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An All-Anticipating Fairy-Godmother?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:19-23

Image result for wrapped in paddingLike Ephesus, the church at Thyatira had a lot going for it. But also like Ephesus, there was one major problem–Thyatira allowed a false prophetess among them, one of the things that Ephesus did right.

Jesus calls this false prophetess Jezebel–not likely her real name, and certainly not a compliment. The wickedest Israelite queen in their entire history, Jezebel ordered the killings of every prophet in Israel [1 Kings 18:4]. Her husband, King Ahab, did more to rouse God’s anger than every king before him [1 Kings 16:33].

This so called Thyatiran Jezebel taught the church that it was well and good to participate in the local pagan temples, which involved sexual immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols as an expression of worship to the false gods. Apparently, God was patient with this woman, and He gave her opportunities to change her ways. Perhaps He sent people to try to set her straight. Perhaps He allowed the natural consequences of sin to manifest in her life in hopes that she would return to Him.

But she refused God. And just like every one who refuses the Creator of the Universe, they give themselves over to the destruction of sin and death, both of which are replete with suffering [James 1:15; Romans 1:21]. Even in this, God is mercifully patient, still allowing those who followed this prophetess the opportunity to repent.

Though some may say that because He said He would strike her children dead that He is anything but a good and loving God. Consider this: Jezebel was luring God’s children to die eternally. And God ends this portion of scripture saying that He would repay each according to their deeds. Jezebel herself was luring her own children to die eternally.

Why do we always blame God for allowing us to choose when that is exactly what we as humans want so much? We want to choose. To do whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it. And we want God to be an all anticipating fairy godmother that keeps anything bad from happening to us despite our choices. And if He ever lets us feel the consequences of our choices, then we get indignant. Surely God isn’t really good or loving or actually God if He lets “bad” things happen. This mindset has riddled humanity for too long. Since the Garden actually [Genesis 3:5]–remember the be your own god lie? Except, when we screw it up for ourselves, then we can blame the real God, right?

Is there a Jezebel spirit at work in your life? Someone mixing God’s word with a more culturally appealing teaching? Ask God to give you discernment and the boldness to cling to His truth in an intolerant generation.

From the Student Question Board: How Long Does it Take to Become a Mature Christian?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Revelation 2:18-19

Image result for forging bronzeIn Greek mythology, Zeus’ son Apollo was called the son of god, and he was the patron god of Thyatira when Alexander the Great founded it as an army garrison. Under Roman rule, Thyatira’s business structure was built around guilds. Much like labor unions today a worker had to be faithful to the guild and the guild would in turn be faithful to protect their job.

But the guilds often celebrated their festivities in the temple to Apollo, sponsoring acts that Christians could not take part in. And if you didn’t participate, your job was as good as gone; you had no way to make a living.

It is to this culture that Jesus proclaims Himself the Son of God–the True Son of the One True God, not like the culturally glorified fictitious Apollo and his father Zeus. Jesus identifies Himself with the bronze smiths and guild laborers in the portrayal of His fiery eyes and burnished feet. Then, He commends the Thyatirans for their works, love, faith, service and perseverance. He commends them for increasing in these things despite the cultural pressures of their city; not easy to do.

So how long does it take to become a mature Christian? The longer the Ephesians served God, the more ritualistic it became. They totally forgot about their love for Him. The longer the Church at Smyrna served God, the more they were slandered and suffered for Him. The longer the Pergamenians served God, the more they compromised. And the longer the Thyatirans served God, the more liars sprang up in their midst, encouraging them to return to their old life.

But this was not true of everyone in these churches. Because becoming a mature Christian is an individual process. No one is perfect, nor will anyone arrive at perfection–completeness–in this life. Everyone is maturing in their Christian walk. [Either that or they are shrinking, but that is a subject for another post.] And everyone matures at a different rate and will finish life at a different level of spiritual maturity than others.

However, we can do certain things to ensure that we are in fact maturing in Christ and that our experiential knowledge of Him develops sooner rather than later: prayer, Bible study, praise and worship, and fellowship with other believers. But even in these things, we must be careful not to fall into the religious pitfalls that the seven churches of Revelation experienced–losing sight of love for Jesus, compromising with culture or flat out turning back to our old way of life while still professing to be a Christian.

In effect, it takes a whole lifetime to become the most mature Christian that you’ll ever be, but it takes only a moment to devote yourself to maturing in Christ and the daily commitment to see it through. Are you on the path to Christian maturity?

Promised to the Victorious

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Whoever has  ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Revelation 2:17

Image result for name engraved in white marbleThis is the third church so far to whom Christ has commanded the people to hear Him, His Spirit’s words to them. And for the third time, He promises something to the one who is victorious. Victory played a big part in the Greco-Roman culture with arenas and wars. To the victor went the spoils and great honor. But what God can give us is far greater than any earthly reward for victory.

So how can a Christian be victorious? To the Ephesians Jesus commanded them to restore their first love, to put Him first again. In this way, they would be victorious and gain access to the true tree of life. To the Church in Smyrna Jesus commended their faith and commanded them to be faithful even to death. In this way, they would be victorious and gain protection from the second death. To Pergamum He commands repentance from compromise. In this way, they would be victorious and gain miraculous provision–hidden manna–and an invitation to a divine party.

In this time period, when the Caesars would hold banquets, they sent out invitations–white marble with the invitees name engraved on it. How much more should we desire to receive an invitation from Christ to the divine banquet in heaven.

Each of these commands and promises are essentially the same, yet personalized to the cities’ challenge. All were commanded to get/keep their relationship with Jesus Christ right. And all were promised eternity for doing so.

What has Jesus commanded you to right in your life? Check your relationship with Him carefully and tend to those needy areas. If you are victorious in holding to your faith in Christ, then just like the seven churches of Revelation, you too will receive eternal life.

Cultural Complications

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7

Image result for tree of life in ephesusTen times in the New Testament, scripture exhorts people with ears to actually use their ears to hear what God has to say. It seems logical, but it can be oh so complicated. Culture, in particular, can complicate or obscure or distort or distract from or drown out God’s message.

But John offers the Ephesian Christians this encouragement–be victorious in hearing and doing God’s word, and you can have the actual tree of life in an actual paradise of the One True Almighty God.

Because in Ephesus, the Artemesian temple had a, so-called, tree of life in its courtyard. A tree that people would touch believing that it could make them fertile, or well, or live longer, or other blessings to improve the quantity and quality of life as they saw it. Of course, Satan totally counterfeited the concept of The Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden [Genesis 2:9; also mentioned in Revelation 22]. And then he passed it off as a non-Christian cultural affair that possibly left the Ephesian Christians feeling like they would also like free access to such a life-giving tree.

The paradise referred to here is also a cultural shout out to the Ephesians. The Caesars, who were demanding to be worshipped as gods, had huge beautiful palaces with central courtyard gardens that were beyond compare–their own personal paradise. The Ephesian Christians would have known full well that John was telling them that God is higher than any Caesar and His palaces more grand. His Tree of Life would not be found in pagan temples requiring indecency and self-mutilation, but in His very own paradise–that He offered freely to them if they just believe.

Do you hear what God is saying when you read His word? How about when you listen to others expound on God’s word? How about when you pray or praise and worship? If there is ever a time in your daily life that you do not hear God, ask Him to open your ears to His glory and honor in your life.

The Lampstand Removed

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come 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.” Revelation 2:5-6

Image result for Ancient EphesusWithout doubt, Roman life for Ephesian Christians was hard.

To enter the agora, a public market square that served as the center for provisions, business and social life, one had to take a bit of incense and burn a fragrant offering to Caesar, thereby proclaiming him Lord. However, a Christian could not in good conscience make offerings or acknowledge any one other than Jesus Christ as Lord. So, unless they compromised their faith, they were shut out of the heart of their city life.

The temple of Artemis, as well as many other pagan temples, held prominence in Ephesian life. Temple worship and annual festivals were filled with immoral and even self-mutilating acts. But amazingly the temple of Artemis actually served as a financial hub of the city as well, much like a bank, since so much wealth was offered and spent there. So a Christian would not have had access to the financial backing that secular businessmen enjoyed.

A heretical sect, called Nicolaitans, sprang up in this confluence of Christianity and Romanism. They believed that since the body was a physical being and faith was a spiritual thing that they could, therefore, do whatever they wanted to in their body and be unaffected spiritually. God is clear here that this is not right thinking by any means.

Among all of this, and other practices that there is not room to explore here, the Ephesian Christians still behaved in many ways in line with the gospel. However, they’d forgotten their first love. That is, they’d misplaced, lost sight of or just plain let go of the priority to put Jesus Christ first in their lives.

So Jesus called them to repent–to think again or have their thinking renewed/made new. If they didn’t put Jesus back into His rightful place in their lives, they risked their lampstand being removed, their light being ineffective in their generation.

In our day, we are not commanded to worship our president as a god, but as Christians, our beliefs have been shut out of public places: courts, schools, media, and the like. Not only that, but we are regularly asked to denounce our faith in the God of the Bible, because He does not fit with mainstream lifestyles and ideas.

It can be difficult in any culture to keep Jesus as our number one priority, but particularly when this choice segregates us. Yet if we compromise or lose sight of Jesus as Lord of our lives, our light will be ineffective, our generation unreached.

Who or what has first priority in your life? Do you need to repent, that is be transformed by the renewing of your mind [Romans 12:2]?

Have You Forgotten Someone?

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this one thing against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:1-4

Image result for Church of Mary at EphesusChapter 2 opens with a letter to the church in Ephesus. It is the first of seven letters–one to each of the seven churches of Proconsular Asia, the Roman province which is modern day Turkey. Ephesus was the capital of the province and an important port city.

In Greek grammar, the two phrases sandwiching the preposition of could be read either way. So the opening could either read to the angel of the church in Ephesus as is commonly translated, or it could read to the church of the angel in Ephesus. Again, it could be either to the Ephesian church’s angel or to the angel’s church in Ephesus. The second translation seems the more likely of the two in human terms, though it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the seven churches were entertaining angels unaware [Hebrews 13:2].

The letter then follows with a description of Jesus taken from His Revelation 1 description. Interestingly, each of the seven church letters open in this same format, but they each contain a different portion of this description, one specifically suited to the particular church’s needs.

So to the church in Ephesus, Jesus’ priestly, kingly and godly nature was re-emphasized [Revelation 1:12-13].

Then, Jesus told them that He knows all about them–their deeds, hard work and perseverance. This was an active church, full of ministry, missions and mercy.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d kept wicked men out from among them and tested false apostles just as they ought. This church was fighting the good fight, staving off heresies and cultural/idolatrous influences.

Jesus told them that He knew they’d persevered, tirelessly enduring hardships for His name’s sake. This church had withstood tests of intensifying persecution in their Roman state.

By all human measures, Ephesus was walking the walk.

But Jesus needed them to know that they were missing one very important piece of the Christian puzzle–Christ. They’d forgotten their love for Him. Not unlike the 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 reminder that without love–specifically without Love [Jesus Himself; 1 John 4:8; John 15:9]–they’d gained nothing. They were doing ministry, preserving the knowledge of God, and enduring hardship in vain. All this while Jesus was walking among them [2:1].

How about you? Do you work tirelessly to advance the gospel? Do you avoid sinful influence? Do you suffer for the name of Jesus? And in all this, have you forgotten Someone very important in your Christian walk? Or are you walking daily with Jesus who is walking right here with you?

Make a Righteous Choice

by Kristen C. Strocchia

“Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.” Genesis 9:22-23

Image result for hands over eyesThis is one of those incidents in scripture that set up a lot of future conflict on the earth. Because scripture specifically mentions Canaan repeatedly in this narrative–though not as the perpetrator–he certainly had some significance in what was happening, though what exactly we’re not told.

His father Ham made a sinful choice. He happened onto the scene of his father–Noah’s–shame, but he could have chosen 1) to avert his eyes, 2) to get his father a covering, and 3) to keep the incident a secret for his father’s sake. Instead, Ham turns indecency into a crass joke. He laughs and encourages his brothers to share in his lewd humor, “Hey guys, check out the old man! Can you believe it?”

Shem and Japheth would not be so persuaded though. They knew that the drunken nakedness was not for their eyes, and that their brother’s irreverence was equally as wrong. So they made a righteous choice–to do the exact three things that Ham chose not to do.

Ephesians 5:3-5 warns that, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke to the root of the full blown sins condemned in the law [Matthew 5]. He condemned: anger, the seed of murder; lust, the seed of adultery; and vanity oaths in God’s name, the seed of substituting self for God; et al. Complicit with his father Ham, Canaan was guilty of the seed of sexual immorality, impurity and coarse joking. This father-son duo, according to Ephesians, were idolaters. They valued the temporary pleasure that exploiting Noah brought them more than the holiness that God requires.

With the advent of the internet, access to pornography and other ungodly pictures and entertainments are more readily available than ever. The simplest most innocent search terms can cause us to accidentally stumble upon things that have no place in the life of a Christian. What do you do when those times come? Do you immediately avert your eyes? Or do you chance a glance, maybe even gawk like Ham? Do you X out of the page? Or do you tell your buddies to come check it out?

Even when we choose to do the right thing–to look away and get rid of the filth–it only takes a second for ungodly images to burn themselves into our minds. If you’ve ever experienced this, you may find yourself battling within. If so, pray. God can and will help those who sincerely seek Him to purge the residue of sin in our hearts and minds to His glory and honor in our lives.