Return To Your First Love: An Overview of Ephesians

Personal update: For those that do not know, starting December 1, I was named pastor of a local church here in North Carolina. And it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. I’ve not had time to devote to the blog or podcast because of this process. I am currently serving as pastor and working full time and that leaves very little time for everything else. I’m going to continue to update this as much as possible and may just be posting mainly portions of my sermon notes for the foreseeable future. I appreciate your prayers and understanding. Much love – Brian.

The city of Ephesus is located in Modern day Turkey. It was the capital of the Roman province of Asia and it was home to one of the seven wonders of the world – the Temple of Artemis. Rather than looking in Ephesians, we are going to start our study in the book of Acts, chapter 18.

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,[d] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

19 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland[a] country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in[b] the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all.

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.[c] 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Here we see what happens in Ephesians…Apollos starts preaching there and winning converts. Aquilla and Priscilla explain things to him a little more. Later he takes off to Corinth and the Apostle Paul shows up and starts baptizing people in the Holy Spirt. The Apostle Paul stays there for two more years preaching the word to Jews and Greeks.

Continuing to read, we read about the Seven Sons of Sceva. Interesting story about the sons of a jewish priest who were exorcists and they were trying to use the name of Jesus to exercise a demon and it didn’t work. A good read for another time. Then we come to the result of all of these conversions in Ephesus:

“18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

Now this is a key text and it’s easy to miss because of what happens next. These believers came and confessed their practices and repented of their sins. In the story of the sons of Sceva you would learn that just throwing the name of Jesus around isn’t going to help you, you have to trust in him. You can’t just pretend to know him. Through these texts we see that the fruit of knowing Jesus is baptism in the Holy Spirit (v.5), confession and repentance (v.19). These three things are the bedrock of what we believe. As Christians we do not believe that you can be good enough to enter heaven. There has only ever been one good man and his name is Jesus. All of the rest of us have missed the mark. We are sinners. Jesus came to save sinners. And because he did this, we love him.

“We love him, because he first loved us,” 1st John 4:19

Fast forward through time and verse 21 there is a riot in Ephesus. Evidently the Christianity was bad for business in that the people who were selling little statues of Artemis were really struggling. So Paul is blamed for destroying their businesses and Paul responds by reminding them that “the gods made with hands are no gods at all.” This was revolutionary thinking for the time. Most people worshipped at statues of the Greek gods. And Paul is saying that not only is Jesus God, but that the gods you’ve been worshipping aren’t even gods at all.

This whole event pushes Paul out of town and he leaves for Macedonia. Now we know that he leaves Timothy in Ephesus as Pastor and the next time we see Ephesus mentioned is in 1st Timothy when Paul is instructing Timothy to instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines and to setup Elders in the church. Evidently in the short time since Paul left, there were already issues with people deserting the faith and false teachers who were leading others astray, so Paul encouraged Timothy to remain steadfast in the faith and to stay true to faith.

It’s believed that Timothy stayed in Ephesus for another year and half to two years before he left the church and rejoined Paul on his missionary journeys. The Book of Ephesians was likely written sometime after Timothy left while Paul was in prison.

The last time we hear of the church in Ephesus is in the Book of Revelation. Please turn with me to Revelation Chapter 2 verse 1.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’

Now this is a tough pill to swallow. This church who started off with amazing things happening. The entire city and it’s economy were affected by this church. Think about that. Can we say that Cornerstone is affecting Clayton in a similar way?

So here’s the question that I have for you. What made this promising church go from on fire for God to losing their first love? How does that happen? Why did it happen? And what can we learn from it?

Now, I must tell you the text doesn’t explicitly state the reason for this, at least not that I can find. So we are going to have to do some detective work and deduce an answer to this from the facts given to us.

So how I want to approach this is to reverse engineer an answer from the solution given to us. And what is that solution? What does Jesus tell this church to do? Repent and do the works you did at first. What were those works? Remember back to the book of Acts.

“18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”

They confessed, the repented of their destructive behavior. They were filled with the Holy Spirit. These are all keys to what happened to Ephesus. It lost it’s first love by stopping these things. It stopped confessing. It stopped repenting. It ceased relationship with the Holy Spirit.

And I want to be clear. This letter written by John in Revelation was written to the CHURCH in Ephesus. This was written to a church. The church had lost it’s first love. It wasn’t written to Billy Bob in Ephesus. It was written to the entire church. That tells us that entire churches can fall away from God.

Our endeavor is to not be like that.

We want to be a church that is madly in love with its Savior.

So how do we keep from becoming a church that has lost its first love?

  1. We confess our sins. This starts with the top down. Whenever we sin, we should be quick to confess our sins one to another. We are not perfect. None of us in this church is perfect. Your pastor is not perfect. I sin. I am not perfect. I have not lived up to God’s standard in both word, thought and deed. The apostle John reassures us this way in 1st John says that if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, he is faith and just and will forgive us (v. 8 and 9). All of us have sinned. But not all of us have confessed that. We must humble ourselves before God and confess our sins. Don’t be religious and think that just because you are here today, you are ok. Going to church doesn’t save you, being in right relationship with God saves you. And in order to be saved you must first confess your sins. For those that have been in the church a long time, let me remind you that this command, this expectation was put on the church in Ephesus. That was people who had all been saved. Martin Luther put it this way, a Christian’s life is one of daily repentance. We must continue to confess our sins, no matter how long you’ve been a Christian.
  2. We must repent. Repenting means turning around. A complete 180. We can’t continue in our sin and say that we are God’s children. If we are God’s children, we will cast off our sins. He will help us. God is with us and he will sanctify us. He will cause us to be more and more like him. But we must be faithful to his commands. There were evidently false teachers in the church in Ephesus who were teaching a cheap grace. They were telling people to forsake God’s law. Probably telling them that now that they were saved they could do whatever they wanted. In 1st Timothy, Paul encourages Timothy that the law is good if one uses it properly.
  3. We must be filled with the Spirit. So often we want to pretend like this isn’t important in the church anymore. We’ve gotten to the point where we treat the Holy Spirit like our crazy uncle. We claim him, but its somewhat reluctantly. As Christians, this cannot be the case. We must cling to the Holy Spirit with all of our might. The Holy Spirit is our helper. He is here for us. We need to repent and remember our relationship with God and it’s predicated or built around the Holy Spirit. This is God in us, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, empowering us and our relationship with the father.

So today, I want you to look at those things. Evaluate yourself and see what you need to do today. Confess? Repent? Be Filled? What is it? Spend some time praying and let God speak to you.

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