Since I broke my leg/hip in early November, my vital signs have been checked countless times. Doctors, nurses, physical therapists all want to make sure my health is stable and improving.
If your church was given a “physical exam” today, what do you think the doctor’s diagnosis would be: healthy, slightly sick, very sick, or dying? In Revelation 2-3, Jesus takes the “pulse” of seven churches. He diagnoses their health and prescribes a remedy for their illnesses.
In Revelation 1:11, Jesus sent a message to each of seven local churches in Asia Minor. Though each message is different, the letters have some similarities. Each one gives a particular description of Christ that is related to the message which follows. Each one includes a promise to those who overcome. Each one addresses the condition of the church through a commendation, a rebuke, and/or an exhortation. In general these letters to the seven churches address the problems churches have faced throughout history and provide insight into how Christ evaluates local churches.
In addressing the church in Ephesus, Jesus challenges them to reexamine their priorities. Though busy doing many good things, they had lost their love for God. They focused on duty rather than devotion. This letter provides the instruction that we are to love and serve Christ with our head, our hands, and our hearts.
The Church (1a). The church had a long history and was the most prominent one in the area. The apostle Paul visited Ephesus about AD 53, about 43 years before this letter was sent to them. He found a group of people who believed in Jesus but only knew John’s baptism (Acts 19:1-7). Paul remained in Ephesus for several years (Acts 20:31) and preached the gospel so effectively “that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10).
The City (1a). Ephesus was a major city in Asia Minor, a seaport, and the location of the great temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. While not the capital (Pergamum was the capital), Ephesus was a prominent city. The Roman governor resided there. The population of Ephesus was between 100,000 and 250,000. The city was a center of business, religion, and civic life.
Emperor worship was a dominant influence in Ephesus, which was the leading center of the imperial cult in Asia Minor. The temple to the Emperor Domitian had a giant statue of the emperor. Christians faced enormous social and financial pressure to engage in the worship of the emperor.
The city was the center of occult and magical practices. The worship of at least 14 other deities has been documented in the city.
The Character of Christ (1b). Jesus holds the pastors & leaders of the churches in his hand and walks among the churches. As he walks among the churches, he observes what is taking place. Because he has been observing, he can both compliment and criticize their deeds and motives.
The Condition of the Church (2-4, 6). Commendation (2-3, 6). Jesus commends the church for three things: hard work, perseverance, and doctrinal purity (they don’t tolerate false teaching or false teachers). They hated the practices of the Nicolaitans. While the details are unknown, this sect probably is tied in the practices of Balaam which involved sexual immorality in worship. The religion tried to redefine faith to allow Christians to fit in with the surrounding culture with its idolatry, immorality, deceit, and false worship. Concern (4). Jesus soundly rebukes the church. The church had “heart trouble.” They lost their love. This could be love for God, love for each other, love for the lost. They had misplaced priorities.
The Command (5). The road to revival involves three key steps: remember, repent, and repeat. Remember what it was like when you first trusted Christ. Repent and change the direction of your life. Repeat the spiritual disciplines that you practiced in the beginning. Change is possible but it demands drastic action.
The Consequences (5b). If they don’t change, Christ will remove the church. Removal of the candlestick indicates God’s judgment. The church could come under the influence of the surrounding pagan culture and lose their identity as a church.
The church continued and was later the scene of a major church council. However, after the 5th century both the city and the church declined. The immediate area has been abandoned since the 14th century.
Could that really happen today? Might God remove a church? How many church buildings are now community centers? How many churches have been turned into museums or art galleries? Yes, God can and does remove a church when they lose their love and purpose.
The Challenge (7). Take the message to heart. Hear and heed the message.
The Commitment (7). There is the promise of eternal life in heaven. This should be the normal expectation of all Christians. The idea of overcoming is a reminder that we are in a spiritual battle.
Principles. Our deeds are important, including the hard work of contending for the truth of the faith. We must retain biblical love in our pursuit of truth. Repentance is essential for believers who have forfeited love.
We are to love and serve Christ with our head, our hands, and our hearts.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on January 14, 2018. It is part of a series of messages on The State of the Church. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.