On Wednesday mornings I have finished a study for men on Genesis and now we have jumped to Revelation. I love the book of Revelation and have read it regularly for decades. I can honestly say that every time I have gone back and read it, I have gone deeper and learned more from its vast well of mysteries and mysteries revealed. 3
In chapter two and three there are seven letters from Jesus to seven churches. These churches all differ in what they are good at and not so good at, so are a good representation of all believers and all churches. The first church Jesus dictated a letter to the church in Ephesus.
The Ephesian church was established in the mid first century, some say by Paul, some by John the apostle. Regardless, both Paul and John served there as well as Apollos and Aquila and Priscilla. Several decades later Jesus Himself addressed the church through this letter in Revelation.
After describing who this letter is coming from, Jesus, He then begins to compliment the Ephesian church for many things they are doing right:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary (Revelation 2:2-3).
If Jesus addressed me, would He be able to come up with so many good things? Some thoughts on His commendations:
1. I know your works: In Evangelical churches much effort is made to not be too works minded. There is some merit in this, however the pendulum can swing too far the other way and indeed often does! We are told repeatedly in the New Testament we will be judged by…our works! It is popular to quote Ephesians 2:8-9 about being saved by grace through faith, and thank God for these truths! But seldom is the next verse included, verse 10:
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We are not just saved from hell and we don’t just automatically get raptured when we believe. We are saved to spend the rest of our lives doing good works.
2. Your toil: The only comment I have on this is, would I describe my efforts for the gospel as toiling, or at my convenience? Toiling suggests hard work with sweat and achy muscles in mind!
3. You cannot bear those who are evil: Generation after generation we seem to have a sliding scale of what evil is. But there is really only one definition: God’s definition. And we find that all over the Bible. So the question is: Do we tolerate evil in our own lives, those we have authority over, and in our church? Jesus said not being able to bear or tolerate evil is a good thing. Much is said about tolerance these days, but have you noticed that it is usually about tolerating what the Bible calls evil?!
4. You tested those who call themselves apostles and are not: Do I know the scriptures well and am I in tune enough with the Holy Spirit to recognize the difference between truth and error? If I have been a believer for several years, has my knowledge of the holy increased proportionally?
5. You are enduring patiently: How is my patience? How is my spiritual endurance? Do I keep plugging along in my quest for living right NO MATTER WHAT? Or is my faith a faith of convenience? Taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23) is not convenient! People die on crosses!
6. You have not grown weary: This isn’t just talking about general life, it’s talking about working, toiling for the gospel and for His name’s sake. Question: Am I even doing enough in my life for the gospel to even get weary? If I am weary at times, is it because of working for the gospel, or just because I am too busy?
7. You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans: The Nicolaitans were famous for what some now call “greasy grace,” or “easy believism.” The Nicolaitans thought the grace of God was so powerful that they didn’t have to live right; they didn’t have to abstain from sin. After all, it’s all under the blood! The net result was that grace was basically a license to sin. Paul had something to say about that attitude in Romans 6:1-2:
What shall we say then: Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
Jesus said we are to HATE an attitude like this. Yet when we casually say we sin every day in thought, word or deed, are we not dangerously close to the same attitude? We are often told we should love for the sake of Christ, and this is very true. But we are also called to hate for the sake of Christ. Do I hate falsehood? Do I hate all evil? Or do I just dislike it some, or maybe even like some of what God calls evil? A friend of mine used to tell people who couldn’t quit sinning, “You just don’t hate sin enough! Paul leaves no doubt what attitude we should have toward what God calls evil: Abhor what is evil, hold fast to that which is good (Romans 12:9). Not much room for tolerance there!
8. You have abandoned your first love: This suggests there has been a replacement of sorts. Have there been times in my life when I was more on fire for God and His purposes on earth? Has my once hot love cooled off and been replaced by something else? Has busyness gotten in the way of toiling, patient endurance, true discernment, loving good and hating evil? Is my Christian life bearing fruit or does it look more like I am just in a type of Christian club that demands little of me? Am I as different from unbelievers as Christ would have me be? If not, am I going to continue falling farther from my First Love, or is today, the first day of the rest of my life going to be a pivotal day and the beginning of a better me? Am I going to count myself done with lesser things and devote what remains of my life to greater things? Much of our lives is the choices and priorities we make. As Joshua once said, “Choose this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15).