Every time I read the short letters Jesus wrote through John to the seven churches in Asia, I’m moved again to think that what God sees in us and what we see in ourselves is often two very different things. Jesus stands as the one with peirsing eyes, like a flame of fire looking at the church, walking among them and examining the actions of the church. I’ve noticed in my own life that when I feel good about the church and what is being done, everything they do tends to seem good to me. But if I’m frustrated and discouraged noticing areas where we are failing to do what I belive we ought to be doing, I tend only to see the things that are wrong and need fixing. Jesus is very different from that. He commonly talks about all that is right with the church and then points to the things that are sick and need to get well.
God is looking for a healthy church that is vitally connected to him in all things at all times. In those seven letters in chapters two and three of Revelation John pictures Jesus as he looks at each of the churches. He first looked at Ephesus, a church in a major city that had been there long enough to have grown deep in their commitment to God. When it came to the works being done in the name of the Lord, they were great. They took strong stands against those who were evil and wouldn’t tolerate those who claimed to be apostles of the Lord but were not. They had persevered enduring in the middle of tough times. They refused to become weary in their service to Him. All that was good and worthy of praise. But one thing made them horribly sick as a church. They had left their first love. Love is the heart of Christianity. Love for God is intended to be supreme with love of the brothers and love for our neighbors following close behind. Being short on love left them in danger of losing everything. Love is not one of those elements in the church that is nice to have but you can function fine without it. Love is the heart of our faith. He told them they needed to REMEMBER from where they had falled, REPENT and REPEAT the things they did at the first.
The church at Smyrna was in a tough place. They were facing tribulation and povety, but they were rich toward God. Some who pretended to be among them were really serving Satan. The Lord wanted them to know there were tough days ahead. They would be cast into prison and have tribulation for ten days. “BE FAITHFUL UNTIL DEATH AND I WILL GIVE YOU A CROWN OF LIFE.” One of the key concepts of the Bible is laid out here. God is looking for faithfulness. We may not be in the spotlight. The world may not be aware of what we are doing. But if we are faithful to the Lord everything will be all right.
Sometimes the biggest problem we have is in where we live. Pergamum lived where Satan’s throne was found. They had witnessed one of their most faithful members be put to death by the Romans. His name was Antipas. They had observed Antipas being killed and stayed true to the Lord in the middle of it. That was great that they could hold on in such times. But not all was good among them. They had false teachers among them that they were tolerating. Some were like Balaam who taught Balak to sin and led Israel astray. They also had those who followed the teachings of the Nicolaitans. When a church willingly puts up with those who teach things which lead people away from God rather than to him it is a sick church. We are to be the very foundation for the truth (I Timothy 3:15). The efforts in our own day to say that what people believe and teach on doctrinal matters doesn’t make any difference needs to be marked for the error that is there and pointed to the truth of God.
The church in Thyatira was especially sick. While they were doing some good things in love, faith and service to God, they were tolerating a Jezebel among them. Likely this isn’t referring to one called Jezebel but one whose life and morals looked like Jezebel’s life. She had led the people in the church into acts of immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols. The Lord said, “I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold I will throw her on a bed of sickness and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.” But even in Thyatira there were some who were faithful to God. The Lord put no other burdens on them but encouraged them to hold fast. When we make excuses for immorality we allow Satan to take over in our lives.
The church in Sardis had a reputation for being dead but the Lord said they were alive. He encouraged them to wake up and strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die. “So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent.” This demonstartes that a church can seem dead but be raised again to live as God calls them if they are willing to do so.
When Jesus looked at the heart of the church in Philadelphia he saw good things. This is the only one of the seven letters with nothing negative to say about them. The Lord wanted them to know that he had set before them an open door of opportuntiy and no man could shut it. The Lord promised to keep them from the hour of trial and pleaded with them to hold fast to the Lord. Many churches today are weak and struggling. They need an open door and a little strength. They don’t have to die or even stay on their bed of sickness, but all too often they do anyway.
The final letter was written to the church in Laodicea. It was a wealthy area known for several things when it came ot man’s livelihood. They were known for the black sheep in the area from which they produced black and very expensive wool. They were known for an eye salve that was said to cure blindess. They were known as a banking center which people came to carry out all kinds of financial trades. They thought as a result of being a wealthy church in a wealthy area that it meant certain privileges for them. They said, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naken. I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by the fire so that you may beocme rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” He told them it was his love that made him rebuke them and challenged them to “be zealous and repent”. He told them he was knocking at their door if they would open it to him he would come in and have a meal with them. While they thought of themselves as being great, beautiful and the most desireable church in the world, God say them as a miserable lot whose arrogance had hidden them from God. They made him so sick to his stomach that the promised them he was going vomit them out if they didn’t repent. When they thought they were in need of nothing the Lord told them they were in need of everything. When they thought they were wealthy, he told them they were in poverty. When they thought they were healthy he told them that they were sick and going blind if they didn’t use the eyesalve he had for them.
Most churches have some sickness and some health. But we need always to be working toward being more healthy and having less sickness. The doctor is in when it comes to a church. We don’t need an appointment. We just need to come in and follow his directions on how to get well.