‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
The seven letters to churches kick off with the one for Ephesus. That is no surprise as Ephesus was the dominant city and its stunning remains are a highlight of any tour of Western Turkey. There is however no church there today, which adds poignancy to St John’s concern to avoid complacency.
The church featured much to praise. It was sound on doctrine, good at choosing leaders wisely, persistent and positive. No doubt their annual accounts were submitted on time. But they had lost their love.
This probably means they were no longer seeing the practical work that needs to happen in the community to show they mean what they preach. If the church did not look after the poor nobody else was likely to. But it may mean that in church life they were going through the motions without the real enthusiasm that once made them skip along with their risen Lord.
Either way the church was in danger of losing its heart. Perhaps we recall wistfully a time when waking up on Sunday morning was a delight because we would soon be in church enjoying a balance of embrace and challenge, sensing a forward momentum in the Kingdom’s cause. Then an inspirational leader left; someone became too powerful; we were hit by a pandemic; or a safeguarding issue. It just didn’t feel the same. If we like the vivid imagery of Revelation: the Devil had lobbed in a grenade.
St John urges us to be alert for things that must be conquered if the light is not to go out. We need to wait – a few more chapters or a few more years – before the distressing struggles in barren times make much sense. Only grasping God’s new heaven and new earth will prevent the low points of church life being an insoluble puzzle.
Risen Lord Jesus Thank you for those who show us what your Church could be like Give us discernment to see where corruption creeps in Forgive me when corruption creeps in through me Help us to conquer what needs to be conquered So that your light will shine brightly through us Like a light from a golden lampstand. We ask for your love’s sake Amen
John Ellis, Synod Area Leader, West Kent and East Sussex and Secretary, Capel United Church