Volume 1, Number 16 – January, 2022
Lessons from the Seven Churches of Asia
The letters to the seven churches of Revelation serve a two-fold purpose. The letters describe various conditions in each of the churches at the end of the 1st century AD. The initial lessons – commendations and admonitions – were intended for the churches at that time. However, the letters are part of a book of prophecy about the future. The church conditions described in the letters prophetically describe conditions that would prevail in each successive era – where the same lessons would be applicable. John addressed the book of Revelation “to the seven churches” (1:4), indicating the letters to each church were to be read in all the churches. Thus, the purpose of the letters is to convey universal lessons that describe and deal with universal human tendencies that still apply to the Church today.
Loveless Church (2:1-7) – Ephesus
Christ commended this church for its works, labor, patience, abhorrence of evil, ready detection of false teachers, steadfastness in bearing burdens, and the fact that they had not grown weary (Rev. 2:2-3). These characteristics indicated that this church had served the Lord well.
In spite of these desirable traits, the Ephesian church was soundly rebuked in one important matter: “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Rev. 2:4). The charge against this church was not “you have lost your first love” but “you have left your first love.” This church was backslidden and had gone off the track, not in doctrine but in its personal relationship with Christ. This same charge is common among God’s children today. It’s sad when a saint loses his first love for Christ, when he begins to seek his happiness in earthly things, and when Christ is no longer the center of his attention. Christ identified the problem and outlined the remedy: “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works” (Rev. 2:5). The message to Ephesus is clear: get back on track, do the Work, preach the Gospel with zeal, love the Truth, and love each other.
Suffering Church (2:8-11) – Smyrna
This letter starts with a commendation for faithfulness: “I know your works, tribulations, and poverty (but you are rich)” (Rev. 2:9). Although this church suffered from persecution and poverty, they were rich in the wonderful promises of Christ. To this suffering church, Christ addressed two exhortations which are badly needed by all Christian today. First, He said, “Do not fear any of those things” (Rev. 2:10). We have nothing to fear because our suffering cannot rob us of our eternal blessings in Christ. We are always in God’s care, and whatever is permitted in our lives is by His wise design. Second, He exhorted them to “be faithful until death” (Rev. 2:10). We also need this encouragement to be faithful when the test comes. What do we learn from the message to the church at Smyrna? In a day when persecution of the saints is being revived, the Church may well heed the exhortation to “fear not,” which is so frequent in the Bible. Our response to suffering should not be fear, but courage, joyous acceptance, and thanksgiving.
Compromising Church (2:12-17) – Pergamos
Christ commended this church for holding fast in spite of the fact that they lived “where Satan dwells” (Rev. 2:13), which refers to the evil character the city displayed in its persecution of Christians. But in spite of this evil, the believers held fast to His name and did not deny the faith. In spite of their faithfulness amidst persecution, the Lord rebuked them for holding the doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans. Balaam was guilty of counseling King Balak to cause Israel to sin through intermarriage with heathen women and idol worship (Num. 22-25; 31:15-16). They were exhorted to repent, otherwise Christ would fight against them with the sword of His mouth (Rev. 2:16). This message to Pergamos illustrates the constant danger of doctrinal compromise (Rev. 2:14-15). We must never compromise the Truth, or the teaching of it, no matter the circumstances.
Church Tolerating Apostasy (2:18-29) – Thyatira
Though much was wrong in this church, Christ still commended it: “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first” (Rev. 2:19). He commends it for five virtues, including its love, for which none of the three preceding churches were commended. In addition, He mentioned that their last works were greater than their former works – a contrast to the Ephesian church. In spite of this strong praise, there was one frightful condemnation – a sweeping indictment of the church’s tolerance of a woman named Jezebel and her teaching which led the church to commit fornication and eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:20-23).
Though she claimed to be a prophetess, she was not a true messenger of divine truth, as she had urged these Christians to continue the worship of idols. After His condemnation, Christ exhorted the godly remnant in Thyatira: “Hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works to the end, to him I will give power over the nations . . . and I will give him the morning star” (Rev. 2:25-28). This church was a monument to the danger of moral compromise; today, we should take heed to the departure from moral standards that has invaded the Church.
Dead Church (3:1-6) – Sardis
Christ said to the church at Sardis, “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). There is a marked change in His address to this church.
To the previous churches He began with commendation; here He begins with a denunciation because there was no commendation. Christ quickly stripped away their reputation of being alive by declaring them dead. Like the Pharisees, their outer appearance hid their lack of life. He added, “I have not found your works perfect before God” (Rev. 3:2). The church at Sardis evidently had a reputation as being spiritual with an effective ministry, yet it was a church that was alive in name only and dead in spiritual life and power. The message to the church at Sardis warns us against the danger of spiritual deadness, of orthodoxy without life, of outward appearance like the Pharisees, who were likened to “whited sepulchers” (Matt. 23:27). A church is in danger of being called dead when it is more concerned with form than life, when it loves systems more than Christ, and when it is more interested in material than spiritual things.
Faithful Church (3:7-13) – Philadelphia
Christ commended the Church at Philadelphia with these words: “You have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name” (Rev. 3:8). This church had manifested a loyalty to Christ’s name and had publicly confessed its trust in Him. As result, Christ promised that their adversaries, “the synagogue of Satan,” (Rev. 3:9), would be forced to see that this church contained true servants of God. Because of their faithfulness, this church is given a promise that the other churches did not receive: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth” (Rev. 3:10). This is a promise that they would not go through the tribulation, which unfolded in Revelation 6-18. The message to Philadelphia helps us remember that believers are commended by the Lord, but must “hold fast,” “persevere,” and maintain the “little strength” that they possess while waiting for the Lord’s coming.
Lukewarm Church (3:14-22) – Laodicea
Much like in the message to Sardis, Christ refrains from providing any words of commendation to the church at Laodicea. These Christians were pictured as abhorrent to Christ because they were “lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot” (Rev. 3:16).
Christ refers to three different spiritual states: (1) a state of coldness that includes all those who are cold to the things of God with no evidence of salvation; (2) a state of hotness that includes those who have genuine fervor in serving God and leave no question as to their spiritual strength; (3) a state of lukewarmness that refers to those who have shown some interest in the things of God, but might not have a true relationship with Christ. Such was the church at Laodicea. Their lukewarmness is evidenced by their contentment with material wealth and unawareness of their spiritual poverty. Christ used strong words to describe them: “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17). The message to the church of Laodicea is a warning for us today against lukewarmness, self-sufficiency, and being unaware of our desperate spiritual need. The only cure is to become reinvigorated in our service to God and let Christ be the center of our all that we do.
Each message to the seven churches of Asia concludes with a similar statement: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). Note that it is not what the Spirit “said” about past churches, but what the Spirit “says” to all churches. This tells us that the Spirit still speaks to us – a warning for the churches of today to “hear what the Spirit says” lest we become like six of the seven churches of Asia who were rebuked for their mistakes.
The Cold Hard Facts
If only my boss wouldn’t be so rude and domineering, I would try harder and be more cooperative at work. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable” (1 Peter 2:18).
If only my husband wasn’t so lazy and self-centered, and would treat me like I deserve, I would go back and live with him. “Wives, be submissive to your husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior” (1 Peter 3:1-2).
If only people would quit taking advantage of me, I would maintain a better disposition. “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead” (1 Peter 3:8-9).
If only the brethren were friendlier and the preacher not so dry, I’d go to church more often. “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24-25).
If only I had more income, I’d give a lot more. “In the churches of Macedonia . . . in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality” (2 Cor. 8:1-2).
If only my family would be more supportive, I’d become a Christian. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me ” (Matt. 10:37).
Do you notice that what God expects of us, He expects regardless of our particular circumstances? Instead of excusing ourselves due to adverse conditions, let us commit ourselves to our Creator and Benefactor. If only we would be like Jesus, who said, “I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30). He not only said it, He lived it — even to the point of death.
The Young People
More and more we hear folks deciding to attend a certain ‘church’ because “there are lots of good activities for the young people.” ‘Programs,’ ‘activities,’ and ‘groups’ for the young people – that’s the drawing card. Are we talking here about carefully arranged Bible classes that seek to instill an understanding of God’s word in the hearts of our young people? Is it sound teaching from the pulpit and scriptural practice in the way the church does its business so that the young folks can learn respect for Bible authority? Is it love between brethren that manifests itself by each individual demonstrating “hospitality one to another” (1 Pet. 4:9)?
Sadly, the answer is no. Instead, the activities that are desired “for the young people” are fun and games – ‘youth groups’ that sponsor parties, retreats, outings, camps, softball and basketball leagues, etc.
Lest anyone misunderstand, let it be known that we love basketball, baseball, camping, parties . . . and fun and food in general! We strongly favor such things being provided as an avenue of ‘good, clean fun’ for our young folks. But we insist that there is no authority in the Bible for the church to provide such. Let parents who really care see to it that the kids have these needed diversions, and let the church keep to its important authorized work. There’s nothing better for our young people than this.
Volume 1, Number 17 – January, 2022
In Everything Give Thanks
I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks.” This teaching is given in the midst of a series of admonitions near the end of the book of I Thessalonians. Earlier, Paul told them that they needed to “rejoice always,” and that they were to “pray without ceasing.” It can be said that constant joy and a constant prayer should lead to a constant giving of thanks to God.
The Bible stresses thanksgiving in many places. Ephesians 5:20, says, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Colossians 4:2 Paul stressed, “Continue in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” In another passage, Philippians 4:6, he said, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
It is clear that we are to be thankful, but how are we to be thankful in everything? The NIV says, “give thinks in all circumstances.” How do we do this? The verse is not teaching that we are to give thanks specifically for every particular thing which happens. Instead, the idea is that we are to continue to be thankful no matter what the circumstances, and in every circumstance, we can find things to be thankful for.
Consider the following situation. A man’s house burns. He does not say, “I am glad my house burned.” Instead, he says, “I continue to be thankful to God even though my house burned.” Furthermore, he is able to say, “Although my house burned, I am thankful that I was not in it when it burned, and that it did not catch the house of someone else on fire.” We remain thankful to God no matter what happens, and in every bad situation we can see things to be thankful for (note also James 1:2-3, Rom. 5:3).
Matthew Henry, the well known scholar, was once robbed by thieves of his money. In his diary he wrote, “Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
We need to make sure that we are “thankful in everything.” The last part of verse 18 says, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We must understand that it is God’s Will that we obey these instructions. Are you “thankful in everything?”
Rejecting God’s Calling
Moses was a great leader and a great man of God, but his journey was a long one that began long before his pivotal encounter with God at the burning bush when he was 80 years old. That encounter, however, changed his life and the lives of generations to follow forever. Moses answered God’s call from the bush with the words “Here I am” (Exodus 3:4), but whether out of apprehension or humility, he quickly added five excuses for not immediately doing as God commanded.
Moses’ first excuse was he was not good enough to fulfill God’s command. Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). Moses showed humility here, but also appeared content with his life as a shepherd. So content that perhaps most days he did not remember the sin that drove him into the wilderness (Exodus 2:12). When God called Moses to go back to Egypt, how could he forget? I imagine in the intimacy of the encounter at the burning bush, every sin felt fresh as it flushed through his mind, perhaps making Moses feel inadequate to lead the Israelites. But God did not accept Moses’ first excuse because it is the same excuse anyone can use. How many of us reject the calls God places in our lives and then wonder why we feel spiritually dry? While we may think we are being humble by rejecting opportunities to influence others, we instead deny God’s desire to bring His transforming power into the world.
Moses’ second excuse was he did not have all the answers. He asked God, “‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?’” (Exodus 3:13). As a boy, Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s household. He had every advantage to learn and cultivate his intellect. He must have been a well-read, well-educated man, yet he questioned his abilities. Moses missed the point. This call wasn’t about him – it was about God. The Lord was asking Moses to be His vessel and voice to save the Israelites from the tyranny of Egyptian leadership and fulfill His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This excuse didn’t fly. Moses did not need all the answers because it was never about him in the first place. God would provide him with all the knowledge he needed.
Moses’ third excuse was his fear that people would not believe his message. He questioned God again by asking, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you” (Exodus 4:1). This excuse is a natural human instinct. Being vulnerable is scary, especially to a potentially hostile group. God didn’t let Moses hide behind this natural human fear. Instead, He gave Moses two miraculous tools to provide the confidence he needed: a rod that could turn into a serpent and the ability to turn his hand leprous, and then make it whole again, by simply placing it inside his cloak. God did not dismiss this excuse. He equipped Moses to overcome it.
Moses’ fourth excuse was his lack of public speaking skills. Moses said, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10). Again, we see Moses’ humility, but, as we would see throughout his pilgrimage, Moses was actually a very good orator. Perhaps Moses was being exceedingly humble, or perhaps God truly used a flawed vessel. I believe both are true. God doesn’t call the flawless to do His work. He takes the humble and works His flawless plan through our cracked and broken vessels. This excuse was his best sales-pitch for the job!
Moses’ final excuse is interesting because we do not know the true intent of his statement. Moses pleaded with God to “please send by the hand of whomever else You may send” (Exodus 4:13). He made this statement either because he still did not believe he was qualified, lacked courage, or simply did not desire to fulfill God’s calling. No reason is stated here as to why God should send someone else because Moses is all out of excuses, so he pleaded with God for someone else to go. No matter the reason for the excuse, Moses angered God. I do not know precisely what physical manifestations evidenced the anger which Moses mentions in verse 14, but my own impression is this must have scared Moses half to death. Can you imagine making God mad, then having to stand there faced with His anger? If Moses was afraid of the presence of God in the burning bush before (Exodus 4:6), one can hardly imagine the fear Moses had at this point. Although angry with him, God placated Moses and called Aaron to serve alongside his brother. Moses’ final excuse was abated.
As many of us do, Moses came up with many excuses as to why he could not fulfill his calling. The Moses of Exodus chapters 3 and 4 is the same man who shows remarkable courage, obedience, and strength of character a few chapters later. God works with each of us as we are and takes us to where He wants us to be. He “knows our frame” and knows how we can perform our calling (Psalm 103:14). We just need to be willing to leave behind the excuses. What excuses are we offering Him?
Sins of Ignorance – Do They Matter?
Donald P. Ames
So often people develop the attitude that if one doesn’t know about his sins, he is okay; or if we sin in ignorance, we are okay. This doctrine seeks to destroy the importance of sin, and causes us to become careless in teaching others its importance. First and foremost, if one could be saved in ignorance, then the worst thing we could do would be to teach them the truth! They might learn and reject it, and then they would be lost. This makes the gospel a means of condemnation and not the “good news” of salvation. The message of the gospel is what we can do to be saved from our sins, not to condemn us (Jn. 3:17). But there are conditions attached to the gospel that we are to obey (Heb. 5:9).
In Leviticus 4-5, God shows His attitude towards sin, including sins done in ignorance. He points out if a person, or even a priest, sins in ignorance or unintentionally, he is still guilty of sin, regardless of his sincerity, and when he learns of his sin, he must offer up the proper sacrifice for that sin (Lev. 4:2-3). If the whole congregation sins unintentionally, they still have sinned, and must offer up a sacrifice for that when it becomes known to them (4:13,14). If a ruler sins unintentionally, and learns of the sin he committed, he too must offer up the appropriate sacrifice (4:22-23), as well as any of the common people (4:27-28). In (5:1-2), he points out if a vow is taken which causes one to sin, he is guilty of sin; or if one unknowingly touched the carcass of a dead animal. If he utters something unaware it is a sin, he is guilty of that sin, and upon learning of it, he must make the appropriate sacrifice (5:4-6). In 5:17, God sums it all up by saying, “If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the Lord, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity.” Thus, he must make the proper sacrifice of that sin when he learns of his sins. This is in full harmony with what we read about in the New Testament in such passages as Rom. 10:2; Acts 3:17; Eph. 4:18 and Heb. 9:7 (to mention just a few).
Since our sins can separate us from God (Isa. 59:1-2), then they are indeed important. Does God allow some time in there for us to learn (assuming we are desirous of learning)? Apparently so from the reading of Rev. 2:5, etc. But that is not a “resource” to be counted upon, as (1) we do not know how long we may have or if death may claim us before we are ready. (2) The wages of sin is still death (Rom. 6:23), and we do not want to take that chance. If you drive a vehicle at 80 mph, unaware of a sign that may have gotten knocked down that said “45 mph,” the police officer will not excuse your ignorance just because “you didn’t see the sign.”
So what must we do about the matter? We must study the Word of God, that we might learn what our sins are, and then obey His Word to get rid of them (Jn. 8:31-32). My friends, sin is still sin, and until we seek His forgiveness, we have sin in our souls when we have done that which is wrong. Learn the Word of God, find out if what you are doing is wrong (even if you were very sincere when doing it — Acts 23:1; 26:9), then take the steps God requires to get rid of those sins before it is eternally too late (Acts 22:26; Jas. 1:21; 1 Jno. 1:5-10).
Three Types of Listeners
Faith depends on the message of God penetrating the heart and mind of the receiver. The apostle Paul wrote, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). There are three types of hearers, or listeners, we can read about in the Bible:
- “Dull of Hearing” – Hebrews 5:11 – Those who have become dull of hearing need teachers to come in and lay down again the basic principles of truth, or the basic milk of the Christian faith (5:12). Though they should already be able to handle the solid food that develops the meaning of the basics of the faith, they must be retaught these basics because their hearing has become dull.
- Hearing with “Itching Ears” – II Timothy 4:3-4 – Those who have itching ears are always desirous of new things and/or love to have their ears scratched and tickled with smooth things that are pleasing and agree- able to their carnal minds. These listeners desire those who would coincide with their whims, who foster every vagary which might enter their imagination, who would advocate for the errors which the hearer holds, or who are afraid to admit their faults. These are the principles on which many people choose their religious teachers. The true principle should be, to select those who faithfully declare the truth, and who will not shirk exposing and denouncing sin, wherever it may be found.
- Hearing with a “Noble and Good Heart” – Acts 17:10-12 – Those who hear with a noble and good heart listen to the Gospel attentively; They also receive the doctrine with readiness of mind and eagerly study the Scriptures to better understand everything the Lord expects of us; Lastly, these type of listeners continue in this work in hopes of obtaining a purity in faith.
How have you been listening lately? Christ taught that we should take heed “how” and “what” we hear (Mark 4:24-25; Luke 8:18). Which type of listener are you? Are you among the dull of hearing, the hearer with itching ears, or the hearer with a noble and good heart?