Our final look at the seven letters of Revelation 2-3 takes on a personal note. Once again we’ll look at the letters symbolically to reveal the admonitions the Lord gave to each of us. Remember, the challenges and promises that ended the letters were to individuals, and this can only mean that the criticism found there is to be taken personally, not just corporately.
We all like to think of ourselves symbolically as the Church in Philadelphia, free of any defect or shortcoming, and in the judicial sense we are. When we gave our hearts to the Lord, He wiped the slate clean; past present and future. Accepting His death on the cross allows Him to see us now as if we had never sinned at all. He has made us as righteous as He is (2 Cor 5:21). One day soon we will become in fact that which we already are in His sight … perfect forever (1 Cor 15:51-52). But until then, having incurably wicked hearts (Jere 17:9) we are subject to all our human failings, so there’s a little of each church in the heart of each believer.
What Do You Mean By That?
The Church in Ephesus was told they had forsaken their first love. Working so hard in the service of the King, they no longer had any time for Him. The relationship He had died for was already turning into another religion. Recall the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). When the Lord visited their home Mary dropped everything to sit at His feet, but Martha was distracted by all her work. When she asked the Lord to discipline Mary for not helping, He gently rebuked her. Martha was working so hard to make His visit a success that she was in danger of missing it altogether. Today its committee meetings, Sunday school lessons, fund raising, you name it. Nothing wrong with these things, but are they interfering with (or substituting for) your time with Him?
The Church in Smyrna was admonished to be faithful even to the point of death. It’s not likely that you and I will be called upon to die for our faith. Our challenge is to express our faith in the face of an unbelieving world that responds more and more with criticism, ridicule and persecution. Can (or would) you tell a friend or associate what you believe and why? Are you afraid of the reaction you might get?
Pergamus was warned against accommodating the world with its false teaching. The most often publicly quoted Bible verse used to be John 3:16. Now it’s Matt 7:1 “Judge not lest you be judged.” It’s generally used by people who don’t know anything about the Bible to warn Christians not to condemn “alternative life styles”, “freedom of choice” or revisionist views of God. We are told that so far as possible we’re to live in peace with our neighbor, but does that mean we have to accept ideas or even laws that directly contradict biblical truths in the name of tolerance?
The believers in Thyatira were encouraged to “hold on to what you have” and that “I will impose no other burden.” The simplicity of the Gospel: “For what I received, I passed on to you as of first importance.” Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. He was buried and rose again on the third day, according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4). Or “if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:9). How we love to impose other burdens upon our brothers and sisters, demanding behavioral standards of them that we ourselves could never attain. I guess the Pharisees aren’t all dead yet.
The Church in Sardis had the opposite problem. They had received and heard the simple Gospel, but refused to obey it. Whereas we love to add to the gospel where others are concerned, we often subtract from it when it’s our behavior we’re evaluating. Next to refusing to believe His promises, I think our most grievous error is our failure to apply all of Matt 18. We are quick to call attention to another’s sin (vs. 15-17), but slow to forgive in others that which has been forgiven in us (vs. 21-34). In this way, we bring much unnecessary trouble into our lives (vs. 35).
Laodiceans were luke warm, not at all passionate about their faith. A famous race driver, sponsored by STP oil products, was asked if he really used STP in his race car. “I use enough to get the sponsorship money,” he replied, “but not so much as to hurt the engine.” Do we have enough faith to be saved, but not so much as to cramp our lifestyle? Are there parts of the Gospel we just give lip service to? Are we God’s secret agents, so far under cover even our neighbors wouldn’t guess we’re believers?
We’ve Met the Enemy, and They Are Us
There’s a lot to think about in these letters, and the personal application requires much introspection. If we ask Him for help He’ll bring to light what is hidden in darkness and expose the motives of our hearts (1 Cor 4:5). Then in a moment of extreme candor we can confess, be forgiven and purified from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and our heavy burdens will be suddenly lighter (Matt 11:28-30)