Rev 2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
Rev 2:2 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:
Rev 2:3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Rev 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Rev 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Rev 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Rev 2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Ephesus is the type of a strenuous Church. There is something singularly masculine in the first part of the description. “I know thy works”—that is, thine achievements; not thy desires and purposes and aspirations, not even thy doings, but thy deeds. This Church in its severe self-discipline affords a welcome contrast to the easily-excited populace amid whom they lived, rushing confusedly into the theatre and shouting for two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” The patience of the Church is twice mentioned; the second time it is patience not as a feature of the workman, but the patience of him who can suffer, and suffer in silence. And this virtue has a threefold delineation—patience, endurance, fortitude. “Thou hast patience, and thou didst bear for My name’s sake, and thou hast not grown weary.” There is another mark of the masculine character in Ephesus, a noble intolerance of evil—“thou canst not bear bad men.” And with this intolerance is the power to discriminate character, the clear judgment which cannot be deceived—“thou didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false.” There is no surer mark of a masculine nature than this keen insight into pretentiousness, and fidelity of rebuke. There is so much good in this church that we are surprised to discover that they had left (not lost) their first love. The honeymoon was over (Jer 2:2). No amount of separation, sacrifice, or service can make up for your lack of love for the Lord.
It is love in its largest sense which the Church once had and now has lost; the love of God animating piety undoubtedly, but no less certainly the love of men making service sweet. Nor is it the feeling alone which has changed, it is not that love as a sentiment is lost; but love in its far reach has gone, kindliness and tender consideration and disregard of self, the grace that suffers long and is kind, that beareth all things, hopeth all things, believeth all things. The toilsomeness, the endurance, the stern self-judgment, the keen discrimination of character, are obvious; but the spirit that rises above toil or sweetens toil, the grace to woo and wed, has fled. We can understand the history only too well. Life has many sore trials, none sorer than this—that virtues which are unexercised die out, and that the circumstances which call for some virtues and give occasion for their development seem to doom others to extinction. The Christian character cannot live by severity alone. There were two demands which the Church at Ephesus had forgotten—the demand for completeness of Christian character, never more urgent than when the times are making us one-sided; the demand of God Himself for the heart. There must be impulse in His people if they are to continue His people; there must be love in all who, not contented with doing “their works,” desire to do the work of God.
The warning of the fifth verse must have been very surprising to the angel of the Ephesian Church. The Church seemed to be so efficient. Its works had been so hard, and yet they had been done. Its achieve-merits were patent. Especially its service in the cause of truth was conspicuous; the Church had not lost its zeal, its candour, its piercing vision. Ephesus warns us against the perils of the Puritan temper; it warns us also against the stoical temper, with its tendency to a not ignoble cynicism, of which some of our gravest leaders in literature have been the exponents. Puritanism plus love ham accomplished great things, and will do yet more; for a masculine tenderness is God’s noblest gift to men. But Puritanism, when the first love is lost, drags on a sorrowful existence, uninfluential and unhappy; its only hope being the capacity for repentance, which, God be praised, has never failed it. Perhaps the most solemn part of the message is that in which the Lord Himself declares—“I am coming; I will shake thy candlestick out of its place.” The Lord can do without our achievements, but not without love. He can supply gifts unendingly, can make the feeble as David; but if love be wanting He will shake the noblest into destruction, and remove them out of the way. There is one striking word immediately following this warning, a word of commendation; it is the only one of the messages in which a word of commendation does come in after the warning has been uttered, and it is a commendation of feeling. “But this thou hast, that thou hatest,” etc. Hatred is hardly the feeling we should have expected to be commended: but it is feeling, and any feeling is better than apathy or stolidity. Where men can feel hatred, other feeling may come; love may come where men have not reduced themselves to machines like an “Ebenezer Scrooge”.
The word “Nicolaitans” means “conquer the people.” Apparently, a group in the church lorded it over the people and promoted a separation of “clergy” and “laity” (see Matt 21:20-27; 22:1-12) The priest hood was set up by God, but its purpose is not to “lord it over” the people but to serve and produce high quality disciples of the Christ. Some of the priests and pastors started out good but lost their way somewhere along the pathway. Ephesus had too little of what so many have too much of—sensibility, passiveness, willingness to receive, to be made something of, to be quiet and let the Blessed One save them who had long been striving, and of late so ineffectually, to serve Him. Good as strenuousness is—and of human virtues it is among the chief—even better is the responsive spirit. Why was the one we call St Paul given a vision when none of the other priests, as far as we know, in his day given one? Much of the reason likely had to do with his sincerity and earnestness to do the will of God coupled with a responsive spirit that none but God was able to see during the time when he was a persecutor of those called Christians.
— A preview from my forthcoming book on the Revelation of Jesus the Christ. – pastorwardclinton.com