Agonizomai: Rev 2:1-3 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church<br> Continually Testing the Spirits as Instructed

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rev 2:1-3 - Ephesus the Steadfast Church
Continually Testing the Spirits as Instructed

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Rev 2:1-3
1 To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 "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."

God knows everything. Not only does He know everything, but He has perfect recall. One day all will be recounted and judged. But so long as we believers are in the body God will continue to lead and call and admonish and chastise. He will justify the godly and condemn the ungodly. He will reward each man according to his works.

The Ephesian church had been under the instruction of Paul for 3 years, and then Timothy, Paul’s hand-picked successor. They had received teaching from Priscilla and Aquilla. Finally, the apostle John (the writer of this revelation) had himself ministered there prior to being exiled to the prison island of Patmos. If any church in Asia Minor had been well grounded and well taught it was the church at Ephesus. So it is entirely appropriate that they should be found faithful in the work of the gospel, enduring patiently persecutions and tribulations - and whatever else came along.

Not only that, but they has been well schooled in the scriptures because they knew how to discern false apostles and all other manner of evil that had assailed the church. Note that they tested those that claimed to be or to know something among them. They tested them. They compared what was claimed and taught to them against the scriptures and the teachings of the true apostles, and they actually formed judgments as to the truth and validity of what was being disseminated. Whenever it was found that the teachings and claims did not meet the standard then the people propagating the material were correctly identified as false teachers and apostles and were dealt with accordingly. In doing this, the Ephesian church was following the last admonition of Paul as he gave it to their elders some forty years earlier in the charge to the Elders of the Ephesian church at Miletus, as follows...
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. {Ac 20:26-31}
One cannot underestimate the amount of enduring patience required in those times. There was so much nonsense stirred up by the devil in the hearts of men that heresies and hangers-on of untold numbers and stripes infested the church at every turn. Keeping them out, or in check, required the utmost discipline, watchfulness and patience. It was not unlike the church of our present day. The only difference being that today there is so little true discernment.

The great difficulty for us today is that the base upon which we are standing is so much less sure than that of the early Christians. They were beset openly by persecution and were thus sifted and pruned and purified as a body. We are more like the church of Laodicea in Chapter 3 - especially in verse 17 where we find...
" say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing’ - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked..."
Or we are like the church of Sardis of whom Christ says in Chapter 3 verse 1...
"I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead."
Many in the professing church today have turned from doctrine to experience as the guide. Instead of searching the scriptures and relying upon them, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the leap is more and more often made to reliance upon experience regardless of what the Word says. In one sense, they can hardly be blamed. The cold formality of Sardis inhabits many a traditional church. The answer, however is not to throw the doors wide open to all manner of false teaching like the Thyatirans or, to a lesser degree, the Smyrnans. The answer is to do what God commands - to repent and turn from every false way and then to be watchful, testing all things against the Truth on the one hand, while bearing the fruit of the Spirit, forbearing each other in love on the other hand.

Manifestations, miracles, numbers, revivals, acclaim, visibility and outward success are all absolutely inconsequential in relation to these two principles - love and truth. That is because they are themselves at the core of the nature of our God. The means to knowing Him more is through the obedience of faith for the sanctification of our souls - holiness. Not holiness “worked up”. Not holiness acquired. Not holiness wrought by us. But by the holiness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ made manifest in us through faith. The struggle is for grace to abide in a balanced way in the midst of these things. But the "balance" in question may include the same radical and extreme speech and behaviour as the Lord exhibited.

I see that Christ speaks of those He is commending as "not growing weary" and as "enduring patiently" whilst in the process of knowing and testing the false apostles and teachers among them. It troubles me personally that the implication is that they did not walk away on account of the problems. They did not start another church. They fought for what they believed in, and they fought long and hard. Have I done the same? When is it time to move on? Back then there was only one church in town, so it was incumbent upon believers to strive to keep it pure because there was no alternative.

The church was not a matter of personal preference in style of worship or emphasis of interpretation. It was a matter of preserving the pillar and bastion of the truth against the onslaught of all of the demons of hell by being true to the teaching of the Lord and the Apostles. It was called "keeping the faith".

The greatest problem for me - and I assume for others - is that I am just as capable of being deceived or, worse, of self-deceit as anyone else. How do I know that what I believe is right? How do I draw the line between differences on non-essential matters and matters vital to God’s flock? I am especially prone to a sense of anger whenever I see false doctrine, but this anger can cloud my perception and my judgment. I am a roiling pot of carnal motivations which run the gamut from pride to jealousy and simple hatred. I resent the smallest slight, secretly hold onto past offences despite the "confession" of them and a declared "repentance". These things pollute my every thought and threaten my every decision and attitude.

On top of it all, there is such a smorgasbord of beliefs and teachings out there that I can hardly know what to believe at times. Am I even at a believing church at all? What guidance have I received? Is what is preached and practiced faithful to the revelation of Christ? Struggling with these issues is not at all like I pictured the Christian walk to be. I thought I would have peace and fuzzy feelings of acceptance and warmth in the midst of a brotherhood of caring and loving people. Home at last. Not so! Is it me, or is it them? Is it both? And, if so, how can one ever sort out the proportional combinations and rectify them?

Oh, God! I have a responsibility to preserve and to build and no ability or wisdom to do so. How can I be an instrument in Your hands as You build Your church? The moment I think I know something and am moved to speak or act then I take over that thing and start to pursue it in my own power. I corrupt the very grace that lets me see. It cannot have been so much different for the saints of the 1st century. They endured and they bore up. They tested everything against the Apostles teaching. I can only assume that they were sinners saved by grace, too. That they had conflicting thoughts, struggles with the flesh, moments of utter confusion. It is what was used of God to purify them, or to confirm them in the Truth. Oh, but while they were in the midst of it, it can have been little different from what I experience now.* Hindsight is always 20/20. Pressed and spinning clay can have no sense of the finished pot that it will be, after the Great Potter has finished the work.

[* "Now" being 5 years ago]


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