LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
As we study God’s message to the churches in Revelation, it is helpful to be reminded of some exhortations from scriptures.
This is the one I esteem, God says, he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
What is of utmost importance is to listen carefully to every word God has spoken and to listen with humility, contrition and reverential fear. What finally distinguishes the true from the false among believers is faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Word of God and the practical obedience to it. We need to take heed to God’s warnings to the churches for ourselves too, lest the Lord spits us out of His mouth because our lives cause Him to be nauseous and dismayed.
As we study Revelation, we might be wondering, If God is sovereign and good, why does He allow His people to suffer persecution and pain? We need to realize that the judgment on wicked people of the world serves to be a test for His people at the same time. God intends to make good His command, Be you holy as I am holy and part of this difficult process is to transform us as we respond well to difficult times in our short stay on earth.
C.S. Lewis’ comments in Mere Christianity are very helpful in this context:
We must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected) he often feels that it would be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along – illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation – he is disappointed. These things he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver; or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us… The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command…He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though of course on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He means what He said.
John the apostle was commissioned by the Lord Jesus to write on what he had seen and heard. The first task was to write to the seven churches and to communicate Gods message to each one. Although the seven churches were actual churches during John’s time, the messages apply to all churches for all time. To each church, the Lord Jesus revealed that He knew the actual spiritual state of each one of them. Some were reprimanded to repent while several were commended for their faithfulness. But the promise to each one is a place in the new heaven and new earth, reigning with Him and sharing His glory, if she overcomes.
The first church addressed was the church in Ephesus. The believers in Ephesus were diligent; they persevered and endured for the name of the Lord and they did not grow weary. They had spiritual insight and were able to test the false apostles. They did not tolerate wicked men and they rejected false teaching. We must acknowledge that from one angle, their list of achievements was rather outstanding. Yet the Lord Jesus was not pleased with them and He pointed out that they had forsaken their first love. All the toil, perseverance, spiritual insight and concern for what was doctrinally correct and the rejection of what was wicked and wrong would come to no avail if they forsook their first love. This first love probably describes the love they had for the Lord when they first believed. It was a love that was, in all likelihood, refreshing, so filled with gratitude and so much alive, filled with wonder, awe, adoration and worship of God beyond their ordinary human experience and imagination. This love inevitably overflowed to those around them and touched their lives. When all these were lost and replaced with activities, even spiritual ones, the intimate relationship with the Lord slowly diminished and in its place was just a superficial skeletal structure without the life and the real meaning of what is truly valuable before Him.
We need to be mindful to continue to nurture an intimate relationship with the Lord in His Word, in a daily walk with Him, in continually being sensitive to His Holy Spirit and finding joy and pleasure in Him alone. Only then can our deeds bear true spiritual fruit and endure to eternal life.
The church in Smyrna was exhorted to be faithful in suffering, even to the point of death. And suffering and martyrdom will feature much in the battle against the evil one and his forces in the lives of the churches.
The church in Pergamum and the church in Thyatira, in spite of some commendable areas, had compromised in terms of allowing false teachers and false teaching to infiltrate the churches. Allusions to the Old Testament referred to the teaching of Balaam in Pergamum and the influence of Jezebel in Thyatira, with indications of sexual immorality and idolatry affecting the churches to different degrees. The call to repentance was clear in both situations with the warnings of impending judgments.
The church cannot afford to compromise in their loyalty and faithfulness to God. Wrong teachings and influences from individuals, even those who claim spiritual authority and exude charisma, should not be tolerated if Gods people desire to persevere in the right direction and on the narrow road to life and eternal glory with God.
The letters to the churches in Sardis and Laodicea carry very sober warnings to God’s people and are definitely relevant to us and the churches today.
To have a name or reputation that we are alive as believers and yet are spiritually dead is dead serious. The church in Sardis was relatively free from persecutions and spiritual opposition but what is frightening is that it had been infiltrated by the values of the world and had imbibed the ways of the world without being very conscious of it. Outwardly, it looked like a thriving church, going through all the proper Christian and church activities but inwardly, it was dead spiritually. Gods warning to her was to be vigilant (watchful) and to wake up before it was too late. She needed to remember what she was and to repent. Self-confidence, worldly desires and unawareness of the reality of what is happening may be worse than actual failures.
As for Laodicea, she thought she was rich but she was actually poor spiritually. Noted as a city famous for medical healing of the eye, she was in fact spiritually blind; famous for her black sheep wool for garments, she was actually naked spiritually and her undrinkable water mirrored her nauseous spiritual condition before the Lord God. The Lord threatened to spit her out of His mouth! It is a dangerous situation to be in: to be indifferent, to be half-baked believers, without true convictions and commitment to the Lord. There is no such thing as a half-hearted Christian; either we are all out for the Lord Jesus or we are not! Complacency and self-deception are serious issues for the believer! Again, C.S. Lewis’ writing in Mere Christianity are helpful for us to ponder:
There must be a real giving up of the self…Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death to your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
As for the church in Philadelphia, she had little strength; yet she did not deny the Lord Jesus but remained faithful. She kept the command of God to endure patiently. We see the importance of obedience to God and patient endurance in the midst of opposition despite having little strength. It is not so much the resources and abilities the people of God have to depend upon, but it is the patient and complete reliance and dependence on God that really matters in spiritual ministry and spiritual warfare. God can use what little we have if we surrender it to Him for His use and He can provide the enabling and the opportunities for us to be truly fruitful in His service.