Remember when you were a student? A graded paper would be returned to you with teacher’s comments. Usually these began with the good points, summarizing what you did right—the glowing commendations. Then the criticism, if any, followed, pointing out the weaknesses and making suggestions for improvement.
We all learn from a combination of praise and constructive criticism. Even Jesus used this same pattern when he spoke to the seven churches through John the Revelator. Let’s read their review and examine what they did right.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:1-3, NASB).
Apparently the Ephesians were very diligent in their quest for truth. God’s Word provides standards for discerning truth from error, and the Ephesians had been well-prepared to fight against false teaching. When Paul was at Ephesus, he trained them in the truth of the gospel, warning that false teachers would surface later. Even Timothy prevailed there with hard work, patience, and perseverance, proving that he and the church at Ephesus had taken this warning to heart.
As we apply this truth to our present-day churches, answer this question: does yours train you in discerning truth from error, like the church at Ephesus? Can you identify false teachers?
With access to the internet, cable, and satellite TV, we have access to myriads of people teaching the Word. Are all teaching truth?
Some are blatantly false, and should be easy to discern, while the more dangerous ones preach truth with slivers of lies underneath. It is imperative to understand what we hear and be able to line it up against the whole truth of God’s Word.
If one little part is a lie, is their entire message false? The answer is best illustrated by the joke about brownies a dad made for his kids.
When the delicious-smelling brownies were fresh and hot from the oven, the kids gathered round, begging for a piece. But they had to cool, so while they waited, they asked their dad to tell them how he had made them.
He rattled off a list of the finest ingredients. ” Organic flour, pure cane sugar, a pinch of sea salt, and a cup of whole, organic milk.”
“Yummy!” The kids drooled. “What else?”
“Oh, lots of dark chocolate, and just a little smidge of dog poop.” He smiled.
The kids’ faces turned green as they grimaced. “What? You ruined a wonderful pan of brownies with dog poop?” They gagged at the thought.
“It was just a little bit. You probably can’t even taste it.”
I can’t imagine that this Dad could persuade anyone into eating those treats. But this story makes a good point about false teaching. Just a smidge of something contrary to the pure gospel contaminates the whole thing, making it false.
How can you know if you are being tricked? If you don’t know the Word, these charlatans can trip you up every time. In fact, they count on the flock’s lack of knowledge in order to gently lead them astray.
We must know the WHOLE gospel of truth.
God warns, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6, NASB).
Remember years ago when false teachers surfaced in the news? How about Jim Jones and his faithful followers who all drank the lethal Kool-Aid? Those are an insignificant number compared to thousands today who may be seated on a church pew or a couch at home, their ears devouring tainted brownies, chased by poisoned Kool-Aid.
Some congregations may begin on the right path of truth, but somewhere down the road, they get sidetracked by worldly desires. The leadership may fall from grace because of the temptation of adultery, or watching pornography in the late night hours in the comfort of their home offices. Ever hear of Ashley Madison, for example?
Or perhaps it’s the lure of wealth, and they become greedy for bigger salaries to live like kings in palaces. Ever hear of the prosperity gospel?
Whatever the sin may be, coming through the leadership or the congregation, everyone is tainted and affected.
The Lord will help and deliver us from false teaching if we stay close to Him, planted in His Word. The Holy Spirit is our comforter, our teacher, and our link to God through the blood of Jesus. He lives inside our spirit and will never leave or forsake us. He will lead us into all truth, guiding us through our conscience, teaching us as we study God’s Word.
He protects us, His sheep, from wolves hiding under sheep’s clothing. He will reveal the truth to us, and we don’t have to fear becoming that wolf’s dinner.
Now let’s now examine Epheseus’ shortcomings.
“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent” (Revelation 2:4-5, NASB).
How could this church be so savvy at uncovering false teachers, yet be accused of this? Those who hate evil and false teaching have a strong gift of discernment from the Holy Spirit; yet, leaving Jesus, our first love, is different. It’s about the condition of the heart.
Remember when you first got saved? Most of us fell in love with Jesus and couldn’t stop talking about Him and witnessing to the lost. We devoured His Word and prayed every day. We were sloppy-drunk in love with the Lord and His Holy Spirit. Just like a romantic relationship that culminates in marriage, we spiritually felt and acted the same way.
What happens? Just as in a marriage, the relationship settles and cools as that fire of passionate love begins to temper, dying down into glowing embers. We must poke them, blowing gently, feeding them with kindling until it smokes and the fire again catches. The more we feed it, the hotter and higher the flames will grow.
How do we stoke the fires of our love for the Lord? Revelation 2:4 instructs us to “repent, and do the deeds you did at first.” Then the fire will catch and burn again.
Here’s a 2015 example we can all relate to. Our cell phones and other electronic devices must be charged every day or else they will go dead. This is of such major importance in our lives that we carry chargers with us to use during the day. Even in schools, airports, and hospital waiting rooms–you’ll find charging ports with people sitting next to walls with their devices juicing up.
Think of your relationship with Jesus. We also have to charge up our spirits on a daily basis. We download His power through reading the Word. Then we send back the current to God through prayer, and the Holy Spirit joins us together through the cross and the blood of Jesus so that we’re one with Him. If we neglect to do this, our power lessens, and at some point will go dead.
But the good news is that we can get charged up immediately as soon as we go into our prayer closets. It’s never too late.
OR ELSE …
As parents, haven’t we used OR ELSE phraseology to back up our demands? We let our children know exactly what consequence their rebellion holds.
God does likewise.
At Ephesus, Jesus added a solemn consequence if that church refused to listen and heed His warning. His OR ELSE is spelled out in Revelation 2:5: “I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” Jesus meant business, and He meant what He said. Ephesus would lose its place as a church, unless they listened and obeyed.
It is interesting that Jesus concludes this warning to Ephesus by saying, “Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:6, NASB).
Who were the Nicolaitans? We know little about them, but it is supposed that they may have been a sect that introduced false teaching in regard to a believer’s freedom in Christ. Perhaps they espoused that once you’re saved at the cross, that frees you to live like everyone else who was immersed in a world of idolatry and sexual sin. Whatever the teaching, it was a stench in the nostrils of God, and He hated it with a passion.
The truth is that the cross frees us from sin to live a sanctified, holy life in Christ.
As with each letter to the churches, the conclusion ends on a high note with a wonderful promise.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7, NASB).
Do we have a spiritual ear to hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us today? If we hate evil, persevere for truth without growing weary, discern false teachers, and always keep our love for the Lord first in our hearts, there is a reward for that victory. Jesus promises us fruit to eat in heaven—but not just any fruit—the tree of life that gives eternal life.
Is it worth it to be obedient to God’s Word? You bet it is. What a wonderful reward awaits us in God’s kingdom!
Where are we traveling next? Meet me in Smyrna.