(The Faith Forum Series – Batch 4)
THE FIFTH LETTER – TO THE CHURCH AT SARDIS (Revelations 3:1-6)
The Church at Sardis appeared to have once been a lively Church that was on fire for God, passionate about Jesus who was the reason for their existence and engaged in work for the Lord. They were exercised in the work of faith, the labour of love and had patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, who they were waiting and watching in anticipation for.
However with the passage of time, something happened. Something changed. They were still considered by the world to be a Christian Church that was serving and pleasing God but they were no longer pleasing him. They still attended services and looked pious and godly but it was all a vain show. For, the Spirit that enabled and empowered, seemingly was not at work in their lives because through their conduct and loss of focus, they had grieved and maybe even quenched the Spirit into non-operation, due to their disobedience, sluggishness and spiritual slothfulness. Given that the Spirit was not operating in the lives of the majority of the individuals, they were as dead in the sight of God and the Church was a Church in name only, as it was ready to die.
This Church that had once received the Word and was serving God faithfully was now in a state where the majority of the members were not producing any fruit of righteousness for the Lord and unlike the other Churches, Jesus found nothing that he could commend this Church for.
While in the letters to the first four Churches, Jesus commended them for their strong points before reproving them for their weaknesses with the Church at Sardis, Jesus metes out only rebuke, as there was nothing worthy of commendation there. It was therefore the worst of the bunch so far. For, the other Churches were to be commended for their faith (holding fast to their belief in Jesus, no matter the consequence), their love, service and suffering sacrificially and patiently for the Lord. The Church at Sardis however was pathetic, in that the majority of the congregation was doing absolutely nothing to really advance the Kingdom of God. The routine of Church services appeared to have been there but the Church was producing absolutely no fruit of the Spirit and therefore was waxing cold in their love for Jesus and for others and was no longer enduring patiently through any afflictions for the Lord.
The description of them being dead meant that they were no longer growing in the knowledge and grace of the Lord and were simply occupying the Church benches but doing nothing worthwhile to advance God’s agenda. They were no longer growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ but were stagnant, as they were all about advancing themselves in life. Their focus was no longer exclusively on Christ or on spiritual things but earthly things. They had become earthly minded and in so doing, allowed themselves to become defiled by the world’s system which now occupied their focus.
In fact, the majority of this Church, although they had a reputation maybe in the eyes of the world and among other Assemblies that they were Christians were doing their own thing without the Holy Spirit as their compass. Only a few from that Church were still truly following and abiding in Jesus and submitting their lives to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The majority of the congregation was still assembling but the Church had become so ineffective due to the world’s distractions that it was close to dying in God’s eyes. For, the majority of the congregation was operating just like the rest of the world and was in a spiritual slumber or sleep. They were drunk with the cares of this life and Jesus had been placed on the backburner, although they kept the routine of worship.
Yet, they were not fooling God and he was not pleased. Due to the distractions of the world and the cares of life which had overtaken them, they were no longer looking for the Lord’s appearance but were asleep or drunk with themselves, their own cares and all that the world had to offer.
They were so asleep and distracted that it appears that they were no longer effectively reaching souls with the gospel and could care less whether people perished or not. They were no longer attempting to reach the needs of the less fortunate in love and were going through no afflictions for standing for what was right, in the Lord, probably because they were careful to take the path of least resistance to the world, not willing to suffer or to make painful sacrifices for the sake of Christ.
Indeed, they may have gotten to the point where they did not even care anymore about what was sound doctrine and what wasn’t. They may have become satisfied with whatever was preached, even if it wasn’t the truth. For, the majority of the congregation having lost its focus, seemed more concerned with having membership in the Church and being regarded reputationally by society and maybe other Assemblies as a pillar of righteousness, than of truly living the Christian life.
Indeed, this Church was so lifeless, that Jesus described it in the worst possible way: dead. Interestingly, this description was not even used for the Church at Ephesus where the love had waxed cold and they were working hard for the Lord only due to their religious zeal.
The assembly referred to as the Church at Sardis were operating like the people in the world without distinction, them having compromised and let go of their God-given standards. Jesus was no longer being given the preeminence in their lives. The world and its practices were.
Jesus was resident in their hearts but not President as they were living lives contrary to his Word. They had a reputation to those looking in from the outside as being servants of God but they could not fool God himself. He saw their hearts and knew that they had become empty, ready to die. Although they were saved by God’s grace, they were therefore no better than the world although they were religiously giving the impression that they were, as Jesus was no longer on the throne of their hearts. He was no longer their focus. The world, its cares and the pleasures of life now were.
Jesus therefore urges them to “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.”
John 15:1-6 makes it clear that to produce fruit, the Christian must be abiding in Jesus, not in word only but in how he or she lives. If a person who has professed Christianity is not producing fruit therefore, it means that that person is either not genuinely saved (as was made evident in the Sower and the Seed parable) or he is saved but is no longer abiding in Jesus due to rebellion. The latter is good for nothing therefore, withered (because it is not connecting to the life source which is Jesus) and on the verge of death.
In John 15:1-6, Jesus stated:
- “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
In the case of the Church at Sardis, they were Christians but were clearly not abiding, which is why the Lord described them as “…ready to die”. The Lord was therefore issuing a warning for them to . The Lord was therefore issuing a warning for them to “….Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die…” and for them to “Remember…” how they had received and heard and to “…hold fast, and repent.”
In verse 2, Jesus told the Church at Sardis, “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die…”
Given that they were no longer watching for Jesus’ return but had begun to adopt and practise the ways of the world, Jesus knew that if he were to remove them from the earth in that condition or he were to return suddenly, they would be taken off guard and ashamed before him.
He told them in verse 3: “…If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”
In 1 John 2:28, it admonishes Christians: “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”
On the issue of watchfulness, in Luke 12, Jesus spoke about what a person who has professed Christianity and is watchful does and what a person who has similarly professed but is not watching but has become preoccupied and drunken with the world’s system and advancing his own affairs, does.
In verse 34-47, Jesus said to his disciples:
- “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.
- Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.
- And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.
- Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
- But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken;The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.”
Jesus gave the Church at Sardis which was not being watchful, a failing grade when it came to their operations, stating in verse 2 of Chapter 3, “…for I have not found thy works perfect before God.”
Jesus therefore called upon them to repent, as this Church had apparently reached the point where anything was acceptable Church, them gathering in form only but denying the authority and power of God through Jesus, in their lives.
Their behaviour was described perfectly in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, where Paul stated of what God’s true followers can expect to see in the last days. He stated:
- “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…”
Although the Church at Sardis consisted of genuine believers (hence the reason Jesus told them to be watchful, to remember how they had received the Word, to hold fast and to strengthen the things which remain), they had a form or semblance of godliness through their continued religious routine but in the way they operated their lives, they were denying the power thereof, which was the Spirit of God that could make the difference. He was not at the helm of their lives as the world seems to have competed for their heart and won. They therefore had no fruit to show and nothing to be commended for.
The majority of the Church were genuine Christians but clearly in a backslidden condition. Instead of growing the Lord, they were backpedaling into the world, refusing to let the Holy Spirit have his way in their lives. They were therefore religious but due to their rebellious ways, ineffective, powerless and as dead or about to die in God’s eyes. They could not contribute positively so as to meaningfully impact society because of their disobedience.
In Hebrews 10:38, it states: “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.”
In fact, Hebrews 10:23-38 is an example of what had taken place in Sardis and why Jesus was calling on them to repent. It states in a call to Christians:
- “Let us HOLD FAST the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.”
In similar admonition, Jesus stated to the Church at Sardis:
- “These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”
Jesus tells them to be watchful because they were in a state of slumber, distracted by the things of this world and like the foolish virgins, they were not preparing for the bridegroom’s coming.
Of all the letters we have looked at so far, the Church at Sardis was the worst. It was the first Church that Jesus found nothing to commend and only gave them reproof. Paul’s admonition to the Church in Romans 14:11-14, that they be spiritually alert and keep focused on Christ was therefore applicable to this Church.
- “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
The challenge the Church at Sardis faced therefore was to get back to being a real Church, not in form only but in genuineness of faith and the accompanying power of the Holy Spirit.
They needed to exercise their faith, turn away from the things of this world which had them drunk and asleep and to set their affections on things above. They needed to get back to being sober and alert as they waited in faith for their Master to come, as he had promised he would.
It was because the Spirit of God was no longer leading this Church, that I believe Jesus opened his letter by making reference to the seven Spirits of God. Without the Spirit of God operating at the helm of a Church, that Church is no Church at all but lifeless. That Church, like the rest of the world is not looking for the Lord’s appearing and will be taken by surprise, along with the rest of the world when he does in fact come.
SUMMARY OF THE PROBLEM AT THE CHURCH AT SARDIS
The problem with the Church of Sardis therefore was that they had become distracted. They had apparently allowed THE WORLD and the things of time and sense to seep in, take their focus and therefore, they were no longer watching for the return of Jesus Christ, they were earthly focused instead of heavenly and Christ was placed on the backburner.
Jesus wanted them to abide in Him and to let go of the world. He wanted them to keep him and not the things of the world and life’s distractions as their focus, to avoid becoming encumbered with the things of the world but to submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit, align their works with his righteousness and bring forth fruit. He wanted them to awake out of sleep, to be watchful, to strengthen the things which remained, to hold fast to their faith and to remember how they used to be when they initially received the Word.
Jesus therefore closes with the challenge for them to become spiritually alive in Him and alert by stating in verse 3, that if they refused to watch for his coming, that when he did return, it will be to them like a thief in the night, as they do not know when this will be.
Thankfully, in the midst of that dead Church, Jesus recognized that there were a few precious souls that were still living for him, still had him as their focus and had not let go of their faith. This precious remnant having received the Word were continually abiding in Jesus and had not defiled themselves with the ‘meat’ or offerings or lifestyle or preoccupation of the world, whether this be empty materialistic pursuit after riches, promotion, advancement, self-betterment, pleasure, entertainment or otherwise.
They were not dead or about to die in ineffectiveness like the rest of the congregation but were still bearing fruit for God’s Kingdom and his glory. Jesus stated “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
THE SIXTH LETTER – TO THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA (Revelations 3:7-13)
The Church at Philadelphia had faithfully kept the Word of God and had not denied the name of Jesus. This was commend-worthy. However, Jesus told them: “…for thou hast a little strength.”
He may possibly have been referring to the Church at Philadelphia being weary in well doing or to the fact that as human beings, they were weak and did not have strength in themselves to keep or succour themselves in the path of righteousness, given the extent of the temptation in the world.
Either way, Jesus had no words of rebuke for this Church but instead saw the need to encourage it to continue being patient, which brings to mind the verse in Galatians 6:9 which reads: “And let us not be weary in well doing for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.”
Jesus reassured them in verse 10, that he would keep them, stating: “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
He also informed them that he would come quickly and therefore encouraged them to hold fast to what they had and not to let any person take their crown or reward (not salvation) from them.
Earlier on, Jesus defined himself as Earlier on, Jesus defined himself as “…he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and NO MAN shutteth; and shutteth, and NO MAN openeth.”
This brings to mind the John 14:6, where, while on the earth and before he had died, Jesus said: This brings to mind the John 14:6, where, while on the earth and before he had died, Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Indeed, Jesus is the way of holiness and righteousness, the truth and the one that has the power, authority and key to grant access to eternal life.
Despite what this Church may have been going through at that moment and that in themselves, they had a little (not a lot) of strength, Jesus reminded them that he had the key of David (which I take to mean the key to eternal life) and he was the one that had the power to determine who would be granted access to heaven and who would be denied. He also let them know that who he opened the door to or granted access to, no man could prevent from entering and vice versa.
This brings to mind John 10:28-29, which reads:
- “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
Jesus then gave the Church a further reminder as to why they should persevere, by letting them know that with his authority, he had set before them an open door. That is, he had already granted them access to heaven and therefore, this could not be disannulled, thwarted or prevented by any man. He once again emphasizes that no man could keep them out of heaven (no matter what they did or what they tried or how they regarded them) because he had already willed them to be in it. This therefore speaks in my view, of election in that Jesus was letting them know that they were ordained to eternal life. Absolutely no man could therefore pluck them out of his hand.
In verse 8, he stated: In verse 8, he stated: “I know thy works: behold, I have SET before thee an open door, and no man can shut it…”
This wonderful assurance that the Church of Philadelphia received of its election and therefore victory through Jesus Christ, no matter what and no matter who tried to frustrate them, reminds me of Romans 8:35-39 where it reads:
- “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Of this love which no man can separate God’s children from, Jesus told the Church of Philadelphia in verse 9:
- “Behold I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and TO KNOW that I have loved thee.”
Jesus’ love was a love that no evil force could trump for God is greater than all. Yes this Church which was faithful thus far had little strength but Jesus was making it clear that, as God’s elect, he would keep them. In verse 10, he said to them Jesus’ love was a love that no evil force could trump for God is greater than all. Yes this Church which was faithful thus far had little strength but Jesus was making it clear that, as God’s elect, he would keep them. In verse 10, he said to them “…Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will KEEP thee from the hour of temptation…”
This brings to mind two verses. Zechariah 4:6 reminds us that our victories are not won in our own strength but by God’s when it states: “…Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord”.
Also, in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9, Paul stated of his own experience when he was weak and had to draw from God’s strength in the face of Satan’s minion:
- “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
As stated before, in verse 8, Jesus tells the Church at Philadelphia that he had set before them an open DOOR and no man could shut it.
In John 10, the same scripture quoted above where Jesus indicated that he gave unto those that are his, eternal life, that they would therefore never perish and that no man could pluck them out of his hand, earlier on in John 10: 1-4,7,9 he also referred to access to heaven through him the door, stating:
- “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice… Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, AND SHALL GO IN AND OUT, and find pasture.”
When Jesus said these words in John 10, verse 22-23 states that “…it was at JERUSALEM the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the TEMPLE in Solomon’s porch.”
Interestingly, in this John 10 portion, Jesus stated that if any man enter in through Him the door, that he would be saved and would go in and out and find pasture. I take this to mean that he would go in as in having the privilege of being in the presence of God, as he is able to now approach the throne of grace boldly and then, leaving that sacred place of worship and go back out to function operationally in the world, as all Christians have to do.
However, in verse 12 of Revelation 3, speaking about what would take place when he returned and his people had overcome and were resurrected, Jesus states that they would no longer go out, which I take to mean that they would be in the presence of God forever, not needing to ever leave to operate their daily affairs in the world. He also mentions the new Jerusalem and the temple of God.
To the Church at Philadelphia, verse 12 reads:
- “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the TEMPLE of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new JERUSALEM, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
What blessed assurance, to all that believe! This message was to the Church at Philadelphia but is also applicable to all the churches. It reminds us that Jesus has elected us, chosen us and has therefore opened the door to us, so as to grant us access to heaven. Given that he has already ordained us to be partakers of this eternal inheritance, no man is able to change our destiny. No man is able, whether commissioned by Satan or otherwise, to pluck us out of Jesus’ hand. We may be unpopular, not liked, disregarded and spoken evil of. We may even be regarded by some other fellow Christians or family members as nothing or nothing much and ostracized but thank God, no man can separate us from the love of God. Once Jesus has chosen us, no man, irrespective of who he or she is, can frustrate God’s saving grace in our lives.
SUMMARY OF THE ISSUE AT THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA
Like the Church of Smyrna therefore (which received high commendation from the Lord Jesus), no problem was identified according to my understanding of the scriptures on the Church at Philadelphia. What the congregation there needed and what Jesus provided was reassurance that they had been chosen and therefore, this could not be reversed. They were therefore encouraged, in light of their bright destiny (which no man could thwart or disannul), to hold fast to what they had, so that no man would take their crown or heavenly reward when they got to heaven.
Jesus opened in verse 7, identifying himself as the one that “…openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth” and in light of the fact that he has reminded this Church that he has the pre-eminence and that His power to keep is greater than all, on the verge of closing in verse 11, he makes mention of “…no man…” again, telling the Church: “Behold, I come quickly: hold fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
The challenge seemed therefore for this Church that had a little strength, to press on, even where man (most likely the Jews who felt that the law was the way to heaven) may have been trying to thwart their purposes and to provoke and frustrate them, to get them to abort their faith in Jesus. Jesus desired for them to remember his preeminence and that no matter what man did or tried to do, he held the key to heaven, had already willed them to enter it and would see to it that they were kept from temptation.
THE SEVENTH LETTER – TO THE CHURCH AT LAODICEA (Revelations 3:14-22)
The Church of Laodicea consisted of people that were well-to-do, so to speak. They were wealthy and therefore, had all of life’s comforts at their disposal.
This made them self-reliant, self-dependent, thinking that because they had gain, this meant that they were godly and that God was pleased with them. Why else would he have allowed them to acquire so much?
They were very wrong in their assessment.
They were not cold like the Church at Sardis that was ready to die but they were not on fire and passionate for the Lord, like the Church at Smyrna. Unlike the Church of Laodicea, the Church of Smyrna was under immense persecution and suffering, lacking such basic amenities in life for the sake of Christ, that the world considered them to be poor.
Riches had deluded the Church of Laodicea into believing that everything was fine with them, that the Lord required no more of them and that the average that they were giving to him was considered acceptable to the Lord.
A life of riches and comfort without persecution and suffering, had lulled them into a state of complacency, so that the zeal, the passion, the fire and the fervour which the Lord required in their service and life towards him was lacking.
This highlights the fact that materialistic possessions are not always a blessing. They can turn out to be like a curse if they negatively affect our relationship with the Lord.
This was why the writer in Proverbs 30:8-9 stated:
- “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.”
This Church did not know what it was to suffer for the name of Christ, to be persecuted, to have lack, to be hungry and to face dangerous situations for the sake of the gospel but to press on despite such difficulty because they had no difficulty. In their eyes, life was good, so they could eat, drink and be merry. They were probably putting large sums of money (as a proportion of their riches) into the money basket and had convinced themselves that God was pleased with their mediocrity and that this nice life was what the Christian life entailed.
Their riches blinded them as to their true condition. Because they were full and fully clothed, they became self-sufficient, not really trusting God to get them through each day by faith but in their riches. They had become self-sufficient and thought of themselves as having arrived spiritually because their possessions were great.
Yet, Jesus was not impressed with their works, although they were convinced he was. In their case, their gain in materialistic possessions was not indicative of a gain in their spirituality.
Jesus wanted a people that would be on fire for him, that would be zealous as they went forth with the gospel and that would love him, not nonchalantly or in a lukewarm manner but passionately with fire in the soul and with great fervency.
This zeal, this fire, this passion for God was a characteristic that Saul who became Paul possessed, even when he did not believe the truth that Jesus was the Son of God. In recounting his past when he thought that one could only be justified by keeping the law, he stated:
- “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was ZEALOUS toward God, as ye all are this day.” (Acts 22:3)
In Philippians 3:5-6, he stated that he was:
- “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning ZEAL, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”
While we don’t know and are not told why Jesus in his mercy reached out to him on that Damascus road, so that he would believe in him and his soul would be saved, it is not unreasonable to think that maybe the zeal that he possessed was a trait that God desired to use.
When Saul who became Paul turned to the truth, he preached the gospel (which was that one could only be justified by faith in Jesus) with that same fervour and passion, not caring even for his own safety and preservation.
He went to places to spread the gospel with the hope that at least one person would be saved, even if he knew before hand that there was danger there and that he may be beaten, imprisoned or even killed.
He understood that his purpose in life was to serve Christ, irrespective of the cost, even if it meant suffering and even if it meant death.
He said “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21).
Such was his zeal for the Lord that he did not care what he lost in the process. He placed zero value on the so-called comforts and accolades of this life, counting all of it as dung, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
In verses 7 and 8 of Philippians 3, he stated:
- “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.”
This was the kind of zeal, boldness, courage and passion that Jesus desired. He hated the lukewarm mentality of the Church of Laodicea because they were not giving to him their best effort. They were doing just enough to appease him while enjoying the good life. They lacked the zeal, the fire had gone out and they were not serving and loving Jesus with fervency.
By way of analogy, a woman in a marriage relationship with her husband will never be satisfied with a man that just gives the bare essentials and that does just enough so that it cannot be said of him that he has been unfaithful and that he is not being a good husband.
Something or someone will capture his heart and a woman knows if it is not her, then it is something or someone else, whether it is a career, riches, ambition, another woman or his possessions.
A woman therefore wants a husband who is on fire for her, who is passionate about her and zealous about everything that pertains to her and their relationship because he is so in love with her. She will never be satisfied with a lukewarm relationship because she would know that her husband is not giving his best. She wants him to love her above everything else and everyone else on earth and this kind of love would bound to be reflected in the extent to which he is zealous for her and prepared to sacrifice for her and suffer for her.
Indeed, Jesus requires that a man love his wife to this extent, telling them that they should follow his example and be prepared to even lose their lives for their wives.
In Ephesians 5:25- 29, it states:
- “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
Jesus therefore calls for fervent love in marriage relationships and even more so when it comes to the relationship that the Church has with Him. He is not satisfied with the lack lustre, routine, boring, lukewarm actions of his children. He wants us to be zealous in our service of Him due to the great love that we have for Him.
SUMMARY OF THE PROBLEM AT THE CHURCH AT LAODICEA
The problem with the Church at Laodicea therefore was that they had allowed RICHES AND COMFORT to make them lukewarm, not zealous, not passionate for the Lord and the things of the Lord and to lull them into a place of comfort. They were operating in their service for God without being on fire for him.
This Church was therefore the perfect antithesis to the Church at Smyrna, which Jesus commended highly by telling them that they were rich.
From my own experience and those noted of God’s people in the Bible, intense suffering and adversity are the best ingredients to make a Christian passionate, serious and on fire for the one they are serving, loving him all the more, despite the cost. However, the Church at Laodicea knew of no such sufferings. They did not know what it was to be poor and to have lack and to go hungry because of their faith and therefore because they were not being called upon to sacrifice anything or to give up anything, the Christian life for them was like a bed of roses, where you do the bare minimum and go on enjoying the comforts of life.
The challenge for them was to not allow a life of RICHES, privilege and comfort to make them not zealous for the Lord and the things of the Lord. The Lord wanted them to be rich toward him.
In Luke 12:15 -31, Jesus stated:
- “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
- And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
The Church at Laodicea were rich with life’s possessions but they were not rich toward God. They mistakenly thought that they were good spiritually but God saw them as poor and wretched.
As indicated before, this was the exact opposite with the Church at Smyrna where the people were enduring great persecution. They were poor but Jesus said they were rich, for they had a valuable testimony which Jesus valued greatly, of having been tried in the fire for His sake but not backing down from their faith. They had suffered immensely for his sake and still held on to their faith because they had a zeal for him, a passion for their faith, that no persecution could quench.
Pleased with this self-sacrifice and enduring faith in the midst of it, Jesus told the Church at Smyrna:
- “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)….Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
By contrast, when it came to the Church at Laodicea that was doing well financially and that had become self-reliant because riches made them think that they did not desperately need to cling to Christ, Jesus rebuked them, saying:
- “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth. Because THOU SAYEST, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” (Revelations 3:15-19)
This reminds us that what people in the world and sadly, some in the Church value and put most of their energies in to acquire, Jesus does not. He does not value our mindless pursuit after the so-called ‘good life’ and money in our bank account and houses and cars and life’s comforts, all of which are temporary and have no value in heaven. He values what we do for his sake and the extent to which we are on fire for his name, the extent to which we suffer for his sake and passionately pursue after him and lost souls, even when this means we must give up life’s comforts and endure persecution for his name.
For example, if a Christian gives up a well paying job for the sake of Christ, people may look down at him or her, even in the Church and criticize the decision because people tend to love a life of comfort and think that we must take the path where riches reside. This may have even become the norm. However, that Christian can rest in the fact that Jesus is pleased with him or her. For, his or her zeal for Christ caused him or her to value his or her relationship with Him above what the world has to offer and to put righteousness first. While people may consider him or her to be poor and insignificant therefore and crazy and foolish and even criticize him or her sorely, even where that Christian suffers lack (because God will have it to be so), Jesus considers that person to be rich and when all is said and done, that is all that matters.
The person who is zealous for Christ is looking for accolades, not from man but from God. Such a person has his or her eyes on “…a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).
Like Moses, due to their strong faith, fuelled by their great love for the Lord, they would gladly endure suffering, hurt, ostracism, criticism, lack and shame, for Jesus’ commendation.
Hebrews 11:24-26 states:
- “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.”
Jesus’ letter to the Church at Laodicea highlights the fact that God does not think how man tends to think. His thoughts are not our thoughts. They were basing their spirituality on their bank account and considered themselves to be blessed with these material possessions and comforts because Jesus was pleased with them and their spiritual conduct, when in fact, the opposite was true. Jesus was not at all pleased with them. He was disgusted because they had lost their fire, intensity and passion for him and the things that pertained to his Kingdom.
This emphasizes the point that it is God’s assessment of us and not anybody else (certainly not that of ourselves), that matters.
(Commenced on 25th August, 2020, generally completed on 27th and 28th October, 2020)