I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Paul is in Miletus en route to Jerusalem and he calls the elders of the church in Ephesus to meet him there to share with them what is on his heart after three years of encouraging and teaching ministry among them. Although his words were directed to the elders they are, I suggest, equally applicable to all people in every age and we should therefore take careful note.
Ephesus was a first generation church and as such was filled with an overflowing love for God; was captivated by the salvation purchased by the blood of Jesus; and living Spirit filled lives. I believe we can deduce this from the letter Jesus writes to the Ephesian Church (Revelation 2.1-3) but in vs. 4-5 we find, sadly, that what Paul warned them of in Acts 20 happened and they were seduced into something which was a pale reflection of how they had begun.
How did this come about? In two ways!
First ‘savage wolves’ came in among them. We are not given any detail as to what they did but we can imagine as we look at out present age. They ridiculed – fancy believing in that resurrection story! They ostracised – you are no longer part of us and we don’t want you in our social group if you believe that stuff – we worship Artemis or whoever. They shut down free speech – that Bible teaching is so out of date, we don’t want to hear it. They made believers afraid – I might lose my job or position unless I keep quiet and so we could go on.
We don’t know how many of the Ephesian believers were cowed by this but we do know the church had ‘lost its first love’.
Second, even from their own number men arose who distorted the truth and sought ‘to draw away’ others, thus splitting the church. Again we are not given details but under this two pronged attack they had ‘lost their first love’
Both dangers are alive and well today!
It can be hard to live for Christ in a world that does not acknowledge that there is a God and which is prone to ridicule believers, and in this situation the temptation is great to withdraw and keep quiet about our faith as ridicule is hard to bear. However to behave like that is to deny the power of God to keep us and it deprives the world of that which it so desperately needs – the knowledge of God. Have you found perhaps, that your ‘first love’ has waned under such pressures? Then hear Jesus’ gracious, challenging words to this church:
Remember therefore, from where you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. Revelation 2.5
More disturbing is the warning that such opposition can arise ‘from your own number’ – the body of believers itself! We see this today as there are those in church leadership who seek to reinterpret the plain truth of Scripture to bring it into line with modern human culture and selfish desires. In other words seeking to make God in our image. This is the issue that has particularly engaged the Lambeth Conference with respect to the issues of sexuality and Same Sex Marriage in particular and also an apparently greater concern with, for example, net-zero carbon rather than the proclamation of the gospel.
In this area, the in phrase is ‘good disagreement’ which sadly appears to ignore the words of the Prophet Amos,
‘Can two walk together unless they are agreed?’ Amos 3.3
What is the challenge that Paul’s warning words place before us today?
The answer lies in Paul’s words to Timothy – who became a leader of the Church in Ephesus.
Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2.15
When we do this we will be equipped to refute error and retain our first love!