2 ‘To the angel[a] 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 favour: you hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
When you reach a certain age, regular health checks become a must, or so we’re told. In the first few chapters of Revelation Jesus gives a spiritual health check to 7 churches. The first is to the church in Ephesus. It’s helpful as we read these critiques that we as “What would Jesus say to our church?”. The church in Ephesus had been going about 40 years at the time of the letter. Jesus starts with a pat on the back. In v 2 Jesus tells the church that he knows they’re hard-working. In today’s terms, they’d been teaching school scripture, running youth groups, going to working bees, leading Bible studies, organising morning teas, doing the sound, and welcoming and … well, you get the picture.They’d persevered at it as well, and not grown weary. The idea behind this word is not so much that they didn’t get weary, but that they didn’t give in to weariness.
The other thing Jesus pats them on the back for is their theology. They took pains to make sure what they were being taught was the truth, and that their teachers were people of integrity and who taught the truth that we now have in the Bible.
Then comes the warning. They had forsaken their first love [v 4]. Ministry becomes a habit: like the Bible study leader who just aims to get through the night, but is not motivated by her love for the members.The church in Ephesus had hard work, commitment and perseverance, but no love. How do we assess our own “love-level” as a church.
The Bible says that if we don’t love well, then we might as well give up – we amount to nothing [1 Cor 13:1-3]. Love should be the environment in which we live and operate.
Do you go over to a visitor in our church and welcomed them, or sit beside them and introduced yourself? When was the last time you visited a congregation member who was in hospital, or ill, or even a member of your small group? Do you ever think, ‘I’ll come to church that little bit earlier so that I can chat to any newcomers?” When was the last time you noticed that someone hadn’t been for a while, and phoned them to see if they were OK? The ministers’ job is not to do those things but to train and equip and encourage us to do them [Eph 411-13].
Jesus says, “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.”
This a piece a youth group leader wrote into a magazine some years ago.
“One kid, his name was John, walked around with his head down all the time. He never looked you in the eye and if you ever got close to him, he shuddered. One day, John wasn’t there, and I said to the kids, “Let’s try an experiment. Let’s really love John, I mean, really love him. As we’ve never loved anyone before. Let’s just see what love can do for John.” He was the most inhibited, insecure kid I had ever seen in my life. From that moment on we asked Jesus to help us love John. Every time he came into a room everyone wanted to sit next to him. We sent him letters. We wrote notes during the week. We stopped by to buy him a Coke. After six months of loving John the kids started getting tired. “Gee Ann, you don’t know what it’s like to love John. You call him at home to see how his week is going, and he says “M-m-m, OK.” ‘John,’ you say, ‘I really have been thinking of you and I love you.’ and he just grunts.” But I’ll never forget the morning we were all gathered together and suddenly John smiled. We had never seen John smile. He really smiled. And two weeks later when he laughed out loud, it nearly blew our minds….. Three weeks later, his mother, who was not a Christian – none of his family were – called me and said, “Anne last weekend we were in the mountains camping. John is 16 and I haven’t seen him cry since he was 5. But he started to cry and bawl and sob. And after a few hours I was almost frantic and I asked him why he was crying like this. All he could say over and over as, “I’m such a failure, mum, I’m such a flop.” And finally I said, “It’s that church you’re going to, they’re not treating you right.” And he said as he shook his head, “No, no. It’s my only hope, mum. They love me over there.” And she said, ‘It seemed like the minute he said that, the minute he came out and shared that with me, he began to dry his tears, and he straightened his back and held up his head. And it’s strange, he’s never been the same since.”
The church is to be light of the world.
Heavenly Father, show me how to love well. Make our church a place where people can experience your love. Amen
8 ‘To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
It’s estimated that today 100 million Christians are being persecuted round the world. I read a few years ago about a clergyman named Andrew White, known as the ‘Bishop’ of Baghdad, in Iraq. His church had 3,700 members at the time I read about him. There were 37 armed guards guarding the church and razor wire all around it. 13 people were baptised in the previous 12 months and within a year 11 of them have been murdered. In the previous 12 months 93 members of his congregation had been killed. He has been kidnapped, shot at and needs a full-time staff of body-guards. What do you say to them about the love and care of God?
We are blessed here in Australia, and we live in comparative freedom from persecution, but 100 million of our brothers and sisters know exactly what John was talking about in his letters to the churches in the early chapters of the book of Revelation. These churches were undergoing, or about to undergo, extreme persecution.
Verse 9 tells us that the church is “poor and afflicted.” The word here translated “poor” means they were destitute. They had nothing. Yet Jesus doesn’t sympathise with them. He doesn’t hold their hand and say “there, there.” Jesus says, “You’re rich!” Real wealth is in the heart. It’s in relationships and those things that money can’t buy.
They are not to pity themselves. They have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms [Eph 1]. Jesus doesn’t step in to make them rich and wealthy. He doesn’t fix everything up for them. He just tells them to hang in there.
This church was also “afflicted”. That word had overtones of being under intense, crushing pressure, and there was more to come! They were about to undergo some intense suffering.
And they were slandered by the Jews. Jesus calls the Jewish group “A synagogue of Satan.” because they opposed his church. Not very tolerant, is he? Do you think sometimes we can be too tolerant? Whenever a minister critiques other religions from the pulpit there are always those who tell them they are wrong for doing that, but the question is “Is the criticism right or wrong?” If they are right and the church is teaching wrongly, then the Bible says they are leading people to a godless eternity, and love demands that be called out.
When people say, “Oh you shouldn’t influence your children to accept what you believe – you should let them decide for themselves”, they’re saying it doesn’t matter what you believe. They’re saying there is no truth. The way to answer them is to say, “Don’t you love your kids? If the Bible is telling the truth when it says that Jesus is the only way to heaven and you don’t try to convince your children to follow Jesus, then you are guilty of child abuse. You might just as well say, “Let them make up their own minds about how to cross busy roads.” or “Let them make up their own minds about drugs.”
We must be polite and gentle when we critique other beliefs, and we must be loving and never rude, but we must critique and point out the errors.
What encouragement does Jesus give to this poor and suffering church? In effect he says, “Your persecutors don’t have the last laugh. They don’t have the final say. They do not rule says Jesus. I do! I am the first and the last. What is the worst they can do to you? Kill you! But I have defeated death. I have disarmed it.”
Secondly he says, in verse 10, “do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…. Be faithful even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life.”
He doesn’t sugar coat it, does he? He doesn’t try to hide the fact that being a Christian means being prepared to die. But you will not be hurt by the second death, he says in verse 11. The second death is hell – chapter 20 verse 14 tells us that. To do that we need to overcome. We need to remain faithful to Jesus despite what happens.
Father, thank you for the relative peace we have in our country. Please help my brothers and sisters in the faith who are suffering for that faith. Amen
12 ‘To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city – where Satan lives.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
A good friend of mine once gave me a very helpful bit of advice on parenting that I’ve been able to apply to all sorts of things in life. The advice was, “Pick which hill you want to die on.” By that he meant “don’t treat every issue as a matter of life and death. Be willing to compromise on the things that don’t really matter, but fight to the death on things that do matter.”
That is wise advice, but the trouble is working out what the life and death issues are. You see, compromise can be a good thing, but compromise is also dangerous. You don’t ever want to compromise your integrity, for instance. You don’t want to compromise your reputation.
The church at Pergamum had made bad compromises. In many ways this church was going well [v 13]. Even though it was not the largest city in the region Pergamum was the seat of government –it was like Canberra. It would have been the place that enforced the worship of the emperor, hence Jesus’ words that they live where Satan has his throne. One man at least had died as a result of not cursing Jesus and worshiping the emperor – Antipas. Legend has it that he was put into a hollow bronze bull and then roasted alive. Imagine joining that church! One of the questions you get asked at your baptism is “How do you like the heat.” Antipas was not the only member of the church who refused to worship the emperor. It seems that many others took the risk of refusing [v 13].
Nevertheless, the church at Pergamum had a weak spot: “You Have people in your church who hold to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.” [v 14]. We read of Balaam in Numbers 22 (you’ll remember the story of Balaam’s ass). The King of Moab tries to get this sorcerer, named Balaam, to curse the nation of Israel. However, God prevents him from doing it. So Balaam comes up with another idea. We’re told in Numbers 31 that he convinces the men of Israel to take the women of Moab as their wives, something God had forbidden them to do. The wives influenced their men to worship the Moabite gods as well as their own God. And so Israel gets beaten from the inside by compromising their faith and beliefs. The women didn’t convince the men to give up worshipping God, but to worship both God and their gods. A compromise.
You can imagine what happened. The foreign spouse says, “If you really love me, you’ll let me have my family gods and let me worship them. What harm will it do.”, and then, “Just come to the temple with me. All my family will be there. What harm will it do; it might even do some good you know. You don’t have to mean it; it would just be a great encouragement to me if you came with me to the temple.” And bit by bit they compromised. And they also followed the Nicolaitan teaching, which, it seems, was very similar to The Balaam stuff.
The Christian church is not to tolerate wrong teaching, and what is more, it’s not to tolerate those who spread wrong teaching, or who influence others to believe it. If you’ve been following these devotions for a while, you’ll remember how often the issue of truth and false teaching has come up in our readings (e.g. the Timothy series) and that’s because it is a big issue in God’s eyes.
Jesus says, 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth”.
Repentance is the only remedy; it’s either that or Jesus will bring judgment on the church. They are to act to preserve the truth of the Word of God.
Along with the warning, there is a promise of blessing. There is much speculation on the meaning of the “hidden manna and the white stone”; suffice it to say that there will be blessings for the church that acts in repentance and keeps its teaching true to the Word.
Lord God, keep my church thoroughly Gospel and Word centred. Help me to see the dangers of compromise in matters of faith. Amen
18 ‘To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, “I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – that one “will rule them with an iron sceptre and will dash them to pieces like pottery”[b] – just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Would they say, “He’s such a hard worker for Jesus.” Would they say, “She is totally committed to Jesus?” What would they say? God’s love ought to shine out from us.
Is total commitment to Jesus a mark of your reputation?
If you work in a situation where you can’t promote your Christian faith, have you worked out what you can do to let people know that Jesus is your Lord? Because if your colleagues don’t know that you follow Jesus, there is something drastically wrong. If you’re not looking for ways to point to people to Jesus in ways that are acceptable in your environment, then maybe Jesus is not your Lord; he’s your hobby.
Thyatira is a good church but like the church in Pergamum it too had a weak spot that was very similar to that in Pergamum, it tolerated Jezebel. The original Jezebel was the foreign wife of King Ahab back in about 850BC. She promoted the worship of Baal in Israel and led the nation astray after Baal. Her name later came to represent all that was evil in people. In days gone by when people were more Bible literate they used the name “Jezebel” to describe people who were sexually promiscuous. The woman in the church at Thyatira claimed to be a prophet.
Thyatira was a union town. The trade unions were called “guilds.” Each guild would have its patron god. In a union town, if you didn’t join, you didn’t work. And you couldn’t join without honouring the patron god. Most guild halls and even Roman homes had what is called a lararium, a small shrine at the entrance where you’d burn a pinch of incense to the household guardian god. So it was even impossible to visit your friends without having to honour some pagan god. It was impossible to go to a feast or a party without having to burn incense to some god or other.
And she probably took it even further by claiming that the body didn’t mean anything, it was the soul that was important, so it didn’t matter what you did with your body – sexual immorality didn’t matter, as long as your soul was pure.
There used to be a cult around that has that teaching. They encouraged their young women to recruit people to the cult through sex. They referred to themselves as “the Family”.
This woman was encouraging compromise. It’s such a seductive argument. “Look, we’re just trying to make it acceptable to those who don’t believe. We don’t talk about sin and judgment and repentance. It will put people off.” Of course, we don’t need to blurt out the whole theology of the Bible evert time we open our mouths but if our teaching permanently leaves out vital aspects of the gospel then we are danger of Jesus’ rebuke.
What does this say about our attendance at multi-faith services?
The word for ‘Christians” in the Bible is ‘saints” and the word saint is “Holy one” which means, “separate one.” We are to be different! We are not to be like those around us. We are to be separate: separate but loving. Our separation does not mean we can be “aloof” or “superior”.
We might think that the issues in Pergamum and Thyatira are not really an issue for us, but if you are an Anglican minister and you hold to reformed, Biblical and evangelical theology there are many Anglican churches in Australia that won’t accept you.
Jesus says some terrifying things about the woman he calls Jezebel if she won’t repent. He expects her to change her thinking and her actions. He will not tolerate her views, no matter how passionate and committed she is to them. She will be punished, unless she repents, and so will all those who follow her. Just check out verses 21-23.
Theology matters. Church discipline matters. Why? Because our eternity may depend on it. And the eternity of those who come after us. Give a false teacher an inch and he or she will take a mile.
God of truth and life, keep your church faithful to you and your word. May she stand gracefully and lovingly for the truth. Amen
Chapter 3 v 1-6
3 ‘To the angel[a] of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits[b] of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, should you? Remember Belle Gibson who claimed she had brain cancer and defrauded people of $578,000? She looked so genuine.
Thousands of Australians get ripped off every year with scams.
Today we look at a church that looked so good but just didn’t cut it with God. With other churches Jesus has addressed he start with some positives. Not with Sardis. “You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Jesus doesn’t mince his words.
It seems they were going through the motions without having their heart in things. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and it dawns on you that you haven’t really been listening, you’ve been off with the fairies somewhere, and now you haven’t got a clue what the conversation was about, and the other person has stopped and is looking at you expecting you to say something? Our faith can be like that at times. This church was doing things, but it was on automatic pilot.
People were going to church, confessing, praying, giving money. They were listening to the teaching and it was going in one ear and out the other. Nothing was affecting the way they lived. They were going to church on Sunday and living like everyone else for the rest of the week.
A second way that we can do things without heart is to let other things take the place of the main game. The Salvation Army has an incredible reputation in our country. People actually do say, “Thank God for the Salvos”. But the Salvation Army has done some research and discovered that although Australians think their organisation is great, they don’t realise that its a church. The Army is trying to change that because although they are rightly proud of their welfare work, they are on about something bigger than welfare; they’re on about people’s eternal welfare. They’re on about helping people discover and take hold of God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross. They’re on about helping people in need here and now, but they also believe that people, often without realising it, have an even greater need of God’s forgiveness. So the Salvation Army has taken some steps to turn that around.
It’s easy to lose sight of the main game, and when a church loses sight of the main game it loses everything. The main game was explained by Jesus himself - go and make disciples, or followers, of everyone [Matthew 28:19-20]. The church’s job is to train and equip and encourage people to make disciples who will make disciples [Eph 4:11-13]. And our society doesn’t like it when the church does that. They’re happy if we do social work, counselling, weddings, funerals, give kids a good set of moral values, but they do not like it when we talk about the need to turn to God for forgiveness. They hate that. They call it “intolerance” or “Bible Bashing”.
This church looked fantastic, it was busy, but it had lost its way.
I’m reminded of the story I heard, one of those good news bad news stories. The pilot comes over the speakers to the passengers and says “This is your captain speaking. I have some good news, but I’m afraid I also have some bad news. The bad news first. We seem to have a fuel leak and there is no way we can make it to the nearest airport. The good news is that we’re making excellent time and are ahead of schedule.”
The church in Sardis was like that -- lots of things going on but going nowhere. There was no spiritual depth to them.
Jesus then calls them to action. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.
Remember what you have received and heard. They are to go back to the basics, the things that established the church up in the first place, the Good News. The church needs to move with the times, but never away from the gospel. It should never move from its purpose of building up the saints [1 Peter 2:9-10; Eph 2:19-20] to make disciples.
How effective are we in our church in this mission? How effective is our growth group in doing this, our other ministries?
Jesus makes a wonderful promise to those who remain faithful. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.
What a great assurance! Never blotted out of the book of life! No matter what we’ve done, no matter how we’ve failed we remain children of God.
Father of our Lord Jesus, who established his church, please help us to stay true to our calling and our mission. Show me how to play my part. Amen