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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Love the Truth, Love Each Other
Text:Revelation 2:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 138:1,4                                                                              

Ps 32:1,5                                                                                                        

Reading – Revelation 1

Ps 101:1,2,3,4,5,6

Sermon – Revelation 2:1-7

Hy 49:1,2

Hy 73:1,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters, we’re a church of Jesus Christ. We belong to him. We worship him. So do you ever wonder what Jesus would say to us, his church? What things would He point out that we need to improve, or what encouragements would He give? Have you ever wished that our Lord would write a message to us, his believers?

When we turn to Scripture, there’s a marvelous thing! For there we do find letters of Jesus, personal and direct, written to his churches. Near the beginning of Revelation there are seven letters. The Lord Jesus directs the apostle John to send these, each to a different church in Asia Minor. To the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, to Philadelphia and Laodicea, the Lord Jesus speaks in love and in truth. In these messages to his blood-bought people, we hear the Lord’s warnings and rebukes, we read his promises and encouragements.

Now, there’s no letter addressed to our particular congregation in this place. But God’s Word is so enduring that it always meets us, right where we are. Scripture is profitable in every way, and it’s always useful for equipping the saints. So as we read these letters, we can certainly see much that’s important for us to believe and obey.

For the exalted Jesus—that majestic and powerful Lord—this King and Saviour writes to believers, suffering in a wicked world. He encourages his people as they resist the devil’s attacks. He corrects those who stray. And Jesus comforts us with the promise of an everlasting reward. We see all these things in his letter to the church of Ephesus, on this theme,

The exalted Christ writes to his church in Ephesus:

  1. commending their good works
  2. criticizing their loss of love
  3. calling them to a sure return
  4. confirming their eternal reward


1. commending their good works: If we wanted to make a list of the top five cities in the New Testament, the city of Ephesus would definitely get onto the list. Not just because of its size—about a quarter of a million people—and not just because of its economic importance, but because for a long time it was a centre and a focus for the apostles’ work.

It was early on that the Lord Jesus had established a church there. The believers Aquila and Priscilla were the first to bring the gospel to Ephesus. And after them, Paul had visited for almost two years during his second missionary journey—by Paul’s standards, a two year stay was a big investment of time. This was where Pastor Timothy was ministering too. And later on, the apostle John had a strong connection to Ephesus and to the church there.

The city itself, we said, was of top rank. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Ephesus was the most important city in Asia Minor, both in terms of business and politics. It had a favourable location at the mouth of a river, and stood at the crossroads of three trade routes. It was also known as a centre of science and art and theatre. It’s surely not an accident then, that Ephesus is the first of the seven churches that Jesus writes to.

Yet for all of its creature comforts and cultural fascinations, Ephesus was also a dangerous place. It was spiritually deadly. Not unlike the city of Toronto, or London, or New York: Ephesus was a very comfortable place to reside, and to earn a good living, yet for a believer wanting to be faithful to Christ there were some real hazards.

In the first place, Ephesus was a completely pagan city. Hardly abnormal during that time, of course: the worship of idols was widespread throughout the Roman Empire. But in the idolatry department too, Ephesus was renown. In Ephesus there used to be a massive temple dedicated to Artemis (or Diana), the goddess of fertility. This grand temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world! It was a point of civic pride, and many in the city were keen to maintain the worship of Artemis.

Besides this paganism, we learn in the book of Acts that Ephesus was a hotbed of the Jewish occult and magic arts. Some people had taken the Jewish faith, and blended it with pagan ideas and practices, which of course led to all kinds of heresy. That can be a tricky thing to sort out, because some of these heresies sounded acceptable on first hearing. After all, they’d be talking about angels and the patriarchs and spirits, heaven and hell. But scratch the surface, and it was only heathenism, poorly disguised.

In this difficult religious context, the Ephesians struggled hard to stay faithful. That’s what Jesus begins with, commending them for their steadfastness: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil” (v 2). In a godless time and place, these Ephesians were persevering in the faith. It had taken toil, hard work, and great patience, but by God’s grace they had stayed true.

And this had especially been witnessed in their response to false teachers. The location of Ephesus on a major crossroads meant that false teachers would regularly pass through the area. If you want to spread wrong ideas in a hurry, you go to the big city! But the Ephesians had their heresy-detector finely tuned, set to “super-sensitive.” They saw false prophets coming from miles away, and they were on guard. Other churches had compromised the truth, but the Ephesians had taken a strong stand. They were defending orthodoxy—right belief, true religion—and they’d continue to, no matter the cost.

Says Jesus, “You have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (v 2). Recently, there’d been “apostles” visiting in their midst. Not actual apostles, like those twelve appointed by Jesus, but in this period there were other men who went around, claiming to have a calling and a message. They’d probably tried to gain a hearing among the Ephesians, offered to preach for them for a few Sundays, or give some lectures. But these so-called apostles were “liars”—self-deceived, and trying to deceive. And the church knew it. As soon as these new teachings had been scrutinized and seen to be against God’s Word, these teachers were shown the door, and told never to come back!

It’s interesting then, if we compare this letter to a few other places in the New Testament where the Ephesian believers are addressed. We can think of Paul’s letter to this church. Of all the letters to the churches that Paul wrote, the one addressed to the Ephesians is the only one that doesn’t mention some doctrinal issue needing correction. They had other struggles of course, but in Paul’s view, this was something that was going well. Their doctrine was sound.

Even before that letter, there were Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. He was departing from them, and with deep concern the apostle warned about “savage wolves” who’d come into the congregation. What would they do? They would “[speak] perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” When we read Christ’s letter to this same church in Revelation 2, it’s clear that the Ephesians had taken Paul’s warning very much to heart. They’d kept watch for savage wolves, and they’d acted for the sake of the truth.

And let’s not underestimate how hard this watchfulness can be, for us too. It’s one thing to figure out that there’s a teacher who’s off-base, or there’s an author you shouldn’t read. Sometimes it’s very obvious. But for the Ephesians, we get the sense that this was a constant struggle, and one that took a lot of their energy.

Look ahead to verse 6, where Jesus mentions yet more false teachers, the Nicolaitans. It’s hard to say who these characters are. They make an appearance in the letter to the church of Pergamos, where they seem to have been promoting an immoral lifestyle. The church of Thyatira too, was afflicted by a false teaching that seduced them into idolatry and sexual misconduct. But over against the Nicolaitans, and every other threat, the Ephesians held to the truth. Christ says, “you…have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary” (v 3).

Jesus says this because He knows that we are inclined to get weary. Testing what we hear against Scripture, discerning what we read, is a difficult thing. It’s easier to let down our guard, and these days it’s far more acceptable to be tolerant. So sometimes we can wonder if we’re making too big a deal about something. Does it really matter whether we baptize infants or adults? Does it matter how long the days of creation were? Isn’t the main thing that we all get along and believe in Jesus?

But the Ephesians got this right, that God’s truth is essential, and so it’s also essential to defend. They tested the false apostles, rejected the heretics, even hated the Nicolaitans for what they were doing among the churches. And this vigilance was pleasing to the Lord, “You hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (v 6). Deep concern for truth is one shared by Jesus. In fact, if as believers we will love the good, we must also hate what is evil. If you will love God’s truth, you must also hate Satan’s lies.

That’s something to learn from how Jesus commends the Ephesians. He calls us too, to be zealous for his truth. To be sound in our doctrine. To be faithful in his Word. To discern carefully all the things we read and hear and see. But together with these good works Jesus also, 


2. criticizing their loss of love: Have you ever heard of Reformed churches being criticized for focusing on good doctrine, but neglecting a holy lifestyle? Having the right creeds, but the wrong deeds? It’s not a new criticism. And this letter shows that the criticism can be well justified. These Ephesians had zealously defended the doctrine, even persevered under a barrage of false teachers, yet truth and determination aren’t the only things that Christ requires. Says Christ to his dear church, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (v 4). What was their first love? We can think back to the beginning of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus, all the zeal and enthusiasm that this church displayed. These believers were filled with love for the Triune God, and moved by sincere love for the neighbours.

But Jesus sees that their love has started to fade. It seems likely that Jesus is speaking especially of their love for each other. Somehow they’d begun to neglect one another, to show a lack of care and concern. After that promising start, it was now maybe twenty or thirty years down the road, and the greatest of the Christian gifts was being forgotten. The Ephesians had left the love they had at first.

How did it happen? Well, it’s been said that among sinners like us, even our virtues carry within them the seeds of sin. Every good trait that the Spirit develops in us can become a weakness. Not through his fault, but our own! Think of how the gift of patience can grow into sinful indifference toward things that should be changed. Or how a proper humility before others can become a fear of man. Yes, even zeal for the truth can be overdone, and it can lead to sin.

The Ephesians were taking action against heresy in the church—but think of how that might’ve caused suspicion among them. If you’re used to finding an enemy behind every corner, if you’re always chasing hard after heretics, you might start to suspect even the faithful of being foes! In that setting, it might’ve been difficult for brotherly love to thrive.

Or maybe the Ephesians got a little too caught up in scrutinizing the so-called apostles and dissecting their words. They were so busy with heresy-hunting that they gave little attention to the poor and the lonely in their midst. A person only has so much energy, of course. So there arose a neglect of those who were hungry for Christian love.

It’s hard to say, of course, just how this loveless situation developed in Ephesus. This much is clear though: in the eyes of the Lord Jesus, a rigorous concern for true doctrine isn’t the only thing that’s needed. Defending the faith isn’t the only thing that should get our attention and energies. Rather, as the Scripture says so often, Christian love is the badge of a true disciple of the Lord. Faith, hope, love remain—but the greatest of these is love!

Now, let’s be clear on what this letter is saying. It doesn’t say that a concern for doctrine will lead to an absence of love. It doesn’t say that love is more important than truth. Not at all. You’ll notice that the Ephesians aren’t criticized for being too orthodox, nor criticized for being vigilant—they’re praised for these things. But they are criticized for leaving the love they had at first. Because the Lord Jesus requires both from his people. Right teaching, and genuine loving! In the Bible you’ll never find a hostility between doctrine and love, or an opposition of creeds and deeds. They always go together. Listen to what Paul says to Timothy: “Watch your life and you doctrine closely.” Life and doctrine! A church that loves the Word of God, and loves the confessions, will also love one another.

This too, is something to learn from Christ’s letter. These days, we can be concerned about the erosion of the truth. We should be concerned about this! We see how the unbelieving spirit of the age affects the society around us. We see how it has a harmful impact on other Reformed churches too, on their doctrines and practices. In such a time, we must contend for the faith! We must guard the good deposit. Such a defense takes energy and prayer and wisdom.

But then we also have to listen to the warning Christ gives, not to neglect our love. We could be so immersed in carrying on one good fight that we don’t realize we’re losing another—by failing to love. Failing to be concerned for our fellow believers. Or failing to be concerned for all the people around us who don’t know the Lord and his Word. Jesus says it shouldn’t go this way. Instead, it’s exactly because we love the truth that we want to put it into practice. It’s exactly because we love the truth that we want to tell others about it.


3. calling them to a sure return: It had once been much better in Ephesus. They’d once been able to combine Christian love and doctrinal integrity. So Jesus calls them to return to this, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen” (v 5). That can be a powerful thing for us to do, that we bring to mind how we once lived in the Lord. Maybe in our youth we were far more zealous to serve. Maybe a couple years ago we had much better Scripture-reading habits. But now things have declined—we’ve become “lukewarm,” to use language from another of these letters. So, “remember from where you’ve fallen.” The Ephesians need to repent.

And what Christ looks for isn’t simply a change of mind. It’s too easy to claim that things are going to be different from now on—too easy to say the right words to the elders at a homevisit. No, if we’ve really returned to the Lord’s ways, or if we’ve really gained a new insight into God’s Word, then this repentance is also show by our actions. Listen again to verse 5, “Repent and do the first works.” Do them! As John writes in his first letter, “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (5:3). The Ephesians have to get back to basics of being a Christian: loving God, by doing his Word.

And if they didn’t, there’d be a consequence. This is what Jesus says, “Repent… or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place” (v 5). That has an ominous tone, doesn’t it? “I will come to you.” Jesus gives that warning a few more times in these letters. And his “coming” doesn’t simply refer to the last day. For He is Lord of the universe, and where He considers judgment must be given, He gives it. If there’s a church needing rebuke and discipline, Christ won’t always hold back, but He will come.

So also for these Ephesians: If they don’t repent, judgment will come, and Jesus will “remove their lampstand.” No more lampstand? Big deal, we say. Just get a flashlight, or light a fire. But in these letters, a lampstand stands for the church itself. For Jesus to remove the lampstand from Ephesus means the church there will cease to exist. It’ll no longer be the place of his dwelling. That’s how serious this is: for a lack of love, the entire congregation is in danger!

In this warning to the church, we can see just how important love is to the Lord. It’s a critical piece of what it means to be the body of Christ, because love so filled the life of our Saviour. If we won’t resemble him in love, and imitate his humble service, He’ll say He doesn’t know us. He’ll say we might have the right words, even the right doctrine, but that’s not enough.

It’s a serious warning, a dire call for the church to repent. But like every warning in Scripture, this one is given in love. If there was someone who was in danger of destroying their life, and you didn’t care about them, you might keep your mouth shut. But it’s because the Lord cares for us that He speaks this word. “Repent… or else I will come to you.”

We also see this deep concern of our Saviour in that image of him at the letter’s opening where it says that Jesus “holds the seven stars in his right hand” (2:1). Even now, Christ grips the leaders of his church firmly. Despite their weakness and failing, He holds them fast. Even as the enemy prowls, even as false teachers spew lies, Christ holds and protects his own. 

Those opening words say too, that He “walks in the midst of the lampstands.” Whatever the church looks like in the world—oppressed and faltering, tempted and corrupted—Christ goes in the middle of them. Where the church is, there the Lord is, walking among us. We’re in his control, and at all times, He’s aware of our condition. So we know that if we listen to his call to repent, He will give a sure reward.


4. confirming their eternal reward: Each of these letters concludes the same way, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (v 7). Though the messages are very different for each congregation, each time Jesus issues that command to listen to his Word. And it’s by truly listening that we’ll overcome. Revelation has been called a book of victories—the glorious victories that are won by Christ and by his church, over all his and our enemies. There’s a well-known commentary on this book called More than Conquerors. That theme’s in this first letter too, “To him who overcomes” (v 7). An overcomer is someone who’s been fighting. In this world there’s a host of different enemies to overcome, whether false teaching or apathy or immorality or persecution. But whatever the opposition we face, Christ calls us to arms. Because you can’t stay neutral in this world; the battle we’re involved in means that we have to take a side. If you’re not overcoming, if you’re not striving to defeat falsehood, and striving to love God and your neighbour, then you’re already surrendering ground, and giving in to the devil.

But there’s a glorious promise for those who do strive, and who do overcome: “I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God” (v 7). We know about the tree of life from Genesis, on the opposite end of the Bible. This was the tree in the garden that was defended by angels so that sinful man couldn’t eat of its fruit and live forever. At that time, that tree spoke of our failure to enjoy the life God intended for us; it spoke of the curse.

Yet that wasn’t the end of God’s plan or his grace. We’re given a picture of the new Jerusalem later on in Revelation. And it’s described as a beautiful restoration of what we had in Paradise. For there is in that city the “tree of life,” and “the leaves of this tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2). God says that all those who now live under the curse of sin can be healed through that tree—by faith, they can be restored through God’s boundless grace in Christ.

Beloved, that’s the incentive. That’s the promise. Total renewal, in body and soul. Fellowship with God, perfect and unbroken. By faith already now we have a taste of that life, and we await the full gift at history’s end, in the Paradise of God.

To get there, it means overcoming. Overcoming the false teaching of this age. Overcoming our lack of love. Overcoming our own hesitation to repent. But to those who overcome in the strength of God, to those who hear his Word and who do it, Christ holds out an eternal reward, a glorious hope! He who has an ear, let him hear!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2015, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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