This devotional is about Revelation 2.
The church at Ephesus had an unusual part in the story of the New Testament. Paul started that church by preaching in the Ephesians’ synagogue at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19). Once the church had formed, however, Paul declined when the believers asked him to stay longer. Instead he left Priscilla and Aquila there (Acts 18:18) and promised to return if God wanted him to (Acts 18:21).
After he left, Priscilla and Aquila continued there and Apollos arrived preaching the baptism of John (Acts 18:24-26). When Paul returned to Ephesus in his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1) he found a small group of disciples there, but they needed to be taught about Christ. Paul did that, and, at the same time, preached Christ to Jews and Gentiles for three years (Acts 20:31). During that time, the gospel message spread like warm butter on a hot muffin (Acts 19:10), but there was also severe opposition, even resulting in a riot (Acts 19:23-41). The church in Ephesus continued under local elders after Paul left, yet he warned that false teachers would harm the church in the future (Acts 20:13-38). Paul wrote an important letter, the book of Ephesians, to this church and he later sent Timothy there to address the false doctrine and disorders that did erupt there (1 Tim 1:3).
The situation in the Ephesian church must have stabilized because, a few years later when John wrote our passage for today, Revelation 2, the Lord commended the church of Ephesus because “you cannot tolerate wicked people, 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.” Furthermore in verse 6 he said, “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”
But, in verse 4, the Lord pointed out that they had “forsaken the love you had at first.” The “first love” mentioned in this phrase is not defined any more specifically, but it seems clear that this is describing their love for Christ. This doesn’t mean that they lost their salvation or that they had just become unfeeling Christians. It means that they no longer valued Christ so much that they wanted to spread the knowledge of him everywhere. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, Acts 19:10 recorded how the gospel spread everywhere during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. That was due to his preaching, of course, but his preaching was effective because those who believed it told others about the message and, in this way, it spread.
What was missing, then, when Jesus addressed this church here in Revelation 2? It was the witness of this church. This is suggested by Revelation 2:1 where Christ is referred to as the one who “walks among the seven golden lampstands.” The lampstands give off light and that light reveals Christ as he walks among them. Although the light of the gospel once burned bright in Ephesus, their passion to spread the knowledge of Christ had cooled off. Although they became orthodox defenders of true Christian doctrine, they no longer proclaimed the saving grace of Christ like they once had. Jesus warned them because, if they did not enlighten others to see him through the gospel, he would “remove your lampstand from its place” (v. 4b). The prescription was to “repent and do the things you did at first” which means to turn from insular orthodoxy and become diligent about representing Christ to the world like lights on a lampstand should.
Pure doctrine is important in the church. First and Second Timothy, which were written to Timothy while he was serving in Ephesus, make that clear. But, in addition to clinging to the truth of the scripture, we need to remember that Christ has saved us personally and has commanded us to tell others about what he will do for them if they trust him.
Let’s not become so satisfied with our own salvation and so assured of our own orthodoxy that we stop sharing Christ with the world. Would you consider inviting someone to hear the life-giving message about Christ this Sunday?