John writes this passage by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to encourage the church of Ephesus for its diligence in keeping the true faith. Ephesus was in the center of a great deal of paganism. The temple of Artemis was there, and the worship of the Roman emperors was being practiced. The church not only had to deal with outside influences, but internal false teachers were constantly spreading their lies. The church was commended for its ability to spot these false teachers and adhere to the true faith.
However, he pleads with them to return to their first love, which is without a doubt Jesus. They were working so hard to preserve the faith and stand up under the persecution of their faith that they forgot the very essence of why they believed. This letter was a warning to the church to either return to Christ or risk the removal of the lampstand and being disowned by Christ himself. The author intended to encourage the church and call them to repent and do the things they did at first.
The timeless truth of this text is that true Christianity cannot exist unless a true love for Christ is the foundation. The church of Ephesus did a great job of not growing weary under harsh and intense persecution, tested and proven false all of the evil men that claimed to be from God but were not. Christ also commended them for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans. Yet, the church of Ephesus had forsaken their first love – Christ. This is the central message: Christianity without the foundational love for Christ is dangerous. Failure to do so results in judgment. However, Christ calls the church to repentance, and the saving ability of our Lord has not passed away. If someone is guilty of forsaking Christ, the first love, he is able to repent, follow Christ, and eventually eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God (v.7).
How should this affect us today? First, Christ sees and knows all of our deeds. In verse 2, John writes, “I know your deeds.” This implies that Christ is watching what we do, whether it be positive or detrimental to our spiritual development. He knows us and cares for us. He keeps a constant watch over what we do, what we do not do, as well as the trials and tribulations that we encounter in our daily lives. We should order our lives accordingly, knowing that even when we feel alone, we are not alone!
Next, knowing our deeds, they do not go unnoticed by Him. He commends the Ephesian church for testing all of the teachers that come into the church, finding those who are false and removing them from the fellowship. He also praises them for the patient endurance through unspeakable hardship and persecution. The church was experiencing persecution that threatened their very existence not only as a church but also as individuals. This commendation for doing good deeds is a call for believers to be continually active in doing the good works that Christ has called each of us to do according to our spiritual gift.
The relationship between the believer and the church and Christ is at the heart of this passage. The good works are not enough. Only doing good deeds results in judgment. Good works are useless unless they are performed out of a love for Christ. This is a strong message to the modern day church. The church of America spends a great deal of time standing up for her beliefs. We go to anti-abortion rallies, we fight to defend prayer in schools and football games, we give our money to foreign mission efforts, and we volunteer at local outreach projects. We are in constant pursuit of the true doctrine and identity of our churches. However, if we deny our first love in Christ, all of our works and efforts to reach a lost world are for nothing. We must recognize that love for Christ should be our foundation for being, and only then do we serve our Lord, church, and community.
To those who conquer, they are given the right to eat at the tree of life in the paradise of God. This is such a glorious reward for those who persevere under such grueling persecution and various trials. As believers today, we must press on to become conquerors, not of others in this world, but of sin and the present evil. This is such an uplifting challenge to those at their wits end and ready to give up, for the pursuit of God and righteousness does not go without reward because the very one that sees our lives is ready to reward us when the time has come.