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"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, and walks among the seven golden lampstands. -- Revelation 2: 1 (ESV)
Perhaps no book in the Bible is less preached from today than Revelation. Perhaps because of the difficulty many experience with the imagery and prophecy. The vast majority of Revelation is of things that have yet to pass. It was written by the Apostle John, while exiled on the Island of Patmos. We know from Chapter One that the words he writes are coming directly from Jesus Christ. We also know from Chapter One that the seven lampstands He is referring to are the seven churches in Asia that Jesus is commanding John to write seven letters to. Each one detailing what they are doing good, where they are falling short, and the potential consequences, both good and bad. As such, there is vital information we can glean from these letters for the church today. The seven stars refers to the seven angels, one for each church. Theologians have offered two popular explanations for this term. It may mean actual angels assigned over each church or it may in fact be a term for the assigned pastors and leadership. Either way, the point is that the message is for the individual churches themselves and those who attended them. The message is also for us today and the churches we attend. The first letter is for the Church at Ephesus. Let him who has an ear, hear what the Spirit is saying to the church today.
"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 (ESV)
The first thing Jesus points out is what the Church at Ephesus is doing right. He sees their works as He sees our works. Not works in the traditional carnal way we usually reflect on today. Not building playgrounds in Guatemala or visiting orphanages in Mexico. This is not to say that we should not take care of the least in our society; we absolutely should. The Bible expressly instructs us to. But note the works Christ commends them for are spiritual in nature. The first thing mentioned is their toil. This is speaking to spiritual toil. This is toil and labor in the Gospel. You might be thinking that the Gospel is not laborious but you would be wrong. We live in a culture that is constantly drawing the church away from the Gospel. It is work to resist the devil. It is work to tell your church that when the world celebrates Halloween that we ought to not participate in the deeds of unfruitful darkness. It is work to preach carrying your cross instead of wealth and prosperity. It is work to stay pure when other churches are compromising. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the churches today are not toiling spiritually at all! They instead are seeking common ground with the darkness. Dressing up the impending birthday of the devil in "Fall Fests", Trunk or Treats" or "Harvest Parties." On a broader scale we see churches using heretical church growth paradigms to lure people into fellowship without a discussion of sin and repentance. That is not labor. That is not toil. That is taking the easy way out. The Bible calls it scratching itching ears:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and they will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. -- 2Timothy 2: 3-4 (ESV)
Of course people want to hear that the Bible is all about them. Of course they want to hear that God is some cosmic bellhop carrying their bags or a mystical bus boy cleaning up their messes. But as the Body of Christ we are called to labor in the Lord. We are called to toil in doctrine.
The second thing Jesus commends the Church at Ephesus for is their patient endurance. The temptations of this world are not fleeting beloved. They are relentless in their pursuit of our flesh. The Bible speaks constantly about enduring until the end. Recently we have seen preachers with decent track records over long periods of time simply fall apart before the finish line. We saw Harold Camping predicting the second coming of Christ, twice no less, after decades of faithful service in a radio ministry for Christians. Ravi Zacharias is now supports full blown Ecumenicalism. There is a reason why Paul exclaims that he has finished the race strong! We cannot rest on our spiritual laurels from perseverance of days past. We are called to endure beloved. To endure in what we believe. To endure in doctrine when the world and the church tell us we are wrong. Many of the new and popular heresies, such as the NAR and false signs and lying wonders routinely besmirch those who want pure doctrine. The disgraced mega-church pastor Perry Noble infamously referred to those who wanted to go deeper into the Word of God as the "jackasses in his church" during a sermon. Another purpose driven pastor referred to them as the "excrement in the Body of Christ." False churches like Bethel and IHOP routinely trump up personal experience over doctrine. The sad truth is there a lack of patient endurance within the church today. Thankfully, Ephesus was enduring patiently. The next thing that Jesus commends them for is so crucial for the church today. Ephesus was not tolerating any form of evil within its church from those who fancied themselves apostles but were clearly false.
But test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. - 1Thessalonians 5: 21-22 (ESV)
Beloved we are supposed to test everything to determine what is from the Spirit of the Lord and what is not. You cannot casually browse Facebook today without tripping over self-appointed apostles and apostlettes. Bill Johnson, Mike Bickle, Dutch Sheets, Chuck Pierce, and the recently departed C. Peter Wagner are but just a few. Wagner started the New Apostolic Reformation, which banded these false prophets together. But it goes far beyond those that make the headlines. Throughout mainstream evangelicalism there are a myriad of people who have assumed titles they did not earn and do not deserve. Grand Apostles, Master Prophets, and various other equally blasphemous titles dot the Charismatic landscape. Who is supposed to protect the body from such corruption? The church itself! If you claim to be called to a pastoral or leadership role in God's church then you have a biblical imperative to expose and rebuke those that are false:
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. - Titus 1: 9 (ESV)
This is not offered as an "option." Leaders are to present true doctrine so that the sheep might grow and rebuke false doctrines which can kill them. There is a reason why the shepherd's rod comforts the Psalmist! A traditional shepherd has a staff by which to lead and a rod by which to fend off the wolves that would attack. Sadly, the vast majority of pastors have more allegiance to anyone else in the pulpit than they do to the sheep. If you feel this is "not your gifting" then you have no call. We do not test anything anymore in the church. Evil spirit after evil spirit is allowed full access to the pulpit and the flock. Dr. Michael Brown thinks Joseph Prince just has a "hole in his theology"; and thinks Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson are brothers in Christ! No they are not! They are wolves devouring the sheep of the Lord! This is not a game! Jesus makes this abundantly clear for us:
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. -- Matthew 12: 30 (ESV)
There are only two choices beloved. We are either gathering people to Christ or scattering them away. We need to get back to the good works the Church at Ephesus was doing. Stop letting these charlatans have free access to the flock! We must patiently endure, not grow weary, and bear up for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ. Do we get what Jesus is saying here? It is not about us. It is about Him. It is about His name. Will we be found exalting His name or having it mocked throughout the very world that needs Him so desperately? As Jesus continues in His letter to Ephesus we find all was not perfect however.
But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. -- Revelation 2: 4-5 (ESV)
You have abandoned the love you had at first. How this must resonate with believers. Most of us come to the Lord completely ablaze with the newness of our faith. Fervent, zealous, and unflinching. How many times has pastoral advice to new believers been to slow down? That this is not a sprint but a marathon. How many Christians have we known that completely burned out during the sprint and left the church or the faith? The truth is that distractions distract by nature. They pull you away from Christ and nowhere is that more evident than in this country. Sure, we try our level best to dress up our distractions in Christianese but at the end of the day, most Christians simply cannot maintain the same zeal they had at first. As we see from this letter, churches often do not either. What is interesting is the connection to the soundness of their doctrine in that they were exposing what is false. It is a danger to get so tied up in the doctrinal side of Christ that you lose the personal nature of our faith. Doctrine is vital but doctrine apart from the Holy Spirit can become an intellectual argument.
We saw this recently in the Andy Stanley controversy. Stanley preached that in order to reach millennials we ought to preach the historical reliability of the Bible stories and not the inerrancy of Scripture. This of course is an absurd logic spurred on by purely carnal thinking. Salvation is not an intellectual event but a spiritual one. If your faith is rooted in really good intellectual arguments then all it takes to lose that faith is another intellectual argument that you find better. We cannot separate doctrine from Christ. If we do we run the risk of things becoming dry and stale. The Holy Spirit is who leads us into all truth yet there are many churches which are operated by pastors who are not called pastorally. They approach this as a job. As a hireling. They do not seek the Lord each week to prepare a sermon that He wants delivered to His people. I know pastors that recycle old messages from previous pastoral assignments. I know pastors who cheat and get their sermons online. Is it any wonder than that church today grows as cold as the Church at Ephesus? We have enough distractions pulling us towards the world in our own lives! Church is supposed to be a sanctuary from the world and instead it is now an extension of it. We should go to church to hear thus sayeth the Lord not thus sayeth the pastor. Not thus sayeth the latest church growth guru.