There is a saying that I remember from a long time ago. “Don’t get so busy with the work of the Lord that you forget the Lord of the work.” As I see it, this is at least part of the theme of the letter to the Church at Ephesus. They were very busy doing things in the name of Jesus but the truth of the matter is that they weren’t serving Him at all! That oft times repeated verse of mine comes up again, (1Co 10:31) “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is to be our motivation for all that we do.
Now many things have been done in the Name of the Lord but how many deeds done in His name have actually been done as an act of devotion, an act of worship and love to Jesus? You see, we can easily get caught up in this program or that idea and get excited about some new thing to the point that we really throw ourselves into it. But then a serious problem occurs: we forget WHY we got involved in the first place! We forget the purpose behind the program or idea.
Having said that, it is my opinion, based on observations that I have made through the years, busyness is no longer a problem. The problem that most Christian people have is laziness. We have no zeal for the Lord. We may have knowledge but there is no zeal. Isn’t it interesting that those with less knowledge can have more zeal than those who know the truth! It is a true statement, “Knowledge puffs up!”
Suddenly we have become “the knowing ones” which is what the Gnostics called themselves. But we have the same problem that they had: they had knowledge but no love for the Lord. We say the words but there is no heart behind what we say. Now consider the Ephesians. They were busy: it would seem that they had zeal as well. But they too had no love. They had programs but no love. They were like sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.
They were noise makers! But they had lost sight of the One Who matters most: JESUS! And so Jesus Himself addressed the problem. Now imagine you are the church of Ephesus. You are busy performing all these supposed deeds for Christ! Outwardly it would seem that you are on fire for the Lord! Now suppose someone like me comes along and says “Hey guys, I can see that you are really busy doing all these things but I’m here to tell you that you have a problem. Now you might reply “what problem”.
Or you might get smooth on me and start quoting scripture: something like, “Hey dude, get the log out of your own eye before you start trying to mess around with the speck in mine!” And this is the natural human reaction to confrontation. We usually throw it right back at the confronter. And then we deny that we have a problem. Let me tell you that Ephesus had a problem and we are not immune! By God’s grace we have been well taught for years. But the danger is that knowledge, if not tempered with humility and love for Jesus, will make us arrogant. The old KJV says, “Knowledge Puffeth Up!” We begin to think that we know the scriptures well enough not to stumble and then we become complacent. We become like the hyper-Calvinists who sat back and said, “God is going to accomplish His will anyway so why do I have to do anything!” God doesn’t need stuffy “Christians” who are full of themselves. He desires that we be found faithful. We are stewards of the gifts that God has given us and Paul said: “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” (1Co 4:2) Are we trustworthy and faithful to our Lord and Savior? We are to be about our Father’s business. We are to be serving Jesus from a heart of love and devotion! That is quite different than just “being busy” which was the case with Ephesus.
Let me give you some background for our lesson today. Ephesus was a wealthy, prosperous city and it was most famous for its shrine to the goddess Diana which was itself, a treasure house, a museum and a place of refuge for criminals. The city was located on the Aegean Sea and before the harbor was filled with silt it was a great trading city. Its many highways led to the most important cities in this area which was called Asia Minor. It would be easy to say “I’m from Ephesus!” Look at me. I belong to this wonderful city with all of its advantages. I must be wonderful myself. And people get caught up in where they’re from.
But God doesn’t care where you’re from. There won’t be a special line in heaven that is exclusive for those from “special cities”. Heaven is not a place where we will be able to exalt in our flesh. It will be a place of worship and there will only be one object of worship there, GOD! Ephesus was in trouble. The church had problems and the people were too full of themselves to see what was wrong. But Jesus would correct this lack of knowledge. In (Rev 2:1-7) we read this: 1“To the angel (messenger: the one who brings the messages to the church, the pastor) of the church in Ephesus write: he One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lamp-stands, says this: Jesus is essentially saying, “I’m the One who called you out of darkness.
I am also the One who called you to service as a pastor. You were not put into this position to gratify your lusts, to stroke your ego. A minister by definition is one who serves. I placed you in this church: I am holding you in My hand. This is not your church! It is Mine! Now returning to my earlier line of reasoning; suppose that you are the pastor of the church of Ephesus. You have just received a letter dictated by Jesus Christ to the Apostle John. Would you think this to be some kind of hoax? You know this man John: you know him to be a trustworthy person. And he is telling you that Jesus Christ has written this letter to you and your church!
Suddenly your ears perk up a bit. You become attentive. Jesus has something He wants to say to you! Now consider the fact that Jesus has written this to us. He has something He wants to say to us! So be attentive. And He gets right to it. He says in verse 2‘I know your deeds… We have dealt with this before but it is worth looking at again. Jesus knows your deeds. He knows everything you have ever done, in His name or otherwise.
He knows the motivation behind everything you have ever done! With those eyes of fire He has seen into your very soul and HE KNOWS YOU! He is intimately acquainted with all of your ways. He knows what you say, what you think: before the words are on your lips He knows it all. One of my favorite passages of scripture is (Pr 15:3) “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, Watching the evil and the good.” This is a very humbling truth. His eyes are ever upon us. There is no place that we can go from His presence. There is no dark secret place where we can go to indulge in our favorite sin without having to worry about whether or not Jesus sees. He sees! He knows! He knows our deeds. He knows us better than we could ever know ourselves! We have been weighed in the balances. Have we been found wanting?
Lets continue with our text. Jesus has just said, I know your deeds, and your toil and perseverance, He knows all the work that we have been doing. It may even be strenuous work. The word “toil” carries with it the idea of hard labor, that which causes trouble and weariness. A good illustration would be of a man working and sweating and beating his breast with grief because of his hard labor.
This is intense labor to be sure! But not only did they perform such hard labor, they were diligent, they persevered despite all the hardships they suffered. They threw themselves into their programs and their projects. They did everything with this kind of religious fervor. Jesus lists them. He says “you cannot tolerate evil men, that’s quite a departure from our day. We applaud evil men. So called churches exalt evil men to places of highest rank in their assemblies. With pride and arrogance homosexuals occupy pulpits as pastors, priests and bishops throughout our land and men applaud. Women have been given positions as pastors, priests and bishops, and men applaud. False doctrine is preached with pride and men applaud. The truth is suppressed in unrighteousness and men applaud. We not only tolerate evil men, we support them. And in doing so, we shake our fist at God and dare Him to do anything about it.
The church of Ephesus had not stooped to this level. They could not and would not tolerate evil men. Such blasphemous behavior would not be allowed as long as they were on duty. Not only would they not tolerate evil men but they took it a step further. They did what would be considered unthinkable in the eyes of modern Christianity. They checked these guys out to see who and what they were. Modern “Christians’ would flop around and shout at the top of their lungs, “JUDGE NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!! They would say all of those little psychological ditties like; “when you point your finger at someone there are three others pointing back at you!”
This church was not so easily put off by whiners. They weren’t trying to make everybody “feel good about themselves”. They weren’t preaching sermons on self worth and self esteem and all of that other garbage that has no place in the church. They weren’t squeamish about stepping on some toes for the sake of the truth. Jesus says of them: and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; Such confrontationalism is not for the faint of heart. These people were bold. They were zealous. They poured out their lives for their causes.
Jesus said in verse 3and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. This can’t be said about just anyone. Not everyone has boldness and the willingness to take a stand for the truth, and not back down when someone gets in your face and says “YOU CAN’T TREAT ME LIKE THIS. I’M AN APOSTLE!” These are good qualities to be sure. Jesus thought so for He complimented them on their zealousness and spelled out the good things that they were doing. But though they were zealous, they had gotten lost along the way. Something had suffered during all of this zealousness and busyness! And Jesus tells them: You’ve done a lot of good things 4‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. This is the heart of the matter. Busy-ness and zealousness are just extensions of fleshliness when they are not exercised for Jesus sake! These people were busy and zealous but they had forgotten why they should be so. They had forgotten Jesus. He is all that really matters! But they had somehow become so caught up in themselves and what they were doing that they just forgot. But there’s more to it than just that. To leave goes much deeper than to just forget.
Let me give you some definitions of what leaving your first love means. To leave means to forsake or to let alone, to send away: to bid going away or depart much like a husband divorcing his wife or vice versa. It means to send out of one’s presence. It means to disregard to leave or neglect. It means to go away from one in order to go to another place. It means to depart from someone and leave him to himself so that all mutual claims are abandoned. It means to desert someone or to go away leaving something behind. And finally it means to leave someone by not taking him as a companion, to abandon and to leave destitute.
And now you have an idea of the point Jesus is trying to get across to these people and to us. They had gone away from Jesus. I am reminded of the Galatian Christians. They were in a very similar situation as far as I’m concerned. They had turned their backs on Jesus and turned to dead works which could never save them. And Paul screams at them saying in (Gal 3:3) “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
The question is a rhetorical one and needs no answer for the answer is plain and clear. The accusation brought against the Ephesian Church was also plain and clear. The flesh profits nothing. Only that which is done for Jesus, as an act of worship to Him who bought us with His own blood, is pleasing in His sight.
This church was in serious trouble. How serious? Listen to our Lord as He lays out the case. He says in verse 5‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; Let me put it another way. Retrace your steps and find out where you went wrong. It’s there for you to see if you will just open your eyes. You have gone off in the wrong direction. You have gotten off the path and have blazed your own trail into worldliness. You need to repent. You need to get off of bypath meadow.
At the end of that road is the castle of giant despair. There is only one path that leads to life. The other path has Ichabod written over it. God is not there! Jesus tells them “You need to return to Me!” You need to really serve Me and not just be busily going about your daily toil and religious deeds. You have embarked on a dangerous road. Either repent or else I am coming to you and will remove your lamp-stand out of its place—unless you repent. You will cease to be a church. I will pull the plug and you will be no more.
Now think about the nation of Israel. They were going along, doing their own thing and pretending to be fervent toward the Lord. They offered their sacrifices and did all the rituals but at the same time they were worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth and Moloch and whatever else they could find. All the while they claimed to be God’s chosen people. But one day the armies of Assyria came and took the ten tribes of Israel away. Just like that they were gone. Did the tribe of Judah heed the warning? Not on your life. They lasted a little while longer but after Josiah, there were no more godly kings. And then one day Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians came and erased Judah. The warning is clear. Be faithful or else! Jesus then tells them that all is not lost, yet! If they would repent they would not lose their place. He says in verse 6‘Yet this you do have, here is a bright spot, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. The Nicolaitans were thought to be the followers of one Nicolaos whose name means “destroyer of the people.” They were like the infiltraters of the book of Jude and very possibly were the same people.
They are spoken of in the letter to the church at Pergamum and there they are inside the church. They professed to be Christians but like Balaam they tried to introduce sin into the church as an accepted practice. You’ve no doubt heard the word licentious. The easiest definition I can give you for this word is that it means you have been given a license to sin. And these Nicholaitans were successful in spreading the ‘gospel’ of sinful indulgence.
But the Ephesian church had not been infiltrated. They hated the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. But this did not grant them an indulgence. They must repent. They must turn from their sin and return to Jesus Christ and worship and serve Him! Jesus closes this letter by saying 7‘He who has an ear, he who belongs to Me let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. I think of Moses having just come down from Mount Sinai to see the evil that the people had sunk to and he said Who is on the Lords’ side? Let him come to me!
The same idea is related here. Whoever is on the Lord’s side, listen to Me. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ In other words, whoever will listen and obey the same will be with Me in Paradise! I think this is quite clear. If you listen to Christ and obey Him, if you serve Him from a heart of love for Him, you prove that you are His disciples and you will be with Him in Heaven. If you don’t, if instead you are “serving God” out of some sense of religious duty, you will be swept away.
Look with me at one more passage of scripture. (Luke 7:36-50) 36Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” 40And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42“When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45“You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46“You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Of the two of these who would you say was the most religious? Obviously it is Simon the Pharisee. He had bags of religiosity. He was one of those guys in the long flowing robes with the tassels. He wore the large phylactery on his head, (this was a box which contained scripture). In preparation for his tithe he would go out into his garden and count mint leaves.
And like everything else this was calculated to show everyone how holy he was. He was busy for the Lord, but he didn’t love the Lord. Everything he did was calculated to make him look holy and good in the eyes of men. That is why Jesus said to the Pharisees, “you have your reward.” He “served God” so that men would praise HIM! And he thought he was scoring points with God by all of his works and perseverance. But God knew his deeds and He knew that Simon wasn’t serving Him but was instead serving himself. He was so full of himself that he didn’t feel the need to extend the common courtesies of the day to The God he claimed to be seeking. Simon did not recognize the day of his visitation because he was his own first love!
Now look at the woman. She had been drawn to Jesus by the Father. She had been given a new heart and seeing herself in His light she wept tears of sorrow and repentance. But her sorrow for sin was coupled with tears of joy. She had found her Savior and this act of washing His feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair, anointing His feet with precious ointment and kissing them was the outward manifestation of the love that had sprung up within her heart. Everything she did was done out of love for Jesus! He was her first love!
The Church at Ephesus had lost this. God in mercy warned them of the danger they were in. The threat to remove their lamp-stand was no idle one. Did they heed the warning like Nineveh had done at the preaching of Jonah? The truth is that today there is no church in Ephesus and the city itself is in ruins. What does that say of you and me? Have we gotten lost somewhere along the way? Have we gotten puffed up with all of the knowledge that we have learned?
Have we gotten full of ourselves like Simon the Pharisee? Or are we like the woman who poured out her soul in love to her Messiah? This is why Paul tells us that we must examine ourselves. How else will we know whether or not we have gotten off the true path? We must examine ourselves to see if we have left Jesus, our first love and replaced Him with busyness.
What was the saying at Jonestown? Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. We have been warned! The Ephesians have been placed here as examples of what we are not to do. Search your heart and see if you find in yourself any of those things that Jesus has condemned here and if you find anything that displeases Him, repent and return to Him remembering the words of God through His prophet (Isa 55:7) “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.