Revelation 2:1–7. The Situation at Ephesus. First Love.

Key Notes: Paul in Ephesus. The Nicolaitans.

Ephesus was a seaport town made famous by the Temple of Artemis. The city was dedicated to her, and the temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Her statue is believed to have been constructed on or from a meteorite--"the sacred stone that fell from the sky". (Acts’:35). Other temples to the Emperors Hadrian and Domitian, and evidence of the cult of Aesculepius (the Greek god of healing) have been found by archaeologists. Apollos and Paul worked there (Acts‘:24–20:1) and built a strong church. The great open-air theater, which is still there, and holds ~25,000 spectators, was the scene of a riot started by Demetrius, a silversmith who made images of Artemis. He resented the loss of trade as Paul turned people away from idols. Paul's letter to the Ephesians suggests a high degree of spiritual life and understanding. Ephesus declined later, in part because the river deposited silt in the harbor and it ceased to be a seaport.

Rev.2:1–7. At the time of Revelation, Christ commends the church for hard work, patience, and undiminished energy. The church is cited for rooting out missionaries who were teaching false doctrine, and for detesting the Nicolaitans, thought to be believers who did not practice biblical morality. The church may have been tempted to go the way of the Nicolaitans, of pleasure and self-indulgence. That was a serious threat.

"Irenaeus says of the Nicolaitans that 'they lived lives of unrestrained indulgence.'"
"Hippolytus says that he {Nicolaus} was one of the seven {original deacons} and that 'he departed from correct doctrine and was in the habit of inculcating indifference of food and life.'"
"Clement of Alexandria says they 'abandon themselves to pleasure like goats...leading a life of self-indulgence.'" {The Revelation of John. W. Barclay.Westminster;’76; p.67.}

The church is criticized for having abandoned the love it had at first, and is warned to repent and go back to the first works or lose its lamp-stand—i.e., cease to be a church.. The warning comes from Christ who walks among the seven golden lamp-stands. The reward of the over-comer is everlasting life--to eat of the tree of life in Paradise.

The key issue depends on understanding the departure from "the love you had at first" or "first love". First love conjures up two images: a teenager with a passionate firstlove affair; and the new Christian whose wonderful love for Christ, released from the bondage of sin, expresses unrestrained witness for weeks and months.

Teenage passion, infatuation, or puppy love would not have been a common event in traditional Jewish society because women were secluded. Spouses did not have time together until the wedding celebration. That kind of first love would not be likely for John's Revelation. Jacob's passion for Rachel is an exception. The Song of Songs is another exception. Chivalry and courtship rituals began in medieval Europe.

The beautiful first-love of a new believer is to be marveled at. But the unrestrained energy and absence of circumspection cannot be sustained and almost always fades. We do not suppose that that kind of first-love is intended here. One biblical statement of first love is Jer.2:2
"I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed Me in the wilderness in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the Lord, the first fruits of His harvest."

Joy, holiness and sustained devotion are the characteristics of the love which God expects of us. Deut.6:5 sounds the first and greatest commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might". We are to put our whole selves into loving God. The commandment is repeated in Deut.11:1; 11:13; 13:3;’:9; 30:6; 30:20. The next verse (Deut.6:6) goes on to say " ...and these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart, and you shall teach them diligently to your children...."

What love is likely to replace the love of God? THe love of Venus in all her varied disguises is the obsession of our society. The nespapers speak of a sex-drenched culture. The question that often concludes a discussion of Pope Francis is what decisions he will make on the issue of male homosexuality. A picture of a sex-reversed male was on the cover of Vogue. Pornography is available in every imaginable form. Nicolaus would be amazed.

The consequences of not serving God with "joyfulness and gladness of heart" (Deut.28:47–48) are serious. A deep and passionate love for God is commanded. Deut.19:9 speaks of "Loving the Lord your God and by walking ever in His ways".

Love and obedience go hand in hand. It may not come as a surprise that Jesus repeated the theme of Deut.6:4 in His teaching. (Matt.22:37)

 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (Jn.14:15)
"He who does not love Me does not keep My words." (Jn.14:24)
"This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (Jn.15:12)

So Jesus links His commandments, our love for Him and our love for each other.

The Psalms give us a feel for the emotions of loving God.
"Trust in the Lord and do good." (Psa.37:3)
"Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice." (Psa.32:11)
"My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat and my mouth praises Thee with joyful lips.... In the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy." (Psa.63:5–7).

Simply, love is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22) and is available for the asking. What God commands, He also gives freely for our joy and gladness.

Lord, You have commanded us to love You with a whole heart. Purify our hearts. Help us to love You more and more.

Resources: Desiring God. J. Piper, Multnomah,’96.
          The Pursuit of God. A.W. Tozer. Christian Publ.,1948.