In Acts 18 Paul went to Ephesus with Priscilla and Aquila and left them there to plant a church while he travelled back to Jerusalem. It was their task to establish the church in Ephesus. Eventually another preacher, Apollos, travelled to Ephesus and worked alongside Priscilla and Aquila. Together they saw quite a great work accomplished, and when Paul returned he found that Apollos had been greatly instructed in the gospel by the husband and wife team and was now boldly declaring it throughout Asia Minor.
Eventually, the church at Ephesus would grow through the efforts of these four saints and we find that within a couple of years the gospel had spread throughout most of Asia Minor from this cultural and commercial hub. The Christian revolution left a number of icon artisans furious at the mass conversions of the citizens of this pagan metropolis, and in Acts 19 they lashed out against some of Paul’s companions who had laboring for the gospel there in Ephesus.
Finally, the church was established and Paul would eventually write an epistle to encourage the Christians in Ephesus and Asia Minor as they faced regular persecution. Following Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, we don’t hear anything else about them until Revelation. Here, the first message in John’s revelation of Jesus is a directly addressed to those Christians who are in trials and trouble there in Ephesus. Church history indicates that before the Apostle John was exiled to Patmos he had been the leader of the church there at Ephesus.
This church had quite the pedigree. Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos, and the Apostle John had all personally invested in the congregation there. A number of things had apparently gone very well in Ephesus. As the glorified Jesus addressed them in Revelation 2, He first praised them for their hard work and their striving to accomplish much in the face of such opposition. They had also grown to a level of commendable discernment and had been able to refute those who came into their midst who were theologically misled.
Sadly, however, the message from Christ carried with it a grave rebuke for the Ephesians. In spite of their laboring intensely and pursuing right doctrine, they had departed from the right motivation for service and pure theology. It is not that they had followed false doctrine, or that they were spiritually lazy, rather, they had let their love for Christ wane. In striving to accomplish good things, they had left off the one most important thing.
The grand mark of Christianity is love for Christ and for His people. Here the church at Ephesus was distracted from the passion and affection that had first motivated them in their spiritual pursuits. They were heatless light. The truth remained, but the heart was unaffected by it. Now, they were receiving a warning from Jesus through John that if they did not repent of their lack of love they would be undone. The only hope for survival of their church would be repentance for their lack of love and a striving as a church to love once again as they had at first.
This did not mean that all was lost for every member. In Christ’s message to Ephesus was one final point. To the individual who would persevere and continue in love and pure doctrine and serving others, this one would receive the reward of heaven. In dissembling the loveless congregation Christ would not abandon the true believers. His love for His own would always remain.
Reflect: Do you see any areas in your life where your service or your doctrine is not carried along with love for Christ as much as other influence? Read verse 5 again.