Sunday, June 9, 2019

Strong Church/Ephesus

Strong Church/Weak Church 10

The ruins of Ephesus
          Last time we saw the genesis of the Ephesian church. Today we are going to examine its strengths, primarily from John’s message to their church in Revelation 2.
          The first strength I see here is that they were a church that was hard at work serving the Lord.

Revelation 2:1–2
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;
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:

          “Works” and “labour” here are not the exact same thing. Works is the idea that God knows exactly what you are doing and not doing. It is a statement of accountability, and is found in reference to all seven of the churches discussed in Revelation. God was paying attention and knew what they were doing and not doing. I know… thy labour, on the other hand, means God viewed them as a church that was hard at work serving Him.
          We neither obtain salvation nor keep salvation by our good works, but we are repeatedly commanded in the New Testament to do good works. A good church is a church that is zealous unto good works. In the original language, labor here means working to the point of utter weariness. In the following verse John commends them by saying they had not fainted (Revelation 2.3). Falling over from exhaustion is not a temptation that comes to the lazy man, ergo they were spending themselves in their service for Him.
          Additionally, they were not only hard at work for the Master but they did that work with the right motivation. And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted (Revelation 2.3). They did not pour themselves into this labor out of a desire to please their pastor, or because they were afraid of God, or because their pride spurred them on in an effort to build a reputation. They did it solely for the Lord. And that is a beautiful, beautiful thing.
          The second strength I see here is that they were a patient church.

Revelation 2:2–3
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:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

          In the original language patience implies a persevering endurance. Proper work, good work, high quality work simply must include patience. It requires a careful, methodical craftsmanship. This is true if you are building a dresser or if you are building a new convert into a Sunday School teacher.
Take witnessing, for example. Jesus told us, but that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8.15). Soul-winning is not a church growth method. It’s obediently sowing the seed of the Word of God in the hearts of receptive and unreceptive alike. It takes the Holy Spirit to bring that seed to life, regenerating a lost man, and I cannot rush the work of the Spirit. I can pray for it, plan for it, and prepare for it, but I cannot rush it. Often, it just takes time to bear fruit. Many a pastor and many a church has gotten discouraged because some activity they are doing does not seem to be bearing fruit. But when you connect that work with patience you get “labour”, working patiently to the point of utter exhaustion without giving up.
I want to go to Heaven exhausted. I want to be used up in my service for Him.
The third strength I see in the Ephesian church is the fact that they were fiercely independent.
I am an independent Baptist not by birth but by conviction. I pastor an independent Baptist church. In practical terms, that means our church does not belong to any larger denomination or organization. We do not have any external support, nor do we have any external controls either.
The biblical support for this position is two-fold. First, it is based on the fact the church is local, not universal. Second, it is founded on the idea that the only head of the church, any church, my church or your church, is just Jesus Christ. This theological truth is twice found, not surprisingly, in the epistle addressed to the Ephesian church.

Ephesians 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

          Plainly, they took this admonition seriously. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2.6). Who or what were the Nicolaitans? In answer, I would point to the definition of the underlying words themselves. “Nico” means to conquer, to get victory. “Laos” means the people i.e. the laity, the layman. From those two root words we get the understanding that says Nicolaitanism was to rule or to conquer the people. It involved ruling over or lording it over God’s church.
          This is warned against elsewhere in Scripture. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (I Peter 5.3). The pastor as bishop does have some genuine authority in the church but it does not rise to the level of dictatorship. He must ever be primarily an influence via his preaching and his example.
          John, the writer of Revelation, had previous experience with this type of thing.

3 John 9–11
9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
11 Beloved, follow not that which is evil, but that which is good. He that doeth good is of God: but he that doeth evil hath not seen God.

          In that case, Diotrephes inserted himself into the chain of command between the church and Christ. He claimed the preeminence and the power. But who is to have the preeminence in each church? Who alone is to exercise the power of lordship? Jesus Christ. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence (Colossians 1.18). No man or group of men is to lord it over God’s church. No man is have the preeminent authority to determine, individually by himself, what the church should and should not do. Rather, these matters are led by the pastor and agreed to by the church corporately.
          We see this latter example of ministry leadership and congregational ratification in the choosing of the first deacons. It was a joint decision. The leadership cast the vision, and the people entered into it willingly and actively with real influence.

Acts 6:1–6 (KJV 1900)
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

          With this as the stated instruction and exemplified illustration in the church how then did the Nicolaitans justify their power grab? Via the guise of apostleship. See, the Apostles were the earthly foundation of the church. They guided its affairs, often directly, until the canon of Scripture was finalized. Paul appointed Timothy as a pastor in both Ephesus and Crete without any indication of congregational agreement. When dealing with the severely disordered church at Corinth he threatened he would show up and set things in order when he got there. Of course, this apostolic authority, like the apostolic sign gifts, was a temporary scaffold designed to enable the church to grow to maturity in safety. Later, when the New Testament was completed, the authority would belong exclusively to the Word of God. (Remember the first B in the Baptist acrostic? The Bible is our sole authority.)
          Thus it is that if you want to exercise human authority over a local congregation of called out believers you say that you are an apostle. Ergo, they must listen to your edicts.
          The classic ancient/modern example of this is still found in the Roman Catholic concept of church structure and government. It is universal (catholic) vs local. It is top-down authoritarian vs congregational. The popes specifically claim the mantle of Peter’s apostolic authority. The system thus produced is a parish that cannot choose its own priests, does not own its own property, never sees a financial report let alone votes on financial matters. Indeed, they never corporately decide anything in relation to the will of God for their church. The whole, from top to bottom, is controlled by a hierarchy external to the local parish – bishops, cardinals, and popes
          …but there are no more apostles. In order to qualify as an apostle a man must have walked with Jesus personally, been personally called by Him to the apostolic office, and prove this by his power to do miraculous works (Acts 1, I Corinthians 9, Luke 6, Acts 2, II Corinthians 12). The Apostles had no successors, Catholic or otherwise. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ (II Corinthians 11.13).
          The church at Ephesus grasped this doctrinal truth tenaciously and applied it fearlessly. They dealt harshly with Nicolaitanism, the false doctrine of an external hierarchy ruling over the local church in the name of apostolic authority. How do I know this?

Revelation 2:6
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Revelation 2:2
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:

          Let’s hear three cheers for a hard-working, rightly-motivated, patient, fiercely independent church.
          That’s exactly what I want to build, God being mine helper.

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