The message to the church in Ephesus lays an important foundation for the rest of the book of Revelation. Let’s explore what this ancient letter had to say to the Ephesians in John’s time and what we can learn today.
An Important City
Ephesus was a large and important city. It had big impressive buildings and the largest library around. The people that lived here were crazy about the pagan goddess Artemis (also called Diana). It seemed everyone worshipped her (Acts 19:27,35). Everyone except the faithful Christians in the Ephesian church. The apostle Paul had worked in Ephesus three years and there was a large and faithful church here (Acts 20:31).
A Big Problem
There was a little problem if you were a Christian living in Ephesus. Actually it was big problem. In those days everyone was expected to participant in religious festivals to honor Artemis or Diana, the local pagan goddess. Part of the festivities including eating foods offered to these pagan gods and participating in other bad or immoral activities. If you didn’t do this you could lose your business, your job and your social status. This was a big deal!
Obedience or Compromise
There were two groups of Christians in Asia. One group who gladly wanted to follow God’s instructions completely. This included not eating food offered to idols and other bad activities (Acts 15:20, Deut. 28:14). The other group thought, “What’s the big deal! Just a little compromise won’t hurt. We can still love God and keep our jobs. After all, we know these are just false Gods.”
Okay, we don’t know exactly what they said but the Bible says they were called “Nicolaitans” and Jesus hated what they were teaching (Rev. 2:6). Other ancient Christian writers like Iraneus and Hippolytus tell us this group was started by Nicolas, one of the seven deacons (Acts 6:5). Their teachings went directly against the directions given by the counsel of apostles held at Jerusalem in 49-50 AD, that they should refrain from the eating of “things sacrificed to idols” (Acts 15:29).
In other words, the Nicolaitans likely taught that Christians didn’t have to follow all God’s rules, not exactly. They could fudge a little here and there if it was convenient. You know, as long as you still followed God in your heart. Hmm? That’s sounds a little like some Christians today.
Paul had warned the Ephesians that false teachers would come into the church (Acts 20:29-30). Most of the church members had listened to Paul’s warnings because they patiently worked for Jesus and warned others about those who lied and taught false teachings (Rev. 2:2-3). They also hated the teachings of the Nicolaitans and Jesus said this was a good thing (Rev. 2:6).
One Thing Missing
The faithful church in Ephesus was missing one important thing. Though they had the truth, they had forgotten that they were once fallen sinners too and that Jesus had saved them with his great love (Rev. 2:4-5). They had forgotten the most important thing. LOVE! Love for God and love for each other.
The Bible says that if we know everything that’s true. follow all the rules and share that with others, if we don’t have love all that other stuff is worthless (1 Cor. 13:2). Jesus told the Christians in Ephesus they needed to repent and remember their first love for Jesus (Rev. 2:4-5). If they did this Jesus promised to let them eat from the tree of life in the very presence of God (Rev. 2:7).
What Can I Learn?
This is what I have learned from Jesus’ love letter to the Ephesians. Do you agree?
Truth is important
Love is the most important.
Beware of festivals and activities that have pagan origins. God does not want us to compromise with the ways of the world.
Love Jesus, love others and obey God’s word – they all go together!
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