The Lord Jesus Christ speaks to this church in the midst of crass materialism, degraded animalism, base paganism, and dark heathenism. Note this carefully, because I consider this message to be one of the most important of all.
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesues write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. (Revelation 2:1)
Notice that He holds in His hand the church. It is under His control. He doesn't have that control now, but He did then. "He walketh" literally means that He is walking up and down. I believe that He is still walking up and down in our day and that He is still judging the church. He has seven words of commendation for this church:
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. (Revelation 2:2,3)
1. "I know thy works." We need to understand that He is speaking to believers. The Lord Jesus does not ask the lost world for good works. For example, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5). In Romans 4:5 Paul says, "But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." Christ is talking to His own. After you are saved, He wants to talk to you about good works. He has a lot to say about this subject. In Ephesians 2:8-10 we read, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Paul could write to Titus, "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (Titus 1:16). Someone has said, "The Christian ought to be like a good watch-all gold, open-faced, well-regulated, dependable, and filled with good works." The Lord Jesus is saying to the church in Ephesus, as Paul had said, "…be filled with the [Holy] Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). And Paul went on to tell them what they could do as Spirit-filled believers. And now the Lord Jesus commends them for their good works.
2. "I know…thy labour." What is the difference between work and labor? The word labor carries a meaning of weariness. In the gospel record it says that Jesus became wearied with His journey. That was the weariness which Ephesian believers experienced. They suffered weariness in their labor for Him.
3. "I know…thy patience." Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
4. "How thou canst not bear them which are evil." They would not endure evil men.
5. "Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." They tested everyone who came to Ephesus claiming to be an apostle. They would ask them if they had seen the resurrected Christ, and they soon found out whether or not they were really apostles. If they were not, they asked them to leave town. The Lord Jesus commended them for testing men, and I feel this is more needed today than it was even then.
6. "Hast borne…for my name's sake hast laboured." For His name's sake they were bearing the Cross. They preached Christ. They believed in the virgin birth of Christ; they believed in His deity; they believed in His sacrificial death and resurrection. And they paid a price for their belief.
7. "And hast not fainted." More accurately, it is "hast not grown weary." What does He mean by this? Earlier He said that they had grown weary, and now He says they have not grown weary. Well, this is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian faith. I can illustrate it by what Dwight L. Moody once said when he came home exhausted after a campaign and his family begged him not to go to the next campaign. He said to them, "I grow weary in the work but not of the work." There is a lot of difference. You can get weary in the work of Christ, but it is tragic if you get weary of the work of Christ.
These seven words of commendation, which the Lord Jesus gave to the local church at Ephesus, also apply to the period of church history between Pentecost and A.D. 100, which the Ephesian church represents. Now He has one word of condemnation:
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. (Revelation 2:4)
They had lost that intense and enthusiastic devotion to the person of Christ. It is difficult for us to sense the state to which the Holy Spirit had brought this church. He had brought the believers in Ephesus into an intimate and personal relationship to Jesus Christ. He had brought them to the place where they could say to the Lord, "We love you." This may seem like a very unimportant thing to us today, but their love for the Lord was very important to Christ. He was saying to the Ephesians, "You are leaving your best love." They hadn't quite departed from that love, but they were on the way. It is difficult for us in this cold, skeptical, cynical, and indifferent day in which we live to understand this. The world has intruded into the church to such an extent that it is hard for us to conceive of the intense, enthusiastic devotion the early church gave to the person of Christ. The early church first went off the track not in their doctrine but in their personal relationship to Jesus Christ.
Ephesus was a great city, and it had many attractions that were beginning to draw believers away from their first love for Jesus Christ. This was the church that became so potent in its evangelism in that area of about twenty-five million people that even the Roman emperors and the nobility of that day had an opportunity to hear the gospel. In that area there was such a mighty moving of the Spirit of God that it has probably never been duplicated since.
My friend, a personal relationship is all-important. We are so involved in methods — I am rather amused at some of the Band-Aid courses which are being offered-and they are making Band-Aid believers. Generally, the course is some little legal system that gives you certain rules to follow and certain psychological patterns to observe which will enable you to solve all your problems. They try to teach you how to get along with yourself (that's a pretty big order!), with your neighbors, and especially with your wife. All of those relationships are very important, and a great many people think that if they can follow a few rules, they will have the key to a successful Christian life. My friend, let me put it in a nutshell by asking one question: Do you love Jesus Christ? I don't care what your system is, what your denomination is, what your program is, what little set of rules you follow, they will all come to naught if you don't love Him. Although some systems are better than others, almost any system will work if you love Christ. An intimate relationship with Christ will make all of your relationships and all of your Christian service a joy.
—From Dr. J. Vernon McGee's Edited Messages on Revelation ©1994