Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. – Revelation 2:1-7
The letters to the churches begin with a descriptive attribute of Jesus and end with a promise. I use these to inform my understanding of what is being communicated to the churches.
For Ephesus, Jesus opens by stating that He is “he who holds the seven stars in my right hand and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.”
This reminds Ephesus that Jesus is within all of the churches and it is He who holds the ministers of the Lord in His hand. We will consider why this matters in a moment.
On one hand it is good that they labor diligently with all patience as they expose evil and false apostles.
On the other hand, they have “left their first love.”
What is their “first love” if not Jesus Himself? It is also true that we cannot love Jesus and claim to know Jesus if we do not also love our brethren.
For all of their trying of deceitful workers, even if they are accurate and bring people out of deception which is needful, they have lost their love.
Jesus reminds them that He is in the midst of all churches and He holds all ministers in His hand—not just Ephesus. Perhaps Ephesus prides itself on being a church above churches, able to discern who are truly of God and who are not—yet ironically—they do not know God themselves as they should because they have left their first love, Jesus and the brethren they esteem as lesser than themselves.
Even so, this one thing they have: They hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which God also hates.
What are the deeds of the Nicolaitans?
My take is this: we can replace the deeds/doctrine of the Nicolaitans with carnal Christianity in general. Perhaps there is a specific doctrine that God hates above all others, but we can safely assume that any teaching that encourages carnal Christianity will fit.
What do I mean by carnal Christianity? Carnal Christianity is worldly Christianity. It justifies works of evil using the blood of the Son of God wrongly. Carnal Christianity creates many false apostles and deceitful workers, which the church of Ephesus diligently pursues. Carnal Christianity can include several other things, and we will tailor this “doctrine” or “deed” of the “Nicolaitans” accordingly depending on the context for each church for which this is mentioned. I think this idea is couched in an obscure term for a reason because it is meant to encompass many things.
In closing, Jesus says that those who overcome will be given to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Jesus is the Physician, and we are all in need of Him—including Ephesus. They forget that they too need to be healed. They too have blind spots, misconceptions about God, and lack in the righteousness of God. They once were zealous for Jesus and His teachings, but supposing to have it all figured out, they stopped seeking and started passing judgment on others (even if rightly) while esteeming themselves too highly.
What can we learn from this?
It is fitting for us to pursue what is true, to call out the works of evil, to stand against false apostles and the like. It is fitting for us to hate that which God hates, which are all forms of carnality in His church.
However, if we do not stay focused on what matters most, which is love of our Lord, Jesus and a desire to continue seeking and getting to know Him, we will fall short. We will also lose love for the brethren as we esteem ourselves too highly, thereby forgetting that Jesus holds all of us and we all depend on Him.
I have seen this in ministry. I have visited churches that claim to be the true, bible believing church while they point out the sin of other Christian sects and condemn them as being forsaken of Jesus. I have visited churches that are so set in their ways and understanding that they have long stopped seeking Jesus, supposing that they have Him all figured out. This also reminds me of some online Christian apologists.
We do not want to be this way.
We want to make Jesus our first love, and by extension, our brethren. There is always more to learn and more to gain of the Physician. Though there are the fundamentals of the faith we hold to as we contend for the faith, we are not to be as “old wine skins” either, unable to accept new information and consider that some of our brethren that we disagree with have things to add to us.
To read about my own Ephesus-like struggles, check out: The 7 Churches of Revelation: I have been as Ephesus too.
Do you have thoughts about what we might learn from the church of Ephesus? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!