The Rise, the Noon, the Sundown of a Great Church
Acts 19; 20. 2 Timothy. Revelation 2:1-5.
Like the glory of a radiant morn, full of promise and blessed
portent: like the power, the wealth, the beneficence of noontide,
like the passing of a glorious day, the gathering shadows, the
fast-approaching night, the sense of decline, loss, and failure; is
the story of 'Ephesus' as we have it in the New Testament. It is a
story, historically, of abounding promise; of abundant wealth; and
of ultimate tragedy.
The Radiant Morn
The story of that glorious beginning is told in Acts 19 and
First, it is the story of a small beginning with a few disciples,
who, having had imperfect instruction and limited light, made a
full-hearted response to further enlightenment, and took their stand
on the full meaning of the Cross as signified by baptism - death,
burial, resurrection in Christ, and the consequent government of the
Then it is the inevitable and invariable story of the uprising of
the powers of evil and of intense conflict: a real baptism into
heavenly warfare and the sufferings of Christ. It was the reaction
of "the world rulers of this darkness" against the invasion of their
territory by Jesus Christ. Through this conflict the testimony was established and the church grew strong.
Thirdly, it is the story of an extended period of building up,
instruction, during which time the spiritual values spontaneously
became extra-local and "all Asia heard the word". The true nature of
the Church universal became the nature of the church local; not by
organized design, not by committee, machinery, and institutions, but
by spontaneous and overflowing spiritual life.
Fourthly, it is the faithful reiteration of all that had been done
and imparted at great cost, through much travail, and uncompromising
loyalty to Christ and the truth. A final note of prophetic warning
closed that epoch; warning that, if the enemy's fierce and vicious
assaults from the outside failed to break that church, its
testimony, and its far-reaching influence, he would turn to the
inside and "from among your own selves shall men arise... to draw
away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30).
All that makes up to a wonderful and heart-ravishing beginning. How
vital and significant a beginning it is! Would that every local
church had such a clear-cut and transparent beginning! It was of
God, not of man. It was wholly of the Spirit, and not of the flesh.
It was of Heaven and not only on earthly ground. Therefore it had
all the features of a heavenly calling; there was a heavenly fulness
which spontaneously overflowed to distant regions, and a heavenly
power which - while things remained true - triumphed over the
many-sided insidious assaults of men and evil powers.
While it remained on heavenly ground, Heaven supported it. That it
did survive for so long and exercised such a great influence is
attributable to the soundness of the beginning.
Although we should, perhaps, let the latter part of what we have
written overlap into this second phase, we feel that the full blaze
of the noon-time of the significance of 'Ephesus' is to be seen in
the Letter to which its name (probably with others) was attached.
Paul was then in prison in Rome. In the sovereignty of God he had
been cut off from actual travelling among the churches in person,
and from all those activities which, although ever vital and
important, must now give place to a new phase.
The Lord who ruled all things in the life of His servant, acting on
the principle of comparative values, judged that the greatest
purpose would be served by shutting His servant away in seclusion,
at least for a time. So, to the prison in Rome he went, despite
every evil effort to end his life on the way. How fully and
perfectly the wisdom of God has been vindicated!
Since "the heavenly vision" broke upon him on the road to Damascus,
over a period of approximately twenty-eight to thirty years, that
vision had been steadily and unceasingly growing in meaning and
significance. It had been added to by special visions and
revelations of the Lord (2 Cor. 12:1), in meditation, thought, and
experience; in many long journeys on foot, and by sea. Much as he
had given in letters, there remained a vast residue stored up in his
heart, which demanded quiet detachment and freedom from
administrative responsibilities for its release. So, the Lord
planned it. What a mighty debt the Church universal through all the
subsequent centuries owes to that act of Divine wisdom and
We do not hesitate to say that the greatest document ever penned and
given to men is what is called "The Letter to the Ephesians". (We
know the contention that it was an encyclical, and that 'Ephesus'
was filled into a vacant space left for various other places, and we
have no quarrel with that conclusion.) For Ephesus it certainly was
intended and that fact carries with it certain implications.
Firstly. It is a well-attested fact, known to all preachers and
teachers who fulfil their ministry in the Spirit, that the measure
of liberty and the degree of' utterance depend upon the capacity of
the recipients. Jesus enunciated this fact when He said: "I have
many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John
16:12), and it is stated categorically in Hebrews 5:11. The limit is
imposed by the immaturity, the arrested growth, or lack of spiritual
life in the hearers. A servant of the Lord, speaking in the
Spirit, will know when he can go no further, and to try to go
on will result in loss of unction and help. It is as though the
Spirit said, 'That is as far as I can go with these people, they
cannot take any more.' On the other hand, what a thing it is when
there is no such restraint, and it is possible to give all that you
have because the people are just drawing it out and are unwearied!
This is evidently how it was with those to whom this Letter was
written. The Apostle was able to pour out the pent-up stores of
heavenly riches. His only handicap was language, Superlative is
heaped upon superlative. He beggars language and sometimes ruins
grammar in his effort to free himself of his burden. There is
nothing so profound; nothing so glorious; and nothing so significant
for the Church as is here contained - or released!
Those believers must have been in a healthy spiritual state to
receive all that. Paul must have felt how free that state made him,
to so open the 'heavenlies' - a word so characteristic of the
A company of Christians will get what they are ready for. The Lord
has vast stores and He is only straitened in us. One of the saddest
things said about Israel was: "He gave them their request, but sent
leanness into their soul" (Ps. 106:15). An attitude and condition of
heart will determine 'leanness' or plenty.
Secondly. It was not only the measure of what could be
given, it was also the nature. Not in volume alone is value to be
found. Volume could result in surfeit and oppression. Neither is it
in the words or statements as such. The people to whom this letter
was sent had not just developed an ability to take large assignments
of wonderful ideas.
There was that in the ministry which corresponded to the phrase of
the Psalmist - "Deep calleth unto deep". They had discernment born
of hunger and necessity, and they detected that this was very life.
Because of a condition it was life to them.
There are things in this Letter which have divided people ever and
always into three classes. There are those who have no spiritual
life at all and their reaction is just to give it all up as quite
beyond understanding and mysterious. Then there are the
'intellectuals' and the theologians, who have resolved the content
into differing 'schools' of doctrine and interpretation. It is all
so cold and dead: or it leads nowhere when the heart is breaking for
some heavenly light; it is Dead-Sea fruit; dust and ashes; a
headache and a weariness.
But, there are those who really have "a spirit of wisdom and
revelation" and 'the anointing' abiding within; who know an open
Heaven because the Cross has broken the natural barriers. To them it
is the nature, the essence, the heavenly light; the Divine
potency, and the heart-ravishing blessing of what is revealed,
rather than the ideas and concepts. The believers at Ephesus
were evidently like that. At least, there were a sufficient number
of such there.
There was another factor already hinted at, which should be
underlined. Those believers had suffered, and were suffering. Their
condition made it absolutely essential that they had more
than a nominal and ordinary resource. Yes, it was a necessity.
They were hungry. They were up against the forces of evil. They consciously
needed succour in the battle. The traditional religion had failed
them. Spiritual food was hard to come by.
The vast deposit which God gave to people in such conditions and
under such circumstances will only come to vitality again when, for
some cause or reason, it again becomes a matter of life or death; of
living light or we perish!
What a pity that we cannot leave the story there. But, sad to say,
the record ends with 'the radiant morn hath passed away, and
spent too soon her golden store'.
We combine two Scriptures:-
"This thou knowest that all they which be in Asia turned away
from me" (2 Timothy 1:15);
"To the church in Ephesus... I have this against thee, that
thou didst leave thy first love. Remember therefore whence thou
art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I... will
move thy candlestick out of its place" (Revelation 2:1). "Left
thy first love". "From whence thou art fallen". "Thy
candlestick out of its place".
If, as is generally believed, Paul wrote the Letter during his first
imprisonment, and was released for about four years, and then wrote
to Timothy during the second and last imprisonment, it must have
been during those four years that the tragedy in Ephesus began. The
whole tone has changed, the whole level declined. "All they which be
in Asia be turned from me". Timothy had responsibility in
Ephesus. We have only to read the Second Letter to him to see what
had happened and was happening in Asia. It is a tragic story.
There are some things to draw from it.
Firstly. How quickly can a whole situation change, and how great the
'fall' can be when - on the inside - policy takes the place
of principle; personal assertiveness thrusts spiritual government
aside (there are a number of personal names mentioned with discredit
in this Letter); when spirituality in order, 'office', and procedure
is made to give place to organization, earthly orders, and a
technical system. Either Paul's reproach and ostracism, his
discrediting and threatening execution was too much for these people
now, and so they turned from him; or his standard was now
too high and exacting for them and they had developed a spiritual
inferiority complex; perhaps it was some of both; but by 'fallen'
the Lord meant dropped on to a lower level.
And the characteristics? lost first - original and virgin - love;
and forsaken "first works", the former expressions of early and
It is something to be thought over that, in addressing Ephesus, the
Lord said: "I know thy works and thy toil and thy
patience", and then should charge them to do the "first works". He
did not charge them with having no works or toil, but with departing
from their first works.
Secondly. It is possible to 'turn from' the Lord's vessel and
repudiate what He had given, but it is not thereby possible to get
away from the Lord.
Paul is gone - about A.D. 64. John most probably wrote the book of
the Revelation twenty years - or so - later. In that time the
decline had become so great that the Lord seriously raised the
question of the justification of the continuance of the Lampstand -
the vessel of the Testimony. Of course, it is possible that the
elements of this declension were present in Paul's lifetime and that
apart from Alexander the Coppersmith they were suppressed. The Lord
may have removed Paul because He knew this, for He does not believe
in suppression. What is present will, sooner or later, be given an
opportunity to manifest itself in order to be judged. Be that as it
may, what is of God cannot be set aside by man without an encounter
with God in His chosen time.
It will be a certain encouragement to all faithful servants of the
Lord to know that time is God's ally, and that 'their labour is not
in vain in the Lord' whether they see it in their lifetime or not.
We come then to the final word. It is not Ephesus or any other place
or thing as such that the Lord sets Himself to keep intact.
The world is covered with places and institutions which once were
scenes of His glory, power and use, but today are shells or shadows
of that former glory. God is not so concerned with the means as He
is with the spiritual values which eternity will reveal. It is people
who are His concern, and people of spiritual measure undiminished by
time. It is - ultimately - the measure of the gold of Christ as
symbolized by the Candlestick.
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, Jul-Aug 1963, Vol 41-4