These were real living church ministries with real issues and Jesus responded to an actual condition particular to that congregation; sometimes commendatory, sometimes critical; but adapted perfectly to the particular situation He discovered in each.
But they were not random selections. Jesus specifically addressed these seven churches because each had a condition representative of the church as a whole in all ages and continue to exist in all churches today. Their problems are our problems. The Lord therefore still speaks with a message as relevant for our churches and for each of us today as it was to those in the first century.
Jesus concludes each letter with a warning to the individual: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” May we hear and heed what Christ, through the Spirit, says to us personally concerning these matters.
Jesus applauds the works of the Ephesians. They labored hard to serve the church, persevered in their duties with patience, didn’t tolerate evil members, rejected false teachers and doctrines, and they did it gladly for His name’s sake without growing weary. “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
Our Lord’s issue with Ephesus was clearly not the quantity or the quality of their works, for He emphasizes both a zeal and steadfastness. Instead, Jesus was identifying a departure from their earlier “first love”. Though this is not explained, because love for God and love for one another are the two greatest commandments, allow me to speculate what might have been happening.
Rather than a passionate desire to worship God as it was in the beginning, church attendance became an obligation or force of habit; and fellowship, once a fervent love for one another, became argumentative and divisive. In other words, that early love where we denied self, gladly abandoned all that displeases God, and joyfully embraced fellowship one with another had waned in Ephesus and the members were simply “going through the motions without emotion.”
In response, Jesus calls the Ephesians to remember, repent, and return to the place from where they had fallen otherwise He would remove their “lampstand” from its place and essentially put it “on the shelf”. That is, He would disqualify their service as a light-bearer to uphold and illuminate Him to the world and would no longer effectively use them for opportunities to shine the light of the gospel unto others.
As Christians, we are the light of the world; vessels empowered by the Holy Spirit to enlighten hearts with the true love and glory of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. When our hearts no longer abound in love, however, we quench the work of the Spirit and thereby render our witness and testimony inadequate to serve as a lamp to uphold Jesus, who is the light. May our worship, works and fellowship always flow from a pure heart genuinely in love with Jesus that we may present ourselves as a vessel sanctified and useful for God to proclaim His great love to those dwelling in darkness.
The church at Smyrna is the Lord’s choice to illustrate the suffering church and its needs. As such, their message is one of comfort and the first of only two churches in these letters Jesus has only praise for.
Smyrna was under severe persecution from a malignant group of Jews that Jesus calls blasphemous members of the “synagogue of “Satan”-vile men falsely claiming to be Jews spiritually who were being used as instruments of the devil to vehemently oppose Christ and His Church.
Christians suffer persecution because the world hates God. Some are light afflictions like ridicule, false accusations, scorn, or perhaps the loss of friendships, while others are heavier afflictions of imprisonment and death such as our dear brothers and sisters in other parts of the world are enduring. God alone knows why the disparity. But the Sufferer surrounds all His suffering ones and none of us ever passes through any trial of unjust persecution or worldly contempt that He has not known, overcome, and has promised to see us through.
In response, Jesus calls for the members to not be afraid but to remain faithful throughout the affliction and torment and death. That by their patient endurance they would pass through the trials as He did and thereafter be rewarded with a crown of life and an everlasting joy in the world to come; never again to be hurt by the first death, or empowered by the second death.
As Christians, we will suffer in this life when we desire to live godly for Jesus because it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake. This seems strange because suffering is difficult. But our afflictions for Christ are gifts from God working for us a far more exceeding and internal weight of glory: the promise of joy unspeakable when His glory is revealed. Still, we never suffer alone. Our risen Lord stands with us and His Spirit covers us with sufficient grace. May we follow Jesus through suffering with patience, knowing God has appointed it for our blessing in anticipation of the eternal hope of glory He has laid up for us in heaven.