I am excited to announce that our study through the letters of Revelation will be available in both print and eBook format within the next couple of weeks. The official launch date is December 2nd and I’m excited to be able to share the cover with you today.
Check it out:
I also wanted to let you know that I have a small number of advance review copies available. If you are interested in reviewing this book before it comes out, you can sign up as a reviewer below:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
~ Revelation 3:13
Over the past 7 weeks, we have looked at the different letters that Jesus addressed to the churches in Revelation. Each letter was a performance appraisal of sorts. Jesus started out by saying who He was and why He was qualified to write to them. Then He complimented them on something they did well, before moving onto things they needed to work on.
The church in Ephesus persevered under hardship. They stood firm in their faith and sought the truth. But, they had lost their first love, and Christ was calling them back to Him.
In Smyrna the Christians were highly persecuted, but they were spiritually rich. Christ called these Christians to be faithful, even though it was going to get worse for them.
The Christians in Pergamum were holding onto their faith in Christ no matter what the cost, but they were also letting false teachings slip in. Teachings contrary to the word of Christ, and yet the were believing them, and He called them to repent.
Those in Thyatira were growing in their faith. They were commended for their service, love, faith and deeds, but Christ said they still needed work. They were tolerating false teachings–not necessarily believing them, but allowing them to be taught, and Christ wanted them to stop. He basically said that their complacency was sending people to Hell.
Jesus warned the Christians in Sardis that their reputation wasn’t as important as their hearts. He admonished them to wake up before it was too late, and to remember the gospel that saved them.
In Philadelphia Jesus encouraged the believers that even if life in this world was rough, that they were headed for someplace better. He knew they were holding fast to Him, and He let them know that their faith would be rewarded.
And finally, the church in Laodicea was lukewarm. Jesus said it would be better to be cold than to be a half-hearted Christian. He called them to be earnest and repent. Letting them know that He was standing at the door ready to welcome them with open arms, all they had to do was knock.
Do you see any repeating themes in those letters?
Here’s what I see…
What matters to Christ is that we love Him with our whole hearts. That we are faithful with our whole spirit, soul, and body. That we have works prompted by love. That we hold fast to the teachings of Christ, and don’t let anyone lead us astray. That we love others enough to share the truth of the Gospel. That we dedicate ourselves to Christ and love Him as passionately as He loves us. That we remember the Gospel that saves us, and walk with our hearts firmly set on Him. That’s what matters to Christ.
Of course we’ll fail, but Christ will love us anyway. Afterall, He died for that very reason, and that gives us all the cause to love Him more.
“Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can’t be shaken, let us have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
The last church Jesus takes us to is the church in Laodicea. This is probably the most well-known letter that Jesus wrote because of verse 16 (above). But let’s go ahead and read the letter as a whole:
To the angel of the assembly in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Head of God’s creation, says these things:
I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing;’ and don’t know that you are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked;I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.As many as I love, I reprove and chasten. Be zealous therefore, and repent.Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with me.He who overcomes, I will give to him to sit down with me on my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father on his throne.He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.
The Christians in Laodicea were neither hot nor cold. They weren’t on fire for Christ, but they didn’t have cold hearts either.They knew who Christ was, they acknowledged Him as Lord, but they weren’t passionate about Him. Serving Him wasn’t their #1 goal.
And that is the first and greatest commandment:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment.” Matthew 22:36-38
Lukewarm Christians don’t put God first–they go through the motions, but they lack passion. The two extremes Jesus mentioned were being either hot or cold. If you have a cold heart, you are not a Christian at all–your heart is hard and the love of Christ is not in you. But if your heart is hot, you are on fire for God. You desire more of Him and give Him whole-hearted devotion with a willing spirit. You earnestly seek Him (1 Chronicles 28:9).
In the book of Romans, Paul calls us to be zealous for Christ. He says to not be lacking in diligence or zeal (NIV). Yet as one of the ladies in my study pointed out this morning, we can be overzealous if our zeal is misplaced. We must be zealous for Christ with discernment and love.
Paul wrote it this way, “For the love of Christ constrains us; because we judge thus, that one died for all, therefore all died” 2 Corinthians 5:14.
Did you get that?
Our zeal is constrained by the love of Christ. The NIV says that it compels us. I think it does both. The love of Christ keeps us from hurting others, yet it compels us to speak the truth and live the life He has called us to.
When we are on fire for Christ, we hunger for more of Him. Fire devours everything in its path and when we are on fire for God, we want to devour Him. We want to consume Him or be consumed by Him. It’s a longing that can only be satiated by His presence in our lives.
We are on fire for Christ when we love Him with our whole hearts. When we are compelled by His love and desire to please Him…
Yet so often, we get caught up in this world and fall short of that.
We are neither hot nor cold–and that’s a dangerous place to be.
Jesus said He would spew the lukewarm out of His mouth. He wants all of us, or nothing at all.
In the eyes of Christ, there is no such thing as a passive Christian. You either love God with all your heart or you don’t. It’s one or the other.
Yet we prefer to balance precariously on the line. We tip-toe down the center and profess ourselves as lovers of Christ while our lives say otherwise. I’m guilty of it. I’ll be honest. I’m often a lukewarm Christian. I love God, but that love doesn’t always consume my life–my very being.
I get caught up in being a wife, a mother, an author, a leader, and on, and on, and on my list of responsibilities could go. Yet deep down I know that I can be a better wife if my relationship with my husband stems from my relationship with Christ. I can be a better mom if I love my children through Christ–if I keep my focus on Christ, I could be a better wife, mother, author, leader, etc.
It’s the truth.
But so often I get caught up in just living, that I forget why I’m living at all.
I become lukewarm.
I set myself on the counter of life, instead in the fire of Christ.
And that fire is the refiner’s fire that we read about in Scripture.
In order to be on fire for Christ, we have to put ourselves into the Refiner’s fire daily.
We have to make that choice.
And I do believe that it is a choice.
It’s a choice to spend time in God’s Word every day, even if it might make us less than early for an appointment.
It’s a choice to stand up for God’s standards, even when we know they won’t earn us brownie points with our friends, bosses, or co-workers.
It’s a choice to speak words of encouragement and love when others are tearing us down.
It’s a choice to live a life in the line of fire. Because often the Refiner’s fire comes from sources we don’t want to see as God-given. God uses persecution, sickness, heartache, and loss to make us more like Him.
And it’s in those times that we get to choose whether or not our faith in Him is real. Is He God or is He not? Because if He is God of all, then He can refine us with cancer. He can refine through circumstances the world would call evil. He can use all things together for the good of those who love Him–but only if we love Him enough to believe it.
My prayer this week is that God would ignite a fire in my life. And I pray that with a fearful heart. I know that fire isn’t pleasant. When you play with fire, you get burnt. But I want to be on fire for Christ. I don’t want to live lukewarm. I don’t want to be spewed out of Christ’s mouth. I don’t want to hear Him say, “‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity’” (Matthew 7:21-23). I want to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can’t be shaken, let us have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
30 miles southeast of Sardis, located on a geological fault line, the city of Philadelphia was founded in 140 B.C. While the area sported rich soil and hot springs, it also suffered earthquakes and volcanic activity. Yet through all the earthquakes and aftershocks, this city rebuilt. Let’s go ahead and look at what Jesus had to say to the Christians there…
To the angel of the assembly in Philadelphia write:
He who is holy, he who is true, he who has the key of David, he who opens and no one can shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says these things:
I know your works (behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one can shut), that you have a little power, and kept my word, and didn’t deny my name.Behold, I give some of the synagogue of Satan, of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but lie. Behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.Because you kept my command to endure, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, which is to come on the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.I am coming quickly! Hold firmly that which you have, so that no one takes your crown.He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he will go out from there no more. I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God, and my own new name.He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.
~ Revelation 3:7-13
There really isn’t anything new in this letter that we haven’t seen already. Christ focused on the truth of salvation, the work of faith, perseverance under persecution, and the love of God. Yet it was still important enough for Christ to write. It is a letter of encouragement.
When I started this series, I mistakenly wrote that Smyrna was the only letter that Christ didn’t rebuke. I’m not sure where I got that, and I apologize for misleading you, but at the same time, I encourage you to look past that mistake and glean what Christ wants you to know despite my shortcomings. We have a God that wants us to be encouraged. He doesn’t want us to focus on all the negative things that surround us, but instead, to grow to be more like Him.
In church yesterday, my pastor talked about keeping our eyes on Christ, so that we can put to death the sinful nature within us. And that’s what we’ve seen in each of the letters Christ has written to His churches. He wrote to them about who He is, encouraged them in their faith, and then encouraged them to grow. Whether that growth was by renouncing a false belief, turning back to Christ, or just holding fast, He wanted them to grow in their relationship with Him.
Jesus encouraged the church in Philadelphia to hold on to what they had. He didn’t want them to give Satan a foothold to take their crown.
How often do you need encouragement to just keep going?
I was there this past weekend. I had gotten some horrible news about a friend, I realized I made the mistake in this study that I mentioned earlier, it was Sunday night and I needed to have this ready by Monday. I was behind. I was discouraged. I was hurting. And I was ready to give up.
Yet, God encouraged me to press on, and He brought me to this letter of encouragement. He showed me that my mistakes don’t determine my salvation. Jesus already has the door open. And that even when I fail–even when I’m weak–He still loves me. And He loves you too. No matter where you are at, if you are a child of God, He loves you. Hold on to what you have–hold on to your faith. For Christ is coming soon.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest.”
~ Matthew 11:28
Summarize this letter in your own words. What would you say God wanted us to understand from reading it?
Do you allow yourself to be encouraged and renewed by Christ?
When was the last time you encouraged someone else?
Welcome to week six of our study through the seven churches in Revelation. Today, we will be looking at the church in Sardis. 30 miles southeast of Thyatira, Sardis was built on a plateau making it secure, or hard to attack. However, that led to the residents becoming over confident. They had a safe location, so they weren’t worried about actively protecting their city. They falsely believed they were safe. Yet history tells us this was not the case. The belief the city as a whole held about their physical safety, is the same problem the church in Sardis faced spiritually. Let’s go ahead and take a look at what He had to say to this church:
And to the angel of the assembly in Sardis write:
He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars says these things:
I know your works, that you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.Wake up, and keep the things that remain, which you were about to throw away, for I have found no works of yours perfected before my God.Remember therefore how you have received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If therefore you won’t watch, I will come as a thief, and you won’t know what hour I will come upon you.Nevertheless you have a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.He who overcomes will be arrayed in white garments, and I will in no way blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.
~ Revelation 3:1-6
I’ll be really honest with you. The letter to the church in Sardis scares me more than any of the letters we’ve looked at so far. This was a church who thought they were good with God, but Jesus didn’t agree. In fact, He didn’t say they were doing anything worthy of praise.
In Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s commentary about this church, she suggested that the reason they weren’t facing persecution as the other churches were, was because they weren’t doing anything to make Satan worried about them. They didn’t need to be persecuted, because they weren’t standing strong. They weren’t a threat to Satan, or to any other religions in the city.
The Christians in Sardis were docile.
Sure, they were known as Christians, but they didn’t have anything to back up that claim. To paraphrase James 2:17, faith without works is dead, and that’s exactly what Jesus said about this church. They had a reputation of being alive, but they were dead (Rev. 3:1). Moreover, they thought they were alive, but they weren’t. If that doesn’t scare you as a christian, I don’t know what will.
2 Timothy 3:12 says, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” With that in mind, I want to ask you how you are suffering persecution today? If you’re not, there could be a problem.
Being a christian isn’t popular. Not even in America. Not even here in the Bible belt. If you are serious about your faith, you will find Paul’s words to Timothy to be true in your life. But there lies the problem. Too many Christians aren’t serious enough about their faith for it to be powerful enough for anyone else to worry about.
As christians we go to church and maybe read our Bibles at home, but that’s as far as it goes. Non-believers and false teachers don’t have to worry about us, because we don’t rock the boat. We don’t stand up for our beliefs. We just live and let live. Would you be surprised if I told you the great commission says nothing around those lines?
“Go,and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
~ Matthew 28:19-20
Jesus didn’t tell us not to rock the boat. He said, “You will be hated by all of the nations for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 24:9) If we aren’t facing persecution, we need to wake up. We are in danger of Jesus telling us that our deeds are not complete (Rev. 3:2).
I find so many times I let things slip by. Opportunities to stand up for my faith. Whether it is by calling out gossip among my christian sisters, or denouncing a false teacher for fear of starting an argument. And you might see some of these in your life as well…
Do you ever stay quiet just to avoid controversy?
Do you let others go their way, and just worry about yourself (and maybe your immediate family)?
Do you ever compromise your faith by going along with the crowd (whether at work, with friends, or among your family)?
Do you ever let the opportunity to share Christ’s love with someone pass, for fear of what they might say?
Those are just a few ways we can fail to live the life God has called us to on a daily basis. Today, I want to leave you with a call. I call you to be serious enough about your faith to rock the boat. I call you to be willing to stand up for the one who died for you. And this isn’t something I am just calling you to do, it’s something I’m asking of myself as well. So I ask you, will you join me in rocking the boat for Christ?
“And on my behalf, that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.“
We’ve reached the halfway point in our revelation study, and I wanted to take some time to look back over what we’ve seen so far. I’ve actually seen some repeating themes, and I think those are important to note, and I can’t wait to see how they play out in the remaining 3 letters.
With that in mind, let’s look back on the churches we’ve studied so far.
The church in Ephesus was recognized for their faithfulness to Christ and His teachings, but condemned for their lack of love.
Smyrna was faithful to the point of death. They had love, and they were praised for their perseverance.
The Christians in Pergamum had love and perseverance, but they were lacking in truth. They remained faithful to Christ, but not His teachings.
And finally, the church in Thyatira was praised for it’s love, faith, service, and patient endurance, yet they lacked truth. They tolerated false teachings.
Over and over again, Jesus has commented on their love, faith, perseverance, and whether or not they hold to the truth of the gospel or allow false teachings.
Love, faith, perseverance, and truth. Those are the highlights of the first four letters.
Which brings me to my reflection.
Do we see those things in our own lives?
Do we keep Christ as our first love? …or do we tend to drift away?
Is our faith in Christ (and Christ alone) enough to sustain us? Do we remain faithful to Him and believe He is in control of all?
Will we persevere when hardships come our way? …or will we cave under pressure?
Will we stand up for the truth of God’s Word, even if it means sacrificing our standing within our church, community or family?
Those are hard questions, but they are the ones I am reflecting on this week.
A less prominent repeating theme I saw in the first four churches, is works. Jesus said He knew the works of the first three churches, and the church in Thyatira was praised for their service. One of the ladies in my Bible study reminded us this week that faith without works is dead (James 2:20). That’s something to remember as well.
Jesus knows your works. What does He know about you?
Do your works stem from love? Prompted by faith? Do they hold to the truth? Do they persevere under hardship? Do they exist at all…
“Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, looking carefully lest there be any man who falls short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it;lest there be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal.“
Welcome to week five of our study through the seven churches in Revelation. Today, we will be looking at the church in Thyatira.
Thyatira is the smallest of the seven churches in Revelation, yet they received the longest letter. They were commended for their love and faith, yet Jesus still held something against them. Let’s go ahead and take a look at what He had to say to this church:
To the angel of the assembly in Thyatira write:
The Son of God, who has his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like burnished brass, says these things:
I know your works, your love, faith, service, patient endurance, and that your last works are more than the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate your woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. She teaches and seduces my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her into a bed, and those who commit adultery with her into great oppression, unless they repent of her works. I will kill her children with Death, and all the assemblies will know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts. I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. But to you I say, to the rest who are in Thyatira, as many as don’t have this teaching, who don’t know what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I am not putting any other burden on you. Nevertheless, hold that which you have firmly until I come. He who overcomes, and he who keeps my works to the end, to him I will give authority over the nations. He will rule them with a rod of iron, shattering them like clay pots; as I also have received of my Father: and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.
The center of the letter to this church, was the woman Jezebel, wife of King Ahab. It’s important to know that Jezebel was not a Jew. She was a foreigner that married into the Israelite line in a political marriage. While you can read more about her in the book of Kings (both 1 & 2), by the time this letter was written, she was long since gone.
Yet her teachings remained.
1 Kings 21:25-26 say that Jezebel stirred up trouble. She led her husband astray, causing him to turn from God and worship idols.
In Jesus’s words to the church in Thyatira, we see that she was misleading the church. Teaching them that sexual immorality and worshiping idols was okay. And the majority of this church was allowing her teachings to thrive.
It doesn’t say that they believed her, but they let her continue on.
And Jesus held that against them.
Moreover, the picture Jesus painted of what would happen to Jezebel and her followers wasn’t a pretty one. He said He would cast them onto a bed of suffering and kill her children. Basically, He said he would send them to Hell.
He wants the church in Thyatira to know that they are standing by idly while people are going to Hell, and, yes, Jesus holds that against them. We are suppose to be shining the light of Christ to the world. Sharing the gospel and planting seeds. Not tolerating false teachings that lead others astray.
Yet, that’s not what the world would have us believe. Today’s culture tells us that we should believe our way and let others believe their way – that’s our right. We should hold to our own beliefs, with the understanding that all beliefs are equal.
But that’s not what the Bible teaches.
Jesus told us that He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except by Him (John 14:6). By standing by and letting others believe a lie, we are condemning them to Hell. Whether it is those within our church or those outside.
“But we know that the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully,as knowing this, that law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for man slayers, for the sexually immoral, for homosexuals, for slave-traders, for liars, for perjurers, and for any other thing contrary to the sound doctrine; according to the Good News of the glory of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.“
“For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.“
Welcome to week four of our study through the seven churches in Revelation. In week one we looked at the churches as lampstand made to display the light of Christ to the world. In week two we looked at the letter to the church in Ephesus who left their first love. Last week we looked at the church in Smyrna that was suffering. And now, today, we will be looking at the church in Pergamum.
57 miles north of Smyrna, Pergamum was a city on a hill. It holds the oldest temple in all of Asia Minor for Emperor worship. It was also the home to the throne of Zeus (which stood over 40 feet tall), and a temple for Aesculapius, the serpent god of healing. Needless to say, there was a lot of worshiping going on in this city, but they didn’t take kindly to those who refused to bow to their gods.
Let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say to this church:
To the angel of the assembly in Pergamum write:
He who has the sharp two-edged sword says these things:
I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. You hold firmly to my name, and didn’t deny my faith in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to throw a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans likewise.Repent therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna,and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he who receives it.
The church in Pergamum is often referred to as the persecuted church. And they were persecuted, there is no doubt of that. They lived in a city that worshiped multiple gods, but not Christ. Christians were persecuted and killed there. And Jesus said He knew all of that, and the church was faithful to Him. They didn’t give up.
Yet, their biggest battle didn’t come from outside their walls, but within.
There are many teachers today who call themselves Christians, yet do not hold to biblical truths. Some of them are extreme and more easily identified than others. Yet some are not. They are part of the church, but they hold to the teachings of Balaam – corrupting the church from within.
If you aren’t familiar with the teachings of Balaam, he was a prophet during the time of Moses. He told Balak, King of Moab, the way to undermine the Israelites was, essentially, to get them to sin against God (Num 31:16). They did that by getting them to eat food sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality(Num 25 and Rev 2:14). In other words, they compromised their faith.
There were people in Pergamum who were following this teaching. People who were willing to die for Christ, but yet, they were still willing to live a life of compromise when it came to their faith. Do we have people like that in our churches – are we people like that?
Are we willing to proclaim Christ from the rooftops, but not willing to live by His standards?
Often times I hear pastors teaching about selective Christianity. Where Christians pick and choose which Bible verses they will follow. Saying others don’t apply to them or Jesus didn’t really mean it the way it sounds.
Peter wrote about Paul’s letters that are included in Scripture that “…there are some things that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unsettled twist, as they also do to the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (3:16) When we pick and choose, we end up hurting ourselves.
The letter to Pergamum doesn’t say if Christ is holding this against them because those people are trying to spread their beliefs – their corruption – to others within the church or not. But I lean towards believing it’s more an issue of preaching the truth.
God’s Word is living and active. If His Word is being accurately preached, it has the power to slice right to the heart of the matter. Not only does it sound like the pastor of this church wasn’t speaking out against these beliefs, but, moreover, the members of this church who knew the beliefs were wrong weren’t going to their brothers and sisters in Christ and lovingly correcting them. They were letting them continue to believe in lies that would ultimately send them to hell.
Which makes me ask:
Are there people in our church that follow false teachers?
That believe something that is contrary to the Word of God?
If so, what are we doing about it?
Those are powerful questions.
Jesus said He is coming quickly, and He will make war against them with the sword of His mouth. In other words, they will find out the truth and where they have gone astray sooner or later. We have the ability to share the truth with them — to bring them back to Christ before it is too late.
But will we?
Jesus spoke a lot about truth and love. Ephesus had the truth, but they lacked love. The church in Pergamum seems to be the opposite. They have love. They were willing to die for their love of Christ. But it sounds like they were fearful of offending those within the walls of the church. They didn’t want to speak up for the truth when it might cause hard feelings.
They were tolerant.
They allowed each other to compromise their faith.
They were corrupted.
And Jesus held that against them.
There is so much more to this letter than we have been able to cover today, but I want to leave you with two questions:
Do you love God enough to live for Him? And,
Do you love your church family enough to ask them to do the same?
“Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”
Welcome to week three of our study through the seven churches in Revelation. In week one we looked at Revelation chapter 1 and last week we looked at the letter to the church in Ephesus. Today, we’ll look at the second church Jesus addressed, the church in Smyrna.
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at what Jesus had to say to this church:
To the angel of the assembly in Smyrna write:
The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life says these things:
I know your works, oppression, and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Don’t be afraid of the things which you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have oppression for ten days. Be faithful to death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. He who overcomes won’t be harmed by the second death.
At the time this letter was written, Smyrna was one of the most dangerous cities in which a Christian could live. It has been recorded that Smyrna held mass executions for those who refused to worship Caesar.
Christians in Smyrna were literally risking their lives to live for Christ. To stand up for their beliefs, and even just to attend church was quite possibly a death sentence for them, but they still held firm.
Jesus didn’t write to this suffering church to give the believers in Smyrna a message that if the followed Him, life would be grand. He didn’t promise them that things would get better. In fact, He warned them that things were about to get worse, and encouraged them to be faithful even to the point of death.
Polycarp, the bishop in the church of Smyrna, was killed shortly after this letter would have been delivered. They tied him to a stake in the market place and gave him one last chance to deny Christ before attempting to burn him alive. He refused saying, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never once wronged me; how then shall I blaspheme my king, who hath saved me?”
How is faith like that possible?
I believe, contrary to the church in Ephesus, the Christians in Smyrna were consumed by a love for God. And out of that love, they served Him faithfully. When I read this letter from Christ, I picture a whole community who could agree with Paul when he said, “I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Jesus once said to His disciples, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word. My Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our home with him.He who doesn’t love me doesn’t keep my words. The word which you hear isn’t mine, but the Father’s who sent me.I have said these things to you, while still living with you.But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and will remind you of all that I said to you.Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful” (John 14:23-27). I think the church in Smyrna got that. They loved Him enough to keep His words, no matter what.
One of the first things Christ wrote to the church in Smyrna was that He knew about their poverty, but also that they were rich. The believers here seem to be the exact opposite of the rich young ruler mentioned in Luke 18. The Christians in Smyrna valued spiritual riches, not earthly ones. They were truly living like Christ, who though He was rich, for our sakes became poor (2 Cor. 8:9). The christians in Smyrna gave up their earthly riches to live lives that glorified God – no matter what the cost.
I think they could honestly say, “I consider those things that were gain to me as a loss for Christ. Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be a loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Phi. 3:7-11)
So what about us?
Do we love God enough to count everything else a loss?
Do we love Him enough to follow Him no matter the cost?
Despite all its persecution, the church in Smyrna was a spiritual powerhouse. They loved God enough to follow Him and Jesus promised them the crown of life. They didn’t have to worry about what befell them in this world, because they had better things in store. They had riches stored up in heaven that wouldn’t tarnish, break, or decay. Their riches were something that no one could steal, and they could never misplace.
“I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have oppression; but cheer up! I have overcome the world.“
Welcome to week 2 of our study through the churches in Revelation. Today, we’ll look at the first church Jesus addressed, the church in Ephesus. Now, this isn’t the first time the church of Ephesus was mentioned in the Bible. It was also mentioned in Acts, 1 Corinthians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and the book of Ephesians was written specifically to this church.
Let’s start by reading what Jesus had to say to the Ephesians:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
If we flip back to the book of Ephesians, we will see that the church of Ephesus was commended for their love. Yet, as I was reading through the letter Paul wrote to them, I got a sense that even in the beginning they were proud of their work for Christ. Paul reminded them that they were chosen by God, saved by grace, and once Gentiles separated from Christ.
The church in Ephesus worked hard for God. We see it in both the book of Ephesians and again in the words Jesus spoke to them in Revelation. They held to His teaching, stood up for what they believed in, and were basically super Christians. But – and it’s a big but – they weren’t doing it for the right reasons. Jesus said they had left their first love (vs. 4). When you contrast that to Ephesians 1:15, you see a drastic change.
Proverbs 16:2 says, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them,but motives are weighed by the Lord.” I think that was the root of the Ephesians problem. They were working hard for Christ, doing what they knew was right – but they were doing it for the wrong reasons.
It’s like Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8 (vs 1), “We know that ‘We all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” They had all the knowledge, but they were lacking in love.
Do you remember what John wrote about love in his first epistle? He said, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). It doesn’t matter how hard we work for God if we are doing it for the wrong reasons. If it doesn’t stem out of love for Christ, all of our work is meaningless.
In verse 5 of the letter to the Ephesians, Jesus calls the Ephesians to repent. To remember the love they had at first, or He said He would remove their lampstand. Last week we talked about how lampstands are just stands. They are made to display light. If churches are lampstands meant to display the light of Christ, and God is love, then a church that doesn’t love, isn’t doing a very good job.
It’s easy to get caught up in Christian living, and forget the love that started it all.
But that love is huge.
Brennan Manning coined what is known as the Ragamuffin Gospel. He believed that God would only ask us one question when we get to heaven. And that question would be, “Did you believe that I loved you?” Moreover, he believed there were only two responses to that question:
“Yes, Lord. I did believe that and I tried to shape my life around that belief.”
“No, God, I didn’t. Because ______” (you fill in the blank).
Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus that those who were victorious would be granted the right to eat from the tree of life (Revelation 2:7). Those who love Jesus are the ones who get to spend eternity with Him. God commands us to love one another (John 13:34-35), and Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey His commands (John 14:15).
Love leads to love.
If we love God, we will love others.
Jesus also issued a warning to people who served Him without love. He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23) That’s pretty serious stuff.
John reiterated that when he wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:7-12)
The bottom line is that love matters. Without love, we are without God.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
~ 1 Corinthians 13:13
Summarize this letter in your own words. What would you say God wanted us to understand from reading it?
Are you motivated by love or do you act more out of habit or knowledge than out of love for Christ?
What is the reward for those who keep Christ as their first love? What does that mean for those who don’t?