What Happened to the Ephesians?

ephlibrary.gifThe sun beat down on our heads as we descended the several flights of stairs to our destination.  Millions have walked this path, yet it was special for me, very special.  Finally, ducking my head through the entrance, I entered the cave.  It was dark and much smaller than I had imagined.  There was the place where he slept.  I could see clearly the chiseled area he used as a desk to pen the book.  I felt as if I was walking on holy ground.  This was the spot, the very spot, where the Revelation of Jesus Christ was given to the Apostle John.  Little did I know at the time that this hillside cave, on the Island of Patmos, in the Aegean Sea would be the beginning of a journey in my mind and heart.

Two days later, I boarded a bus and left a bustling seaport for the countryside.  Suddenly, I saw it from the window of the bus.  Off in the distance, a massive Roman theater, built into the side of a mountain, came into view.  In my mind, I began to hear voices, 26,000 voices that filled the theater with a deafening roar: “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!”  Then, the bus turned a corner and we were there.  Ephesus.  I began to walk down the ancient marble streets and remembered who had gone there before.  Paul, Timothy, Apollo, Aquila and Priscilla, Gaius and Aristarchus, the Apostle John, Mary, the mother of Jesus–these legends of the New Testament had all been here.  And again, the ground seemed different under my feet.

Ephesus is the largest archaeological site in the world and yet much of it remains undiscovered to date.  I marveled at the well-preserved library and the intricate detailing of the architecture.  I was moved to look down the path that had once led to the docks and remember the tearful goodbye Paul had given to the Ephesian elders before going to Jerusalem.  I was impressed by the structure and order of the town, having achieved political freedom on their own, with no Roman garrisons or forts needed in the city.

I didn’t connect Patmos and Ephesus until days later when I spent about an hour sitting alone at the top of Mar’s Hill in Athens.  I began to think through Acts 17 and imagined Paul standing right there where I was sitting as he addressed the curious Athenians about the unknown God and that they were too religious.  I remembered then in Acts 18 as Paul went on to Corinth and established the church there.  Then in Acts 19, he arrived at Ephesus and found 12 disciples and taught them and founded a church where he spent 3 years of his life, leaving Timothy to pastor after him.  From there, I thought through the book of Ephesians and remembered how Paul spoke so fondly of them and specifically of their love–love for each other and love for God.

At that point, I was literally shaken as Revelation 2 interrupted my pleasant scriptural meditation.  For John had written to the Ephesian church on the behalf of Jesus Christ and stated that they had left their first love.

I began asking myself what had happened in the 35 years between Ephesians and Revelations.  What had caused the Ephesian church to lose what they had been known for, namely their love?

After all, the Ephesians seemingly had the church thing mastered.  Even the commendations of Christ attest to that truth:

I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.

I mean–come on!  If our churches looked like that, wouldn’t we think they were successful?  Come to think of it, fundamentalism is pretty good at these things too.  But all of this wasn’t enough.    In fact, it wasn’t even close!

As I pondered these facts up on the hill in Athens, I began to see an ominous truth: religion is deathly dangerous when it is practiced in isolation from God.  In reality, the Ephesian believers had become not so unlike the Athenians.  While the Athenians were pagan and worshipping many gods, they were devout.  They didn’t have a relationship with God but they were trying to–by their own means.  The Ephesians had lost the relationship aspect of the Christian life and were going through all the motions without God.

Sometimes, we only think of ourselves as light and salt and not branches on a vine.  But doing works in our own strength is pointless.  In fact, it is a step toward spiritual ruin, according to Revelations 2.

So, my fellow followers of Christ, I want to issue you a challenge that I issued myself on top of hill in Athens: add up your work for Christ.  Write it all down.  Does it look impressive to you?  Are you satisfied with it?  Now consider your worship, your devotion, your set-aside time with Jesus Christ.  Does it look impressive to you?  Are you satisfied with it?

I discovered that I am very often satisfied in my work and not in my Savior.  I find fulfillment in what I do and not in Whom I trust.  I find my worship pitiful and anemic and terribly inconsistent.

If you are like me in these regards, I can tell you there is hope.  Jesus tells us to “remember and do the first works.”  Remember the saving work of Jesus Christ.  Remember answered prayer.  Remember His promises.  Start loving God again with a whole-hearted passion.  Devote yourself to Him by spending long hours in prayer and meditation.  Speak of Him often to friends and strangers alike.

What happened to the Ephesians?  They just got too religious–just like we do.  They forgot what true religion is all about, namely loving God and loving others.  That is not to say that our work is not important or not as important as our worship.  Both are necessary.  But our service should be sourced in our love, not in a slavish determination to fulfill other’s expectations or seek self-fulfillment.

It must have broken John’s heart when he returned from his exile to Ephesus and saw the state of the church.  John died there, shortly after his return.  So did the Ephesian church. 

God have mercy on us and help us to remember and love You above all!

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dad on July 24, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Brian,
    Excellent article on your trip and the impact it has had on your heart. My heart has been challenged also for the need of true worship and service. It does become so easy to fall into the mode of “doing the work of the ministry” without a real true motive of worshipping the God of whose ministry we serve. Thanks again for sharing your heart with us.
    Dad

    Reply

  2. Posted by Rick Tatina on December 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    Good job in pinpointing the loss of love. It seems that there is a loss of the loving acts that they had at first, not as much the emotional desire for God, although that is included by implication.

    Reply

  3. […] Brian McCrorie said “What happened to the Ephesians? They just got too religious–just like we do. They forgot […]

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