Revelation 2: Four Qualities of a Healthy Church

Cont’d from Rev. 2 The Church at Ephesus ~ A Light Shining in a Dark City

Sunday, Feb. 19

Rev. 2: Christ’s announcement, ‘I Know You.’

 “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.” Rev. 2:2-3

In each of the seven letters, Christ tells the messengers that He knows something. This word for ‘knowledge’ in the Greek is not the word Ginosko, which so often shows up in the Bible to refer to acquired knowledge. Rather, the word used here, oida, refers to omniscient knowledge, certain knowledge. In classical Greek, the word referred “to know by watching”. In other words, Christ has been watching the Church in Ephesus as He was walking among her and much of what He sees there pleases Him. In fact, He says that He knows 4 things about them.

[learn_more caption=”Definition of Knowledge”] 1492 eídō (oida) – properly, to see with physical eyes (cf. Ro 1:11), as it naturally bridges to the metaphorical sense: perceiving (“mentally seeing”). This is akin to the expressions: “I see what You mean”; “I see what you are saying.” 1492 /eídō (“seeing that becomes knowing”) then is a gateway to grasp spiritual truth (reality) from a physical plane. 1492 (eídō) then is physical seeing (sight) which should be the constant bridge to mental and spiritual seeing (comprehension).[/learn_more]


First, they had an excellent work ethic…

Jesus calls it their deeds (or sweat-causing labor) and their toil. The word for toil is really the word ‘trouble’. Jesus knows their troublesome labor. I mean, that’s the way we talk, isn’t it? We ask for help, but then we say that we don’t want to cause you any trouble. Well, the Ephesians took the trouble. In order to carry out gospel-centered work, they endured painstaking work. This is a busy Church, a serving church. In the words of John Stott, “The Ephesian Church was a veritable beehive of industry where everyone was doing something for Christ.” A Church that works hard, that helps people in need, that sweats and toils in the labor of the gospel is a Church that receives commendation from the Lord of glory Himself.

Second, they were intolerant of sin…

Jesus tells them “I know you cannot tolerate evil men.” The implication is that they must have executed Church discipline to remove them. But, the sense of the word here is literally that they do not have the power to carry evil away with them. This was the same word that was used for Jesus carrying the cross. This was a Church that understood what evil was and did not allow it to compromise their holy standard. And remember, they were in the very midst of the muck and grime of licentious living. Paul had told them some years before this, in Ephesians 4:27, to not give place for the devil, and clearly they had heeded the warnings.

Third, they loved sound doctrine…

Thirdly, they are an orthodox Church. They loved sound doctrine. Jesus tells them in verse 2:

you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;

The church had taken to heart Paul’s warnings about predators from without and home-grown deceivers from within, so Jesus commends them for their theological discernment in exposing fraudulent teachers. I mean, many an evil man has come into a little congregation and sown error so that the Church was torn to shreds and that can have devastating effects for years.


Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker Movement

Just prior to the War for Independence, a destitute woman in England by the name of Ann Lee, a Quaker in the Society of Friends, heard her pastor preach that in order to attain perfect holiness, you had to embrace abstinence. She heard her pastor preach about his visions from God. She heard her pastor preach that the end of the world was upon them and that Christ would soon return…as a woman. In the beginning of each service, she would watch the congregation as they initially sat in total silence, and then various members would begin shaking, singing, shouting out loud, and walking around the Church speaking in tongues. This was the birth of the heretical Shaker movement.

Mother Ann, as she began to be called, or Ann – the Word (as she called herself) started her own Shaker sect. She gained a following by preaching the imminent return of Christ, by claiming to speak in 72 different tongues, and by telling people of the visions she was receiving from God. Well, this kind of unorthodox behavior caused her no small amount of grief, so she moved to New York just before the start of the war. With a new environment and a large group of followers, she began spreading her doctrine all over the northeast and telling people that she was, indeed, the manifestation of the second coming of Christ.



Then, about 20 years after Mother Ann, 2 other aberrant teachings grew in prominence out of her shadow in New York. One was the Second Great Awakening via Charles Finney; the other was Mormonism from Joseph Smith. Both of these movements, like the Shaker movement, was rooted in extrabiblical visions, tongues, and emotional manipulation. Modern Reformers note that Finney and Joseph Smith gave rise to the prosperity gospel and hyper-charismatic preachers of our day. It’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that anyone today that thinks they can get private unique words from the Holy Spirit that are contrary to the Bible…has been influenced by Mother Ann, Charles Finney, or Joseph Smith.


Bereans Study the Scriptures from
Bereans Study the Scriptures from
Like the Bereans, They Exposed Unorthodox Teachers

And so, the Ephesian Church, like the Bereans, exposed teachers who were not true to the Word of God and who were not living a godly life. And that’s the way it has to be. The Ephesians removed people that actually claimed to be Apostles – and that’s a bit gutsy. I mean, short of claiming to be Christ, like Mother Ann, it is the most alarming claim someone can make.


[box] But, they tested these so-called ‘Apostle’s teachings’ by the standard of the Word of God and by the standard of their fruit, and they found them to be false. Church, like the Ephesian Church, we must be quick, courageous, and wise to call out the false teachers of our day, because the havoc and wickedness they can wreak cannot be overstated.[/box]



What Does Jesus Hate? The Hedonistic Lifestyle

Now, jump down to verse 6 now because part of Jesus’ announcement that they are an orthodox Church is included there.

Jesus says: Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

Now, I know it is unlikely that any of you know much about the Nicolatians…and neither do I. The Bible and the early Church Fathers speak just a little bit about them. Let me tell you what they have to say. Let’s begin by looking down just a few more verses in chapter 2 here, to the letter to Pergamum. In verse 14 of this chapter, Jesus tells the Church this:

I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Rev. 2:14,15

Unlike the Ephesian Church, the Church in Pergamum held to the teaching of the Nicolatians. And, what we see here is that the Nicolatians are similar to Balaam. In fact, their names are similar. I mean, it may not look like that in English, but the name, Balaam, in Hebrew, and the name Nicholas in Greek both refer to “one who destroys”.


Balaam and the angel, painting from Gustav Jaeger, 1836.
Balaam and the angel, painting from Gustav Jaeger, 1836.


But how do they destroy? Well, we know from the book of Numbers that Balaam claimed to be a prophet, but ended up seducing God’s people into idolatry and sexual immorality. In fact, after Balaam’s donkey and after Balaam and Balak went to several high places of Baal and offered sacrifices and what-not…in Numbers 31, Moses tells the children of Israel that Balaam counseled women to cause Jewish men to sin against the Lord. And that’s what Jesus says here in the book of Revelation: that Balaam enticed the sons of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.


The Teachings of the ‘Nicolatians’

And Jesus tells the Church in Pergamum that they have some in their midst that hold to similar teaching, the teaching of the Nicolatians. Now Nicolas is an interesting person. To be clear, we can’t be 100% certain which Nicolas is the founder of the Niolcatians, but we can put together a pretty educated guess through what we see here, the book of Acts, and from the early Church. Synthesizing all of that material, here is what I believe to be true:

In Acts chapter 6 as the Church was growing, the Apostles asked their early congregation to select seven men of good repute to serve them as deacons. Stephen was one of the seven and so was Nicolas. Now, Nicolas, we understand from Irenaeus and Eusebius, had a beautiful wife. And apparently he was infatuated with her beauty. Now, here’s where the speculation comes in because the early Church was split on this, but I’m going to tell you what I think. Apparently, Nicolas was accused of loving his wife too much. And so, in response to this, he made a statement forsaking her, saying that ‘if you think I love her so much, anyone can marry her’. And he said this to indicate that, despite her beauty, he was so much more in love the Lord. And so he foolishly said ‘go ahead – I have something much more beautiful than her’ – a saying that some suggest that Nicolas repented of.

Well, that saying, and others from him, became so popular that people began taking the name ‘Nicolatians’ to refer to themselves as ones who lived a hedonistic lifestyle like Nicolas. Now, regardless if that story is true or not, it does appear from the early Church that the Nicolatians were a group who enticed people into sexual immorality and wild feasts. And so a group like this would be more than welcome in a place like Ephesus. But Jesus hates these despicable acts, and so did the Ephesian Church–they were an orthodox Church.



Fourth, they are a persevering church…

In verse 3, Jesus says:

you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.

Jesus commends them for their perseverance. The word gives the sense, not so much as a resignation of their horrible circumstance, but more as a courageous disposition that accepts difficult situations and turns it into grace and glory. Even in the midst of the wicked and perverse city of Ephesus, even in the midst of riots against them, even in the midst of the demonic activity, the Church in Ephesus refused to participate as they valiantly persevered.


Perseverance… for the Right Reason–The Glory of God

And they did it for the right reason. They persevered and endured. Look back at verse 3: for My Name’s sake. This is a pure motive. We can endure hardship in order to gain revenge like William Wallace in Braveheart, we can do it for financial gain and power like Prince Hans in Frozen, or we can do it to impress people…like Danny Zuko in Grease. But, the Ephesians didn’t do that.


[box] Faithful to the Word of God, faithful to the work of the Lord, faithful to the criteria by which we judge false teachers, through the slimy and disgusting underbelly of a depraved city, through all of it, they had never grown weary…and they endured for God’s glory, God’s honor, and God’s name.[/box]


Christ Sees Your Faithfulness…

This was a great Church, and a great report card to receive from the exalted Christ Himself. And what an encouragement it must have been to the Ephesian Christians to hear that Jesus saw and acknowledged it all. He told them and us by extension that He knows that some of you quietly serve and are rarely recognized for it; He knows that some of you are content to pray and work in the background where no one sees or even knows what you do. You receive no acknowledgement, and you wouldn’t have it any other way.




[box] But isn’t it good to hear that the One who walks among the lamp stands says to you nevertheless, “I know! I saw what you did. Your unacknowledged visits, your unseen giving, that meal that you brought to the widow, the quiet word of encouragement to a struggling brother or sister, your faithful prayers over years and years and years for a desperate situation. No one else sees it, no one else knows about it, but I know,” Jesus says. Church, there is not a drop of sweat spent in Christ’s service that He does not see and prize and celebrate.[/box]


There’s not a tear shed in His cause or for His name that He does not cherish and value. “I know,” He says to us. “I know.”

To be concluded with: Revelation 2 One Thing Against Them ~ Losing Their First Love

Excerpt from the Sermon, “Message to the Seven Churches”, part of Pastor Mark’s Series on Revelation.


Message to the Seven Churches


[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Pastor Mark Brenon is the husband of his wife Terri and the father of 4 children, including one of whom came via Chinese adoption. Mark and Terri live and homeschool their children in Magnolia, TX. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master’s degree in Engineering Management. Ordained in 2007, Mark is not only a bi-vocational Pastor, but he sits on the board of directors and board of faculty in a small Great Books and Bible college, named John Witherspoon College. He is an occasional conference speaker and has also participated in theological debates on Fox News and the Bob Siegel show. [/author_info] [/author]