The Church’s Zeal

miletusMike stood on the current site of Miletus (present day Turkey) where Paul said farewell to the Ephesian leaders before going to prison. Miletus is not a big place. The entire town was on a peninsula surrounded by water, a few hundred yards across. In the late afternoon cool, I could imagine Paul warning the church leaders with tears in his eyes. The magnificent center of missionary zeal and church expansion in Ephesus would soon be led astray, even from among the very leaders to whom Paul was speaking (Ephesians 20:17-38).

There were 3 epicenters of Christianity in the first century. Missionary expansion began in Jerusalem, then moved to Antioch and blossomed in Ephesus.

A few days earlier, I had walked the ancient town of Ephesus (about 40 miles from Miletus) where Paul had visited several times and lived and taught for 2 years so that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

TheaterEphesus had about a 10 year run of excellence during Paul’s day then another 30 years or so under the leadership of the Apostle John before his exile, according to tradition. But by the end of the first century when John wrote Revelation from exile on Patmos, the church in Ephesus was losing its zeal. They were still doing “church” but Jesus told them, “you have abandoned the love you had at first.” You don’t burn with my zeal for the lost like you did at first.

Jesus’ warning was in my mind as we sat in the huge stone theater in Ephesus. Jesus must remain the center. Our core activity must remain telling others about the goodness of his kingdom. To cease telling others is to begin to die as a church.