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Revelation – The letter to the loveless church in Ephesus – (3) But …

In this section of The letter to the loveless church in Ephesus, we’ll look at the “But …” section. Usually, this is not news for the receiving church. Often, it’s a caveat that goes along with the Divine Knowledge. Maybe it will finally tell us whether or not Jesus’ description of Himself was good news or a warning to the church in Ephesus.

These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:

feedback - The letter to the loveless church in Ephesus - (3) But ...

Is this an encouraging reminder to the people in Ephesus, or if it’s a warning for them to pay attention to the way Jesus described Himself?

Revelation – The letter to the loveless church in Ephesus - (3) But ... is article #5 in the series: Seven Letters to Seven Churches. Click button to view titles for entire series

Before we resume with the letter to the church in Ephesus, here’s the breakdown for this particular letter.

Tothe angel of the church in Ephesus
Fromhim who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands
Divine KnowledgeI 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.
Hear
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To those who overcomeI will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

“But …” for the loveless church in Ephesus

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.

OK – the church in Ephesus has forsaken their first love. That is, after all, why they’re known as the loveless church. This doesn’t sound good. Maybe the way Jesus referred to Himself in the opening to this letter was a warning to the church in Ephesus. And if this church fits our lives today, it sounds like a warning to us as well.

First of all, what does forsaken mean?  Apparently, it can mean quite a few things.

863 ἀφίημι, ἐναφίημι [aphiemi /af·ee·ay·mee/] v. From 575 and hiemi (to send, an intens. form of eimi, to go); TDNT 1:509; TDNTA 88; GK 918 and 1889; 146 occurrences; AV translates as “leave” 52 times, “forgive” 47 times, “suffer” 14 times, “let” eight times, “forsake” six times, “let alone” six times, and translated miscellaneously 13 times. 1 to send away. 1a to bid going away or depart. 1a1 of a husband divorcing his wife. 1b to send forth, yield up, to expire. 1c to let go, let alone, let be. 1c1 to disregard. 1c2 to leave, not to discuss now, (a topic). 1c21 of teachers, writers and speakers. 1c3 to omit, neglect. 1d to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit. 1e to give up, keep no longer. 2 to permit, allow, not to hinder, to give up a thing to a person. 3 to leave, go way from one. 3a in order to go to another place. 3b to depart from any one. 3c to depart from one and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned. 3d to desert wrongfully. 3e to go away leaving something behind. 3f to leave one by not taking him as a companion. 3g to leave on dying, leave behind one. 3h to leave so that what is left may remain, leave remaining. 3i abandon, leave destitute.  [1]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

The common theme in all that is they the church in Ephesus essentially walked away from their first love.  As we saw, they weren’t led astray by false teachers.  And they didn’t have their first love corrupted by evil coming in from outside the church.  They just let go of it, neglected it, walked on and left it behind.  In other words, they probably weren’t paying attention and their first love just got lost in everything else they were doing.  Buried under all the deeds, hard work and standing up under trials. All of this led them to become the loveless church in Ephesus.

What was the first love?

Well, the Greek word used is agape.

ἀγάπη (agapē). n. fem. love. This term means “love” but can also denote ideas such as benevolence or goodwill.

The noun ἀγάπη (agapē) carries the sense of affectionate regard or benevolence toward someone. The Septuagint almost always uses this word for love to translate one of the main Hebrew words for love (אָהֵב, ʾāhēb). The nt employs the term agapē in two basic ways. First, it can denote “love” in a general sense. Examples of this use include references to love as an idea (e.g., John 15:13; Rom 13:10) and love between people (e.g., 2 Cor 2:4; 8:7). Second, the nt writers use the noun agapē to refer to the love of God (e.g., Rom 5:5; 2 Thess 3:5) or of Christ (e.g., John 15:10; Rom 8:35). This use of the noun is epitomized in the affirmation that “God is love” (ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, ho theos agapē estin; 1 John 4:8, 16).  [2]Nettelhorst, R. P. (2014). Love. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

The church may have lost any sense of love at all, but that second meaning is really a bad sign for them – nt writers use the noun agapē to refer to the love of God (e.g., Rom 5:5; 2 Thess 3:5) or of Christ (e.g., John 15:10; Rom 8:35). This use of the noun is epitomized in the affirmation that “God is love” (ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν, ho theos agapē estin; 1 John 4:8, 16).

Let’s look at something John wrote about God’s love.

God’s Love versus our love
God’s Love and Ours

1Jn 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1Jn 4:13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

There are a lot of “love” words in that passage.  The question is, are they the kind of “love” we’re looking for?  Are they the agape love?

Well – here’s the passage again, with the words highlighted that are either agape or its Greek root.

God’s Love and Ours

1Jn 4:7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1Jn 4:13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates {actually, does not love} his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

 

Jesus and Love

That’s every single instance of the word love in the passage.  They are all the kind of love that Jesus said they have lost.  Very much the opposite of the loveless church in Ephesus. In a very real sense, they’ve lost their connection to God.  No wonder they’re about to lose their lampstand.  To have their status as a church taken away from them!  And it’s not like this is the first time anything like that – ignoring Jesus – has been mentioned in the Bible.

Here’s how Warren Wiersbe put it.

The church at Ephesus had works, labor, and patience—but no love for Christ. In contrast, the Thessalonians were commended for their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope” (1 Thes. 1:3). It is not “what” we do for Christ, but the motive behind it, the incentive, that counts. Ephesus had a busy church with high spiritual standards.

It’s interesting that he puts it – with high spiritual standards – if we look at what “spiritual” generally means.

SPIRITUAL, spirʹit̮-ū̇-al (πνευματικός, pneumatikós, “spiritual,” from πνεῦμα, pneúma, “spirit”): Endowed with the attributes of spirit. Any being made in the image of God who is a Spirit (Jn 4:24), and thus having the nature of spirit, is a spiritual being.

(1) Spiritual hosts of wickedness (Eph 6:12), in distinction from beings clothed in “flesh and blood”—the devil and his angels. This use of the word has reference to nature, essence, and not to character or moral quality. God, angels, man, devil, demons are in essence spiritual. The groundwork and faculties of their rational and moral being are the same. This limited use of the word in the NT has its advb. equivalent in Rev 11:8, “which [the great and wicked city] spiritually is called Sodom.” As the comprehensive term moral includes immoral, so spiritual includes unspiritual and all that pertains to spirit.

It’s not likely that he meant spiritual hosts of wickedness.

(2) With the above exception, “spiritual” in the NT signifies moral, not physical antithesis: an essence springing from the Spirit of God and imparted to the spirit of man. Hence spiritual in this sense always presupposes the infusion of the Holy Spirit to quicken, and inform. It is opposed (a) to σαρκικός, sarkikós, “fleshly” (1 Cor 3:1), men of the flesh and not of the spirit; (b) to ψυχικός, psuchikós, “natural,” man in whom the pneúma, “spirit,” is overridden, because of the Fall, by psuchḗ, the principle of the animal life, “soul”; hence the unrenewed man, unspiritual, alienated from the life of God (1 Cor 2:14; 2 Pet 2:12; Jude ver 10). See Man, Natural; (c) to natural, meaning physical, “… sown a natural body; … raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44).

On the other hand, considering Hence spiritual in this sense always presupposes the infusion of the Holy Spirit to quicken, and inform, then it’s also hard to imagine the church in Ephesus as having high spiritual standards either.

(3) In the NT and general use “spiritual” thus indicates man regenerated, indwelt, enlightened, endued, empowered, guided by the Holy Spirit; conformed to the will of God, having the mind of Christ, living in and led by the Spirit. The spiritual man is a new creation born from above (Rom 8:6; 1 Cor 2:15; 3:1; 14:37; Col 1:9; 1 Pet 2:5). [3]Pratt, D. M. (1915). Spiritual. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 2842). Chicago: The Howard-Severance … Continue reading

Pretty much the same comment on this one.  If the church had the mind of Christ, living in and led by the Spirit, then would they not also have love?  It seems like without love, the Holy Spirit is being silenced in their hearts.

They could not bear “worthlessephes [evil] people” and would not listen to false teachers. The work had been difficult, but they had not fainted. In every way, it was a successful church from the human point of view. Some of today’s busy churches with their full calendars and weary workers would fit the description.

Again, it appears that the Holy Spirit is being set aside.  All the busyness puts the Holy Spirit so far to the back of their minds that love just doesn’t have a chance to show through all the deeds.

But the Man in the midst of the churches saw what was missing: they had left (not “lost”) their first love (Jer. 2:2). The local church is espoused to Christ (2 Cor. 11:2), but there is always the danger of that love growing cold. Like Martha, we can be so busy working for Christ that we have no time to love Him (Luke 10:38–42). Christ is more concerned about what we do with Him than for Him. Labor is no substitute for love. To the public, the Ephesian church was successful; to Christ, it had fallen.

Mary, Martha, and Love

Remember, Mary got that one right.  Martha, like the church in Ephesus, was too busy.  So the interaction between Jesus and Martha went like this:

At the Home of Martha and Mary

Lk 10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Lk 10:41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Of course, Martha wasn’t in the same condition as the church in Ephesus.  Martha invited Jesus into her home, so there was a desire for His presence.  She just got so distracted with making everything right and properly prepared that she didn’t have time for Jesus once He got there.

On the other hand, the church in Ephesus pretty much pushed Jesus to the side with all their busyness.  Before they maybe even realize what happened, they had forgotten about Jesus and love.

His counsel to them is in these words: “remember, repent, repeat the first works” (v. 5). If we get back to our first love, we will repeat the first works, those labors of love that marked our first meeting with Christ. If the church does not get its heart back in the right condition, the lampstand will be removed. The local church is to shine as a light in the world. Without true love for Christ, its light will go out. [4]Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 801). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

No – Jesus didn’t say go back and do the first deeds.  At least, not like we probably read it.  He didn’t say just do the first things you did before – keeping the same attitude you have now.  That would do nothing for the church on Ephesus.  What Jesus was likely referring to was a combination of those early works done out of love – and this:

Jesus, the Bread of Life – and Love
Jesus the Bread of Life

Jn 6:25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jn 6:26 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Jn 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jn 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Even here, believe in the one he has sent, means to believe Jesus is the Son of God, believe what He said, and act on those beliefs so that our lives become ever more like His.  In that way, going back to the early deeds is a reminder of not only what they did, but why they did it.  And they did it because of their love for Jesus.

What was Jesus telling the loveless church in Ephesus?

I feel like Jesus was telling them they were turning into “Pharisees”.  Consider these verses from the Seven Woes in Matthew.

Seven Woes

23:1-7 pp — Mk 12:38, 39; Lk 20:45, 46
23:37-39 pp — Lk 13:34, 35

Mt 23:25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Mt 23:27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Mt 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’’”

The church in Ephesus probably looked good.  From the outside.  They were busy doing all kinds of “good” things.  And yet, without the Love of God involved, they really weren’t good.  They’re the kinds of works that will probably burn up when tested.  Made with the straw and wood of man-made effort.  Without the gold and precious gems of the Holy Spirit.  Without love.

The immediate context is, of course, to the church in light of the coming apocalypse.

But to look at it only in that light is, I believe, to sell it short.  The same warning applies to our churches today.  And not just the churches.  To every individual in a Christian church as well. A warning to see if we are, or are becoming, like the loveless church in Ephesus.

Remember this verse from the Prologue to Revelation.

Rev 1:3 Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

If you believe that the rapture will come before Armageddon begins, paying attention to that warning could be the difference between being raptured and avoiding it – or living through it.

If you don’t believe the rapture is just before Armageddon begins, then paying attention to the warnings is important for maintaining your faith during that time.

Either way – there’s a message there, from God, for us.

We’ll return to this thought line, but first, let’s move on to the “So” – if you do not repent portion of the letter.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Footnotes

Footnotes
1 Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
2 Nettelhorst, R. P. (2014). Love. D. Mangum, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, & R. Hurst (Eds.), Lexham Theological Wordbook. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
3 Pratt, D. M. (1915). Spiritual. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 2842). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company
4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (p. 801). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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