The challenge in examining ourselves is to examine ourselves, not as we see ourselves, but as God sees us. We often hold ourselves to one standard while God may hold us to another. This is true both individually as well as a congregation. As a congregation, we have successes; we have failures; we have challenges; and we have times of growth. In these times, we have to remind our selves this: that God knows our work and our hearts, that He cares about our work, and that He has standards against which our congregation is measured.
In Revelation 1:13, Jesus is pictured as being present among seven churches of Asia Minor. He walks in their midst. Throughout the next couple chapters, Jesus speaks to the strengths and challenges faced by these congregations. Often, we wish to be like the church of Philadelphia, but, had Jesus addressed us in this book, what might He have said to us?
Jesus’ Address to His Churches
Repeatedly, Jesus begins by affirming He knows these congregations. He knows their works, their deeds, their challenges, their tribulations. This paints a picture of a Savior, not one who is disinterested and uninvolved. Instead, through this, Jesus reassures them and us that He takes an active interest in our lives. He cares about us. He knows what trials we face.
Jesus also speaks to “him that overcomes,” in the letters, reminding us of the reward that lies ahead. Likewise, Jesus repeats, “he that has an ear, let him hear.” These days, we might say, “I know you can hear me, but are you listening?” He is making it clear that the words He shares are important to their spiritual survival. What, then, can we learn from those words, and how can we apply these letters to our own efforts as a congregation?
The Message to the Seven Churches
- To Ephesus, Jesus commends their efforts in keeping purity among their congregation. He knows they have endured in their work and have resisted evil. However, He chastises them for losing love in their service.
- With Smyrna, he contrasts their physical poverty with their spiritual wealth. He warns them of impending persecution and promises them reward should they endure.
- To Pergamum, Jesus praises them for holding to His word even in a place where Satan has a symbolic throne. He warns them, however, that there are those among them holding to false doctrines.
- With Thyatira, He speaks of their love and their ministry as well as their growth. He holds against them their tolerating a Jezebel among them, leading members of their congregation astray, and he calls for those that have succumbed to her influence to repent.
- To Sardis, Jesus says they have a good reputation, but He knows they are spiritually dead. He acknowledges, however, that even they have some among them whose robes remain white and pure.
- To Philadelphia, Jesus promises protection in times of tribulation to come. He knows they have remained faithful, and He encourages them to endure in the times to come.
- With Laodicea, Jesus criticizes the congregation for being lukewarm, uncommitted, and He warns He will dispense of them if they refuse to repent from their indifference. He admonishes them to see themselves as Christ sees them.
The Message to Us
We are probably most familiar with the letters to Ephesus and to Laodicea, but we can learn from the themes that run through all of these letters. We see Jesus commend, time and again, congregations’ endurance, their intolerance of false doctrine, their love. In contrast, a vein of indifference seems to affect many of these congregations’ efforts. They may have become unloving. They may have tolerated unscriptural teachings in some aspects. They may have been simply going through the motions.
We can relate to letter to Ephesus when Jesus calls on them to return to their first works. When we first obey the gospel, we may be full of energy and enthusiasm, but the cares of this world can wear us down. We can become comfortable with routine and forget the reasons behind those actions. Thyatira stands in contrast to Ephesus, whose later works are greater than their first. One congregation is praised for growing in their efforts while the other was dwindling. Which are we?
To Laodicea, Jesus encourages them to find their strengths. He asks them to find how they can be beneficial. He asks them to either be cold or hot, just as we all need cold refreshment at times and hot at others. We can be soothing or refreshing in different ways – a cold glass of water to some and a warm cocoa to others. Laodicea, however, is neither. They are uncommitted, but Jesus encourages them to simply get to work.
In these chapters, Jesus reminds us that He knows where we are and what we are going through, but the message is the same: “Get to work.” We can fall back on many excuses for lack of ministry, lack of growth, or lack of love, but Jesus calls on us to overcome those excuses. He reminds us to give ear to His word and endure with His promises set firmly before us.
lesson by Tim Smelser