To the angel of the assembly in Ephesus write: “These things say the One holding the seven stars in His right hand, the One walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:
‘I have seen and perceived
‘- your works,
‘- and your painful toil,
‘- and your patient endurance,
‘- and that you are unable to bear with evil and harm,
‘- and you tested those saying of themselves they are apostles, yet are not, and you found them false
‘- and you have patience endurance,
‘- and you bore up for the sake of My Name, yet have not grown weary.
‘But, I have against you that you let go of your first love.
‘Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works: for if not, I am coming to you and I will move your lampstand out of its place, if you do not repent.
‘Still, this you have, that you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, just as I hate them.
‘The one having an ear: Listen, comprehend, attend to what the Spirit is saying to the assemblies. To the one overcoming I will give to eat from the Tree of Life that is in the Paradise of God,’”Revelation 2:1-7
Ephesus, a city established by Greek colonists, was a thousand years old by the writing of this letter, and had been built upon the ruins of an even older Hittite city which had, in turn, been built upon the ancient capital of a long-ago people named the Arzawa.
Now a thriving metropolis, Ephesus was the largest city in the region, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, with 300,000 inhabitants. An important commercial center, it was located on a large harbor, a port city at the height of its glory.
For five hundred years, Ephesus had also enjoyed international fame for one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the magnificent Temple to Artemis, with one hundred columns, over fifty feet high, four times the size of the Parthenon. The centerpiece was a stone that represented the goddess and worshipers claimed had fallen from the sky—possibly a meteorite. Ephesus was also famous for its Ephesia grammata or ‘Ephesian letters’. These were occult formulae written on scrolls and talismans copied from the original inscriptions in the Artemis temple.
When the Apostle Paul came with his team to evangelize, the Gospel quickly took root, causing a riot among those who profited from religious pilgrimages to Ephesus’s famous temple. It is here that Priscilla and Aquilla ministered for years, and taught the well-known orator Apollos the things of God.
And the Lord Jesus Christ was in many ways well-pleased with the beleaguered assembly of Christ-followers in Ephesus.
After the very public humiliation of the Sons of Sceva, attempting to cast out demons in Jesus’s name without actually belonging to Jesus, Christians in Ephesus doubled down on integrity. Their first act was to publicly burn their books of magic and dark spiritual arts in an act of worship.
Ever since, they could not bear any hint of evil, or harm.
Debunk False Prophets
They put every preacher to the test—even those who claimed to be apostles. Because of their vigilance, they were able to expose several wolves in sheep’s clothing, something both Jesus and Paul had warned about.
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.
Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears.Apostle Paul to the Elders of Ephesus, Acts 20:28-31 (NRSV)
They had made a special point of rejecting the evil and harmful influence of the Nicolaitans, whom ancient tradition points to as Nicolaus, one of the first seven deacons. Paul had said even some from among their own number would distort the truth. But thanks be to God, they did stay alert.
You endure with patience, Jesus said to them. I know your many devoted good works, your painful toil among people who reject you and persecute you. I see it, for I walk among you, My Spirit is with you and in you, and I hold your spirit in my hand. You have borne up for the sake of My Name, yet you have not grown weary.
This is perhaps what Jesus commended most, for He spoke most about their forbearance, their uncomplaining perseverance. They had set their shoulders to the load, bowed under the cross of the believer, for Jesus’s sake, and they retained their strength and their determination.
They had not grown weary.
But there was something they had lost, something they may not have even noticed was missing, because of their firm faith, their commitment to purity, and their protection of the truth.
They had let go of their first love.
This is what mattered most to Jesus, it was in the commandments to love God and to love neighbor that Jesus said all the rest of the Law hung. Get this right, and we will eventually get everything else right, too.
Get this wrong, and honestly, nothing else matters.
If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
. . . Love never ends.
But as for prophecies, they will come to an end;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
. . . And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 13
Perhaps they still had faith. Perhaps they still had hope.
But the greatest, the enduring piece, their first love, that they had let go.
Truth without love is no longer fully truth. Orthodoxy without the grace and love of God is no longer fully orthodox. And from that imbalance, all good works would also no longer be truly good works, for they would no longer flow from a heart filled with God’s love.
Before your hearts become more calloused, while you still have some sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, turn back towards love, Jesus was saying. Return to the good works that flowed from your hearts filled with love—love for Me, love for each other, and love for those who oppose you.
If they would return to that love, they would eat from the Tree of Life, in Paradise with God.
Those who had the Spirit would listen, and they would seek to revive their assembly. But after a while, if others resisted them, and insisted on principles rather than passion; love for rightness rather than love for God, each other, and those around them; if they continued to contend for justice and law rather than return to love, which tempers justice with mercy, and law with grace, then the spiritually attuned would slowly begin to gather in another place, leaving that assembly.
And the lampstand would be moved.