The church at Ephesus was most likely founded by Aquila and Priscilla who had come with the Apostle Paul from Corinth to Ephesus. (Acts 18:18-28) We can learn much about the spiritual state of the church in Ephesus from Paul’s letter to them.
The city of Ephesus was an important seaport in Asia and a major religious center for the pagan gods. They had even built a temple for the worship of the “mother goddess” of their pagan religion. Ephesus was home to superstitious practices of all kind and was famous for the magical arts. (Acts 19:19)
It was amid this pagan city that a great local church had been established. They had been taught by the Apostle Paul for two years and had grown spiritually during that period of time. (Acts 19:10) However, eventually they allowed themselves to slip into a state of reversionism, which Paul addressed in Ephesians 4.
The term reversionism is used to describe the condition of a believer who is negative toward Bible doctrine and as a result has stopped growing spiritually. It is failure to follow God’s plan of executing the Christian Way of Life. The reversionist is a believer in perpetual carnality (out of fellowship with God and controlled by his sin nature). Remember, if you are not advancing toward spiritual maturity as a Christian, you are retreating into reversionism.
The reversionist is said to be an enemy of God, an enemy of the Cross, a child of the devil, double-minded and unstable in all his ways. He does not abide in the teaching of Christ, he deludes himself, he lacks faith, he faints in his mind, he is a prisoner to sin, he has come short of the grace of God, his soul is tortured and he is subject to divine discipline. (James 4:4; Philippians 3:18-19; I John 3:10; James 1:8, 4:8; II John 9; James 1:22-24; Romans 7:23; Hebrews 12:3-15; II Peter 2:7-8; Revelation 2)
In Ephesians 4 we find not only the decline into reversionism, we also find the recovery process. In the first half of the chapter we see what a church should look like that is executing the Christian Way of Life and growing spiritually. It is the “worthy walk” of the believer that was described by Paul in verses 1-16. Then Paul began to describe the slide into reversionism in verses 17-19. In verse 20-32 Paul gives these Ephesian believers the proper recovery process.
In Revelation 2:2 Jesus Christ commends their efforts on His behalf. He told them that He knew their works, their labor and their patience. The Greek word for know is “oida” and refers to inherent knowledge. Since Jesus is God, He is omniscient (knows all things). The Greek word for works is “egon” and means to toil. The Greek word for labor is “kopos” and means a wearisome toil or work. And the Greek word for patience is “hupomone” meaning endurance. So we have a clear picture of these believers to whom John is writing. These were believers who were endeavoring to live their Christian lives amid hardship and persecution and were being successful.
These spiritually maturing believers could not tolerate false teachers and had great discernment as a result of Bible doctrine in their souls as taught by Paul and others. The apostate false teachers are those who reject or distort the truth of the Word of God for selfish motives. These teachers are called false, which is the Greek word “pseduo.” They represent themselves as true in order to gain entrance into a ministry. Peter says they come in covertly, like a spy would infiltrate an organization. We know these false teachers are unbelievers from certain words in the context of II Peter 2, such as destruction. Destruction is the Greek word “apoleia” and it means eternal destruction or eternal separation from God. Some of these unbelieving teachers deny the deity of Christ and deny the saving power of the Gospel.
These false teachers have deliberate motives, which include monetary greed, sensual pleasures, luxurious lifestyles, power, and fame. They actually train themselves in the art of greed and lust. The Bible says that they use fabricated words of flattery with promises of prosperity in order to extort money and material possessions. They are members of the “mutual admiration society,” pretending to admire certain people in order to gain acceptance. They literally make merchandise, the Greek word “emporeuomai”, of the unsuspecting, unstable, spiritually weak believer. (II Peter 2:3,14,15,18; Jude 11,16,18)
The first test of apostasy is the clarity of the Gospel message. Those who distort the Gospel can be, even without knowing it, apostate, heretical and antichrist. In Galatians chapter one Paul tells us what the fate should be of those who preach a different gospel. He says that they should be accursed, which means to be destroyed. Paul is not necessarily saying that these people should go to hell. He was using a metaphor meaning they should be stopped from preaching a false message. The message, of course, is already accursed. The Bible tells us to “test the spirits of men.” The best test is what do they say about salvation and eternal life. (Galatians 1:6-9)
Revelation 2:3 is a further reference to this local church’s stand against apostasy and false doctrine. The Greek word for borne is “bastazo” meaning to bear up under pressure. We get our English word fortress or fortification from the root of this word. The pressure from these false apostles must have been intense for these believers, but they stood strong for sound Bible doctrine. They endured the pressure to succumb to false teaching and continued to labor for the cause of Christ. They did not faint. The Greek word for faint is “kopiao” meaning to faint from weariness. These believers were able to endure these attacks from false apostles and teachers because of the accurate Bible doctrine they had stored in their souls. (Galatians 6:9; Ephesians 4:13-16)
As sound doctrinally and as hard working as these Ephesian believers were, they had strayed away from their “first love.” It is possible to get so wrapped up in side issues, such as apologetics (defending the truth of the Word of God), Biblical prophecy or Biblical history that a believer can actually forget the most important reason they are doing these things – their love for the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with any of these activities unless they distract from the real issue, which is the development of your relationship with God through the consistent study and application of Bible doctrine. Activity is not a substitute for spirituality. (II Timothy 2:15-16; II Peter 3:18; Hebrews 5:11-14)
Jesus, through the Apostle John, gave these believers a command to return to their first love. Jesus commanded them to repent, which is the Greek word “metanoeo” meaning to change your mind or change your thinking. In this case they were to change their thinking and do the works they did when they first believed in Jesus Christ. What were these works? These works are described by Paul in Ephesians as the “worthy walk” of the believer.
Paul told these Ephesian believers to walk in love, to walk worthy of their calling (align their position in Christ with their daily experience) and to walk not as other Gentiles walk. The Greek word for “walk” is “stoicheo,” which means to walk in a straight line or in a row. In other words, allow God the Holy Spirit to control “your steps.” God is not an ogre waiting for us to fail so He can “zap” us. God loves us and wants only the best for us. Therefore, we should learn to love ourselves, which entails self-worth and self-respect. God in His grace is always there for us, even in times of our failure. Since God has compassion on us, we should have compassion on ourselves. Evaluate yourself, make the necessary corrections and move forward, one step at a time. But don’t spend time beating yourself up or condemning yourself because of some past failure. (I John 1:6-10)
Revelation 2:6, speaks of a certain sect, the Nicolaitans, which no one seems to know anything about. There has been much conjecture about who they were or what they represented. Here are the two most prominent theories, neither of which has a Biblical basis:
Whatever their error, God, as did the Ephesians, hated their deeds and their doctrine. They would certainly have to be included with the false apostles and teachers referred to by John.
The final word to this church is in Revelation 2:7 and is a word of encouragement and promise for the believer who is an “overcomer.” “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4-5
Overcometh is the Greek word “nikao” and means to prevail. How has the believer overcome? He has overcome by his faith in Christ. The person who has come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God is the one trusting Christ as Savior. (I John 5:4-5; Revelation 12:11)
Jesus Christ won the strategic victory (planning and directing of operations to counter the enemy) over Satan and his world system. At salvation, the believer shares in this strategic victory. Christ dealt Satan a fatal blow that will be reality at the end of human history when Satan and his fallen angels are cast into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. (Hebrews 6:17-20; Colossians 2:9-15; Revelation 20:10)
It is because of Christ’s strategic victory over Satan that the believer has the potential to win the tactical victory (the method or procedure carried out against the enemy) over Satan and his world system. The filling of the Holy Spirit supplies the power to accomplish this. The Christian Way of Life is a supernatural way of life and it requires a supernatural power to live it and to overcome the tactics of Satan, his demons (fallen angels) and his world system. (John 16:33; I Corinthians 15:51-57; I John 5:1-21)