Located in modern-day Turkey, Ephesus was the Gateway Arch to the first-century world. Sporting a major seaport and brand new highways, Ephesus was THE ancient tourist destination offering comfy bed and breakfasts in its fertile valleys, as well as seaside condos in the bustling city center. Residents lived in the lap of luxury and enjoyed all the city’s magnificence and high culture. Signs of Artemis, the Greek goddess of fertility, could be found in every souvenir shop. It was the capital of New Asia; a progressive, diverse city that was home to all sorts of self expression.
It was also the home of one of Christianity’s most famous churches; one that featured prominently as one of The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse in the final book of the New Testament, the Revelation of John. But maybe not so much in a good way.
The Church in Ephesus started out strong, full of first-century believers with passion to show everyone what the Gospel was really all about. What better place to spread the Word than a thriving metropolis? These Ephesian Christians tested every self-professed apostle that hit town to make sure they were the real deal, and those that taught false doctrines were promptly run out of town. They stood firm in their faith and were not afraid to show everyone how God’s love, grace and mercy could overcome anything.
But somewhere along the way…they lost their way. Oh sure, they were still a strong, committed congregation…most of the time. They still stood against the immorality and idolatry that was the status quo, but signs of cracks in the armor were beginning to show. Those first generation Christian Ephesians were getting older now, and the next generation seemed to be losing focus.
There was the group that stood firm against those 7 deadly sins…except the ones that really didn’t pose too terrible a threat. After all, what’s a little indiscretion from time to time among friends, right?
And then there were those who stood a little too firm against all things sinful. Firm to the point of having a heart-of-stone reputation on the street. Their religiosity and total lack of love and compassion for anyone outside their holy huddle reduced the effectiveness of the Gospel message. Think Fred Phelps and the Westboro bunch…on steroids. Their position was actually turning people away from God, not towards. And that’s pretty much unacceptable in God’s eyes. Ephesus had stopped being an effective church; it was no longer a light in the darkness. And if they didn’t change their ways pretty darn quick, they were in danger of having their charter revoked. You can read the warning HERE.
While commended for being strong in their faith against evil, the church in Ephesus had lost its first love. God’s Work must be motivated by God’s Love…or nothing good follows.
And don’t we still see this today? How many people would rather die than step one foot into a church? Could it be because they don’t feel welcome? Could it be too many churches would rather condemn than walk arm in arm with “sinners” to help guide them in a better direction? You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re so wrapped up in self-righteousness while looking down their noses at anyone who isn’t as pure as they think they are. They forgot that we’re all sinners when standing in front of a holy God. My sins are no better than yours…and yours are no better than mine. We’re all stuck in the muck together.
A church may be faithful to the Scriptures…may be motivated by the Spirit…may do its best to resist the evils of this world…but if love and compassion for others is lacking, it just might be in for a really big divine reality check.
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