I know your deeds and you toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.
But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
– Revelation 2:2-4
Ephesus was a thriving harbor city in first century Asia.
It served as a center both for trade and for the pagan worship of the Greek goddess Artemis, the equivalent of the Roman goddess Diana. The splendid Temple of Artemis was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The early Christians there endured much opposition to the gospel. Acts 19:21-41 relates the account of a silversmith named Demetrius, who made a good living crafting silver shrines of Artemis until the gospel pulled people away from pagan worship and hurt his business. He was nearly successful in creating a riot that threatened Christians and the work of God in the city.
The Ephesian church had this and other challenges to its existence. Besides the attacks from the outside, the church suffered from false teachers propagating their own brand of theology. The Epistle to the Ephesians addresses their struggles, correcting their doctrine and offering encouragement to this beleaguered Body of Christ.
Paul personally warned the Ephesian church:
After my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
– Acts 20:29-30
Some thirty years later, in His revelation of the last days to John, Jesus acknowledged the Ephesians’ tenacious fight for the faith but chastised them for leaving behind their first love. He told them:
Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.
– Revelation 2:5
Today the area of Turkey where the Ephesus once stood is nearly devoid of Christian influence. A city that once fought for the faith and shone for Christ now sits in darkness.
This is a sobering reminder for us. Christ’s words were directed to Ephesus, but they were meant for us, as well. We must remember our faith is not about what we are fighting against, but what we are living for. Our love for Jesus ignites the oil of the Spirit in our lives. Our passion for the Savior alone is the flame that drives away the night and illuminates our world.
It’s good to contend for the faith. It’s wise to test those who want to exert authority over us. It pleases God when we endure through hardship and persecution for Him.
But it’s not His goal.
He wants us to be in love with Him. If we do that, the rest will follow. And our faith will set the world aflame.