The sports world is filled with athletes who seemed to be on a path toward certain super-stardom only to have it all unravel in the blink of an eye. Sometimes it is because of an injury. Sometimes it is because of poor choices. Sometimes it is a mystery.
One day they are on top of the sports world; the next day they are added to the list of “what might have beens.” The same rapid descent can also be found in the business world, political world, and pretty much every other area of life.
Even local churches.
This is the sad story of the church in Ephesus.
During Paul’s Third Journey (Acts 18-21), he, Aquila, and Priscilla traveled to Ephesus where Paul reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue. The Jews asked him to stay with them longer, but Paul declined as he wanted to travel to Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia to strengthen the churches there. (Acts 18:18-23) Later, when Paul returned to Ephesus, he spoke in the synagogue for three months before some Jews caused trouble resulting in Paul teaching instead in the hall of Tyrannus for two more years. (Acts 19:8-10) (As a quick side note, some believe that “Tyrannus” was a nickname for the teacher of that school because it is the Greek word from which we received the word “tyrant.”)
Paul’s ministry in Ephesus proved quite effective, resulting in many Gentiles and Jews coming to faith in Christ and the burning magical arts books worth over 50,000 pieces of silver. In fact, Paul’s ministry was so effective that Demetrius, a silversmith who was part of a lucrative business in Ephesus making and selling shrines for use in the city’s Temple of Artemis, prompted a riot against Paul and the other believers who were disrupting too much of their business!
Some time later, when Paul was on his way to Jerusalem, where his arrest was almost certain, he sent for the elders of the Ephesian church and shared an emotional farewell with them and warned them that fierce wolves would come into the church. (Acts 20:17-37) While in prison, Paul would write a letter to the church (the Book of Ephesus) in which, Paul would praise the church’s “faith in the Lord Jesus” and their “love toward all the saints” (Ephesians 1:15) and call on them to “walk in love.” (Ephesians 5:2) That letter was written by Paul around A.D. 60-62.
The apostle John would write a letter about 30 years later that we know as the Book of Revelation. One of the intended recipients of the letter was the church at Ephesus and God had something to share with that church directly in Revelation 2:1-7. Apparently, the elders had heeded Paul’s warning about wolves because the church was praised for not bearing with those who are evil and testing self-claimed apostles and rooting out the false ones. Their theology was strong and they were working hard. However, there was a problem—a serious one.
The church had stopped loving as it once had.
What was once a source of praise was now a source of contention just 30 years later.
How quickly a church can fall.
It isn’t clear whether or not the church rebounded. We do know that Ephesus was the site of a church council in the fifth century, but beyond that we really don’t know much about the church.
What might have been had the church in Ephesus only remained fixed in their love for Christ and one another. Their strong theology and defense of the faith became inert without love.
As you teach your kids about Paul’s third missions journey this week, consider how you can use this time to encourage them about the importance of anchoring their relationship with Christ on love. Remind them that it is certainly vital that they have the gospel facts correct, but it is love that will prompt them to live a life pleasing to Christ. Warn them about the danger of becoming a spiritual brainiac with a heart two sizes too small. That is, after all, the power of the gospel. The gospel message (what we must know) matters. But knowing that message is no enough. We need to trust in Christ and in doing so, the power of the gospel is unleashed in our lives to transform us day-by-day. Love for Christ and gratitude for what He has done is what will position your kids to be faithful for a lifetime.
How can we help develop deep, lasting love for Christ in our kids? Share an idea or from your experience in the comments below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the July 26, 2015 session (Unit 35, Session 5) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay in 2014. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian and his wife, Tara, and their three children – Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb – live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 1-3 graders at City Church.