By Amber Noel
A Reading from Revelation 2:1-7
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
2 “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.”
Most ministry goes unseen, and much of what it entails (for most people) is humdrum. So how do we know how well we’ve done, or receive appreciation for what we do? Most of God’s own work is hidden, too; and so perhaps this is the pattern of our ministry. But we need feedback. Working unseen, even when it comes with rewards, can get discouraging. Does my labor give God glory? Bring me joy? Does anyone see or appreciate me?
In the Lord’s words to Ephesus, we find comfort and command. Here, the hidden meaning and value of their work for Jesus is revealed. He not only reveals his startlingly intimate role in their lives (“holds…in his right hand,” “walks among”), he also reveals what he sees and knows. Jesus is paying close attention. And suddenly, the water of what they know of themselves and their situation becomes the wine of what he knows about them and says to them.
And it is a heady draft: “I know your hard work and your perseverance.” How many of us would not be deeply moved by these words from the lips of Jesus? He not only knows what we have been through (perhaps especially in 2020?), he values our struggle for virtue and fully appreciates the mettle we show (!).
But the drink of his word is strong to the last drop: “You have forsaken your first love… do the things you did at first.” Perseverance in his service will be required, but it is not, in itself, the fulfillment of God’s command. Grindstones and gritted teeth do not express what it is to love him. And there’s the rub. Only love will make hidden service a joy.
If your unseen obedience is no longer a joy, is there something your observant Lord calls you to see? What inspires your love for him? Finding that will help reveal the rest.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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Diocese of Abyei (South Sudan)
Diocese of Upper South Carolina