The Church at Ephesus - A Church with a Past

A. Naismith, Falkirk

Part 8 of 8 of the series New Testament Churches

Paul's warning to the Ephesian elders when he addressed them at Miletus, Acts 20, proved extremely timely and opportune. Writing years later to Timothy who was then at Ephesus, the apostle instructed him to warn the believers there against the false doctrine that was being promulgated among them, I Tim. 1. 3,4, and thus fortified them against the inroads of the Nicolaitanes and their hateful practices, Rev. 2. 6. Thirty years later, and about forty years after Paul's first visit to Ephesus, the Lord Jesus, seen by John as Son of man walking in the midst of the churches in Asia Minor, com­municated His messages to them through letters which John was commissioned to write. The first letter that they had received had been from Paul, the apostolic messenger of Christ; the second was from the Lord Himself. The former was penned in a Roman prison on earth; the latter emanated from the eternal throne in heaven. John, the writer of the book of the Revelation, shepherded and ministered to the Lord's flock at Ephesus among whom he lived for many years, and to them his emphatic and repeated exhortation had been, "Little children, love one another". Their failure in respect of love for the Lord and for one another constituted the Lord's sole condemnation in His message to them: "thou hast left thy first love".

It was this disloyalty that extinguished the light of their witness and led to the removal of their lampstand. The assembly's testimony faded out and went into stagnation like the ruins of Diana's temple that lie under the water weeds of a stagnant pool. In the church a dead sea took the place of the rivers of living waters that had flowed from the patient labours of the saints. The hymns of praise and worship, once ascend­ing to the throne in heaven from the Lord's redeemed there, have long been silenced, and poisonous weeds of heresy have sprung up in the place where trees of the Lord's planting once flourished, and all because they left their first love. The apostle John had close associations with the church at Ephesus. Tradition tells us that he lived there in his declining years until he was nearly a hundred years of age. Doubtless he had some of the Ephesian saints in mind when he wrote his first Epistle, using in it the word "love" {agape, agapad) more frequently than any other of the New Testament writers. Paul's letter to the Ephesians comes second in the number of mentions of "love", just over twenty times. When Paul wrote to the Christians at Ephesus, they were "in love" with their Lord and with one another in a truly spiritual sense. Their vitality in Christ, their risen Lord, and their affection for Christ, their exalted Head, exceeded that of the other churches in Asia and Europe. The expression "in love" occurs six times in the letter to the Ephesians, three times in I John, once in I Corinthians and once in the letter to the Colossians.

Love was the Sphere in which the Lord's elect in Ephesus moved, for they were chosen in Christ to be "holy and without blame before him in love", 1.4; but when the Lord addressed them from heaven they had moved out of that sphere; they had left their first love. How this must have grieved the Lord as He remembered "the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals", Jer. 2.2, when they went forth unto Him "without the camp, bearing his reproach".

In Paul's second prayer for them recorded in his letter, Eph. 3.14-19, viewing them as "rooted and grounded in love", he desires that their comprehension of the dimensions of God's eternal purpose and their knowledge of Christ's infinite love for them may be increased. The Soil in which they had been planted and the Site on which they were erected as the "habitation of God through the Spirit" was love. Love was the garden and the ground measured out to them by the Lord Himself.

As to their inner experiences and their attitude one to another, they were to manifest the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, "forbearing one another in love", 4. 2. Love was the Spirit that they were to continue to display toward all the members of the Body of Christ. Of the existence among them of this mutual affection the apostle had already written with assurance, 1.15.

Basking in the Sunshine of love, the members of the mystic Body of Christ grow up in every heavenly grace into their living Head and attain maturity by means of the divine energy placed at their disposal, 4. 13-16. In these verses, "in love" occurs twice, first in reference to the progress of the individual members of Christ and then in view of the realization of the Lord's purpose for the whole Body.

In chapter 5. 2 the saints are viewed as travelling homeward together on the same Street — "Love Street" — walking in love, as Christ also loved them, and marked by kindness, tenderness and forgiveness in their attitude one to another. What a tragedy that the Ephesian Christians left that Street and branched off in another direction instead of "keeping themselves in the love of God" and continuing to "love one another". Their failure to recollect what the Lord continually remembered — the kindness of their youth and the love of their espousals — their failure to repent and to return to the Lord, led to the removal of their lampstand, the elimination of their witness in that idolatrous city. Though, even at the end of the century and after forty years of strenuous, patient and unwearied service for Christ, the Lord found not a few of their activities commendable, the diminution in their devotion, occasioned by the abandonment of their earlier affection for Him, incurred the Lord's sorrowful censure: "thou hast left thy first love", for there were among them "some who never loved Him well, and some who lost the love they had". End of the Series.