The church at Ephesus was a good church. They were strong in their faith, they had had good training, and they were enthusiastic in sharing the truth with others (Acts 19.10). Even Jesus liked the church, because he said so many good things about them.
He said, “It’s great that you people are such hard workers.” He’s probably not talking about their jobs around town, as good as they might have been at those. Instead he’s praising them for strong and on-target spiritual work, tirelessly working to meet the needs of the poor, bring people into the kingdom, stand up for truth by refuting lies, and discipling the saints. You know, that’s a real compliment to be recognized for those things. But he’s not done.
He also said, “Your perseverance is notable.” It wasn’t all easy roads and pretty gardens for them (Acts 19.23-41). There is a cost to standing up for the truth and doing what’s right. Anybody in school or business knows that. But somehow the people in this church were able to walk with their heads high. Nice work!
Then he praised them for being intolerant. Oh, don’t worry—they weren’t discriminating against people in town. They were being congratulated because it’s the express duty of the church, and it’s a good thing, to evaluate both the character and teaching of their leaders. But take note that the character of the intolerance is not “what I disagree with,” but what is false. It’s a test, not an opinion. And when you find something false, the response is not always to just be loving and gentle. Sometimes you need to speak out and stand up for the truth. And if people can’t handle that, then see #2: Your perseverance is notable, and there will be a cost for doing what is good and right.
He also salutes them for testing for the truth. Again, it’s not just judging people on the basis of opinions, bias, or prejudices. They did a thorough and reasonable examination, investigate with some carefully established standards.
You would think these people would have a special hotline to heaven since they’re doing so well. Ah, but there’s a problem. All is not well in Ephesus. They are told, “You have abandoned your first love.” What? Haven’t they proven their love? Doesn’t their exhaustive intensity count for anything, not to mention their perseverance through all the problems other give them because of it? Of course it counts. But you can do many things right and still miss the target.
General David Petraeus distinguished himself with exemplary military service. He led the military, and the world, frankly, with nation building in Iraq. He headed the military operation in Afghanistan. The government leaders, military personnel, and many in the nation were singing his praises. He took a job as the director of the CIA. Oh, and he had an extramarital affair with his biographer. Oops. He was dismissed from his job, has lost his honor in the eyes of many, and sacrificed his integrity and his image as a hero. You can do many things right and still miss the target.
The “abandoned” in the verse (4) sure makes it sound like it wasn’t a drifting away, but a deliberate choice and action. They weren’t tricked, they picked it. Ouch. Is it like sneaking away from your wife to sleep with someone else? Or is it the tyranny of the urgent distracting us away from our real priorities? Either way, abandon means abandon. It sounds to me a lot lie 1 Cor. 13.1-3, where they were active in all kind of things but missing the important piece, or like Martha in Lk. 10.38-42, not having chosen “what is better.” See, it’s a choice.
What Christ wants is a passionate, single-minded simplicity, a hunger for his word, and the centrality of Jesus. The gospel is about Jesus, and Jesus alone, not Jesus plus anything or Jesus minus anything.
“Remember the height from which you’ve fallen,” he says. You have had moments of spiritual clarity and communion. Somehow you’ve walked away from that into whatever else. It’s not just a matter of reconnecting your priorities, but of repentance. In other words, it’s sin, not just, “Oh, I got off track.” It’s time for a decisive break from whatever you’re doing, and to change both your attitude and your conduct. Having good experiences and good teaching is pretty worthless if you don’t change your ways, turn around, and walk with your life in the direction you should.
Only the ones who figure this out will enjoy the presence of God for eternity.