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Sun, Nov 07, 2004

25 - Ephesus Evaluated

Revelation 2 by Robert Dean
This was Dr. Dean's last Revelation class taught at Preston City Bible Church before moving to West Houston Bible Church.
Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:48 mins 49 secs

Ephesus Evaluated


Each of the letters to the seven churches closes with a challenge, a personal promise to the one who over comes. The overcomer is not every believer, but is a reference to the believer who advances to spiritual maturity applying the ten problem-solving devices and continues to press on in application to the day of death. It is not that they can lose their salvation but that they can fail to achieve all that God has intended for them, and they may indeed forfeit certain rewards and privileges in heaven by failing to overcome.


The concept of overcoming is directly related to a spiritual life dynamic that is emphasized not only here in these epistles but also in many other epistles in the New Testament, and that is this one Greek word HUPOMONE [u(pomonh]. It is generally translated "endurance," sometimes "perseverance," and the idea is to remain  under. It has the idea of staying under a set of circumstances, adversities, difficulties and continuing to apply the Word of God. So the emphasis here is on long-term obedience. This becomes a major theme in this first epistle.


Revelation 2:1, "Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things says he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands." This is the commission, the opening address. It addresses an angel, not a human messenger, a pastor, but consistent with the use of the word AGGELOS [a)ggeloj] in Revelation this is an angel. These angels are related to the outworking of God's judgment and justice on the planet and to the human race. It is not that the angel is being critiqued, but this angel is standing as a witness to the operational integrity and justice of God in each of these congregations. So he is given a scorecard, as it were. The whole book of Revelation is being sent to each and every one of these congregations, as stated in Revelation 1:7, 8.


Ephesus was dominated by paganism when Paul came there—the worship of Diana plus there were temples to many other in the Greek pantheon—but by this time there has been a healthy church at Ephesus for some forty years or more. It has been pastored by the apostle Paul himself, Timothy, and now the apostle John. Not only were there these three pastors but there were others because in a city of 250-300,000 and forty years of the gospel one would not believe that there was only one congregation. But this was addressed to the church, that is, the collective church in Ephesus, the entirety of the Christian community is Ephesus is characterized by these attributes.


"He who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands" refers to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Priest-Judge evaluating the spiritual character of each congregation. As we go through this we need to be thinking in terms of a question: How does this apply to me? Where am I in this checklist?


He begins by saying, "I know your works, works, your labor, your patience, and you cannot not bear those who are evil: and you have tested those who say they are apostles, and are not, and found them liars:" Every one of these epistles begins with this phrase, "I know your works." The word "works" just means production. Some of the production in the believer's life is divine good, it is done through the filling of the Holy Spirit, walking by the Spirit, and he does that which has eternal value. But on the other hand the believer also produces human good, that which is just simply human morality, a product of our son nature, and it has no eternal value, it is wood, hay, and straw—dead works. So now we are going to get an evaluation. This is simply a summary statement and we could translate it, "I know your production." In most churches Christian service is confused with spiritual production. Spiritual production has to come first before you have real, serious Christian service. Christian service that is witnessing, giving, teaching Sunday School, doing physical labor around the church, helping out with various things, are just different aspects of Christian that can be done whether a believer is in fellowship or out of fellowship. You can witness to hundreds of people and be out of fellowship. The issue is you have to walk by the Spirit first. It is the consistent walk by the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, being in fellowship, and as a result of that when you engage in Christian service that counts for eternal value. That is spiritual production that counts for eternal value. It is not what you are doing in terms of Christian service that matters, it is what you are doing in terms of your spiritual life that is the issue. That is the focus in these epistles: what are you doing in your spiritual life, and what is the church doing?


The first word "works" is ERGON [e)rgon] which is simply the generic term for work or production. In fact, we are going to be evaluated according to our works at the judgment seat of Christ. So this ties these evaluation statements to what will take place at the judgment seat of Christ. So if we want to have some sort of preview of coming attractions of how we all will be evaluated as a congregation, and how we each individually as a believer will be evaluated at the judgment seat of Christ, then we should pay attention. What we will see in the coming chapters is a list of about 20-25 different character qualities or attributes that are the basis for evaluation. Notice that these are character qualities, they have to do with our spiritual integrity, the virtue in our spiritual life as a result of our spiritual growth and its combined benefit in the local church. 


Second, he says, "your labor." In Genesis 3 labor becomes toil, it is hard. That toilsomeness of labor is reversed by living the spiritual life. Labor becomes joyful again. Just as under the curse, when men and women are out of fellowship there is a war between the sexes. This gets reversed in the corporate witness of Christian marriage in Ephesians chapter five. The toilsomeness that enters into marriage because of the curse is reversed in the process of sanctification when two believers are living together in fellowship, walking by the Spirit and applying doctrine. That authority conflict that is inherent through the sin nature, and will crop up from time to time, can be overcome, and it is handled through spiritual growth, application of doctrine, the filling of the Holy Spirit. Labor is a better translation than toil because in the spiritual life we are laboring. We have work to do. 


"Your patience"KJV is HUPOMONE [u(pomonh] is translated "perseverance" in the NASB. A preferable translation is "endurance," it has the idea of hanging in there, continuing to apply. Notice this comes after labor, because after a while when a believer has been performing some thankless task he gets tired. So it is time for a little perseverance, endurance. That is why perseverance follows labor because after a while we get tired, we get bored, and we wonder why somebody else doesn't come along and carry the load. So the emphasis in the Christian life is not just starting well, not just doing it for a while, earning a merit badge, it is on continuing well and ending well in whatever area of service that may be. That is not to imply that it is wrong to take a break at times. Endurance is a key virtue in spiritual growth. 


"That you cannot bear those who are evil." The word there for "bear" is BASTAZO [bastazw] which means to be able to bear up under especially trying or oppressive circumstances. Here it has that idea that you can't really put up with something. They don't want to put up with or tolerate false teachers. We see the example in the next phrase, "they tested," and that is the word PEIRASMOS [peirasmoj]. They tested, i.e. they put those who claimed to be apostles through a test to see if the really were apostles. By this time there were numerous people going around making such claims and they were false apostles. They discovered them "liars." So that was part of what the congregation did, they evaluated these claims. Today we would say that we evaluate a pastor-teacher to find out of he really has sound doctrine or not.


These are arenas of commendation for the Ephesian church. They do this "for my name's sake," verse 3. That is our motivation. It is not the pastor, it is not the people in the church, it is not anything other than the Lord Jesus Christ. They have endured and they have been tolerant and put up with the difficulties in life because of who Jesus Christ is, and they have not become weary. They did not give up when things got tough, they pushed on to the high ground of spiritual maturity.