Robert E. Surgenor
As was noticed last month, outwardly the assembly at Ephesus seemed to be a model assembly. There was gospel activity (thy works); there was shepherding (thy labour); there was persistence (thy patience); there was an intolerance of evil coupled with an investigative nature toward visitors for the spiritual preservation of the flock. However, what human eyes may not immediately detect "all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13).
The Complaint of Christ
Christ as the Sovereign judge presents His case. In spite of all their qualities He announces, "Nevertheless I have against thee, because thou hast left thy flrst love' (Revelation 2.4 R.V.). As we all know, time makes a drastic change in our physical appearance. Time also can make a drastic difference in our love to Christ and in the case of the Ephesians, the change was for the worse. They had abandoned, divorced, disregarded, sent away, their first love. The word our Lord uses in our translation is, left. You will find the same word in Matthew 4, "Left their nets;' In Matthew 26 "forsook Him and fled," in Matthew 27, "Yielded up the ghost." Going back forty years we see a totally different picture. Their love was "grade A" in quality. Notice their burning of the books of curious arts and the Word of God prevailing over their will (Acts 19:19, 20). They gladly destroyed everything pertaining to their old life that was displeasing to God. At the time of their conversion, they were simple, humble and obedient believers, full of love to Christ. When we love Christ we love His own. Consider their tears and sorrow over their father in the faith when they would see his face no more (Acts 20:37). Through the years they had learned more of God's ways, their intellect seemed to be greater, but oh their heart-the love of Christ was diminishing. Perhaps Paul sensed this when he wrote to them a couple of years later in his Ephesian Epistle mentioning, "Love to all the saints (1:15); Rooted and grounded in love" (3:17); "Forbearing one another in love" (4:2); "Speaking the truth in love" (4:15). Let us ask ourselves the question, what is the quality of my love? Has it deteriorated? The assembly's service was mechanical and lacking reality. They had been diverted from a Person to a program. Even though they had x-rayed false apostles (I Cor.11), false prophets (1 John 4), false teachers (2 Peter 2), and false evangelists (Galatians 2), yet they had failed to examine their own heart. However, the eyes of Christ x-rayed them and produced for them the negative.
Outwardly the assembly was orthodox, inwardly it was cold. Brethren, it is possible to go though the motions and seemingly maintain a scriptural testimony even though our first love may have been abandoned! When Paul writes to the Thessalonians, he commends them for their "work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ"(1:3). In Ephesus, the externals - work, labour, and patience, remained. However, unlike Thessalonica, the underlying sources - faith, love and hope, were gone.
The Remedy of Christ Remember, Repent, Return
Having diagnosed their sad case, Christ now voices the remedy, "Remember therefore from which thou hast fallen, and repent, and do the first works,- or else I will come to thee quickly, and will remove thy lampstand out of its place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:5). Remember! Go back to the place of departure and continue to remember are the imperative words of the All-knowing One!
Their zeal for Christ was not the outcome of love, thus worthless. The freshness of their emotion and the fervor of their devotions was gone. Their consistent performance, their ceaseless toil, their undeviating orthodoxy had become a formal fulfillment of obligation without inspiration or warmth. How different than from their beginning. Christ says, 'Remember.' They had fallen from His side, thus He calls upon them to immediately repent! Their wrong motives must be confessed. The hardest thing about repentance is the acceptance of personal responsibility for our failure. The fruit of true repentance is godly sorrow. I wonder how many orthodox assemblies today are in need of a repentance meeting?
Christ judges the works by the motives. He calls upon them to do the first works, that is, the fruits of their first love. Instead of laboring for Christ out of duty, He calls upon them to possess love as the motivating power for their labor. Consider this brethren - it is possible to hate what Christ hates, without loving what He loves. Again, let me ask 'Where do you stand in relation to your first love?"
The Threat of Christ
The verb, "I come," indicates, "I am coming." This is not the coming of Christ FOR the Church, but rather His coming TO a church - to remove their lampstand. The verb used indicated that He was presently on the way and would soon arrive to remove their testimony unless they repented. It is interesting that Ephesus was a city that had experienced more than one removal as to their geographical location. The gradual silting up of the harbor from the Cayster River eventually closed the harbor to all shipping, thus seriously hampering economic life. The harbor became a malaria infested marshland, thus Lysimachus built a new city at a convenient site. He closed canals and flooded the old city, thus forcing the inhabitants to evacuate it. In the 6th Century A.D., the city was superseded by a fourth which later fell into the hands of the Turks in the 14th Century. Ephesus was a city that had its location removed more than once and such a threat from the Lord regarding the assembly's testimony would be well understood by those saints. Today, there is no testimony in that area. The removal took place.
The Commendation of Christ
"But this thou hast that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate"
Almost all denominational writers tell us that the Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas of Antioch, one of the seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6:5. It is implied that they were gnostics and libertines indulging in excessive lusts. We feel this to be conjecture. The true interpretation seems to lie in the symbolic meaning of the word itself , Nicolaitian, derived from nikao (conquer), laos (people). It is the thought of victory over the peoples, the clergy and the laity. Perhaps with another church we shall trace the intrusion of the clergy into the assemblies. I am not surprised that denominational commentators refuse this interpretation, for it condemns the very system they are in! What Christ hated, so did the Ephesian Assembly. That was to their credit. Sometimes I wonder at some of us putting full-time workers in an elevated class above the rank and file of God's people calling them THE Lord's Servants, while, in reality, we are all the servants of the Lord, seeking to fulfil the various positions in which the Lord has placed us in the Body of Christ. Consequently, at some conferences, only full-time evangelists are expected to rise and teach, while teachers and teaching elders are expected to remain seated. Brethren be sober-minded. What right does a 45-year-old evangelist have above a 65-year-old teaching elder to take the preeminence at a conference? Is not this the shadow of nicolaitianism, that which Christ hates? Again, consider if it is necessary to solicit a man to travel hundreds or even thousands of mile to conduct a Bible reading? One may well employ the words of Paul "I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able ... ?' (1 Corinthians 6:5). Let us ever beware of Nicolaitianism!
The Promise of Christ
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). To the Asian mind a tree was the seat of divine life, the intermediary between divine and human nature. The prosperity and safety of the family depended on the sacred tree. Planted by a grave, the buried man's spirit penetrated the tree. To cut down such a tree invoked the death penalty. However the mind of the saved Ephesian rises above such superstition and is given the promise to the overcomer of eating of the tree of life itself! And what is the tree of life? It is Christ Himself! The first Adam forfeited the right to the tree of life in an earthly paradise. The Last Adam secures for us the tree of life in the heavenly paradise! How glorious, that we in redeemed bodies shall feast upon our blessed Redeemer throughout the eternal ages! This will be our blessed occupation. Ask yourself what is your occupation now? With a certain amount of sadness, we leave the cold assembly to travel 40 miles north to a totally crushed assembly. Please join me at Smyrna next month, if the Lord will. I trust that all of us have learned a lesson from our visit to Ephesus.