In the book of Revelation Jesus address seven churches and the first church that is mentioned is Ephesus. As we read what Jesus had to say about the church in Ephesus, we see that it did several things well. But before we look at the pros and cons of this church it’s important to note that Jesus in all seven churches begins and ends the same way. He begins with a revelation of Himself unique to the church He is addressing and ends with the phrase, “whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirt says to the churches” and a promise. This phrase lets us know that although these things He is saying is specific to that church, it can also potentially be applied to our own lives, and churches. It is for anyone who has an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches (plural).
To the Church in Ephesus, Jesus reveals Himself as the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. It’s difficult to say with certainty why Jesus would reveal Himself to Ephesus in this way, but perhaps it’s safe to say that the message and the messenger ideally are one in the same, and since it’s Jesus that’s giving the message we know that it’s a sure thing. Also, the way Jesus reveals Himself to the Church may be connected to the callings and purposes of the Church. For example, Ephesus may have been called to be Jesus’ hands and feet, but specifically called to an Apostolic ministry in that they serve and guard the message of the gospel represented by Jesus holding the seven stars and walking among the lampstand (the seven stars are the messenger/angels of the seven churches and the lampstand are the seven churches). A Healthy Church no matter what the size of it is, ought to have a unique personalized revelation of Jesus. Not a generic Jesus, and not a generic calling or purpose. Meaning a local church can’t just look at what other churches are doing and say, let’s follow their patter, rather the church must learn to keep her eyes on Jesus and minister out of the revelation He gives them. I’m not saying we can’t learn from one another, but we cannot be dependent on a form or formula to do the ministry of the Living God.
The Church in Ephesus did many things well. To sum it up they worked hard, hated well, and had true grit. Jesus praised the Ephesus church for both good deeds and hard work. I’m not sure what the nuanced difference is of these two, perhaps it’s something like the difference between a mission’s team and a missionary. One meets the immediate felt needs of the people, while the other toils for the salvation and transformation of the people. Whatever the case is, the Ephesians did this well and were faithful in it. They didn’t just do it for a season but persevered in this area of ministry. The Church is called and created for good works and deeds. We’re not saved to simply enjoy life through endless entertainment, but to serve others, which by the way is the road to becoming great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Of course, we don’t serve to get saved but we’re saved so we can serve the One who has Eternal Life. A Healthy church is constantly looking for ways to serve others, both through practical means, but also to make disciples of Jesus by sharing their lives with others.
The Church in Ephesus was also doctrinally sound. They became this way by hating well. There were those that tried to become leaders within the Ephesian church and advocated certain teachings, tried to install certain traditions, and set a certain culture within the church, but the Ephesian church would have nothing to do with it. Hating well seems easy enough, but this is actually harder than it seems. This probably meant, that there were confrontations, intolerance of certain behaviors, exposing certain people who claimed to be godly as false, and having to endure retaliation for Jesus’ name. Have you ever seen a church do that well? Emphasis on doing it well, because I’ve seen churches that hate everything and everyone, and that is not what I mean by hating well. Unfortunately, I’ve seen churches that tries to love everything and everyone and, in the process, naively loving and tolerating the things God hates (We will see this with the Church in Pergamum, and Thyatira). If we’re not careful we will end up loving the things God hates and unintentionally allowing for false teachings and teachers to infect the church, creating a dysfunctional and/or toxic culture, which will lead to the decline and eventual death of a Church. Healthy Churches have trained themselves to discern good from evil and to hold onto that which is good and have the courage to confront and cast out that which evil.
Finally, the church in Ephesus had what I would call true grit. They persevered in doing good works and deeds, they also persevered and have endured hardships for Jesus’ name and have not grown weary. If you’ve been Christian long enough you know that this race is not a sprint but a marathon. It’s easy to be excited, full of life, hope, and enthusiasm when you first start something new, but after a while, what was new becomes old, what was exciting becomes mundane, what was full of enthusiasm becomes wearisome… Not for the Ephesians. They had the endurance of a world class marathon runner, and it showed in their lives, I’m sure it showed in their actions, attitude, and dare I say their attendance. They showed up, even when things got hard, even when there were fighting’s about doctrine, who is the true apostle and who isn’t, even when there were slanderous reports, in all that they had to endure, they did not become weary, but persevered. Their Faith in Jesus became faithfulness in their everyday lives and Jesus took notice of that. A healthy church keeps on keeping on even if the wind, the rain, and the storms of life unexpectedly comes because they’ve built their house on the Rock of Jesus Christ. If we’re not careful we can be too quick to abandon the seeds of faith before they become majestic fruit bearing trees that yields thirty, sixty, and hundredfold of what was planted. It takes faithfulness to see faith manifest itself. A Healthy Church endures and perseveres through thick and thin.
We will continue our study of the church in Ephesus next time, but in the meantime, it might be a good idea to consider how you are doing in these three areas of your own life and church. Until next time, Blessings!