Generally speaking, the Church at Ephesus presents an interesting timeline of the early Church given that a decent sized chunk of NT Scriptures are directed toward it. The reason for this is two of the pastoral letters were written to Timothy, who was the pastor at the Church of Ephesus. This includes:
- 54-57 AD — Paul’s stay in Ephesus
- 60-62 AD — Epistle to the Ephesians
- 64 AD — Timothy becomes leader of the Church of Ephesus
- 62-64 AD — 1 Timothy
- 64-67 AD — 2 Timothy
- 95 AD — Revelation, specifically Revelation 2.
- 97 AD — Timothy tries to stop a celebration in honor of Diana by preaching the gospel. He was beaten, dragged through the streets, and stoned to death.
This timeline gives us a great look into how the Church at Ephesus progressed in a few decades.
Lessons from Ephesians, Timothy, and 1 and 2 Timothy
Ephesians 1-4 focuses on the rich inheritance we have in Christ. This culminates in the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5 on how we are to be imitators of Christ, essentially taking off the old and putting on the new. Near the end is general church instruction, family order instruction, and exhortation on spiritual warfare.
A few years later, Timothy, who had been traveling with Paul (like Silas and Barnabas) was commissioned to be the leader of the Church of Ephesus. I’m not sure on who exactly was the leader of the Church before this, but presumably it wasn’t that organized. This is where 1 and 2 Timothy come in. Essentially, these letters were written for purposeful organization of the Church.
1 Timothy 1 discusses generally how Christians are to act and to avoid heresy. 1 Timothy 2 discusses how men and women are to act, especially in Church settings. 1 Timothy 3 discusses qualifications of bishops and deacons. 1 Timothy 4 discusses apostasy, godliness, and individual exhortation. 1 Timothy 5 discusses widows, elders, and how to provide for the needs of others. Finally, 1 Timothy 6 follows up on lessons to all who minister.
2 Timothy follows in similar veins. Chapter 1-4 is another exhortation of Paul to Timothy as a spiritual son in Christ to be strong as he was having difficulties in the first few years of his ministry at the Church of Ephesus.
Therefore, from what we understand of the Church in Ephesus is that general commands of the Church and family were not enough. The letter to the Church in Ephesus provided solid instructions to the Church on these matters, but it seems that much of the Ephesians had trouble discerning the “sacred from the secular” so to speak. Instead of defaulting to godliness and freedom in Christ, they needed more teaching in order to stay away from cultural influences. Enter Timothy.
If you remember back to some of my prior posts and background on Timothy, he was the son of a Greek father and Jewish mother. Per 2 Timothy 1, Timothy was raised by his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice in the faith, which Paul commended. However, since Timothy had no real father figure, Paul literally became his father figure and mentor.
When we read Paul’s commands in 1 Timothy 2 about women not having authority over or teaching, this is part of the backdrop. We understand that Christian wives and mothers can bring up children in the faith, but they can’t teach men how to be men. That requires fathers and father figures, of which Paul exemplifies in 2 Timothy to exhort Timothy to be strong, carry on firmly in his callings, be diligent, understand that difficult times and persecution will come, and to make every effort to continue preaching the Word. It is with this background that Timothy carries on the torch from Paul until his death by preaching the word among the celebration of Diana and being beaten, dragged through the streets, and martyred by stoning.
Lessons building on Ephesians, Timothy, 1 and 2 Timothy into Revelation
The same is indeed still true to day. Human nature has not changed. Biblical Truths of the first century are as “relevant” today as they were then. This brings us to Revelation.
Revelation 2:“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks [a]among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and [b]perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have [c]perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the [d]deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Now that we understand the Church of Ephesus through the lens of Ephesians and the lens of 1 and 2 Timothy, we more readily understand the passage to the Church of the Ephesians in Revelation.
- The letter to the Church at Ephesus provided general instructions on the body and family. However, these didn’t work as effectively as they should have. Hence, Timothy was commissioned to be leader of the Church at Ephesus.
- Paul sends the pastoral letters of 1 and 2 Timothy on how to organized the Church there to adhere to sound doctrine. This includes positions of men and women in the Church, qualifications of bishops and deacons, avoiding apostasy and adhering to godliness, and so on. 2 Timothy focuses mainly on the father-figure mentor relationship between Paul and Timothy.
- We know from history that from 60 AD to his death in 97 AD, Timothy was a living example of the gospel to martyrdom.
In Revelation, Jesus commends the Church at Ephesus for:
- Not tolerating evil men and rooting out apostasy.
- Their perseverance without growing weary for Jesus.
- Hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which were a gnostic cult, like Balaam putting a stumbling block before Israel.
- Jesus also chastises the Church at Ephesus for leaving their first love.
The theorized “deeds” that the Nicolaitans held to, supported by commentary from early Church fathers, is that Nicolas (from Acts 6:5) was one of the 7 deacons appointed at the Church of Antioch. However, he fell into some sort of heresy involving overindulgence of fleshly desires involving food sacrificed to idols and fornication with temple prostitutes.
This is where some of the passages from Romans (‘not sinning so that grace may abound’) and Acts and Corinthians (‘avoiding food sacrificed to idols, especially for those who have weak consciences’ and ‘fornication, especially with temple prostitutes’) comes into focus. Apostasy started to become more prevalent in the early Church, as even deacons and leaders in the Church devolved into gnostic heresy. Therefore, it should not be surprise to see many pastors caught up within the same heresies today. Paul, James, and Peter consistently warn believers in the Scriptures to be wary of being deceived: thinking that they’re right when they’re wrong.
Indeed, the practices of the Church at Ephesus, from the letter to the Ephesians, leadership of Timothy, and commands of the pastoral letters, are affirmed from the prophesy of Revelation (which is a prophesy of Jesus) and Peter’s affirmation of Paul’s teachings in 2 Peter 3. This leads us to understand that difficult passages, such as prohibited authority of women over men and teaching men, are in fact correct.
Additionally, given the admonishment to the Church at Ephesus in Revelation, it’s also easy to make an idol of doing what is right and forgetting that it’s all for Jesus in the end. We ultimately desire to do what is right because of Jesus, and our eyes should be focused on Him.
To put this into marriage context, this is similar to a wife being overly focused and diligent on her responsibilities within marriage and subsequently ignoring her husband. A wife must realize that her responsibilities are her responsibilities because they are to and for her husband: to be his helpmeet. Her husband is more important than what she is doing. I’ve known quite a few women who have spoken that this is a huge trap for them, both in real life and around these parts.
There are lots conclusions we can draw from the overview of the Church at Ephesus and Timothy’s journey of being mentored into the leadership position at the Church of Ephesus.
Most of these deal with the practical application Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy to the Christian Church and family. These include, but are not exclusive to (as I’m not going to list out everything):
- Headship-submission, love-respect relationship of the husband and wife
- Women are not permitted to have authority or to teach men
- Qualifications for leaders in the Church and generosity in the Church
- Avoiding the traps of various apostasy and sticking to sound doctrine
- Paul being a father figure and mentor to Timothy in 2 Timothy
- Revelation’s affirmation of sticking to Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy as a model for the family, Church organization, deterring evil men, apostasy, and perseverance in the faith, but don’t forgot our first love: Jesus.
God’s Word is eternal Truth. They are applicable today, despite much of the gnostic and progressivism heresies that have infected the Church. Blending the the secular and sacred is bad, mmmkay?
We are called to holiness and perfection like God, through sanctification, which means being set apart from the culture and world. The progression of the Church in Ephesus provides us an outstanding example from the early Church to use today.