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Where is the love...?

"There’s something wrong, you’ve admitted it, so don’t just sit there looking hopeless, get on with it!"

1 Timothy 1:1-7, Revelation 2:1-7

You need to also know that at this time Ephesus was the greatest harbour in Asia (now it is miles from the sea because the harbour has silted up. Ephesus was literally the gateway to Asia. All trade routes that were important converged on Ephesus and from there by sea to destinations further afield. It was the richest city in Asia. It was also the centre of worship of Artemis, or Diana.

Ephesus was a centre for superstition, famed for the Ephesian Letters, small charms given for sickness, for those who were childless and for those wanting success in their endeavours. People came from all over the place to buy them.

Ephesus was also a centre of crime, immorality and prostitution. We actually saw an ancient sign in the pavement in Ephesus giving directions to the nearest brothel.

So there you are, a broad picture of life in Ephesus – plenty of money floating about, and some fairly seedy ways of spending it. And into this very modern sort of city came the Christian message, and strangely enough it appealed to many despite presenting a lifestyle poles apart from that of the general population. The church grew and thrived, but not without some problems and hardships.That’s the situation we find in John’s message from Revelation.

Now Revelation is full of some strange stuff because what we have is what was revealed to John in a dream. Most of the images that John shares are not new ones however, they come from the words of the Old Testament that would have been engraved on his heart, along with those of his Jewish readers, aprticularly Daniel.

He starts by giving two descriptions of the risen Christ:

"These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands"

The imagery here is simply of Christ who holds the heavens in his hands and yet walks in the midst of his people, his churches, represented by the lampstands. The risen Christ, says John is active wherever people gather for worship.

And there’s good news for the church in Ephesus (or maybe it’s the carrot before the stick!) John announces that the risen Christ is pleased to see how hard working the church is, despite the conditions and opposition they were facing. And this is no ordinary work, because the Greek word means the sort of physical and mental effort that brings you out in a hot sweat.

And again, when he writes about ‘your hard work and your perseverance’ this is not just a patience that endures but really courageous endurance faced with suffering and hardship. And that’s what God gives to his children when times are tough. For those who don’t give up but are prepared to keep going whatever happens, God gives the strength to persevere, and through his grace brings us through into triumph.

There’s more praise for them:
"… you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate."

Not only are they standing firm in the face of opposition from the surrounding culture, but they are also standing firm over doctrine. You have to imagine the church at this time, such a short time after the resurrection and all the missionary activity post-Pentecost. They were having to work out just what they believed about Jesus and how that would impact on their day to day lives.

And even as the Church started formulating the doctrines which we know, there were some, not necessarily outside but actually within the fellowship who were determined to have their say and influence, based not so much on their understanding of God but rather more on trying to assimilate Christianity into the culture of the day – blur the edges if you like.

The church at Ephesus was particularly prone to this because there was such a mix of peoples living there and passing through because of its strategic position. Here the problem seems to be from Nicolaitans. We have no more information about them other than they were followers of the teachings of Balaam. Some say that they were followers of Nicolaus, a convert from Antioch who we can read about in Acts 6:5. He was a deacon, but drifted away and ended up being branded a heretic.

What seems to have been the problem with the Nicolaitans, and you could bring this bang up to date by asking ‘What seems to be the problem today with some in the church?’ is that there was a call to embrace the culture in which they lived, to present a less threatening or prohibitive image of the church to outsiders.

Outside the church people lived pretty awful and promiscuous lives. They were doing things which were against the teaching of the Church to which they belonged – in those days it was eating meat offered to idols and drifting into immorality, I wonder what we’d say the problem was today?

It’s all to do with compromising, making Christianity fit to the culture in which it lives, rather than the other way around, which is of course much harder!

How did they justify their behaviour? Possibly be saying that God’s Grace is so big that he will keep on forgiving whatever they did!

Anyway, the Ephesian church hated what was happening in their midst and for that they were commended!

OK, so far so good for our friends in Ephesus. Brownie points for their hard work and perseverance, along with their hatred of anything that watered down the Christian message so that it became more superficially "attractive" to outsiders. "But!" says Jesus, through the writer John. "Where’s that first love that you had? It seems to have evaporated while you’ve been working so hard!"

What is this "first love" that John writes about? Is it their enthusiasm generally for the Gospel message? I’m sure we all go through phases of losing enthusiasm, particularly when our churches are faced by mammoth fund raising issues or divisions. We get frustrated and our attention gets diverted onto all manner of other matters.

But there’s more to it than that. Yes, they were having a bit of a hard time. There was opposition to the message they were preaching, from a population whose lives were a long way from the Christian ideal.

Yes, they were battling hard to prevent compromise, to blend into the society in which they lived. But somehow in all this hard work and despite their perseverance, the Christians at Ephesus had lost their initial love for God and for his people.

And if love is missing, then there’s a big hole in the church which will eventually be filled up with something else. However, recognising the problem is also the first step to recovery!

What do they have to do? Three "R’s" - Remember, Repent and Renew!

"Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first."

What do we do if we’ve found we’ve drifted away in our faith? Remember what it was like at the start, remember the joy, the fellowship, the blessings. Remembering is a good place to start on the road to recovery. The first step to putting things right is to acknowledge that there’s something wrong.

Repent seems such an old fashioned word at times, but its meaning is clear. Repentance is an admission that there’s something wrong, that the fault lies at our door and we want to do something about it, sort it out and start again. It’s difficult sometimes to admit our own guilt, but that’s a necessary stage to go through.

The third "R" takes us to the famous Nike logo and its message to "Just do it!"

The message to the Ephesian Christians is the same message that we might need to hear. There’s something wrong, you’ve admitted it, so don’t just sit there looking hopeless, get on with it! Get on with living the Christian life and being Christ in the world, particularly in your neighbourhood, and in the church which you belong to – otherwise what are people going to see when they walk in through the door?

If the church isn’t alive, is not shining bright with the love of Christ, then the flame will die and the church will die.

"If you do not repent," says the risen Christ. "I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."

And there’s a reward for holding firm,

"To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God."

That takes us back to the Garden of Eden and a certain apple tree, but in later Jewish thought there is the picture of the Messiah coming and the tree of life being in the centre of all people, with those who had been faithful eating from it.

What Adam had spoiled, the Messiah would restore.

Paradise! What does that word conjure up in your mind.? I guess it means different things to different people, and over the last few thousand years theologians and religious teachers have struggled to describe what God meant by Paradise. Today we equate it with heaven, and maybe those words of Charles Wesley

"Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Til we cast our crowns before thee.
Lost in wonder, love, and praise."

So what does the message to the church at Ephesus have to say to us? It says keep on persevering even if you find that it’s a struggle at times. Don’t accept anything or anyone who tries to compromise what you know to be true, just to make the church’s message seem more acceptable to today’s culture – dare to be different! And the reward is greater than you could ever imagine!

And if things get spiritually rocky then don’t flounder on the rocks but do what you know you have to do - remember, repent and renew! Don’t think about it - Just do it!

 

 

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