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Friday, 25 August 2017

Seven lessons from seven letters!

Having completed, in my personal devotions this morning, chapters 2 and 3 of the book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to John, I want to share just a little about them. These two chapters contain the seven letters to seven different Christian Fellowships, sent by the Lord Jesus and, while one may preach a sermon on each them (and I have done so, on more than one occasion), I want to share just one lesson from each that will, I trust, prove to be of some help, encouragement, or even challenge, to those who read this post!

1. The church at Ephesus

The main lesson here is that this was a church that was "resting on its laurels." Having commended them, the Saviour then shows that He knows all about them: "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first." (2:4).

How easy it is, at the beginning of any project, to be filled with excitement and enthusiasm. However, as days become weeks; weeks become months; and months become years; some of that excitement and enthusiasm fades. In a specifically Christian context, this surely applies to the devotion to the Lord Jesus that is often so characteristic of the new believer. Sadly, some can "get into a rut" - even in Christian service. They go through the motions - but it is all a routine, without true love and fervour.

One of the lessons from the Lord's letter to the Ephesians (and Paul's letter majors on the same theme!) is that we must keep the fire burning brightly, if we are to serve fully, and faithfully.

2. The church at Smyrna 

The main lesson here is that appearances can be deceiving. However, for Smyrna, the deception is on the positive side: "I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) ..." (2:9). This group of believers were apparently weak and without influence. They were a very small minority. Yet - they were rich with regard to eternal matters. It is so easy for a minority (and true disciples of Jesus are certainly a minority in the UK at the present time!) to lose heart; to imagine that their cause is hopeless; that they might as well submit to the current "zeitgeist". 

This letter is an encouragement to perseverance. Perhaps that is why the Lord exhorts them: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer." (2:10) - words that are undoubtedly much more meaningful to those in the persecuted church of some 215 million people in more than 50 countries worldwide - and assures them that even our testing is under His control, and limited according to His will. (see the rest of v.10).

3. The church at Pergamum

This is a church that compromised. Oh, the letter starts off with commendation that shows that even the death of one of their number had not encouraged any other to deny the Lord. However, Jesus goes on to say "But I have a few things against you ..." (2:14-15). What He had against them was the tolerance (now where have I heard that word before?!) shown to heretical teachers. I have written in the margin of my Bible: "Even a church that withstands external pressure may be infected by internal heresy. The same is true of an individual!"

The lesson we may take from this letter is that it is always dangerous to compromise. Yet, as I look at so much of the established denominations in the UK, I see a great deal of compromise; and, sadly, I see a lot in the lives of individuals as well.

4. Thyatira

Here, again, is the accusation of compromise. However, it is towards the end of the letter that we read: "... I am He Who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve." (2:23; emphasis added). I was involved, recently, in an online discussion with a gentleman whom I have never met, and whom I may never meet. He was objecting to another contributor's reference to 'good works' in the context of the Christian faith. Now, I agreed fully with him that it is "... by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God— not because of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph.2:8-9). However, I had to point out to him that Paul continues, in that same letter: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph.2:10; emphasis added).

Our good works do not, and cannot, save us. Only the shed blood of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for that. However, I am saved to serve - and that involves the good works that Father God has prepared for me. When I stand before the Judgement Seat of the Christ, I will be judged according to what I have done "... in the body". (II Cor.5:10).  The apostle also writes that: "... no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (I Cor.3:11); but continues: "...each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done." (v.13 - read the whole passage!)

So, one major lesson from this letter is the need to remember that being"in Christ" and with Him in me, is not an excuse to sit back and do as little as possible!

5. Sardis

This letter begins, in some ways, in a similar manner to that to the church at Smyrna - but it is a mirror image! "I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead."! (3:1). Appearances are, once again, deceptive. This time, however, external activity is covering up internal decay, and even death. This was a church that had grown comfortable, and content, and was living on the reputation of former days. My marginal note here is that "It is possible to be active without being saved", and I refer to Matt.7:21-23.

The lesson from this letter is , surely, that we should not allow ourselves to become so comfortable in our churches, and in our personal lives as disciples of Jesus, lest we find ourselves shrivelling up and dying!

6. Philadelphia

If I could choose to be a member of any of these seven churches, this would be my choice! The believers in Philadelphia was a church that seized its opportunities. It is the only one of the seven that receives no criticism whatsoever. It was not a powerful church in worldly terms, but it was a faithful church. "... I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept My Word and have not denied My Name." (3:8). This is why the Lord has set before them an open door (v.8) - the symbol of opportunity! It is surely true that, those who are faithful in small things are given greater responsibility. That is certainly one of the lessons from Jesus' parable of the Talents (see Matt.25:14ff).

One lesson from this letter is that we should seize every opportunity for service that the Lord lays in our path. Indeed, we should be constantly looking for such opportunities for service, that others "... may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt.5:16).

7. Laodicea

This is the church that was so mediocre, the Lord was ready to spew it out of His mouth - in other words, He was saying "You make me sick!" (3:16). What a sorry state this church was in! They said: "... I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing;" (3:17); but the Lord saw that they were "... wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked." (v.17). What an indictment for a group of people who claimed to be disciples of "... the faithful and true witness ..." (3:14)!

When I read about this church, I find myself thinking of the so-called "mega-churches" that seem to abound in our own day - and I wonder is the Lord saying the same thing about some (if not all) of them! However, note that certain familiar words are from this letter: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears M y voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me." (3:20). These words, used so often in evangelistic rallies, were spoken to a church! My marginal note: "The tragedy: Jesus, the Lord, the Light, the Life of the church is locked out." However, there is always hope. So, in v.19 we read: "Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent." The footnote that I have written for that verse reads: "The Lord still loved these 'lukewarm' believers - but chastens as a sign of that love" cf. Prov.3:12; Heb.12:6ff; (inter al)."

And one lesson? We must always beware that we do not spend so much time building our own 'kingdom', that we forget the Kingdom of God.

Seven lessons, from seven letters. May they be blessed to the hearts of all who read them.

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