To the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things said he that holds the seven stars in his right hand…
Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus, etc. The quality of words, whether weak or potent, pure or unvirtuous, useful or otherwise, depends evermore upon the character of the author. Hence the words of truly great men, intellectually and morally great, are the most blessed of all the blessed things we have; they are the organs of the highest light and choicest life. Hence the words of Christ have a value unsurpassed and unsurpassable. They are spirit and they are life. No words have ever sounded on our atmosphere or appeared on the pages of universal literature approaching his in intrinsic value or spiritual usefulness. Here are his words after he had tabernacled on this earth for thirty long years, endured the agonies of crucifixion, slept in the darkness of the grave, and been in eternity for nearly three score years. Such words assuredly claim our supreme attention. They are addressed to the Church at Ephesus. For homiletic convenience the words of Christ in this epistle may be divided into four classes:
(1) Those which concern himself;
(2) those which concern the congregation;
(3) those which concern the Divine Spirit; and
(4) those which concern moral conquerors.
I. THOSE WHICH CONCERN HIMSELF. These refer to two things.
1. To his relation to the Church. "These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." The "seven stars" are the leading ministers of the seven Churches. These he holds in his own hand. He holds the universe in his hands; he holds all men in his hand, good or bad. But the true ministers of his Word he holds in a special sense. He holds them with all the care and tenderness with which a loving father holds by the hand his weak and timid child on a dreary and dangerous path. Not only does he hold the ministers of these Churches in his hand, but he moves amongst them. "He walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." "Christ," says Dr. Vaughan, "walks himself among his candlesticks, and each separate lamp, of all the thousands which make up the branches of one candlestick, is as much trimmed and tended and fostered by Christ himself as if there were no ether but that one, and as if there were no human agency at all constituted for its oversight."
2. To his knowledge of the Church. "I know thy works." He knows human works as no one else knows them. He knows not merely the overt acts, but inner motives; not merely the deeds done by the body, but in the body. His eye peers into those deep and vast regions of soul into which no other eye can pierce. "I know thy works." He knows what is in man. In the works which he knows are comprehended the trials endured. "Thy labour, and thy patience." The painful discovery of falsehood in those who called themselves apostles or ministers of Christ, and also all declension in what is good. "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." The fact that Christ so thoroughly knows us should make us real, solemn, circumspect, earnest.
II. THOSE WHICH CONCERN THE CONGREGATION.
1. He credits them with the good they possess. "Thou hast patience, and for my Name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted." There are four things which he sees in them to commend.
(1) Their repugnance to wrong. "Thou canst not bear them which are evil [or, 'evil men']." To loathe the wrong for its own sake is one of the finest features of character. It is common, perhaps, to hate evil men when they are in poverty, suffering, and disgrace; but in such hatred there is no virtue. To hate evil in men of great possessions and high offices, millionaires, premiers, princes, kings, is in truth somewhat uncommon; albeit evil in such is more heinous, more loathsome and damnable, than evil anywhere else. It is sublimely grand to see men loathing the wrong as seen in the principalities and powers of this world.
(2) Their patience in toil. Work is the duty of all, and the work of a genuine Christian in this life is most self sacrificing, laborious, and trying. Hence patience is required - required, on account of the opposition it has to encounter and the tardiness of the results. Wherefore, beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable," etc.
(3) Their insight into character. "Thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars." It is a rare thing for men to discern the real character of their fellow men, especially of that of their religious teachers - those who have set themselves up as "apostles." Hence the popularity of pulpit charlatans. All honour to the men at Ephesus; their eye was keen enough and heart brave enough to try the character of their teachers, which on scrutiny they found to be "liars."
(4) Their hostility to error. "But this thou hast, that thou hatest the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate." "We may suppose," says one of our most learned modern expositors, "that the Nicolaitanes were the antinomians of the Asiatic Church - persons who taught that the conduct is immaterial if the faith be right; that a man may say he hath faith, and, if so, may be indifferent altogether to his works; or who at least, if they did not teach this, yet encouraged the deceitful heart in drawing this inference, by failing to set strongly and even sharply before men the utter ruin of an inconsistent and unholy life, and then not least, but most of all, when that sinful life is combined with the loud profession of a saving faith." Error is an evil in whatever character it appears and region it operates. Error in chemistry, surgery, medicine, mechanics, navigation, etc., is often fraught with terrible results. To oppose error, therefore, is a virtue.
2. He reproves them for the declension they manifest. "Nevertheless... thou hast left thy first love." Christly love is the life and sun of the soul; it is the beginning and end of genuine religion. Without charity - love - we are nothing. There is a danger of this waning. Some of the angels have lost it. Many good men have experienced its decay. This is a great evil; it is the sap leaving the tree, and the foliage withers, and death descends from branch to root. Christ implies that men are responsible for this loss. Where this love exists it can not only be maintained but increased - the spark may be fanned into a flame.
3. He urges them to reform. In order to increase this waning love, he exhorts them to do four things.
(1) To remember. "Remember... whence thou art fallen." Review the past, and call to mind the sweet, delicate, blooming affection of thy first love, with all the fresh joys and hopes it awakened. This memory will help resuscitation.
(2) To "repent." Repentance does not mean crying, confessing, and throwing yourself into ecstasies, but a change in the spirit and purpose of life.
(3) To reproduce. "Do the first works." Go over thy past life, reproduce thy old feeling, and reattempt old effort. This can be done; we can relive our lives, the best as well as the worst portion of them.
(4) To tremble. "Or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of its place." "Terrible warning this! Let declension go on, and ruin is inevitable. This is true with individuals as well as with communities. In losing the candlestick, what a loss! The loss is midnight" (Caleb Morris).
III. THOSE WHICH CONCERN THE DIVINE SPIRIT. "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." Two things are here implied.
1. That the Divine Spirit makes communication to all the Churches. He speaks through material nature, through our spiritual constitution, through human history, through Jesus Christ. "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son." Blessed thought! The Divine is in communication with the human, and has constant and special communication with the Churches. Christ, the Incarnation and the Minister of the Spirit, hath said, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The Spirit's words, as of old, bring life, order, light, and beauty out of chaos.
2. That proper attention to these communications requires a certain ear. "He that hath an ear." What is the ear? Not the mere ear of sense, nor the mere ear of intellect; it is the ear of the heart, the ear of sympathetic love. It is said that Christ opened the "ears of his disciples, that they might understand the Scriptures." The moral ear and eye of man are closed against the manifestation and voice of God. "The natural man discerneth not the things of the Spirit." Unless a man has the sentiment of melody in him, you may peal into his ear the most magnificent strains of music, and he feels no inspiration. Nothing comes to him but sound. As he who lacks an inward sympathy with the loftiest class of thoughts can listen unmoved to the grandest utterances of Plato, Milton, or Shakespeare; so he who lacks the ear of spiritual sympathy will be utterly unaffected by the communications which the Spirit makes to the Churches. "He that hath ears to hear" - it does not matter who he is, rich or poor, rude or cultured - "let him hear."
IV. THOSE WHICH CONCERN MORAL CONQUERORS. "To him that overcometh will I give [to him will I give] to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God [in the Paradise of God]." Observe:
1. Life is a battle. Enemies abound within and without. Spiritual excellence can only be reached by struggling, strenuous and unremitting.
2. Life is a battle that might be won. "Him that overcometh." Thousands upon thousands have won the battle and shouted, "Victory!" at the close.
3. The winning of the battle is glorious. "I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." "The reference to conquering is a prominent feature of St. John's other writings. The word, used but once in the other three Gospels (Luke 11:22), and but once by St. Paul (Romans 12:21), is found in John 16:33; 1 John 2:13, 14; 1 John 5:4, 5; and occurs in all these epistles to the Churches. The promise of the tree of life is appropriate:
(1) To the virtue commended. Those who had not indulged in the licence of Nicolaitanes shall eat of the tree of life.
(2) To the special weakness of the Ephesians. To those who had fallen, and lost the Paradise of first loving communion and fellowship with God (comp. Genesis 3:8; 1 John 1:3), is held out the promise of a restored Paradise and participation in the tree of life (comp. Revelation 22:2-14; Genesis 3:22). This boon of immortality is the gift of Christ: 'I will give.' It is tasted in knowledge of God and of his Son (John 17:3); it is enjoyed in their presence (Revelation 22:3, 4)" (Bishop Boyd Carpenter). - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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;
WEB: "To the angel of the assembly in Ephesus write: "He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, he who walks among the seven golden lampstands says these things: