The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations: 1. The Ephesus Experience: Busyness
Rev 2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write”
Speaker: In each ‘letter’ Jesus reveals himself in a different way, each one corresponding to one of the descriptions in chapter 1. Here he comes as he, “who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands,” i.e. the watching head of the church, hence his following words, “I know”. He sees and he knows all that goes on in each of our churches, perhaps better than we do!
Encouragement/Approval: Next he says, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary.” (v.2,3) This is an active church, a busy church. I am sure if you were the Pastor or Minister of this church you would be pleased with the involvement of your people. They are doers! But more than that, they are righteous and will not tolerate wrong people. And also, further, they are discerning for they have rejected counterfeit apostles. Excellent guys! You are servants of God, holy and discerning of enemy activities. A great church!
Challenge: But! There is almost always a ‘but’ or a ‘yet’ and it always tends to be negative: “Yet I hold this against you.” (v.4a) Wow, we didn’t see that coming, we’re a good church, active, holy and so much more. Yes, but that doesn’t make you perfect and that is one of the ways we may deceive ourselves. Just because there is so much good in our church, that can blind us to what is missing, where we fail to do the whole will of God. What is Jesus’ complaint here? “You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Hang on, how are we different from what we used to be, surely all our activity means we show Jesus how much we love him. Didn’t the apostle John say, “let us not love with words or speech but with actions”? (1 Jn 3:18) Yes, but that verse ends with, “and truth”.
The Danger: A danger we all face is that we turn from the basic expressions of love coming from God that motivates us to love in return and we start doing ‘good works’ to earn approval or make us feel good. So often we have prayer meetings, we do evangelism, we hold events, all to do the works of Jesus, just like Martha. Do you remember her? When Jesus came to their home Martha scuttled around cleaning up, preparing food, doing stuff, while Mary just sat with Jesus and listened to him (see Lk 10:38-42). What a difficult tightrope it is to walk sometimes, yes doing the stuff but holding on to that intimacy with Jesus at the same time. How easy it is for Sunday services to become routine, ritualistic without meaning, just a habit instead of coming into the very presence of God and knowing a sense of intimacy that thrills us into worship. Jesus himself is to be our first love, God is to be our first love, and when we first turned to Him it was like a honeymoon, bubbly and exciting.
Is this important? Isn’t it natural to cool off a bit? Yes, it is but we’re supernatural spiritual people. In marriage it is so easy for the relationship to become ordinary and almost mundane and so we need to say things and do things that are special expressions of love, and that’s true for God as well. Is it important? “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (v.5a) Consider – think about it, think about how your spiritual life has been. Repent – change, change your heart, your mind, your actions. Do – get back to how it used to be. Pray, set aside times to listen to Him, stop being so busy and making excuses that say you can’t do it. This is serious stuff: “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (v.5b)
And Yet: He doesn’t leave them smarting, he says something more that is encouraging. He is pleased with something more about them: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” (v.6) Without going into it in depth, let’s just say these other people were heretics who led people away from the truth. The Ephesians hated that and weren’t going to let it happen to them, good stuff! A call to remain faithful to the truth and to the Lord.
Conditional Hope: Each letter concludes with words to those who will hear and respond and deal with the issues. It calls for a heart that is open, ears that will hear (and respond!): “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (v.7a) This does need saying: another deception is that we hear the words and think that is enough. It isn’t. Obedience, repentance, change is all that will satisfy the Lord. But whenever we ‘repent’ we turn away from one thing and turn towards another. The other is always to be Jesus, in him is the resource he speaks of. And yet there is a condition: “To the one who is victorious,” and this suggests effort, activity, change, fresh purpose. To be victorious, in the light of what Jesus has said earlier, means to break through the environment of activity and business to reach the rarer air of the presence of God and the fresh, daily knowledge of his love.
The Promise: The promise for the one who is victorious in this is, “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” So what does that mean? Stop and think, this was the state before the Fall when Adam and Eve had access to God and to a tree that guaranteed them ‘life’. The paradise of God, that which Jesus on the cross promised the penitent thief (Lk 23:43), is available immediately after death according to Jesus. It is the place of the Presence of God. As we said just now, it is to break through the environment of activity and business to reach the rarer air of the presence of God and the fresh, daily knowledge of his love.
Ans So? This is the challenge that comes to us via the church in Ephesus: will we resist the smog of over-busyness that is so symptomatic of the age in which we live, and instead determine to be the people of God who make the time to be in our Lord’s presence, both exhibiting and catching again that first love, the love for Jesus that was so fresh, vibrant and exciting that we knew when we first met him. If we are not sure how to go about this, prayer is the first step, prayer that acknowledges this fog that so hinders us, prayer that asks for forgiveness, and prayer that asks for His grace to draw us near to Him, for without His help we are lost in the fog. May that not be!