A Study of the Seven Churches of Asia
by Al Maxey

(Revelation 2:1-7)

Our Lord has both positive and negative statements to make to His church. When possible, however, He always focuses on the positive first in order to prepare His people to receive the needed correction. "If we, like the Lord, would prepare men's hearts to be receptive to the justifiable censure we give them, we too must first praise them for the good they do. Only by so doing can we incite them to eliminate the evil from their lives and to build upon truth and righteousness" (James M. Tolle, The Seven Churches of Asia, p. 27).

"It is worthy of remark, that whatsoever is praiseworthy in any of these churches is first mentioned; thereby intimating that God is more intent on finding out the good than the evil in any person or church" (Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 6, p. 975-976). This displays a basic attitude with our Lord (and one which His people should display as well): to seek out, praise, and build upon the positive qualities in a person or congregation as being of foremost importance.

In each of His letters Jesus also makes the statement "I know...." This is the Greek word oida which means a full and perfect knowledge of something; "fullness of knowledge" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words). "Whether He praises or censures, He does so on the basis of facts, not speculation" (James M. Tolle, p. 27). See -- John 2:24-25; Hebrews 4:13. The One who "walks among" and is "in the middle of" the seven golden lampstands (the church), by virtue of this intimacy, has a deep and thorough knowledge of His people.


ONE --- "I know your deeds" (NASB, NIV, NWT, NAB) ..... "works" (KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV) ..... "all your ways" (NEB) ..... "how many good things you are doing" (LB) ..... "what you have done" (TEV, SEB, Phillips) ..... "your industry and activities" (Amplified). The Greek word being variously translated here is erga, which means "work, deed, act." "It frequently occurs in the NT in an ethical sense of human actions, good or bad" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words).

This is a general term which includes all their activities, both good and bad. It is positive in the sense that activity is taking place; they are working! "Here, as elsewhere in the epistles, it means not merely deeds done, but life and conduct in general, including both outward and spiritual activities" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 449). About 35 years earlier Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and said, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). The saints in Ephesus understood the importance of maintaining an active walk.

TWO --- "....and your toil" (NASB, ASV, NEB, RSV) ..... "labor" (KJV, NKJV, NWT, NAB) ..... "hard work" (LB, NIV, Phillips, TEV, SEB) ..... "laborious toil and trouble" (Amplified). This is the Greek word kopos which means "wearisome, exhausting labor; to work to the point of collapse." Such labor does not go unnoticed! "For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and your labor of love" (Heb. 6:10). Such labor will be rewarded -- "And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, 'Write, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!"' 'Yes,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them'" (Rev. 14:13).

Not only was this a working congregation, but it was one which worked to the point of exhaustion! "It is the kind of toil which takes everything of mind and sinew that a man can put into it. The Christian way is not for the man who fears to break sweat" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 62). Three different times Paul connects "toil" with the word "hardship" (II Cor. 11:27; I Thess. 2:9; II Thess. 3:8), "thereby indicating strenuous, painful effort" (Homer Hailey, Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 121).

"The Ephesian Christians did not lack serious and sustained activity, even to the point of suffering for Christ's name" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 433). "The church in Ephesus was not just a working church that fulfilled a minimum of responsibility, but one that toiled -- worked unto weariness! It was not, as many churches are today, merely content with keeping house for the Lord, with its activity virtually limited to "church going." Its members knew what it was to suffer actual fatigue in their work for Christ" (James M. Tolle, p. 27).

THREE --- "....and perseverance" (NASB, NIV) ..... "endurance" (NWT, Phillips) ..... "fortitude" (NEB) ..... "patience" (KJV, NKJV, ASV, LB, TEV, SEB) ..... "patient endurance" (RSV, NAB, Amplified). This is the Greek word hupomone which means "to bear up under; to patiently endure; to persevere; to remain in the face of toil, suffering, trouble, affliction, persecution instead of fleeing" (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 845-846). This word is used twice of the saints in Ephesus in our Lord's letter to them (Rev. 2:2 and again in vs. 3).

"It means staying when the burden is heavy; it means holding one's own in the face of every difficulty" (Ray Summers, Worthy Is The Lamb, p. 110). "Hupomone is not the patience which sits down and passively bears things, the patience which allows a tide of troubles to sweep over its bowed head. The word would be better translated triumphant fortitude. It is what has been called 'masculine constancy under trial,' that triumphant fortitude which can transmute suffering into glory" (William Barclay, p. 20).

Hupomone signifies "the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 664). "In spite of all the efforts of evil men to turn it away from the faith, it steadfastly persevered in its work for Christ. And churches today need this same spirit of patience in the face of every hindrance and opposition to their labors in behalf of Christ" (James M. Tolle, p. 28).

FOUR --- "You have endured for My name's sake" (NASB) ..... "bearing up" (KJV, ASV, RSV, NWT, NEB, Amplified) ..... "patiently suffered" (LB, Phillips) ..... "endured hardships" (NIV, NAB) ..... "suffered troubles" (TEV) ..... "carried on" (SEB). This is the Greek word bastazo which means "to take up and bear or carry a load; to bear with someone or something; to put up with that which is burdensome." It appears in the aorist tense which indicates that Jesus is recalling a specific event (or events) in the life of this congregation.

"It was for the sake of Christ, because of their relationship to Him as His disciples, that the saints in Ephesus patiently worked and toiled in the face of all trials and opposition" (James M. Tolle, p. 30).

FIVE --- "...and have not grown weary" (NASB, NWT, ASV, NKJV, NIV, Phillips, RSV, Amplified) ..... "have never flagged" (NEB) ..... "without quitting" (LB) ..... "have not fainted" (KJV) ..... "not given up" (TEV) ..... "not become discouraged" (NAB) ..... "not become tired" (SEB). This is the Greek word kopiao which means "to be weary, faint, exhausted." It is from a root word meaning "to be beaten upon." It is exhaustion due to "toils or burdens or grief" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the NT, p. 355).

"The Ephesians have borne much in their loyalty to the name of Christ. They have not grown weary in the midst of difficulties caused by persecution and the inroads of false doctrine" (Ray Summers, Worthy Is The Lamb, p. 110). "The idea here is that they had not become so wearied as to succumb to exhaustion and to quit working for the Lord. One writer puts it: 'They had toiled on to very weariness, without wearying of their toil'" (James M. Tolle, p. 30). "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9).

SIX --- "I know...that you cannot endure evil men" (NASB, NEB) ..... "cannot bear bad/evil men" (NWT, ASV, KJV, NKJV, RSV) ..... "you don't tolerate sin among your members" (LB) ..... "you cannot tolerate wicked men" (NIV, TEV, NAB, SEB, Phillips, Amplified). This is the same Greek word as #4 above (bastazo) which means "to bear with; put up with; tolerate."

Paul was continuously warning the disciples to "beware of evil workers" (Philp. 3:2). They are "deceitful workers ... disguising themselves as servants of righteousness" (II Cor. 11:13, 15). Paul had specifically warned the elders at Ephesus that such "evil men" would arise among them (see Acts 20:28-31a). The church in Ephesus obviously heeded this warning!

There were those who claimed to be apostles. The Ephesians examined them carefully ("put them to the test"), discovered them to be false, and rejected them (Rev. 2:2). The Nicolaitan heresy (a group promoting compromise with the world through a misunderstanding of Christian liberty) was also unable to gain a foothold here -- "You hate the deeds of the Nocolaitans, which I also hate" (Rev. 2:6).

This congregation put into practice the command of I John 4:1, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world." "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them" (Eph. 5:11). Again, this congregation was intent upon doing just that. (see also: II John 7-11).

"These believers were not only competent but militant in their stand against false teaching" (Hal Lindsey, There's A New World Coming, p. 46). "They could not bear in their midst the company of evil men who were morally or ethically base in their character. This attitude toward evil men is commendable; if they will not be transformed, let them be transferred!" (Homer Hailey, p. 121). "It is worthy of special attention that this church is praised for its intolerance" (William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors, p. 77).

"This congregation would not accept into its active fellowship any child of God who persisted in evil-doing. Churches today do indeed need to follow the example of the Ephesian church, which refused to tolerate, support, or entertain hospitably in its midst as fellow members of the Body of Christ those whose lives were persistently evil" (James M. Tolle, p. 28). See: I Cor. 5; II Thess. 3:6, 14-15; Titus 3:10-11; Romans 16:17-18; etc.

About fifteen years after the Revelation was given, Ignatius wrote (The Epistle to the Ephesians) in praise of their continued intolerance to false teaching and wicked men: "I have heard of some who have passed by you, having perverse doctrine; whom you did not suffer to sow among you, but stopped up your ears, that ye might not receive those things that were sown by them" (Epistle to the Ephesians 2:10).


In Rev. 2:4 Jesus makes His only charge against the saints in Ephesus: "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (NASB, KJV, NKJV, ASV) ..... "You have left the love you had at first" (NWT) ..... "You have abandoned the love you had at first" (RSV) ..... "You have lost/turned aside from your early love" (NEB, NAB) ..... "You no longer love Me as you did at first/in the beginning" (LB, TEV, SEB) ..... "You do not love as you did at first" (Phillips) ..... "You have forsaken your first love" (NIV) ..... "You have left (abandoned) the love you had at first --- you have deserted Me, your first love" (Amplified).

This was a love which they had "departed from, forsaken, left behind" (aphiemi). This Greek verb appears in the aorist tense in this passage, thus indicating that they departed from this love at some point in their past. Two things should be considered here: (1) What is this "first love," and who/what is its object?, and (2) what is the cause of their losing it?

FIRST --- As can be seen from the various translations cited, there is a diversity of opinion as to the nature and object of this love. Although many views are given, the two major positions are as follows:

SECOND --- "Without brotherly love a church must become extinct" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, The Apocalypse of John, p. 450). "The fervor of their original love --- their 'love for all the saints' (Eph. 1:15) --- had waned. And nothing --- no amount of good works or sound doctrine --- can take the place of agape in a Christian community. Unless there was a change of heart .... that church's days were numbered; its lampstand (vs. 5) would be removed" (The New Layman's Bible Commentary, p. 1683). What was it that caused this love to be abandoned?

Assuming that this refers to the first major position above (lack of love for Christ), the cause may well be that they had lost their focus; they were focusing more on works, duty, religion --- and not on Jesus! "Their religion had become a lifeless, mechanical, ritualistic thing, to be done out of a sense of cold duty, rather than of glorious privilege motivated by love" (James M. Tolle, p. 31). "Loving devotion to Christ can be lost in the midst of active service" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 434).

"Day after day they went through the right routines, said the right words, dished out the right spiritual platitudes --- and shriveled a little more inside! As their love for Christ began to wane, they more and more served out of a sense of duty. In their own estimation, their acceptance by the Lord depended on their performance for Him. This opened the door to legalism. Jesus tells the Ephesians to remember that love is the only acceptable motivation for Christian living. He urges them to repent of their loveless Christian duty and to get off their 'works trip,' returning instead to the love which they had when they first came to know Him, when they were flushed with the wonder and excitement of their new relationship with Him" (Hal Lindsey, p. 46-47).

Assuming that this refers to the second major position above (lack of love for one another), the cause may well be that in their zeal for orthodoxy they had lost the ability to love. "Perhaps their zeal for orthodoxy in exposing false apostles had developed into a hypocritical, censorious spirit. This would remind us of those in the church today who have developed an unloving, suspicious, fault-finding, hypocritical keeper-of-the-orthodoxy complex" (James M. Tolle, p. 31). "Certainly no amount of orthodoxy can make up for a failure to love one another" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, p. 434).

"The zeal in opposing the false teachers might naturally lead to divisions and a slackening of love toward some of the brethren" (Dr. Isbon T. Beckwith, p. 450). "The loyal spirit of defense of the truth had bred an attitude of spite toward those in error. It should be remembered that the essence of the gospel is God's love for erring humanity. Any attempt to make the gospel effective which distorts this central fact is a distortion of the gospel itself" (J.W. Roberts, The Living Word Commentary: The Revelation to John, p. 38-39).

"It may be that the church at Ephesus was so busy heresy hunting that it had lost the atmosphere of brotherly love. It may be that a hard, censorious, critical, fault-finding, stern self-righteousness had banished the spirit of love. H.B. Swete writes on this passage: 'Patience and unremitting toil in His cause are not all that Christ requires, and, indeed, are of little value, if love be absent!' Strict orthodoxy can cost too much if it has to be bought at the price of love" (William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 21).

"In the first days the members of the church at Ephesus had really loved each other; dissension had never reared its head; the heart was ready to kindle and the hand was ready to help. But something had gone wrong. It may well be that heresy-hunting had killed love, and orthodoxy had been achieved at the price of fellowship. When that happens, orthodoxy has cost too much. All the orthodoxy in the world will never take the place of love" (William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. 1, p. 64).

Background Smyrna

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