by Roger McCay
11 April 2021
Sermon Passage: Revelation 2:1-7
Link to Audio Version
When you are at war, losing sight of the reason you fight can end up in a swamp of futility. Soldiers desperately need meaning for why they sacrifice, to give them reasons to go on, to not let up, to keep the standard, to stay the course, and to fight. Meaning is the fuel for their strength and determination.
Downrange, in Iraq, many of the troops, at least of the ones I was with, were not really sold on the whole reason we were there. Political explanations, patriotic slogans or ideals didn’t really butter their bread. Yet, despite this, they did their duty. They soldiered-up, deployed to a hostile region, and did their mission (no matter how hard). They endured great difficulties, and many were wounded or killed. But they stayed true and accomplished their mission.
So, if not sold on the rhetoric, how did they overcome? Well, while they were professionals, it certainly wasn’t the pay. And while hatred for the enemy’s actions provided a powerful motivator, at times, it couldn’t sustain. A sense of duty was part of it, but duty requires meaning to fuel it. To put it simply, in the end, what sustained most was love. Love provided meaning, a reason to go on—love for family or friends and neighbors back home, of course. And, as the war dragged on, it really came down to love for their brothers and sisters with whom they toiled. Fueled by love, they would patiently endure and do whatever it took to get their buddy home.
Christians are soldiers in a holy war (2 Tim. 2:3-4; Eph. 6:10-13). The Lord calls us to patiently endure, faithful to his Word and Name. He calls us to conquer, to overcome difficulties, trials, and whatever the enemy throws at us. And he tells us that patient endurance is futile without love.
In many ways this is the point of the passage today. The Ephesian church is acknowledged for their work, having a zeal for doctrine and the Lord’s name. They were zealous for the truth, but, as that truth was not infused with their first love, Jesus was coming to take them down—to end their church as a church. If they didn’t remember their first love, and repent, taking up the works of love infused truth, all their work would end up as nothing.
So, the Lord dictated the letter to John, addressed to the angel of the church in Ephesus, which starts in Rev. 2:1. The “angel” addressed, in each letter to the churches, was the messenger of the Lord’s Word for each church, the pastor, the preacher, himself an elder. And while the letter was addressed to the pastor, it was in a “for the attention of” sense, as the letter was also for the other presbyters, the other elders who were jointly responsible as the church’s shepherds. Through them, the letter was ultimately for the church, to be read aloud to them. Thus the church was to heed the Lord’s message, and the elders were to shepherd the church towards faithful obedience. The chain of applicability doesn’t end there, either. The Lord promises to bless all who read and heed the messages to the seven churches (Rev. 1:3, 2:7, etc.).
In a pattern of reiterating aspects of the Lord’s description (given in ch. 1), the letter to Ephesus is from “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.” This highlights the Lord’s sovereign rule, control, protection, and care for his church. He’s got the leadership in hand, and he is among his churches. He is not a distant Lord. He knows them. He tends to them. The Lord is with his people.
In the case of the church in Ephesus, we know quite a bit about them from Acts and the epistles to the Ephesians and Timothy. The church was made up of both ethnic Jews and Gentiles, worshipping together in house churches (perhaps even gathering together in larger spaces such as the Hall of Tyrannus), and the elders presided over them. Revelation was written just a few years after the events recorded towards the end of Acts. And you may remember Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. Many of those elders were likely still ministering when they received this letter from John. We also know (with some degree of certainty) the very name of the particular angel addressed in 2:1—Timothy. Along these lines, Eusebius, the fourth-century church historian, claimed Timothy was “the first to receive the episcopate of the parish in Ephesus.” In a way, too, this abbreviated epistle, in Rev. 2:1-7, makes for an interesting comparison to Paul’s address in Acts 20 and the epistles to Timothy. According to church tradition, John also had spent quite a bit of time in Ephesus, and he returned there to continue his apostolic ministry after his exile.