To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: This is what the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says:
“I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot bear with those who are evil, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, you also have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:1-3)
The church at Ephesus is spiritually strong. It was founded well and taught by the best possible leaders. Paul trained and retrained the pastors there in Acts 20. They loved him so much that they wept when he said he was leaving.
Later, Timothy pastored the church at Ephesus. In fact, when Paul wrote to him, he gave him instructions about how to do it. Another faithful servant named Tychicus pastored there. And, finally, they had great apostle John.
Now, that gets us to verse two, where there is a commendation of this church.
Jesus says, “I know your deeds.” This was a church of people who toiled for the sake of the gospel. They weren’t lazy. They weren’t indifferent. They were busy. They were giving everything they had – unlike some people who attend church and all they’re looking for is a box seat to be entertained, or a banquet table to be fed spiritual food.
There are a lot of onlookers and watchers who love to eat the fruit of the harvest, but want no part of the planning and the cultivation. But not this group in Ephesus. They were active – not a church offering weekly entertainment, not a church offering a couch to take a rest on, but a church that really understood a yoke under which they had been called to labor for the good news of Christ.
Not only were they known for their deeds and their toil in those deeds, but for their perseverance. This is not grim resignation. This is not just giving up. This is courageous gallantry which accepts hardship, suffering, persecution, and loss. This is an invincible attitude that is not beaten down or cast out; it endures. They were persistent. They were staying with it.
Their deeds were honorable, God-glorifying deeds. They worked hard at it, and they stayed under the difficulties and persevered. They were hard-working, relentless, and indomitable. What a wonderful church.
Beyond that, verse three says something else about them: “You cannot tolerate evil men.”
They were intolerant of sin. They were sensitive to the presence of evil. They hated evildoers as God hates evildoers. They resented evil. They resented sin in the church. They recognized the damage that sin does to the fellowship and the testimony. They saw that sin in the church destroys the unity of the church and destroys the testimony of the church. They hated all that was morally and spiritually bad. They knew that a little leaven leavens the whole lump.
This is really a remarkable church. They’re not orthodox by birth, they’re not orthodox by atmosphere, they’re not orthodox by osmosis; they’re orthodox because they’ve been taught from the very beginning.
They were taught by Aquila and Priscilla. They were taught by Apollos. They were taught by Timothy and Tychicus, Paul, and John. They were a well-taught church. Their theology was so sound that they could measure anyone against the truth and expose error. In the words of Peter: “They could give a reason to any man who asked for the hope that was in them.”
When evil men of all types moved into the church at Ephesus, they were exposed. They were tested and failed the test. The only ones who were welcomed into that church were those who were faithful to the teaching of the Word of God.
This was an amazing group: hardworking, persevering, intolerant of sin, knowledgeable in true theology so as to be able to discern true teachers and false teachers. And they did it all “persevering, enduring, for My name’s sake.”
That’s the epitome, isn’t it? They did it for the honor of their Lord.
For all intents and purposes, you would say this is a great church. But in verse four, we go from the commendation to the condemnation: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” And we will unpack that next time.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 2015, titled “The Lord’s Word to His Church: Ephesus.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at masters.edu.
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