Jesus in the Pew
Jesus in the Pew
In the book of Revelation, Jesus is pictured as the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands (Revelation 2:1). Just two verses earlier we were told that these seven golden lampstands represent seven congregations in Asia Minor (1:20). Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus personally inspects each and every church. In chapter two the results of this inspection are revealed. The first congregation to receive the results of what Jesus sees among them is the congregation in Ephesus (2:1-7).
“I Know Your Deeds”
How comforting! Jesus knows how hard His people are working. All the important acts of service and faithfulness that Christians are engaged in, many of them unseen by most people are seen by Jesus.
“I Know Your… Toil and Perseverance”
Do not let anyone fool you, being a Christian involves a lot of hard work. Sadly, Satan has been very successful in confusing even many religious people concerning faith and works. People are so worried about trying to earn their salvation that they are ignoring the need to obey God in the process. These Christians were working really hard and are commended for it. Be like Joshua, he was not confused about the need to obey God (Joshua 24:15).
“You Cannot Tolerate Evil Men”
They are praised for this! We need to be compassionate and reach out to people in sin, but we cannot be naïve. Those who refuse to repent are not to be tolerated or trusted (Matthew 18:15-17).
“You Put to the Test”
This congregation had encountered people who claimed to be apostles and found them to be liars. There were objective tests for who was and was not an apostle, who did speak by inspiration and who did not. One such test was the fact that an apostle could work miracles and pass on this ability (2 Corinthians 12:12; Acts 8:18). It is not unspiritual to insist that a person “prove” their claims, especially when a person claims that God is directly speaking through them or that they can work miracles.
“And Have Not Grown Weary”
This is always a challenge for often God’s people can become weary after one spiritual battle and one challenge after another like this congregation had endured.
“But I Have This Against You”
- Jesus has only one thing against them. In addition, all their faithfulness of the past does not make up for this one, current and present problem. One area of disobedience as a congregation is one area too many. We hear a lot of people today talking about how God’s grace is just going to cover this or that (without any repentance or change on our part). Yet this is not what Jesus tells us congregation. Unless they repent (2:5), they will cease to be His people. Period.
“You Have Left Your First Love”
Sadly some have jumped to an erroneous conclusion. Some have said that the reason Ephesus was lacking in the love department was because of all their emphasis on being doctrinally sound. That they are the classic example of a congregation that is doctrinally sound and spiritually dead. Yet such a conclusion is an example of pure human reasoning:
- Jesus had already praised them for their emphasis on being doctrinally sound (2:2). Their love for the truth is commended.
- The human expression “doctrinally sound but spiritually dead” is a contradiction, because an essential aspect of being doctrinally sound is to love Jesus with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. In other words, one is truly not doctrinally sound if they are not spiritually alive, and equally one is not spiritually alive if they are not doctrinally sound (2 John 9). Love is a doctrine just like all other Bible teachings. In fact the Bible even gives us a very precise definition of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8). Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, true love for God has always included obeying His commands (Deuteronomy 6:2-5; John 14:15; 1 John 2:5).
- What we learn here is that it is possible to keep on doing what we are supposed to be doing and yet the real motive is no longer that we love and want to honor Jesus. For a while we can keep on attending, keep on worshipping, keep on spreading the gospel, and keep on helping people and it is no longer about Jesus.
“Remember From Where You Have Fallen”
This is so encouraging. The way back is still open for these brethren. If we get off track, we can get back to where God wants us to be. If we were once zealous and faithful we can regain all that. The idea that one’s zeal and intensity for Christ will just fade with time is a human theory. Nothing demands that our zeal and love for God must diminish with time. In addition nothing demands that second generation Christians must be spiritually inferior to their parents. The Bible actually mentions second generation believers and in one very specific instance they were far more faithful than their parents (the generation raised in the wilderness). Remember Joshua and Caleb were second generation believers.
“Repent and Do the Deeds”
Observe that repentance always has fruit associated with it (Matthew 3:8). If there are no deeds, then there isn’t any repentance present. You can tell when a person repents, because such repentance is seen in the changes concerning the way they live. It is seen in their priorities.
Lampstand Removed… Unless You Repent
- So Jesus does cease to acknowledge a congregation that refuses to obey Him.
- The idea that one church is just as good as another or that every church of Christ is acceptable with Jesus is clearly not the case. Observe that the church in Ephesus was far more faithful than some (many?) modern congregations and yet they were in danger of no longer being recognized by Jesus.
- All congregations are not the same. Even among these seven congregations we find some that receive no praise from God and others receive no condemnation.
- Some have tried to argue that since no one is told to leave the congregation in Ephesus that such means that one can continue to support, attend, fellowship and worship with a congregation no matter what they believe and practice. Actually, the group in Ephesus is told to repent. The next question would be, “Should I continue to support a congregation that refuses to repent and which Jesus does not recognize?” When the lampstand is gone should I be there?
“No Church is Perfect”
- I would agree. Having said that there is a big difference between imperfection in a group and sin and error that a group refuses to forsake. Obviously the congregation in Smyrna was not perfect (sinless) (Revelation 2:8-11), yet Jesus finds absolutely nothing wrong with them that they need to fix.
- So the argument that says, “Every congregation is probably involved in some sin or error” is false. None of the congregations addressed in these two chapters are ever told, “You are in sin, but so are the others, so you have nothing to worry about”. Jesus never says, “No church is perfect… so you do not have to repent”.
- So when a group of people realize they are in error but then quickly justify it by saying, “Well no church is perfect”, such is a prime example of refusing to repent. Truly repentant people who are intent on serving God will never attempt to justify even one area of rebellion.
- Observe this as well, the problem in Ephesus did not help any of the other congregations. Never does Jesus say, “Since Ephesus has left its first love, remaining in your sin is justified”.
“This You Do Have… You Hate the Deeds of the Nicolaitans”
- Hate when probably directed against sin and evil is a good thing. In fact Jesus quickly adds, “I hate them too”.
- For many people this does not “sound like” the Jesus they believe in and that’s the problem, the Jesus they believe in is a product of their own imagination. They have decided to believe in Jesus before they have allowed Him in the Scriptures to tell them who He really is and what He is all about.
So let’s really listen to what the real Jesus said (2:7) and make sure we are honoring Him and not following our own (or someone else’s) convenient definitions of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017