When the Lord Jesus had John send a letter to Ephesus in Revelation 2, he began by commending the church for the things they did correctly. At first glance it would seem that Ephesus had it all together with Jesus because of their opposition to false doctrines and false apostles in addition to all their consistent labors, patience, and support for his name’s sake. Then Jesus dropped some serious words of rebuke on them–“thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works…”
Spiritually morphing into believers like the ones at Ephesus is so easy to do and it can happen in such subtle, seemingly unnoticeable ways. This is why it pays for us to do a Holy Spirit checkup regularly as we study the word to make sure we are fulfilling the things he teaches us with the right motives.
Ephesus was doing such a great job outwardly, but they got to the point where genuine love for Jesus was pushed aside for fleshly pride. They accomplished so many works, they started to believe their accomplishments were due to their own capabilities. How do I know this? Well, we know they lost their love because Jesus says it plainly. And we can use deduction from what Jesus said to conclude that pride was their other weakness. The Lord was resisting them by telling them to repent, which brings to mind both the words in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5, “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” We can also look at Proverbs 16:18 as proof, since they had fallen.
What were the “first works” of Ephesus? We find them in Acts 18:19-20, 19:1-23, and Acts 20:17-38. Because of their humility and love for the Lord, they loved Paul and his missionary companions and couldn’t get enough of God’s word. As a result, they received spiritual gifts like tongues and prophecy, they saw God work special miracles for their benefit through Paul, they saw evil spirits cast out, they realized how precious the name of Jesus is when they witnessed what happened to the 7 sons of Sceva when they misused it, they saw how mightily the word of God grew and prevailed around them as Paul “kept back nothing that was profitable” to them as he taught them “publicly and from house to house.”
As if all of that wasn’t enough, they had the added bonus of being the first to receive the teachings and exhortations from Paul in his letter to them known as “Ephesians.” Their genuine love and humility wrought so many “first works” that the few things Jesus mentions about them in Revelation paled in comparison. No wonder he had to light a fire under them!
There are times I have lost sight of love and humility in my walk with Christ. But thanks be to God for his longsuffering, mercy, love, and grace through the Holy Spirit that gets me back on track when I need it.
Harry A. Gaylord