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Truth in Palmyra

By Wally Fry

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Revelation

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 12

Revelation 2:1-7

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Revelation 2:4

To recap: here we have Ephesus, a church that is on the doctrinal straight and narrow, willing to confront false teaching and just doing a lot of things right. Yet, Jesus condemns them for having left their first love. As we discussed in the previous post, that could be a simple fading of the joyous love they felt for the Lord when they first came to believe, rather like a married couple when the honeymoon is over.

We are going to meander a bit today, as I have lots’ on my mind and may wander a bit. Maybe they had left their love for Jesus, and their love for each other? As some pointed out in comments, both can apply. Not only that, but the two are inexorably tied together, and can’t really exist apart from one another. We can’t truly love our brother until we properly love God. If we love God, we WILL love our brother…and on it goes.

Today we are going to look at the relationship between doctrinal adherence and love, as it seems to apply to Ephesus.

In the work I am part of, we fancy ourselves to be the final bastion, and keepers of proper Doctrine. We stand on it, we love it, and we teach it. Just ask us, we will tell you. I am totally okay with that. Truth matters and I believe we have done a fine job of gleaning proper doctrine from God’s Word. God expects us to seek and stand on the truth in the Bible.

I like to serve with people who think and believe like I do, even on secondary issues. That’s normal; we like to be with people like us. I have no problem whatsoever with that, as it makes things go smoothly.

Can we go too far? Yeah, we can. I think we can fall into sort a “doctrinal legalism,” where we lost sight of what matters and get bound up in things that don’t. How did God show His great love for us? He saved us. What, then is the best way we can show love to those around us? Preach that message properly. Look, I will die on the hill of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone; if Christians don’t die on that hill, souls will die and be separated from God forever. On the other hand, is sprinkling versus dunking my hill to die on? I mean, sprinklers have it wrong; water immersion is correct. Yet, do I need to die on that hill, or just not go to church with those folks?

What I mean by this, is how do we interact with people on these secondary issues? Especially, now do we deal with those who don’t believe regarding them? I will use a real-life occurrence to illustrate. I am a cessationist, and not interested in a debate about it here btw. I don’t believe tongues are a gift for today. Some do, and that’s okay. Anyway a few years back I encountered a young lady who was out of the church and, by her own statement, not a believer. She understood my Baptist background and was quick to bring up the topic of tongues. It seemed evident she wanted a debate about the issue. While that might be fun, it was not on the table. Why? Because she was, by her own admission, not saved. I could have had the debate, and at the end, she would still be lost. So, I just sidestepped that and asked why she wouldn’t believe. I was shocked. She wanted to believe, but didn’t think she could because…drum roll…she had never spoken in tongues! So, we had a little talk about that; we talked about by grace alone, by faith alone. I don’t know how it ended up for her, but I do know that she was closer than if I had chosen to debate doctrine with her.

I am a premillennial, pre-tribulation rapture kind of guy. I believe it to be so; you may not. When a person we know is feeling hopeless for the future and what it holds, is that the time to resoundly correct them on their crummy eschatology? Probably not. What really matters?

Titus 2:13  Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

If we get so broiled up on the fine points of doctrine that we forget the One we love, then we have a problem.

Friends, doctrine does matter. Truth matters, That is why Jesus commended the church at Ephesus for theirs; doctrinal purity pleases God.

On the other hand, our relationship is with Jesus, not His doctrines. Maybe Ephesus had forgotten that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 11

Revelation 2:1-7

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Revelation 2:4

So, what was really the problem with the church at Ephesus? Everybody seems to agree that they had stopped loving the Lord as they ought to have been loving Him; yet, we are sort of stuck at the question: What might it look like to not love the Lord like we ought to be? As Dr. Phil likes to say, we need to put verbs in our sentences.

I suppose most people remember when we first fell in love with our spouses, and the almost giddy desire we felt to be with them, court them and please them. I think in most cases, our live sort of revolved around them. Sadly, most of us also know how that usually works out over some years; the devotion becomes less and less until sometimes we are just going through the motions with our spouses. We have lost that first love.

Now, how many of us know believers like that? Folks who were almost giddy with glee and anticipation about the new relationship they had found, only to slide into apathy and disinterest in a few years? I am pretty sure we all know folks like that; we may have BEEN folks like that in our own lives.

Now, it may seem odd to raise this; because after all, wasn’t the Lord just commending this church for being so hardworking? Yes, He was. Friends, it’s just a truth that most of the work, in most churches, is done by a few people. A local assembly of believers can have a wonderful reputation for being a hard-working church, and yet that work is getting done by the efforts of a minority.

That’s just not a sustainable model for the local church. I don’t care how enthusiastic the hard workers are, eventually they either tire, get too old, or die. We have churches today full of people who honestly think coming to preaching for an hour a week constitutes sacrificial service to our Lord. Yet, outside of that, they have no interest in anything else. They want to get fed for an hour by the preacher but have no interest in providing spiritual nutrition to the lost and dying world around them. They have lost their love for the Lord Jesus and His people.

Tell your spouse this; I dare you: Tell them you still love them, but the only time you are going to come around is for supper. See how that goes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 10

Revelation 2:1-7

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Revelation 2:4

Part 10. Wow. I hope readers don’t mind us really taking our time and poking around a bit. Actually, it really doesn’t matter, as that is what I am going to do anyway! Writing blog posts is as much for me as for readers; it is my way of studying. We might say, my blog posts are my study notes. So, part 10 it is.

So, here we are again. Ephesus: hard-working, doctrinally pure, yet they have left their “first love.”

Today, we are going to just poke around very briefly in the language of our verse and talk about the significance of some of it. I have said before, and I will say again; I am not a Greek scholar and have never studied it as a subject. That is great if you have, but not an absolute requirement for good Bible study. On the other hand, the New Testament was written in the Greek language, and being able to perform at least basic word studies is really useful!

In this case, we don’t even need any Greek, per se to glean some significance from the words we see up here. FYI, this also shows the usefulness of using more than one Bible translation in studies. Anyway, onward we go!

I love my King James Bible, I really do. I just enjoy reading it. It’s all I have really known, and what we use at our place for worship. However, as in any Bible, we have to be on the lookout for any possible biases on the part of translators. I am not saying there was any bias here, but we have a word added here in the KJV that adjusts the meaning here in just a small bit. Here we have the phrase, “I have somewhat against thee…..” That almost seems to mitigate the fault Jesus found with this church. The original manuscripts did not include that word, “somewhat.” In the originals, as well as many other translations, the phrase is much more direct. For instance, in the ESV the phrase reads, “But I have this against you.” No punches are pulled there; Jesus is direct in His condemnation of the actions of this church.

Next is the phrase, “…because thou hast left thy first love.” Who did the leaving here? Thou…you…them…us. We know God never leaves us; He tells us this:

“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Hebrews 13:5

“And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” Genesis 28:15

“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Deuteronomy 31:6

“There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Joshua 1:5

“And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the Lord God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.” 1 Chronicles 28:20

That’s just a few times, right? That’s a promise from God; He won’t ever leave us. Seemingly, the church at Ephesus had left Him; this is significant.

Even the word, “left,” in the KJV has deeper meaning than just a cursory glance might reveal. In search of a better word, some translations use, “abandoned,” which seems to be a more accurate description of just what happened here. Other meanings of this word from the Greek could be to have remitted, or sent forth, that first love. They did this, not God.

Well, maybe next time we will talk some about somethings that actually happen with a people or a church have left their first love. Until then, be blessed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 9

Revelation 2:1-7

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” Revelation 2:4

Well, here we are. Ephesus: Doctrinally sound, hard-working, willing to confront false teachers. Yet, Jesus had a rebuke for this church. They had left their first love. What might that mean? After all, they were doing ALL the right things.

First of all, let’s address the seriousness of this warning, when our Lord says He has something against us, it is good sense to listen close. To be failing in such a way is a very serious matter.

It’s really not hard to figure out what the first love is. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31. Friends, this is the most important thing; Jesus told us that when he spoke those words. 

It frankly doesn’t matter how many good works we do, or how successful we are in them; if they are not first and foremost motivated by our love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and following that our love for other humans, then they are meaningless.

We might say that the bodies and minds of this church were in it but not their hearts. Over the next few days, I will offer some more specifics and thoughts that might help us understand how this might actually play out in a local congregation.

In the meantime here is a quote from a John McArthur sermon on the church eat Ephesus. I thought it put the issue at Ephesus in stark and clear words:

How would you like it, ladies, if your husband came to you some time and said, “I don’t love you anymore, but nothing will change?” Is that enough? “I’ll still earn a living. I’ll still eat with you, sleep with you, drive with you. I’ll still father the children and be your husband. Nothing will change, I just don’t love you.” Devastating. How would you feel if your wife came to you and said, “I don’t love you, but nothing will change”? In a sense we couldn’t imagine saying that to the Lord. “Lord, I don’t love You like I once did. That’s gone. But I just want You to know I’ll still come. I’ll still work. I’ll still sing. I’ll still give. I’ll still even believe the truth. I just don’t love You.” We wouldn’t say that, but the Lord knows if it’s true.

Is that what our hearts are telling the Lord?

 

 

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 8

Revelation 2:1-7

“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” Revelation 2:6

Jesus offered some commendations for the church at Ephesus, followed by some negative issues He also had; this further commendation is sort of tacked on at the end, after the corrective action.

Why is this commendation tacked on after the initial commendation and the correction? I have no clue. So, if you have one feel quite free to share it; I would value your thoughts.

So, who were these guys, the Nicolaitanes? Nobody seems to know exactly, but there are several opinions around from different commentators.

It seems clear that they were heretical in some way, we just can’t say the way that was dogmatically.

There is a school of thought that says the Nicolaitanes were some who followed the teachings of Nicolas of Antioch, who may have been the same Nicolas mentioned as one of the original 7 deacons selected in Acts 6:5Some early church history indicates that Nicolas taught the idea the Christian freedom and the insignificance of the human body meant all sort of sexual immorality and other sins were perfectly okay. From the Gotquestions.com website: “It is possible that Nicolas became an apostate, denying the true faith and became part of a group holding “the doctrine of Balaam,” who taught Israel “to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” Clement of Alexandria says, “They abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats, leading a life of self-indulgence.” Their teaching perverted grace and replaced liberty with license.”

Other commentators don’t assign the group to any particular man or teacher but address it more as simply a problem of false liberty and sexual sins. One commentator said the word, Nicolah, in Greek, means, “let us eat,” leading some to reference back to encouraging others to eat meat offered to idols.

Whatever the specifics are, it is clear that our Lord hated the deeds of these folks. It seems certain that, no matter the specifics, that some sort of abuse of grace as a license to sin freely was going on here.

It’s interesting that they come up again later, in Jesus’ letter to the church at Pergamos. Unfortunately, that church seemed to be embracing the false teaching of the Nicolaitanes.

Both of the warnings concerning the Nicolaitanes seem especially relevant in some of today’s more progressive “Christian,” movements, where sins of the flesh, particularly those sexual in nature, seem to become more and more acceptable in the name of “grace.” Jesus didn’t like it then, and He doesn’t like it now.

 

 

 

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 7

Revelation 2:1-7

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” Revelation 2:2-3

The church at Ephesus was, at the time this letter was written, an exemplary example of a doctrinally sound church. They not only understood what was correct and incorrect doctrinally but were willing to examine teachers and speak against those teaching falsehoods.

In some ways, their doctrinal purity might seem surprising. Being in a place which was, as we discussed earlier, the center for the worship of the goddess Artemis(Diana,) would have made the struggle to stay pure both doctrinally and morally difficult. The economic and social pressures in such a place would have made the temptation to compromise in order to have some peace quite pressing; yet, apparently, they did not.

It certainly helped that the apostle Paul seemed to have provided much personal leadership and guidance to this church in its formative years; he, along with personal proteges of his, was very involved in the formation of this church. The efforts to point new, enthusiastic believers in the right doctrinal direction started early. In  Acts 18:24-28, when the mighty preacher Apollos showed up, Priscilla and Aquila were quick to teach him the proper Gospel and point him the right direction. Apollos then moved on, spreading the truth with great power and effect. Paul, returning to Ephesus on his Third Missionary Journey, encountered 12 men who were possible disciples of John the Baptist, or even previous students of Apollos who lacked a full understanding of the truth. Paul quickly set them straight and stayed in the area for three years. Ephesus became a hub from which the Gospel truth spread mightily to surrounding areas.

Paul’s interest and influence in the doctrinal purity of Ephesus did not end when he left. Still later in his third missionary journey, Paul summoned church leaders to him from the island of Miletus and warned them that false teachers would come in attempting to spread lies and heresies. Acts 20:16-38. Still, later, Paul would write to his young son in the faith, Timothy as he pastored that church warning him of the dangers he faced concerning false teachers. 1 Timothy 1:3-7 and 2 Timothy 1:13-15.

It seems this church listened to the warnings because as Jesus wrote His letter to them, they had pretty much nailed it in the area of doctrinal purity, discernment, and dealing with false teachers among them. Jesus said well done, and we should too. This is an example to us all…but…..

Next time we will talk briefly about the Nicolaitines, and then head on to that pesky…but…..

 

 

 

 

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 6

Revelation 2:1-7

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted” Revelation 2:2-3

Well, here we are, still in the second verse; in reality, we are slipping into verse three briefly also. We may poke around here for a few posts. I suspect after Ephesus we may move through the others some quicker, as there may be some thoughts common to them all. I really don’t know yet!

Here we continue with Jesus’ commendations for this church; they are many. We just have some good things going in in the Church at Ephesus. They had been around for probably 40 years at the time of this writing, had worked out some issues, and were doing some great things.

Jesus knew their “labor.” This is more than just casual, half-hearted work for the Lord. The word here denotes not just routine work, but toil and effort to the point of exhaustion. It doesn’t look like there were a lot of pew warmers in the Ephesus Church; this local assembly was apparently taking the message from inside the church to the community of Ephesus in a tireless manner.

Jesus knew their “patience.” Here we see an allusion to hard work and patience in the face of what likely was difficult circumstances. The city of Ephesus was the epicenter for the worship of the goddess of fertility Diana(Artemis.) The worship of fertility gods and sexual immorality just go hand in hand. People would come to the temple of Artemis and engage in sexual immorality under the guise of worship. I am sure some didn’t really give two hoots about Artemis but were only looking to satisfy their own cravings with a ready-built excuse. Then, as now, nobody wants to hear that message, and it must have been received with some hostility. Yet, the church at Ephesus persevered. The church at Ephesus certainly caused the perception of economic uproar, as we can see in Acts 19, when the silversmith Demetrius stirred up a riot in town by claiming that the Christians were going to ruin their livelihood. It’s not a stretch here to think that perhaps the Christians in Ephesus were themselves pushed to the periphery of the economy, perhaps facing financial and economic struggles of their own. Yet, they persevered.

The Christians at Ephesus understood what their mission was, and for whom it was for. Jesus told them this, “And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted”vs 3. Even though their execution was not always perfect, they seem to have understood why they were there, and for whom, and worked tirelessly in difficult circumstances for the Kingdom.

Compared to our own day and time, when many would claim that to come to both Sunday School and preaching on the same day, there is a lot to find commendable in this church. Jesus said as much!

Next up, we will look at the pursuit of doctrinal purity in the Church at Ephesus, then most likely a short discussion of the infamous Nicolaitanes.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 5

Revelation 2:1-7

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:” Revelation 2:2

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate” Revelation 2:6

Yay, we finally made it to our 2d verse!

Jesus starts here with some commendations, some kudos, for this church. He had something good to say to six of the seven churches; only the church at Laodicea received no positive words from our Lord.

I know thy worksJesus knows. I have said this before: I am absolutely not any sort of Greek scholar. However, even cursory use of a good concordance and word study, or inter linear Bible, can really shed light on deeper meaning in Scripture. In this case, “I know,” means more than it might appear. This is not some gradual acquisition of knowledge Jesus is coming to. The tense seems to be more like, “I have known your works.” He knows them perfectly from the beginning to the end. It seems to me this harkens back to Jesus holding the seven stars in His hand and walking among the candlesticks. His literal presence and omniscience gives Him perfect knowledge of His churches. Because of that He can evaluate them perfectly.

After Jesus tells the church that He knows their works, He proceeds to evaluate them. I think we’ll leave off there and pick up next time.

Seven Letters to Seven Churches-Ephesus Part 3

Revelation 2:1-7

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks” Revelation 2:1

Well, here we are, still in the first verse! We have briefly talked about some of the symbology of Jesus walking among the candlesticks, particularly as it applies to the idea of seven representing the completeness of God and how this probably indicates the applicability of these letters to all churches at all times; we also covered that it seems the idea of Him walking among, and being with His churches. Why candlesticks though? He could have walked among something else, right?

What do candlesticks provide? Well, light of course. I have made reference to Scripture, from start to finish, as being a tapestry of redemption through Jesus Christ from start to finish. I didn’t make that up, that what any Bible scholar would tell you, too. Yet, we see common themes appearing time and time again in Scripture; light is one of those things. Light is used over an over as a symbol of God, Jesus Christ, and even His followers as reflections of that light.

There’s TONS of references to this, so here are just a few to illustrate the point a bit.

Before God spoke, there wasn’t any light! “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. Genesis 1:3.

God as light led the Israelites in the desert.And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” Exodus 13:21,22.

Later, in the Tabernacle, we actually see a reference to 7 lamps! “And thou shalt make the seven lamps thereof: and they shall light the lamps thereof, that they may give light over against it.” Exodus 25:37.

He is the light that lights the world. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:” John 1:9-12.

We are to walk in the light.“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:” 1 John 1:6.

We are to BE the light of the world, as His reflections. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.

So, is it significant that Jesus walked among candlesticks? Pretty sure it is!

 

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