He Who Is Able To Hear. . . .
Part One - The Letter To The Church in Ephesis
The Revelation to John, the last book in the Bible, is filled with many wondrous images. It's very easy to get swept away in the action and grandeur as the last of God's great story unfolds before our eyes. It is also very easy to gloss over what appear to be seven letters to seven churches that have long since faded into history. But these seven letters, while indeed addressed to churches that existed in John's day, serve at least two other purposes as well.
One function the letters seem to serve is an outline of the history of the church age and the stages it has passed through from inception to the present. While a fascinating study in itself, it is a third aspect of these letters I would like to focus on - their application to our lives. The author of these letters is the Lord Yeshua himself, and I'm sure we would all do well to heed His voice.
The first letter is addressed to the church in Ephesis. In reading the letter we find that the Lord knows of their works and their intolerance of false apostles. He knows that they are patiently enduring for the Lord's sake. But in the midst of their good works and diligence in spotting liars, they have left their first love. Yeshua then admonishes them to remember the height from which they have fallen, repent, and to do the work they did when they first knew the Lord. If they fail to do so the Lord says He will remove their witness, which is represented by the lampstand. One more praise is given to this church - that they hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which the Lord hates also.
Yeshua then declares that he who is able to hear (comprehend or understand) should heed what the Holy Spirit says to the churches and that to him who overcomes, He will grant to eat of the fruit of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.
I wonder how the people in Ephesis felt when they received this letter? Excited perhaps? And how that excitement would change as the Lord's words were read. Everything starts out great. I can almost see those chests puffing up a bit as the list of good works is read. Then comes the charge against them and the pride turns to disbelief and indignation. But quick accolades smooth things over so the Ephesians can take a good, hard look at the truths set before them.
Now, enough about the Ephesians. What about us? Is there anyone who could honestly read this letter and claim to be immune from its charge? It would be easy, and quite satisfying, to accept praises for the things we do right. After all, someone has to teach that Sunday school class. And where would the choir be without your lovely voice? Do you think potluck suppers just happen by themselves? Of course not!
Now, don't get me wrong. These are all wonderful ways to help in the body of Messiah and the works in themselves are not bad. What we must look at is our motivation. Are we serving because we love Yeshua and want to share His love? Or is it to fill a need that we have? Are we so busy that we have no time to sit at the Master's feet and bask in His love for us? Have these things become duty to us? Have they become our religion? Tough questions, and questions only you can answer.
What each one of us needs to do is remember what it was like when we first gave our lives to the Lord. Do you still feel the excitement of having a personal relationship with the one who flung the stars into space? Is there still the awe that comes from knowing that the God of the universe knows you by name and has numbered every hair on your head? Ask the Lord to help you come back to Him, to your first love. Ask Him to help you put Him first in all things. You'll be glad you did. And so will He.
If returning to Himself was all Yeshua was concerned about, He could have ended the body of the letter right there, but He goes on to add a sentence about the Nicolaitans. He states that the church at Ephesis hates the works of the Nicolaitans, which the Lord hates also. Who are these Nicolaitans? There has been much speculation, partly because no one can find any evidence of a church or group by that name. But when the meaning of the name is looked at we seem to get a clearer picture of what the Lord may be talking about. It looks as though Yeshua is speaking of a group of people who have raised themselves up over the common person or laity.
If we look at the founding of the early church, in the book of Acts and in the epistles, there was never any mention of leaders of the church being held up or venerated above any other believer in the body of Messiah. But as we can see from history, that is exactly what happened. Priests became elevated and somehow these men were deemed holier than the common worshipper. This is something that the Lord never intended. All we need is to observe His behavior at what we call the Last Supper. Was Yeshua being served? Was He allowing His disciples to fawn over him and demanding their respect and worship? No. He was being the perfect role model for a shepherd - He was their servant, washing their mud-caked feet. I strongly suspect that this is what the Lord is referring to in His remark about the Nicolaitans. And this is something that each one of us needs to think about. No believer in the body of Messiah is any greater than another. Each one of us has been called to be a servant, each in his or her own way. Not one of us should lord our position of service over anyone. We must serve in humility, just as Yeshua did when He walked the shores of Galilee. Nor should we venerate anyone above ourselves, save the Messiah.
This first letter ends with a promise to those who overcome. They will be granted to eat of the fruit of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God. Genesis 2:9, and 3:24, tell us that the tree of life was in the center of the garden of God and that He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep and guard the way to the tree of life after Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden for disobedience.
So, how do we apply this letter to our lives so that we may be more pleasing to God? First we must return to our first love, Yeshua, with the passion and zeal we had when we first gave our lives to Him. In light of that relationship we must examine our motives in our works and service to God. And we need to remain in an attitude of humility and servanthood, never elevating ourselves, nor allowing others to elevate us, in the body of Messiah. This may all sound like a tall order, but if we remain in a strong, intimate relationship with Yeshua, spending time with Him every day, it really does become quite simple. And it's well worth the effort. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon in paradise than relaxing beneath the tree of life enjoying its fruit with the One who died for me. I hope to see you there!