Christ describes Himself in Rev. 2:1b as “He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.” This description originates in Rev. 1:13, 15. Christ is found among His churches and Christ is the Chief Shepherd who uses under-shepherds for His people’s welfare on earth. His description indicates several practical implications for His church today. Firstly, He alone has authority over the church. Secondly, His aid is always available to His churches. Thirdly, His presence strengthens and cheers the churches. Fourthly, Christ is always conscious of the goings on in His churches. As Swete said, “As the enemy (1 Pet. 5:8), so the Lord patrols the ground and is ever in the spot when He is needed.”
Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for three things: their diligence, their testing of claims to apostolic authority, and their perseverance. One encouragement of this portion of Scripture is this: Christ knows the good works of His people. This is certainly an elementary observation, but Christians (especially Calvinists) understand all too well the depravity of man and the fact that the Lord sees our wickedness. We need to learn that the Lord also sees our goodness. Let me qualify: this goodness is not intrinsic, that is, it does not originate within us. Rather, it is the good works that flow out of a right relationship to God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to remember this as God’s people. When we, in His strength and for His glory, actually do those things which are pleasing to Him, He takes notice and even commends it in His people. The church at Ephesus is commended for their “works, [their] labor, and that [they] cannot bear those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2a). This would not be a bad epitaph on a tombstone. Good works, diligence, and intolerance toward evil are good traits for the church to possess and Jesus says as much. We should learn from Jesus and learn to appreciate and even communicate that appreciation to those in Christ’s service who are on the right track. In our righteous aversion to pride, we often tend too far the other way: we do not say anything good about anyone lest they become puffed up with pride and abandon the faith. Obviously Jesus did not think that His commendation would be the means of promoting apostasy within the churches of Asia Minor.
Christ goes on to commend them because “they have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Rev. 2:2b). It is important to remember something of the origin of the church at Ephesus. It was founded by the Apostle Paul according to Acts 19. In Acts 20, Paul is heading back to Jerusalem and en route, he calls for the Ephesian elders and provides for them instructions to effectively minister in the church. He gives them that memorable charge of Acts 20:28 “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” Having given the command, Paul gives as a reason “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30). Later on, Paul stationed Timothy in Ephesus to wage the good warfare by setting forth the truth and opposing false teachers. The point: there was trouble in the leadership at Ephesus so the biblically qualified elders had to do some serious battle in order to keep the wolves away from the sheep. They did this by testing those who said they were apostles (with the hope of drawing away the disciples after themselves) and in this, they demonstrate three things.
Firstly, they believed the warning given by Paul in Acts 20:29-30. They did not conclude that Paul was overboard or that he was engaging in hyperbole to make a point. They believed that the Apostle was warning them of a coming problem and they acted upon that warning with diligence. Secondly, they listened to and applied what Paul had taught through his fellow servant Timothy. 1 Tim. 3 sets forth the qualifications for eldership and the church in Ephesus applied this in testing the claims to apostleship made by those opponents of Christ and His church. Thirdly, they followed the example of the Apostle Paul. In 1 Tim. 6:3ff, Paul sets forth how he dealt with those false claimants to authority in the church. The church in Ephesus did likewise and Christ commended them for it.
Finally, Jesus commends the church in Ephesus because they had “persevered and [had] patience, and [had] labored for My name’s sake and [had] not become weary” (Rev. 2:3). It is a tenet of Calvinism that the elect will persevere. We know of course that they do so, because God preserves His people. However, we should never lose sight of the fact that perseverance in a Christian or in a church is a commendable thing. Christ takes notice of this fact and speaks well of the church because of it. Perseverance without weariness is a very attractive quality in a church. There are a multitude of temptations that often sidetrack churches. There is the temptation for success, or for popularity, or for numbers, and sometimes these particular temptations require compromising the Scriptures in order to obtain them. Let us learn from Jesus’ words that unwearying perseverance is a necessary trait for those churches that would be spoken well of by Christ.Jim Butler, Pastor Free Grace Baptist Church of Chilliwack