Do the First Works!
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works…
— Revelation 2:5
It’s not enough just to say “you’re sorry.” That is not genuine repentance. Real repentance, as described on March 18 and 19, describes an inward change that results in outward change. Real, inward repentance shows forth evidence that repentance has occurred. Jesus told the church at Ephesus that they needed to repent and “do the first works.” That word “do” refers to the outward actions I am describing — the outward proof of repentance.
The word “do” is the Greek word poieo, a word that is used 568 times in the New Testament; thus, its meaning is well established in New Testament writings. It literally means to do, but it actually conveys much more. This word poieo describes all types of activity, particularly the idea of creativity. For example, the Greek word poietes — a form of the word poieo — is the source of the word poet, which denotes one who has the extraordinary ability to write or create a certain literary form. Thus, this word describes doing that produces results.
Because the word poieo is connected to the creative activity of an author, poet, or painter, let’s pause to consider what is required for this type of creative person to produce excellent work. It takes concentration and commitment for a poet to write a poem or for an artist to paint a masterpiece. The person must free himself from all distractions so his mind, emotions, and talent can focus on the specific project before him. When an author or artist can concentrate exclusively on a creative assignment, he is able to put forth an all-out effort and release his full potential to produce a masterful work. Although it may be true that a great work can be produced with intermittent interruptions, the removal of distractions for the purpose of a more concentrated focus enables one to achieve the best results with greater speed.
This is significant in light of Revelation 2:5, where the tense of the word poieo calls for urgent and quick action. Anything less than a serious response would be found insufficient. Therefore, great effort, prayer, and concentration would be required if the Ephesian believers were to return to their first love and replicate the works that accompanied their early faith.
It is obvious that Christ expected the best from these believers — which would only be achieved if they responded to Him with their best effort. And because the Greek tense demands urgent and quick action, it is certain that Jesus wasn’t willing to wait endlessly for them to respond. If they didn’t heed His words, they would lose their position of spiritual leadership in Asia (see Revelation 2:5).
But what specifically was Jesus commanding this church to do? He told them in verse 5: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works.…”
The phrase “first works” comes from the Greek words prota erga. The word prota means first or early, and the word erga means works, deeds, or activity, conveying the idea of work that is produced by consistent and tireless effort. Although the King James Version translates this Greek phrase as “first works,” it could actually be interpreted, “the actions that were indicative of you at the first” or “the things you did in the very beginning.”
Jesus commanded them to return to their “first works.” He was referring to the words, deeds, and activities that characterized the Ephesian congregation at the beginning of their spiritual journey when they first fell in love with Jesus Christ.
What were these “first works” that once distinguished the church of Ephesus? Scripture reveals several characteristics of this prominent church in its early beginnings:
- They possessed a great spiritual hunger (see Acts 18:20).
- They enjoyed rich fellowship among the brethren (see Acts 18:27).
- They had an eagerness to repent and to receive what God had for them (see Acts 19:1-6).
- They cherished the Word of God (see Acts 19:8).
- They sacrificed their religious reputation for Jesus (see Acts 19:9).
- They were committed to applying God’s Word to their lives (see Acts 19:10).
- They were receptive to the power of God and to the gifts of the Spirit (see Acts 19:11,12).
- They loved Jesus and the wonder-working power associated with His name (see Acts 19:17).
- They were quick to confess their sin and turn from their evil works (see Acts 19:18).
- They severed all connections with a pagan past at great personal cost (see Acts 19:19).
- They were publicly persecuted for the sake of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:32).
- They were faith-filled (see Ephesians 1:15).
- They were known for their love of the brethren (see Ephesians 1:15).
All of the qualities listed above characterized this passionate, vibrant congregation in its early years. The fact that Christ called for them to return to doing these “first works” doesn’t necessarily mean they had become completely void of these attributes. However, it is evident that the intensity of their zeal had radically diminished. Thus, Christ urged them to remember, to repent, and to do the first works for these reasons:
- Remembering how the fire of God once burned in their hearts was essential. Only by remembering what they used to be could the Ephesian believers realize how far they had drifted.
- Repentance was God’s requirement. An acknowledgment and confession of sin was the place to begin. If they were willing to humble themselves and repent, it would lead to their restoration and spare them from impending judgment.
- Repentance demands proof. A person who confesses his sin with no intention of changing is doing nothing more than admitting his guilt. He is not exhibiting genuine repentance. True repentance is always accompanied by corresponding actions. Regarding the Ephesian believers, Jesus made it clear that the proof of their repentance would be a return to a passionate pursuit of intimately knowing Him.
In Revelation 2:5, Jesus continued with His message to the Ephesian believers: “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly…”
The words “or else” would be better translated, “and if not.” The Ephesian church had a decision to make, and Christ anticipated that they would do what He asked of them. But if they did not, He warned them, “…I will come unto thee quickly.”
The phrase “I will come” is a translation of the Greek word erchomai, which describes an event that would indeed take place if the Ephesian believers didn’t meet Jesus’ requirements. If they failed to do what He asked of them, they could expect Him to come to them with judgment, for the issues at hand were far too serious to ignore. The choice had been set before the congregation at Ephesus: They must repent or Christ would remove them from their place of prominence among the other churches.
There is no Greek word in the original text for this word “quickly”; rather, it was added by the translators to help convey the urgency of the situation. Yet even as Jesus gave the Ephesian church this urgent warning, He also gave them the time frame they needed to respond to His request.
In the apostle John’s vision of the exalted Christ, he saw that Jesus’ feet were “like unto fine brass” (Revelation 1:15). Brass in Scripture represents judgment, which tells us that Christ was prepared to bring judgment if necessary. But brass or bronze is heavy; therefore, it is difficult to quickly move an object made of these metals. The fact that Jesus’ feet appeared as made of bronze clearly sent the message that when Christ moves to bring judgment, He does not rush. Rather, He moves slowly in that direction, providing ample time for the repentance that will prevent the impending judgment.
Nevertheless, Jesus made it clear to the Ephesian congregation that if they resisted His pleadings, He would have to come to them in judgment. Thus, He warned them, “I will come unto thee quickly.” The phrase “unto thee” (or “to you”) is the Greek word soi, which means directly to you. The use of this word soi made Christ’s warning to the Ephesians extremely direct and personal. The time allowed for repentance had already been set, and Jesus was walking toward them with His feet of bronze. If His voice was ignored, the outcome would be inevitable: Judgment would surely follow.
At the conclusion of Revelation 2:5, Jesus said, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.”
The grammar used here implies again that Christ rebuked the Ephesian congregation with an expectation that they would repent; however, this outcome wasn’t certain. This tells us how far the church of Ephesus had regressed in its spiritual passion. Jesus’ warning to these believers was very direct, personal, and clear. Yet they had drifted so far from the fiery love for Him they had once known. The seeds of institutionalized religion seemed to have already begun to control them so much that Christ didn’t say with absolute certainty that they would pass this test.
What about you? Is Jesus speaking to you today, calling you to return to a simple, passionate love for Him? Will you respond and pass the test? These questions that I’ve asked you in the past few days of Sparkling Gems are very important. Christ is watching, and He is waiting to see how you will respond to the dealings of His Spirit. If you’ve become stagnant and cold, are you going to respond by returning to the fires of His Spirit that once burned brightly within your heart — or are you going to remain as you are? Only you can answer this question — but be assured, Jesus is awaiting your response today!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I am deeply convicted by what I have read today. I recognize that You are calling me deeper and higher, and it is my responsibility to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and to respond to what I have read. I repent for backsliding — for letting my once passionately intimate relationship with you slip and be replaced by other worldly concerns. I admit that I’ve done this, and I confess my sins and repent according to I John 1:9 and I receive full forgiveness. Now that I am free, I reclaim what I have lost, and I move forward to obtain what You have for me in the future.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that I repent for allowing worldliness and other things to take the place that belongs only to You. I lay hold of a new level of commitment that results in renewed love for You. You are watching and waiting to see how I will respond to the dealings of Your Spirit. I profess that I return to my first love.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!