Walking into Ephesus, I wondered about what the city would be like. It is beautifully situation between mountains and the sea. At the same time, every ten to twelve steps is a monument in honor of a god or an Emperor (5 different Roman emperors). The Ephesians lived surrounded by pagan symbols.
The city population was estimated to be 250,000. The theater seated twenty five thousand. To the left entering the city, the Terrace homes gave some insight into the prosperity of the city. These would be today’s condos with both overlooking the entire city and the sea. They were lavishly decorated, every wall frescoed, every floor a different mosaic pattern, complete with running water and heat. The Library of Celsus- two stories high- that contained 12,000 scrolls, named after a Roman senator, also gives a flavor to the city. It’s impressive.
Most famous was the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world at 450 feet long, 225 feet wide, 60 feet high, with 127 columns. That is one and a half American football fields by length and width. The temple was impressive itself, but the bigger factor for believers who lived there was that much of the city’s cultural and economic interests were dominated by Artemis worship. If you were a silversmith in a trade guild, much of the business would be devoted to Artemis. While Paul was there, many people were coming to Christ, causing some consternation among Jews and Greeks. In fact, when Paul declared the idols to be worthless, Demetrius the silversmith stirred up a riot, that culminated in a riot at the theater.
Equally challenging was the reality of Emperor worship. Ephesus, like other cities in Asia Minor, had imperial temples. When Domitian came along, he claimed to be lord and god. Paying taxes to him was not a problem, but bowing to him as lord was impossible for a believer. Not only was this treasonous, but most of the social and political life was based on being inside the imperial cult.
Paul had spent two years there, teaching at the School of Tyrannus. When he said goodbye to the elders, he exhorted them to keep watch over the church for those who would distort the truth.
So, what does Jesus actually say to the Ephesians in his letter to them? What feedback does He give to them?
I know you – affirmation. “I know your deeds, your hard work, and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles….You have persevered and endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary.” In the midst of all the idolatry, the believers there could clearly draw a line between what was truth and what was not. They held the line, not succumbing to false apostles. They were faithful to what they had been taught by Paul.
Problem: Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
Needed action: Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. Is it possible to be so committed to truth, but missing in love?
Consequence: If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
I was struck with the parallels between their society and ours. Though we may not see pagan temples everywhere, the reality of developing our own idols, things we love more than God, is there. The distraction that affluence brings is there. Holding on to truth and missing on love– I think so too. So easy to be self-righteous?
How do you keep your love for Jesus fresh in the midst of all the distractions of the day?