Does it feel like there are only a few obviously Christian believers at your local church? Does it feel like we puny humans are trying to stem the tide or heresy that is coming in a tsunami? It must have felt that way to the Ephesians, too.
“‘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. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” (Revelation 2:2-3).
The first century church at Ephesus was planted by Paul, who was its pastor. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city, sophisticated and beautiful. It was at the terminus of several major thoroughfares, was located on a gulf for a healthy seafaring export-import trade, and was a major commercial center. Its population was approximately a quarter of a million people.
In addition to being a major commercial center it was also a major religious center. Though many gods were worshiped there in addition to the emperors of Rome, the temple of Artemis was the main attraction. The temple was three times the size of the Athenian Parthenon, and held 25,000 people. It was in Ephesus that the Sons of Sceva were overcome by devils whom the sons had tried to cast out, demonstrating clearly the difference between false idols and the true God. Here was where Paul’s two- year, three month church planting effort and teaching bore fruit when the new Christians burned their idols and books equivalent to 50,000 pieces of silver. It was here that the reaction to the encroachment of Christianity on a pagan culture sparked a two-hour riot at the temple of Artemis. (Acts 19:23-20:1).
The worshipers at the church at Ephesus must have felt hemmed in by heresy and surrounded by pagans, especially by the time the letter in Revelation was sent, a generation later. It was a letter sent to a struggling church, weary of being the bulwark against sin and heresy.
But remember Elijah who thought he was the last believer left. The LORD said ‘I have reserved yet 7,000 who believe’. (1 Kings 19:18). We are not alone! We might be tiny in number in one location but the Body is large, and thriving.
Also, in the latter days, there will be terrible times, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. There are many warnings regarding the latter days about people following myths, man-made schemes, building fortresses of their own philosophies! (1 Timothy 1:4, 2 Timothy 4:4, Titus 1:14). He said it would happen and it is happening. We take comfort in even the seemingly ‘bad’ events because if His word is true for the bad then it is all the more so for the good! His word is true and He knows who are His and He knows whom to call to account.
We do not have to worry about results. We only have to proclaim. As the LORD said to Ezekiel in Ez 2:3-5
“I am sending you to the Israelites and the rebellious nations who have rebelled against me. The Israelites and their ancestors have transgressed against Me to this day. Their children are obstinate and hard-hearted. I am sending you to them, and you must say to them: this is what the LORD God says. Whether they listen or refuse to listen- for they are a rebellious house- they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
We are not prophets nor is the church Israel, but we take the point, in speaking the truth no matter the outcome the LORD is glorified because while some will repent when we speak His word, others who refuse, when they stand before Him trying to defend their actions, He will say ‘I sent you ministers and lay people to speak the truth and you refused to listen.’ They will know they have no excuse.
Just as He knew each Ephesian and who had not grown weary in the biblical day, in our day the Lord Jesus as Head of our church knows and sees the hearts of those who cannot tolerate evil and those who persist in the doing of good. We must not lose our love for Him, for each other, for the wayward ones, and for the work. We are in a battle, but the victory is His. I praise Him for this opportunity to speak the truth in love, speak His words and stand on His name.