Ephesians Study Coda: First Love

Hey! You thought we were done with the book of Ephesians, so what else could there be? Well, I thought it might be interesting to drop in a little coda and check in on the Ephesians some time after the letter was written. And for this, we’ll be looking at Revelation.

Teaching Text: Revelation 2:1-7

2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 

2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Re 2:1–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Between the end of Paul writing the letter to the Ephesians and the end of the New Testament, Paul wrote two letters to Timothy (1 Timothy and 2 Timothy). The letters were not written to a group of people, but rather just one specific person. Scholars date the first letter somewhere between 62-66 A.D. which would put it possibly 2-6 years after Ephesians was written. The second letter to Timothy, which many believe to be Paul’s final letter, is dated around 67-68 A.D.

In the first letter to Timothy, Paul charged him to stay in Ephesus. Paul then goes on to address issues that Timothy was dealing with which allows us to glean some information about the state of Ephesus in these letters to Timothy. One of the themes of the first letter to Timothy was teaching against false doctrine. It comes up a couple times, including near the start of the book.

3 As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, 4 nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith. 5 The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, 7 desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 1:3–7). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

We also see Paul continue to use war and soldier metaphors in both letters (1 Tim 1:18, 6:12; 2 Tim 2:1-7). A lot more themes from Ephesians carry over throughout 1 & 2 Timothy, but rather than listing them all here, I will encourage you to explore that on your own. And perhaps I will someday write more of these blogs about the books of 1 & 2 Timothy.

So with all of that in mind—the letter from Paul to the Ephesians and the two letters to Timothy—let’s jump ahead about 20-30 years (according to Bible scholars) and check in with what is said to the church in Ephesus by Jesus in the book of Revelation. How was it going?

What they were doing right

The church in Ephesus is commended for their works and toil. They were also commended for their patient endurance and not growing weary. Presumably they took seriously Paul’s call for them to make the best use of the time (Eph 5:15). And as mentioned in lesson 18, they were told on several occasions to walk in different ways, including in the works prepared for them (Eph 2:10).

They had also tested those who call themselves apostles and found their teachings false. The Nicolaitans were specifically called out (this group being a particularly notable heretical cult). Their employment of the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God appears to be strong and swift. They were also able to keep anyone from deceiving them with empty words (Eph 5:6) and were able to continually compare the gospel they knew (Eph 1:13; Eph 3:6) with what was being proclaimed by groups teaching evil.

In Acts, the Jews in Berea were described as noble for examining the Scriptures to see if what they were told was accurate. This practice might have also been employed by the Ephesians and could certainly be used by us today.

11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 17:11). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

What they were doing not so right

Despite what they were doing right, Jesus says, “But I have this against you…” What a haunting thing to hear! I could see where it would be devastating to be wrapped up in work and having sound doctrine but then to learn that despite all that, Christ says he has something against me. They were told in Ephesians 5:6 to not be deceived by empty words, but just a few sentences later, they were told to try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord (Eph 5:10). How crushing it could have been to find out your discernment had come up short.

Seeing Jesus against people is reminiscent of when Jesus talked to the Pharisees. Take a look at this declaration about them in Luke:

42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 11:42). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Jesus contrasts what they were doing right (tithing) with what they were doing wrong (neglecting justice and the love of God). Jesus’ ministry focused on love and mercy. He ate with sinners and the self-righteous Pharisees of the time called him out on it. 

11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 9:11–13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

He reminds the Pharisees of a verse from Hosea:

6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, 
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. 

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ho 6:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

There seems to exist a tension between sacrifice and mercy. Again, later in the book of Matthew, Jesus references the tithing of the Pharisees and points out they have neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness. And yet, he doesn’t say not to tithe. In fact, the opposite. They should have focused on justice, mercy and faithfulness without neglecting the tithing as well.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 23:23–24). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

At one point, Paul had heard of their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and their “love toward all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15). The Ephesians had grown complacent in their love because of their work and knowledge. They had placed a high value on what they could accomplish and what they knew about doctrine. Though this was applauded, it is clear they focused on it at the cost of love.

There is hope for them though. They receive instructions for how to reset: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” The entire letter from Paul could probably have been revisited by the Ephesians but I will specifically call back to the first part of chapter 2. They could use the reminder about the sin and trespasses that they once walked in (Eph 2:1). They could once again revel in the grace they have obtained (Eph 2:5), not by their own doing but as a gift from God (Eph 2:8). Yes, they were then created for good works (Eph 2:10), but those works should lead us back to God.

Like them, we can also easily grow dependent on our own achievements in work and “getting it right.” It is good to continually monitor where you are in the loop we discussed several lessons ago. If you are only doing the works, then you are missing out on important pieces that will further transform you. Doing the works without love, mercy and justice are going to lead you into a Pharisaical path.

I invite you to review the journey of the Ephesians again. Compare it to your own. Check in from time to time and make sure you are not going off on paths that lead you away from love and mercy.