Are you working too hard for Jesus?

Who were the hardest working Christians in the Bible? The answer must surely be Paul and his friends, but many people will say it was the church at Ephesus. They say this because of what Jesus said in his letter to the church: “I know your deeds and toil” (Rev 2:2a).

Commentators make much of Jesus knowing the Ephesians’ deeds and toil, as though an impressed Lord was recording their labors in his scorebook. But the original word for know simply means “I see”. It’s not necessarily a commendation. In these letters, Jesus says, “I know” in regard to both good deeds (Rev. 2:19) and bad deeds (Rev. 3:1, 15).

When Jesus says, “I know” to the Ephesians, he’s saying “I care.” Because he loves us he is intimately acquainted with our lives. He knows what we’re doing. It’s a good thing that he knows, but it may not be a good thing that we’re doing, and this was the case with the Ephesians.

“I know your deeds and toil.” Many believe that Jesus was commending the Ephesians for their hard work, but the word toil means labors, extreme weariness, and beating. The Ephesians were taking a beating. They were working themselves to exhaustion. Why would the Lord commend them for that?

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The Ephesians were weary and heavy-laden. They were a busy church in a busy city. They were running all sorts of programs, ministries, and activities. They met every day of the week and twice on Sunday, and they were worn out.

Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus doesn’t commend the Ephesians for working themselves into a miserable state. He does not say, “Well done you good and hard-working servants.” But nor does he rebuke them for working too hard. He simply says, “I’m aware of how hard you are working.” He’s building up to something, and it is this. “You have left your first love” (Rev 2:4).

Your first love is not your love for God; it is God’s love for you. He is the Source and the Supply of all agape love. To say the Ephesians had left their first love, is to recognize they were no longer abiding in the love of God. Like the prodigal son, they had walked away from their Father’s love.

That Jesus would speak of the Ephesians’ labor and lost love speaks volumes. These guys had too much going on. Living in the busiest city in Asia, they were burning the candle at both ends and burning themselves out in the process.

By working ourselves to distraction and by trying to earn what God freely provides, we can find ourselves far from the love of God. He certainly has not stopped love us, but we don’t feel the love. We feel beaten down, exhausted, bone-weary. Happily, there is a remedy.

Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first. (Rev 2:5)

What the Ephesians were doing (working hard) was getting in the way of what they weren’t doing (receiving from Jesus), which is why Jesus tells them to stop what they’re doing and return to what they did before. This is a message for all weary Christians: Stop what you’re doing and do what you did at first.

What deeds did we do at first?

You enjoyed Jesus. When you first entered the kingdom you may have done nothing at all except recline at his feet. “Do that,” says the Lord. “Stop trying to give to me and receive from me. Follow Mary who sat rather than Martha who stressed.”

Sadly, this is not the recommendation you will hear from those who elevate works above grace. “Doing what you did at first means praying and studying the word and evangelizing with the enthusiasm you had when you first came to Jesus.” In other words, the hard-working Ephesians need to work even harder and so do you. “Through hard work we prove our love and maintain our good standing with God.” Beware this graceless message! The mindless pursuit of religious busyness—even good works done in the name of Jesus—will distract you from the love of God. You’ll end up with toiling in the kitchen instead of reclining with Jesus in the lounge.

The takeaway, the cure, the ticket to freedom

If you are worn out from doing the Lord’s work, you can probably relate to the Ephesians. They were a hard-working bunch of believers, but they were dying on the inside. They were busy building, but their labor was in vain.

Why do we push ourselves past breaking point? It can happen because we’ve forgotten how much God loves us. We think we have to prove ourselves or come up with the goods, but none of this pressure is from the Lord.

You were made to receive your Father’s love. Lose sight of your Father’s love for you and you will lose your way. You’ll fall from the secure place of grace into the realm of dead works. You’ll become restless, insecure, and empty on the inside. You’ll try to replace his love with lesser things.

If the Ephesians could leave the love of God, anyone can. But the good news is those who wander can come home again. If you have lost your first love, Jesus shows us the way back: Remember, repent (change your thinking), and do what you did at first. Go back to the place of your first love, when Jesus was your everything. Make every effort to enter his rest and let nothing move you.

Extracted and adapted from Paul Ellis’s new book, Letters from Jesus: Finding Good News in Christ’s Letters to the Churches. Available for preorder now.

27 Comments on Are you working too hard for Jesus?

  1. Jenny Beauchamp // February 21, 2019 at 1:22 am // Reply

    Thanks Paul, wonderful reminder!

  2. Yes, Yes, Yes, Amen, It is we love because he first loved us. Thanks for the reminder as I have and might again say to others, hey watch my smoke.
    What smoke, I have none. I have no righteousness of my own, never have, never will

    It is not my righteousness, it is God’s, not mine, I am elated that God loves us all so much God shares this with us by belief to his love given us through Son that is risen where new life is given, after his one time death was, is the cure for sin. We are forgiven to this day and forever in Son
    Father sanctified Jesus as the way to him, Done in his being risen for us to be given this too, where we walk new, yet not us, God through us in Spirit and Truth

    Thanks for the reminder of this truth God just love us each and all, waiting patiently for us to see this willingly to be new and just love as are loved
    1 John 4:18-19

  3. This is so good! Thanks!

  4. This post is so right on. In John 6:28; the crowd asked Jesus “what must we do to do the work of the Lord?” 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of the Lord is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” Great post Paul, your insight is so appreciated. Bill

  5. What a wonderful and clear explanation of scripture, i am a Christian for more than 20 years now, but i don’t know anyone who explain these passages like you did, you are such a blessing to us Paul. Grace upon grace!

  6. Justin Hopper // February 21, 2019 at 1:51 pm // Reply

    Fantastic! Simply fantastic!

  7. Joy Brothers // February 21, 2019 at 2:00 pm // Reply

    Paul, thank you so much for expounding the word so clearly. God told me I was halfhearted, and I thought I needed to make a greater effort in study and prayer, but this truth is so refreshing, and makes much more sense! Very liberating.
    Thanks again. Joy.

  8. Paul please how can I get the kind of revelation you get. Well I guess one way is listening to people like you. Thank God and thank you for sharing

    • Revelation comes from the Holy Spirit, so bring your questions to him. We have a teacher-centric culture in the modern church that promotes an unhealthy dependence on men, but the Holy Spirit is the Teacher of all teachers (John 16:13). He really is the highest authority on every subject, every problem, and every question.

      I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been puzzled by something, asked the Lord for wisdom and understanding, and he’s given me revelation, often immediately. Perhaps this is easier for some people than others, I don’t know. What I do know is that the sooner we all learn to rely on the Holy Spirit, the better we will be. So I strongly encourage you to take your questions directly to the Lord and put James 1:5 into practice.

      • Amen, for sure, Hebrews 8:11

        As Father be our teacher in Spirit and Truth to us each personally and collectively in Love that is true as of 1 Cor 13:4-7 tells me thank you

      • Robert Slominski // February 26, 2019 at 2:47 am //

        Hello Paul, I wanted to tell you.. I used this on my Facebook.. The Lord has brought you wisdom and brought me wisdom. thank you. Thank you Holy Spirit for you live inside us and are close…

  9. Deborah Long // February 22, 2019 at 9:04 am // Reply

    Awesome. Wonderful explanation of our First Love. I’ve heard leaving your first love preached so many times as condemnation. Refreshing to know the Truth. Keep on Paul Ellis.

  10. “Go back to the place of your first love, when Jesus was your everything. Make every effort to enter his rest and let nothing move you.”

    Hi Paul, any practical advice on how to do that?

    Thank you

    • I think the advice Jesus gave is the most practical: “Remember and do the things you did at first.” What did you do when you first encountered the wild and unbounded love of God? Do that.

  11. Greek Scholar Thayer’s uses “I see” and Strong’s uses “I know”.

    Different perspective and I agree with Thayer.

  12. Ezekiel Augustine // February 23, 2019 at 7:01 pm // Reply

    Amazing truth I find here right perspective of scriptures truly this is what we all need.
    Thanks Paul

  13. Afolayan Peter // February 26, 2019 at 11:50 pm // Reply

    Honestly, reading your acticles have improved me spiritually and I look forward to studying more of your books and materials. Thanks so much for making some of your study notes available.

  14. The modern church world needs an overhaul and it’s time to rethink everything we think we know about christianity.The church system we have today is based on wrong beliefs and traditions that were constantly being added on and passed down from previous generations of christians, preachers, and charlatans to the point where our faith is not grounded in God’s word anymore, but man’s ideas. A lot of the work we do doesn’t amount to anything and only leads to confusion, frustration, church fights, and discouragement when we don’t see any fruits of our labor. The church has walked away from its intended purpose and is placing a heavy burden on believers which they can’t bear. We need to start chipping away all the excesses and go back to the simplicity of Christ, which is only the essence of the gospel- God is love, who expressed Himself in Jesus who gave Himself for us. If God has given His own son, then everything else is freely given and has been done and provided for; no need to strive to earn anything.
    John 6:29 – ‘Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

    • I see what you are saying, in others using the Gospel truth as if got it toget what they want.

      I see this was happening in Jesus’ time here on earth also

      Matthew 23:15

      Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

      You know this has gone on even before, started in the first unbelief of Adam and Eve.

      So what to do?

      Matthew 10:16-20 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

      16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.
      Luke 21:14-15 Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)

      14 Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer: 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.

      I see this as walking by Faith,, having our Object, Father, Son and Holy Spirit of them leading us in them all as won for us (One)

  15. Great clarity in comparison to all the wrong teaching that never sat comfortably with me…making your love for God supreme I.s.o. God’s love for us the nr 1 thing….yes… keeping ourselves in His love through intimacy before works. Great liberating truth. Thanks Paul….keep up the good news.

  16. Thank u paul for the simple n clear explanation of the word,blessings,.from kenya n how can i get ua books here,thanks.

  17. Hi Paul, thank you for your fresh life-giving perspectives! I would like to ask about Rev 2:3 which says, “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”

    This verse states the Ephesians “have not grown weary.” Your article mentions “they were burning the candle at both ends and burning themselves out in the process.”

    Can you help me understand? Thanks so much!

    • That’s a good question which I address fully in my book. In the first part of verse 2, Jesus acknowledges the Ephesians’ toilsome labor using words that leave no doubt that they were working themselves to the bone. Then he changes the subject and talks about their intolerance for false apostles. Ephesus, by virtue of its heritage and location, was a magnet for shysters. Indeed, Paul had warned them to be on their guard for such men. The Ephesians endured these attacks, and they had not become jaded and cynical. Put it altogether and we get a picture of a church that might’ve become weary, even closed, but they hadn’t. They were like the Energizer bunny who just keeps going. Note that Jesus does not say, “I’m so impressed you have worked hard and not grown weary.” He is simply acknowledging their labor. He’s saying, “I know you are working hard and have not grown weary.” The works preacher interprets this as a commendation, and their efforts certainly appeal to our carnal flesh. But in the economy of grace, they have nothing to boast about, as Jesus begins to explain in the next verse.

    • What I see is: For steak for trust to what is done for us by Son in Father’s approval
      Work hard to enter God’s rest. Then when done with that and are weary, one gets revealed truth of that hard work they have done and gotten weary of in doing the best they can, using we can not do it as you God.
      But

      See Hebrews 4:9-13, and Philippians 2:12-13

      It is God alone that does it all, not us, even though we want to do it, In Truth it is God not us, we are just the vessel, God uses once we are willing to be led by him in risen Son. So the work part is great to go into to see truth.
      Gal 6:8-9 tells me this
      If frustrated in the work(s) trying to do it right, continue till the end of yourself in trying to do it.
      For then one sees TRUTH of not being able, and why Christ as the Son, (God himself) for us to reconcile us all first as told to us in 2 Cor 5:16-20.
      So I see until one, anyone in belief does not see it is finished for each of us, at his one time death for all. Does not see the new imputed life, Father gives them in Son, as risen for them to walk new in, and not of self.
      I wish I would never ever do any wrong again, but I have and might again, still hoping not, yet seeing
      2 Cor 12:7-10 shows what is real, then on e might be able to say it as in Gal. 2:20-21

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