KEY TEXT: Revelation 2:1-7 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember the therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'
KEY THOT: All seven letters of Christ follows this simple outline: commendation, rebuke, challenge and promise. In this first letter, Christ commended them for their "works...toil and... patient endurance", including their zero intolerance for false apostles (vv.2-3). This is immediately followed by a rebuke from the Lord: in the midst of their zeal for orthodoxy (right belief), they have lost their zeal for orthopraxy (right practice): "you have abandoned the love you had at first" (v.4). The challenge to the church is then to "repent and do the works you did at first" (v.5); in other words, a re-focus not just on doing things right (orthodoxy) but doing the right things (orthopraxy). The warning of failure to repent is that their lampstand (as God's witnessing light) will be removed. In other words, the church will cease to be. In the final part of the letter, Christ gives the promise: "To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (v.7).
Firstly, from the point of view of good communication, it is always good to start with praise before we identify problem and propose solutions. Praise and commendation build up the listeners so that they are ready mentally and emotionally for the "bad news". If the Lord of the Universe uses this pattern in challenging the church, we ought to follow the same pattern.
Secondly, it is possible for a church to be so focused on orthodoxy (why we do things) that it forgets orthopraxy (how we are doing these things). In the case of the church at Ephesus, they got many things right: "toil... patient endurance... cannot bear with those who are evil.. have not grown weary." But the manner in which all these are carried out is zeal without love: "you have abandoned the love you had at first". The actions are the same, the ways they are carried out are heartless--it is no longer guided by love for Christ and love for neighbours. So, the call is to re-examine how the works is done and return to the first love: "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first" (v.5).
Thirdly, there is a need to persevere in our obedience and not just in our belief: "If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent... He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (vv. 5-7). Salvation is not only something we received freely by faith; it is also something we need to "work out" in our lives through obedience and holy living:
- Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will [right desires] and to work [right actions] for his good pleasure.
Note that Paul is not asking believers to work for their salvation but to work out their salvation, which they have received by faith.
In other words, biblical salvation = orthodoxy + orthopraxy.
Abba-Father, You have granted us salvation in Christ in order that we may work it out in our lives. Grant us the grace to accomplish Your will to demonstrate right living, not just right believing. Amen.