you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”( Revelation 2:6 ) Who are the Nicolaitans? Not much is known about the group of Nicolaitans. But Revelation 2:14-15 seems to suggest that the Nicolaitans borrowed the doctrine of Balaam, who “taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel to lead them to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” So, the Nicolaitans must have led people to practice idolatry and sexual immorality.
  5. The Concerns. “You have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4)
  1. The Ephesians maintained their doctrinal purity but their service to the Lord Jesus became mechanical. After forty years of loving the Lord Jesus Christ, their affection has cooled down. The current generation was maintaining the church’s pure teachings but it has left its first love. They were carrying out their Christian responsibilities with waning love for the Lord.
  2. The Ephesians thought they love the Lord “good enough”. One of the devil’s oldest schemes is when he says, “That is good enough.” This is when good becomes bad. It causes us to become content with less than Lord’s best, thus, denying us the true riches of our life in Christ.
  3. The Bible says, “We love him, because he first loved us.” (1John 4:19) Jesus loves us and He wants us to return His love for us. We the Church, are His bride. He loves us like a husband loves the wife of his youth. But how sad it is when that love is unreciprocated.
  4. The grave danger is seen in Israel’s love for the Lord when it has become cold. (Jer 2:2-13 -Israel forsakes the Lord) The Lord eventually brought judgment against His people.
  5. The Command. “Repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent. (Revelation 2:5)
  1. When the lampstand is taken away, they may still have their buildings, they may still have their programs, their busy schedule and all the externals, they may still be able to attract new people with their pretty facilities and entertaining programs but the power of the Lord will be missing. He will leave them to go through the motions of Christianity, without the living God in their midst. Could there be anything more empty or sad? 
  2. Jesus said repent, do the deeds you did at first. 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” (Revelation 2:4-5). How?
  1. First, they needed to literally “keep on remembering where they have fallen. Forgetfulness starts when the church starts to rely more on their understanding and expertise rather than walking by faith in the Lord. 
  2. Second, they needed to repent, turn away from their sins, because to fail to love the Lord fully is sin. (Mk 12:30)
  3. Finally, they have to demonstrate the genuineness of their repentance and return to their original deeds (richness of Bible study, devotion to prayer and passion for worship). 
  4. The Counsel. The letter closes with an exhortation and a promise. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
  1. The exhortation does not apply to the Ephesian church only but it applies to all churches by the use of “churches” (plural). It does not only apply to churches but it is also for individuals by the use of the word “he”. “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
  2. The promise is addressed to “him who overcomes.” In the first epistle of the apostle John, he defines overcoming. “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except for the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1John 5:4-5) True believers are overcomers and the Lord gives them the grace and the power to overcome the evils of this world. 
  3. Jesus Christ promises to the overcomers at Ephesus that they will eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. The tree of life is mentioned in Genesis 2:9 where it stands in the middle of the garden of Eden. That earthly tree was lost due to sin. Adam was forbidden to eat from it (Genesis 3:22).
  4. In the eternal state, believers will once again obtain full access to the tree of life (Revelation 22:2, 14). The promise made to the overcomer is an essential element of salvation. In the eternal state, man will still be dependent upon God for access to the tree of life (Revelation 22:2) because independence from God is sin. However, the heavenly tree of life (Revelation 22:2, 14, 19) will last throughout eternity. The tree of life symbolizes eternal life. The paradise of God is heaven (Luke 23:43; 2Corinthians 12:4).
  5. Application. What is the Lord Jesus saying to you this morning/afternoon? 
  1. Like the Ephesians, let us be discerning of false teachers and those found to be false should be rejected with their false teachings. (Revelation 2:2)
  2. We should follow their example of endurance and hard work. “And you have persevered and had patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (Revelation 2:3).
  3. Like the Ephesians, many tend to focus solely on doctrinal purity and hard work to the exclusion of true love for Christ. As this letter shows, no amount of zeal for the truth or moral rectitude can replace a heart full of love for Jesus. Ang tamang aral at mataimtim na paglilingkod sa Panginoon Jesucristo ay hindi matutumbasan o mapapalitan ang mainit at marubdob na pagibig sa Panginoong Jesucristo.
  4. We must return to our initial zealous love of our brethren, of God and of doing His work. “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 
  5. This morning let us examine ourselves:
  1. It is so easy to get lost in our busyness in serving the Lord. Have we devoted ourselves to the service of the Lord more than we have devoted ourselves to Jesus? Have our works for the Lord taken our love for Jesus? James said that faith without works is dead. (James 2:26) Here we can also say that works without love is dead.
  2. Has our love for Jesus waned? is something or someone competing with our love for Jesus? Have you lost the thrill of meeting the Lord in your daily devotion and in reading the Scriptures? Compare our love now with the warmth of our love for Jesus when we first trusted Him from smallest to the greatest needs? Has our love for Him grown cold? If you have drifted from Him, Jesus says, Repent! Jesus wants us to return to our first love, to the place and time in our lives when He was everything to us. 
  3. That is where He wants us to be this morning. Return to Jesus!

16 August 2020

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