THE SEVEN CHURCHES OF ASIA
As we come to the end of the New Testament each year in our Bible readings, we read through the book of Revelation. Most, if not all of us, struggle immensely with this book, as it gives descriptions of things that happened or will happen according to some. (Some believe that it references the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70; other believe that it is talking about the end of the world, and have come up with all kinds of interpretations to make it fit some pre-conceived notions). So, we don’t read it, and we don’t allow ourselves to think about it lest we get something wrong.
The book opened with who the writer is and why he writes the book. He sees visions of the Son of Man and what he looks like. In the beginning and throughout the book we see the imagery of Jesus amidst seven golden candlesticks. These candlesticks are churches in various places in Asia (not Asia as we understand it today, but Asia in those days which would be modern day Turkey). All the figures of Jesus emphasize his wisdom, judgment authority, and truth in his words. As John describes Jesus, he emphasizes that he is resurrected, and is alive evermore. Jesus has power over death and the unseen spirit world. Being all the above, Jesus knew about the churches to whom he asked John to write.
This should cause us all to pause for a few moments and consider that Jesus knows all about the church in every city and in every country in the world. He knows the South Cobb church of Christ! He knows our weaknesses and strengths. He knows everything about all of us and what we would be best suited as Christians to do.
It would be well for all of us to stop, reread the passages in Revelation 2 and 3, and find out what were the weaknesses and strengths of each church, and compare them to South Cobb.
Let us begin by looking at the LOVELESS CHURCH – EPHESUS found in Revelation 2:1-7.
Jesus always identified himself in certain ways to each church to whom John wrote. His description of himself emphasizes what he knows about their strengths and weaknesses, and it qualified Jesus to tell them what they needed to correct. We should constantly look at God’s word to correct us in our errors and sins.
Notice what the description of Jesus says about him as he rebukes the Ephesian church. He holds the seven stars in his right (strong) hand and he walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. (Hence, he knows their strength and weaknesses. He knows ours, brethren).
He knows our works! He knows what you do for him and what abilities you have that will help his people to grow. He knows their patience – their endurance – their perseverance. How many brothers and sisters will be lost on the day of Judgment because they did not persevere and endure to the end?
They were commended because they did not bear those who were evil. Sometimes we make mistakes in trying to bear with those who sin, and thus do not encourage repentance. Some of these who do sin take advantage of that and continue in sin. SIN IS A LIABILITY IN AND TO THE CHURCH! LET US MAKE THAT CLEAR! Sin hurts and can destroy God’s church. Hence, all of us have a responsibility to deal with sin in our lives, to repent and ask for God’s grace, and to strive to do better.
One big part of this included testing those who claimed to be apostles. Just because someone says they are inspired does not mean that is the case. We need to make sure that what is being taught in Bible classes and from the pulpit is the truth. TRUTH IS VITAL TO THE GROWTH AND HEALTH OF THE CHURCH. We need to practice this and live by the truth. Do we make mistakes and sin? YES! But thanks be to God that he forgives when we repent and strive for the truth!
This church bore up patiently for the cause of God! They continued to fight the fight of faith! Again, how many have quit when things did not go the way they thought they should? How many have quit when it comes to living the Christian life? Brethren, we have been called to be different from the world.
Jesus stressed that they did not grow weary! How many of us are tired? Weary? Worn out? The world does that to us, and there is a real danger that we grow weary of the church. Why? Sometimes church people are hard to deal with! Opinions are rampant among everyone, and often they clash. If we don’t have loving attitudes and realize that we all have been reared differently, (which causes us to think differently about things), we can allow ourselves to be drawn into battles that God never intended for us to fight. Division takes place, and souls are lost.
As Jesus continues to discuss the church at Ephesus, he gets down to the nitty-gritty of their problems – a lack of love! When trials and difficulties come into a church, and when we forget that we are to love one another as Christ has loved us, disagreements grow into division because we want our way. When we commit to loving Christ and have his heart of love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we can see one another, not as an enemy but as a brother or sister that needs our help. Brothers and sisters, we all need help. We all need to love Christ first, and then that love can be spread abroad to others in the church and without. It is our Love for the Lord that causes us to obey the Lord. When we fail to love the Lord, we drift away. We fail in his commands. We justify sin and wrongdoing.
The solution is repentance. We must change our minds and hearts and come back to the one who loves us more than we will ever know. We must reaffirm our love for him and show him by obedience to His word. If we choose not to, but continue down the path of sin, he will remove the candlestick from its place. It will no longer be the Lord’s church. LOVE IS THE SOLUTION THAT GOD GAVE THE WORLD, WE MUST EXEMPLIFY IT IN A WORLD THAT HAS BOUGHT INTO THE DEVIL’S LIES OF FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS AND SUBSTITUTES THAT FOR REAL LOVE! Love that works because of the one loved.
As he closes the letter, he commends them for their stand against the false doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Love demands that we live by truth! For if we try to hide behind falsehoods in our families and in the church, we must be honest enough to deal with sin, TO REPENT and come back.
We must overcome (ESV – conquer). That is done by making the right, small decisions every day! I will not sin, but I will love and serve others by living for the truth!
The church has hope — the hope of eating the tree of life in the paradise of God. KEEP YOUR EYES FOCUSED ON THE PRIZE!
More next week as we look at the church at Smyrna.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIVE AND DEAD CHURCHES
There is no doubt many of us want to be a member of a live, growing church! Most of us can tell the difference . . . . and so can the Lord.
Live churches have all kinds of problems, parking problems, lack of classrooms, teachers . . . They always have more work, programs, mission and opportunities than they can take advantage of, DEAD ONES DON’T!
Live churches make constant demands on time, talent, and money. There are fellowships, services, and classes to attend. There are people to visit, delinquents to reclaim, and drifters who need encouragement and admonition. DEAD ONES DON’T!
Live churches are filled with people who are weak, neglectful, forgetful, and who need attention, but they are growing. They are concerned, prayerful, and giving. DEAD ONES DON’T!
Live churches have preachers who are book and people oriented. They have preachers who preach hard, exhort often, and know what’s going on in the world, the church and in the lives of many of the brethren. DEAD ONES DON’T!
Live churches have elders who stretch the budget yearly to help the congregation to grow. They have programs, sermons, classes, papers, missions, plans, and hopes to take every member to greater heights of service sacrifice and finally heaven. DEAD ONES DON’T!
Live churches have deacons that are pushers, vitally involved to improve everything the congregation is doing. They are out front serving and helping the entire program to get more done now! DEAD ONES DON’T!
Live churches have memberships that responds to challenge. The challenge of new programs, budgets, missions, and always the word! They have people who evangelize, rather than fossilize. DEAD ONES DON’T !
Live churches fight error and know where it is found. They are compassionate and kind. They are gentle and loving, but bold and brave and afraid of nothing! They love God and hate sin, DEAD ONES DON’T!
HOW TO TELL A LIVE CHURCH FROM A DEAD ONE
People move a lot in our country. Recently I read that more money is spent on moving than food. But if you move into a community, what are the clues that a church is living, vital, and active? These ideas may help:
- 1. Live churches are filled with praise and sounds of joy and thanksgiving. Dead churches are apathetic and lifeless.
- 2. Live churches usually have parking problems. Dead churches never have to worry about this.
- 3. Live churches are moving out by faith. Dead churches creep along by sight.
- 4. Live churches have lots of children and young people and noise. Dead churches are quiet as tombs.
- 5. Live churches center on serving people. Dead churches focused mainly on problems.
- 6. Live churches are filled with a spirit of love for each other. Dead churches are filled with suspicious, critical, and bickering people.
- 7. Live churches are always emphasizing discipleship and involvement. Dead churches ask for little and get it.
- 8. Live churches have many sacrificial givers. Dead churches have people who only tip the Lord.
- 9. Live churches are always growing. Dead churches are plateaued or declining.
Now that you know the questions to ask and signs to look for, you can find out if a church is dead or alive. God help us to always be a living, growing church.
Dick Marcear via Apostolic Reflections