A Responsive Church in a Changing Culture: Ephesus

A Responsive Church in a Changing Culture  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
0 ratings

The Lord of glory has a message for the church today: "Do not abandon your "first love" for the sake of doctrinal integrity.

Text: Rev. 2:1-7
Theme: The Lord of glory has a message for the church today: "Do not abandon your "first love" for the sake of doctrinal integrity.
Date: 06/04/2023 Responsive_Church_01-Ephesus.wpd ID: NT29-02
Not long ago in American culture, Church was a staple that almost everyone did. Not long ago Churches were at the center of community life. That’s rarely true these days.
In 21st century America, many people wonder what the point of the Church is today. Is the Church still relevant? Sadly, even many professing Christians say, “NO” it’s not relevant.
• In 2023, 37% of Americans claim to be Protestant Christian of some kind. In 1956 it was 71%.
• A generation ago, only two percent of Americans considered themselves to be nonreligious. Today, 22% of Americans have no religious affiliation.
• In 1992, 70 percent of Americans claimed to be regular attendees of a house of worship. Less than 25 years later, that number has dropped to 55 percent.
• According to a 2022 survey, 31% of Americans never attend church or synagogue, compared to only 20% of Americans who attend every week.
• About one-third of Americans believe that the churches in their town have “0" impact upon their community.
This morning we begin a sermon series, A Responsive Church in a Changing Culture. The question we must answer is, ”What makes a church germane to its members and its community?” For the church at Ephesus, relevancy meant two things — doctrinal integrity and diligent ministry.
When the Apostle John penned this revelation of Christ to the church at Ephesus, the city was a great and thriving metropolis – the forth largest city in the Roman Empire. It was a cosmopolitan city full of culture and artisans and merchants. It had one of the largest libraries in the ancient world. It was called "the light of Asia." Here was the famous temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The city derived much of its wealth from the manufacture and sale of images of this goddess. Along with Diana, fifty other deities were worship by the citizen of Ephesus. In Ephesus paganism was strong, seasoned and respectable.
Into this citadel of spiritual darkness and licentiousness came the heralds of the Cross. Today, if they were Southern Baptist missionaries, we would call them "church planters." Their names were Aquila and Priscilla. A few years later, the Apostle Paul would join them. Their work was extremely successful. In time the church at Ephesus became one of the strongest churches in the area and a center of evangelistic and missionary work by its members.
Over the years many other great New Testament figures would preach and work at Ephesus. Among them was the eloquent and gifted Apollos, the young and timid Timothy, and finally the last surviving member of the original twelve apostles. John would pastor the church for three decades.
What lesson does our Lord’s sermon to the church at Ephesus teach us today?


vv. 1-3; 6 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those whom claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary . . . you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate."
1. the letter to the church at Ephesus comes from Christ, himself
a. He is the one who has a firm grasp upon his church and walks among them
1) throughout the ages most commentators have agreed on two things ... the stars of vs. 1 are the pastors of these congregations, and the lampstands are the churches themselves
ILLUS. You didn’t know you had a “star” for a pastor, did you?
2) Jesus implies an equality among pastors and congregations — they are men Christ has called out, and these are churches that Christ has established by dying for
3) each is equally precious to him ... Christ loves the metropolitan mega-church as much as he does the tiny open-county church — each are precious in his sight
b. the Greek verb used here for "holds" indicates a firm grasp from which the object held cannot be snatched away
1) I like that!
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27–29, ESV)
ILLUS. In 2000 actor Charlton Heston made national new when at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association, he held aloft an old Flintlock Rifle and declared, "I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." As Head of His Church, Jesus tells the enemies of the Gospel, “You can have my Church when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” So says the Savior who is eternal!
2) the sheep (i.e. the Christian) who loves the Good Shepherd can never be lost again
c. the phrase him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands indicates the constant vigilance and watchful presence of Christ over all his churches and the saints who make up their members
1) Jesus neither slumbers nor sleeps
2) what does that mean for us?
2. every Christian and every church must be busy about the task of good works and ministry because Christ is always watching
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)
a. we must no grow weary in well doing


“ “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:2–3, ESV)
1. the Greek verb I know in this verse reflects a full and exact knowledge that comes from an absolute clearness of vision
a. Jesus knows everything about what goes on in His church; including what individual members do and don’t do
1) Jesus says, I know your deeds and your toil
b. Jesus is aware of how hard they were working for the sake of the Lord and the Gospel
ILLUS. The Gospel had come to Ephesus about A.D. 50 as a result of the efforts of Priscilla and Aquila. The Apostle Paul came to the city in A.D. 52, establishing a resident ministry there for the better part of three years. The Book of Acts reports that while he was there “ ... all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:9). The influence of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus resulted in churches being planted throughout the region. After Paul left the city, Timothy remained to combat false teaching (1 Tim 1:3). Church tradition also says that the Apostle John settled in Ephesus and pastored the church for many years until his exile to the Island of Patmos.
When John writes to this congregation, the church has been faithfully ministering in Ephesus forty years. Can you imagine being called to a church where Aquila, Paul, Timothy and John have all served as pastor?! That might be a little intimidating! Can you imagine being the new young pastor at Ephesus and hearing, “But Paul never did it THAT way when he was pastor here!”
2. Jesus looks at the church at Ephesus and sees the difference that their presence in that city has made
a. Jesus knows the changes this church has wrought in the hearts of individuals who have had the gospel preached unto them
1) this was a congregation made up of former Jewish legalists, pagan idol worshipers, sorcerers, slaves and slave masters, and Roman magistrates
b. Jesus knows of the shattered and broken lives that this church has helped put back together
c. Jesus knows of those who lived in despair, but who now live in hope
d. Jesus knows of those who's lives were characterized by hate, but who are now full of love
3. the effectiveness of this church and its evangelization of the city had been so great that their successfulness led to a riot within the city which was led by the silversmiths who fashioned and sold statues of the goddess Diana
a. so many people had come to Christ and melted down their images of the goddess that the craftsmen became alarmed at the great drop off in their business
b. here was a church making a difference in their community
ILLUS. One way to know if believers or the church are relevant to their community is if you make the purveyors of sin and vice and depravity mad or upset. Target, Khol’s, Anheuser Busch, and the Los Angeles’s Dodgers are all learning the hard way what happens when you embrace evil. Good people — many of them Christian people — stop buying your product or patronizing your store and you loose billions of dollars. And if they are not careful, Chick-fil-a could be next.
4. we can make a difference!
a. but making a difference costs
5. this was a church that paid the price to make a difference in their community "I know ... your hard work ... "
a. Jesus knew of the effort, sacrifices and the struggles that had been necessary in order for this church to accomplish the good works it had done
b. the church at Ephesus did not dream its way to great achievements
1) their accomplishments had come at the price of strenuous and sacrificial effort
2) they were able to bless because they were willing to bleed
3) nothing worth while is accomplished in any field except at the price of hard work


“ “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:2–3, ESV)
1. the word perseverance in this passage is a word indicating hopeful endurance even when one is under the strain
2. the church at Ephesus refused to put up with evil men; namely those who would perverted the Gospel and propagated false teaching
a. they tested those who claimed some sort of apostolic authority
b. there are many today who claim to speak for God who need to be tested
3. the Church of Ephesus tested those who claimed some kind of spiritual authority over them
a. the church at Ephesus was evidently blessed with members who had the spiritual gift of "discernment"
b. they had the ability to "weed out" those self-proclaimed spiritual leaders who used the title "apostle" or “pastor” for selfish purposes rather then for the edifying of the church
4. ministry is not only hard work, it is discerning work
a. in spite of it all the tiring work and stress the church did not become weary


1. the good works of the Ephesians also consisted in their firm opposition to false gospels
"Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate." (Revelation 2:6, NASB95)
a. here was a church which zealously guarded doctrinal integrity and theological orthodoxy
ILLUS. One of the sad realities of the modern western church has been its willingness to jettison doctrinal integrity and theological orthodoxy in order to be more appealing to the lost. There is a reasoning by many churches that if they’re going to be relevant to the people of their community the church must abandon biblical standards of behavior for believers — particularly sexual standards. These churches believe that you must minimize doctrine, and emphasize spiritual entertainment.
ILLUS. Kyle Idleman, senior pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the largest churches in America, writes: “What you win them with is what you win them to.”
2. the Christians at Ephesus had been instructed by some of the greatest teachers of the early church
a. they knew what they believed and why
3. they vigorously opposed a group of false teachers known as the "Nicolaitanes"
a. of this group we know very little
b. Iranaeus, a 2nd century pastor and Christian apologist in southern France — was one of the most important Christian writers of his day
1) he identified the Nicolaitans as a Gnostic group who practiced what we call antinomianism (against law)
2) this is a heresy based upon a misrepresentation of God’s mercy
3) it teaches that men can freely participate in sin, and that the deeds of the flesh have no effect upon the health of the soul
c. it’s easy to understand the danger this teaching can have upon the spiritual health of a congregation
ILLUS. Iranaeus wrote of them: They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence.” Their credo is the motto of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence ... Go and sin some more!
d. Christ affirms the church at Ephesus for resisting their influence among them
4. here is a church which seemingly has it all together
“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:2–3, ESV)
a. they are sound in doctrine and active in evangelism, missions and local ministry
b. but there is a problem ...


v. 4 "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."
1. this church's struggle with and vigilance against false teachers and teachings had a negative side-effect
a. their efforts at maintaining doctrinal integrity and theological orthodoxy had left them spiritually cold
b. they had "lost their first love"
2. years earlier the Apostle Paul had praised them for their "love unto all the saints" (Eph. 1:15)
a. now they are losing their glow


1. Jesus himself taught that mutual love was to be the hallmark of Christian fellowship
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34–35, ESV)
2. the Ephesian believers had known such love in the early days
a. their struggle with false teachers and their hatred of heretical teaching had apparently overshadowed the supreme Christian virtue – self-sacrificing love
b. they had walked away from the passionate devotion to Christ that characterized the church at the beginning
1) forty years after it’s founding, the church at Ephesus is made up of second and even third generation Christians who did not demonstrate the fervor that had marked their predecessors
3. all believers have the propensity to wax and wane in their spiritual walk with Jesus
a. God reveals Himself, and we love it ... at first, but with time the relationship begins to deteriorate for a variety of reasons
1) some become bored, while others grow impatient, wanting God to move faster in their lives
2) some refuse to conform, not realizing how much the relationship would demand of them
3) some lose interest as other things gradually become more important to them
4) some become frustrated because they expected a free ride from an indulgent heavenly "sugar daddy" who would give them the desires of their heart
5) some lose sight of how much more wonderful, powerful, and brilliant the relationship will be in the future
6) many forget their obligation to Him for what He has done for them
4. how to they rectify their error?


1. think back about when you first committed your life to Christ
a. many of you can remember when these characteristics were true of your relationship with Christ
1) you spent time with Him in prayer and Scripture reading
2) the good works of your life were pleasing to Him
3) you sacrificed for Him — especially in worship
4) you talked about Him to others
2. failure to demonstrate that “first love” life, according to Jesus, is like falling
a. Jesus calls us to continually remember from where we have fallen
1) we were sinners, condemned and unclean and destined for hell, but when Jesus saved us our lives we were changed and our destination was changed
a) we must never, ever forget that
b) forgetfulness is frequently the initial cause of spiritual decline
b. fallen in vs. 5 is a verb that indicates that considerable time has elapsed since the “fall” took place
1) in other words — we don’t loose our “first love” for Jesus overnight
ILLUS. It took a trip to the pig pen for the prodigal son to realize from where he had fallen. Up to that point, he had been “out of his senses.” He had stopped thinking properly. His perception had become twisted. When he came to his senses, he remembered how much better off he had been under his father’s care and he made a decision to return.

C. 2nd, REPENT

1. the verb here means to reconsider and change your thinking
2. repentance has more to do with thinking than feelings (which are the most untrustworthy part of our personality)
a. repentance always involves a change of mind that concludes “God, you’re right about this. I’m wrong. I’m sorry, and I’ll work at not doing it again.”
3. the Ephesian believers needed to demonstrate the genuineness of their repentance and do the deeds they did at first
a. to do that they needed to recapture the richness of Bible study, devotion to prayer, and passion for worship that had once characterized them
1) we think that loving Jesus is all about our feeling warm cuddly thoughts about jesus — a Christmas Card sentimentality for Jesus
b. loving Jesus is actually all about our obedience
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments." (John 14:15, NASB95)
c. we need think differently
1) we need to acknowledge our pathetic commitment and decide to live differently


1. a first love was characterized by first deeds
a. in order to return to a “first love” we must go back to doing “first deeds”
2. what does that mean?
a. Be with Jesus
1) how much of your day has been set aside to spend talking with Christ?
b. Do for Jesus
1) what kind of service and ministry are you involved in?
2) what do you do for Him?
c. Give to Jesus
1) have you committed to regular giving of your finances to Christian ministry?
2) you may not like it, but there is a very close relationship to devotion to God and giving in the Bible
3) if you aren’t faithful in managing worldly riches God says He will not trust with Spiritual riches
d. Sacrifice for Jesus
1) what personal pleasures and ambitions have you given up in order to further the kingdom?
2) where have you sacrificed your own comfort and pleasure in order to please God?
e. Talk about Jesus
1) how much time do we spend talking about God?
2) how often do we tell others about what He is doing and has done and how great He is?


ILLUS. 5,000 churches a year close their doors in America. 1,500 ministers leave the ministry every month.
1. speaking of His very own people, God says, “I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them.” (Ezekiel 36:19, ESV)
a. never think for a moments that God will not bring remedial judgment or discipline upon groups of His children when they depart from Him corporately through their disobedient ways and deeds
b. one of the main ways God judges churches is by removing His anointing so that His presence and power are no longer experienced
2. when a church measures their spiritual health not by their loving obedience to Christ, but by how faithful their members are in simply attending their church’s activities that church’s lampstand may have been removed
a. in Revelation 2 and 3, five of the seven churches addressed by Jesus were warned that disciplinary measures would come their way if they failed to repent of their corporate sins
3. if the Lord Jesus Christ is not your first love you might be putting a entire congregation in spiritual jeopardy!



1. our Lord Jesus Christ indwells his church through His Holy Spirit
2. that presence is the dynamic force which makes the church a divine entity rather than an earthly institution


1. it is important for churches to dream of "what can be"
a. "dreaming" is important
b. the Psalmist reminds us that "where there is no vision, the people perish."
2. but there is a time when we stop dreaming and roll up our sleeves and go to work
ILLUS. It was Thomas Edison who said success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.


1. it is important what people believe!
2. it is important that churches stand for something or they will fall for anything


1. the most attractive characteristic of any church is a genuine love for each other and for those within the community
a. the pagans of Ephesus watched as the Christians:
1) entertained strangers
2) sacrificed time and effort and possessions for the benefit of each other and neighbors in need
3) when the pagans would leave their sick or disease-stricken family members out in the elements to die, they were awed and astounded to see the Christians take them into their homes and hearts
2. a loveless church will cease to be an attractive church
a. when a church grows cold and unattractive it will soon cease to be active for Christ and will ultimately die
b. I believe that's what Jesus means when he tells them he will "remove your lampstand"
3. Jesus appreciates doctrinal purity but also want devotional passion
a. Doctrine must be accompanied by devotion
b. Perseverance must be accompanied by passion
c. Faith must be accompanied by fervor
d. Creed must be accompanied by commitment
e. Orthodoxy must be accompanied by adoration
There are times when we all feel like Lucy in the comic strip "Peanuts." There she stood, shaking her little fist in defiance, proclaiming: “I know everybody in this family hates me. 'm gonna go where I'm appreciated! There must be a place in the world where I'd be appreciated." She turns to leave, then stops and sleepishly says, "Give me a hint."
That's what we're all looking for: a place where we'll be loved and appreciated. That's what the church can be and ought to be.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more