“‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have placed before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding close to Him;'”Deuteronomy 30:19-20a NASB
When I was an English teacher, I would grade essays by making comments throughout each paper. I would begin with the positives, summarizing what my students did well—the glowing commendations. Constructive criticism followed, pointing out any weaknesses and making suggestions for improvement.
We all learn from this technique. Even Jesus used the same pattern when he spoke to the seven churches through the Apostle John. Jesus began with 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
What were the commendations of the church at Ephesus?
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, let’s consider: does yours teach you to discern truth from error like the church at Ephesus?
Can you identify false teachers?
Thanks to the internet, we have access to myriads of people teaching the Word. But, are all teaching truth? Our Plumbline is knowing the Word of God for ourselves.
Some teachers are blatantly false and should be easy to discern, while the more dangerous ones preach truth with slivers of lies woven in. 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 the entire message false?
The answer is best illustrated by a story about homemade brownies.
When the delicious-smelling brownies were fresh and hot from the oven, the kids gathered around, 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, coconut sugar, a pinch of sea salt, and whole, organic milk.”
“Yummy!” The kids drooled. “What else?”
“Oh, lots of dark chocolate.” He smiled. “And just a little smidge of dog poop.”
The kids’ faces turned green. “What? Dog poop?” They gagged at the thought and refused to taste a crumb.
This story makes an excellent point related to false teaching. Just a smidge of something false contaminates the whole gospel.
How can we know if we are being tricked? If we don’t know the Word, these charlatans can trip us up every time. In fact, they count on the flock’s lack of knowledge in order to gently lead us 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 and prophets began to surface in the news? How about Jim Jones and his brainwashed followers who drank the lethal Kool-Aid.
Ever hear of the New Apostolic Reformation heresy based in Redding, California?
Some congregations may begin on the right path of truth, but somewhere down the road, they get sidetracked by worldly lusts and desires.
Ever hear of Ashley Madison?
Or perhaps it’s the lure of wealth and greed for bigger salaries to live like royalty in palatial estates and fly around the world in private jets.
Ever hear of the prosperity gospel?
Sin coming through the leadership can affect and mislead the entire congregation.
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 and teacher. He lives inside our spirit and will never leave or forsake us. Also, He leads us into all truth, guiding and teaching us as we study God’s Word.
The Holy Spirit 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 a wolf’s dinner.
Now let’s now examine the shortcomings of Ephesus.
‘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 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 or witnessing to the lost. We devoured His Word and prayed every day. We were deeply 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.
For example, our cell phones and other electronic devices must be charged every day or else they will go dead. What about our 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 witnesses through our spirit that we’re one with Him.
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.
In Ephesus, Jesus added a solemn consequence if the 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. Ephesus would lose its place as a church unless it 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 despised 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 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.
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!
Dear Father, may we serve You with obedience and a pure heart. May we love You with all our heart, soul, mind, and body, and may our love for You never grow cold. Keep us in Your Word so that we cannot be deceived by the growing apostate church in these end times. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
Where are we traveling next? Meet me in Smyrna.
The Church at Ephesus by Karen Jurgens copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.