In Part 2 of The letter to the church in Ephesus, we’ll look at the Divine Knowledge. The things Jesus knows about the church. Usually, this is good news for the receiving church. However, that’s not always the case. Jesus told the church in Ephesus that He was among them, and us, all the time. Now we’ll find out if that was an encouraging reminder, or a stern warning.
Before we resume with the letter to the church in Ephesus, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.
|To||the angel of the church in Ephesus|
|From||him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands|
|Divine Knowledge||I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.|
|But -||Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.|
|So -||If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.|
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
|To those who overcome||I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.|
Divine Knowledge of the church in Ephesus
These are, presumably, the things the church in Ephesus is doing right.
I know your deeds
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.
This sounds good. This church is working hard. And they’re getting through the struggles. However, there’s a “but” coming on this one.
I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
Whatever is going wrong with the church in Ephesus, their light isn’t going out because they were led astray by false apostles or teachers. Nor have they been affected by “wicked men”. For some idea of what “wicked” could involve, here’s what the word portrayed at the time:
2556κακός [kakos /kak·os/] adj. Apparently a primary word; TDNT 3:469; TDNTA 391; GK 2805; 51 occurrences; AV translates as “evil” 40 times, “evil things” three times, “harm” twice, “that which is evil + 3458” twice, “wicked” once, “ill” once, “bad” once, and “noisome” once. 1 of a bad nature. 1a not such as it ought to be. 2 of a mode of thinking, feeling, acting. 2a base, wrong, wicked. 3 troublesome, injurious, pernicious, destructive, baneful. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship
It appears their problems aren’t from false teachings or from outsiders bringing evil into the church. So what could it be?
You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
The church in Ephesus, as implied by the word perseverance above, is enduring hardships because of Jesus – as promised in the Gospels.
Pay special attention to the highlighted verses below.
13:1-37 pp — Mt 24:1-51; Lk 21:5-36
Mk 13:1 As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
Mk 13:2 “Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
Mk 13:3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
Mk 13:5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
Mk 13:9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
Mk 13:12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Mk 13:14 “When you see ‘the abomination that causes desolation’ standing where it does not belong—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let no one on the roof of his house go down or enter the house to take anything out. 16 Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. 17 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! 18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, 19 because those will be days of distress unequaled from the beginning, when God created the world, until now—and never to be equaled again. 20 If the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would survive. But for the sake of the elect, whom he has chosen, he has shortened them. 21 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ !’ or, ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible. 23 So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.
Mk 13:24 “But in those days, following that distress,
“ ‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
Mk 13:25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
Mk 13:26 “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
Mk 13:28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
Is “doing the right things” good enough?
The church in Ephesus appears to have done the things Jesus warned about. They weren’t deceived – either from within or by outsiders. And they did persevere through the hardships they encountered in Jesus’ name.
But is doing the right thing all that’s asked by Jesus? Let’s look at something C.S. Lewis wrote in his wonderful book, Mere Christianity.
There is one further point about the virtues that ought to be noticed. There is a difference between doing some particular just or temperate action and being a just or temperate man.
In other words, why we do something is important. For example, is our “going through the motions” a part of who we are at heart? Or is it for show? Or maybe because we think it makes us look good. Really, anything that’s not part of our inner self. Something that doesn’t come naturally, but must be thought of and forced.
Someone who is not a good tennis player may now and then make a good shot. What you mean by a good player is a man whose eye and muscles and nerves have been so trained by making innumerable good shots that they can now be relied on. They have a certain tone or quality which is there even when he is not playing, just as a mathematician’s mind has a certain habit and outlook which is there even when he is not doing mathematics. In the same way a man who perseveres in doing just actions gets in the end a certain quality of character. Now it is that quality rather than the particular actions which we mean when we talk of a ‘virtue’.
The difference is something we should look at in the church in Ephesus. And in ourselves! Here’s why it matters:
This distinction is important for the following reason. If we thought only of the particular actions we might encourage three wrong ideas.
(1) We might think that, provided you did the right thing, it did not matter how or why you did it—whether you did it willingly or unwillingly, sulkily or cheerfully, through fear of public opinion or for its own sake. But the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a ‘virtue’, and it is this quality or character that really matters. (If the bad tennis player hits very hard, not because he sees that a very hard stroke is required, but because he has lost his temper, his stroke might possibly, by luck, help him to win that particular game; but it will not be helping him to become a reliable player.)
For example, are we doing something for Jesus, even with the power of Jesus, the Holy Spirit? Or are we trying to muscle our way through something on our own power, maybe even not wanting to do it at all?
(2) We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort.
We cannot earn our way into God’s good graces. Not even by doing something because of the simple reason that it’s what we think He wants us to do. The difference between the statements in the Old and New Covenants should tell us that. The Old Covenant was a lot of don’t do this type of rules. The New Covenant is essentially love God with everything we are, and love others as ourselves. It’s not a checklist anymore. It’s a way of life.
(3) We might think that the ‘virtues’ were necessary only for this present life—that in the other world we could stop being just because there is nothing to quarrel about and stop being brave because there is no danger. Now it is quite true that there will probably be no occasion for just or courageous acts in the next world, but there will be every occasion for being the sort of people that we can become only as the result of doing such acts here.
This one’s more important than I think many of us realize. Check out what Lewis says below:
The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character: the point is that if people have not got at least the beginnings of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a ‘Heaven’ for them—that is, could make them happy with the deep, strong, unshakable kind of happiness God intends for us. Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 80-81). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
For some examples of that, I invite you to check out Is there popcorn on the floor in Heaven? for a light-hearted but serious viewpoint. Or Are there assault weapons in Heaven? a strictly serious point of view.
Summary of the “But …” section
We still don’t know if Jesus’ statement about walking among them was good or bad news. Are they being reminded or warned via the image of Jesus walking among the churches?
And for us as individuals, what does this mean for us? Why are we being reminded about the Holy Spirit in us – the light in our temple – maybe going out? What’s going on?
Let’s move on to the “But …” portion of the letter to the church in Ephesus. Will it finally tell us something about:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.