“There are those who say…” but God says otherwise

(15th article on the “Seven Churches of Asia Minor” — Revelation 2-3)

Let’s consider the Lord’s response to some of the more foolish statements heard around church from time to time.

There are those who say….

One.  “Love does not matter.  Obedience is everything.  Love is syrupy and weakness.  Sentimentality! Show me your deeds.”

The letter to the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7) proves them wrong.  Without love, no amount of good works is enough.  Reference the opening of I Corinthians 13.

“Love one another,” says our Lord to the Ephesian church, “or I will pull the plug on you.  Cut off your life support.  Cancel your franchise.”  Remove the lampstand.

God is love.

Two.  There are those who say “God will not let His faithful ones suffer.  If there is pain or suffering, someone is being disobedient.”

The letter to the church at Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11) proves them wrong. He knows, He sees, He cares–and still He allows it.  God has His purposes.

Trust Him.

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Laodicea: The complacent caboose! (Last of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

(Thirteenth of our articles on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write: ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the beginning of the creation of God:  ‘I know your works….'”  (Revelation 3:14ff).

Pastor Jim Phillips (North Greenwood Baptist Church, Greenwood, MS) was telling the congregation last Sunday night about his ordination into the ministry over 30 years back.  As he knelt for the laying on of hands–an interminable period when deacons and ministers slowly file by, placing hands atop his head and whispering words of challenge, encouragement or a prayer–finally, it was Pastor Frank Pollard’s turn.  He whispered words Jim would never forget:  “I’m the last; you can get up now.”

Not exactly what he’d been expecting.

Laodicea is the last.  The final stop on our tour of seven interesting churches of the western half of present-day Turkey.

You can get up now.

Certainly the first of the seven churches–Ephesus which had lost its first love–and the last–Laodicea, lukewarm and repulsive to the Lord–are the most unforgettable.  And probably the two most like ourselves and our own churches.  So many of our churches today imitate Ephesus and go about their work routinely and robotically, forgetting to love one another, while others imitate Laodicea in being neither fervent nor frigid but somewhere in the sickening in-between.  The Lord is neither impressed nor amused.

The city–

We’re told Antiochus II founded the city and named it for his wife Laodice.  It had much going for it:

–It was a rich city, the center of banking for the surrounding region.

–It was a manufacturing center noted for the quality of its black wool.

–It was a medical center.  The local medical school produced an eye salve much in demand.

Three Roman roads converged there.  And when an earthquake devastated the city, the fathers rejected Rome’s offer to fund the rebuilding and and took care of it themselves.  There was also a large Jewish population here.

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Philadelphia: “What’s stopping you?” ( Sixth of the 7 churches of Asia Minor)

(twelfth article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: ‘I know your works….'”  (Revelation 3:7ff) 

When the Lord begins a conversation by telling you He is holy, He is true, and that He has the keys–always a symbol of authority!!–then, you and I had better listen up because He has something mighty important in mind.

What He had in mind was this church with great assets moving out and doing significant things in the Kingdom.

The Lord said to this church, “When I open a door, it stays open.  And when I close one, no one can open it afterwards!”  How wonderful–and how ominous–is that!

This church–

Called the missionary church.  The excited church.  The church of the open door.  The faithful church.  The church at Philadelphia goes by all kinds of names and titles.  It and Smyrna are the only two of the seven churches without black marks by their names.  Professor Ivan Parke (Mississippi College) says, “You would love to receive their mail!”

How about a church named “Brotherly Love.”  Contrast this with the church at Ephesus that had left its first love.  Evidently, Philadelphia believers are living up to their name since the Lord said nothing negative to them.

The city of Philadelphia–

Even a child knows the meaning of that name:  “The city of brotherly love.”  What might come as a surprise to some is that the city was founded by a brother in honor of his brother  whom he did indeed love.

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Sardis: “The Zombie Church!” (Fifth of the 7 churches of Asia Minor)

(eleventh article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:  ‘These things says He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive–but you are dead”  (Revelation 3:1ff).

A seminary student once told me the only thing he feared was zombies.  I said, “Zombies?  Zombies!! They are figments of someone’s warped imagination, friend.  There is no such thing.”  But I may have been wrong.  We might have a zombie church in the city of Sardis.  Let’s look at it.

The church is known by various names in commentaries: The Liberal Church; dead church; lazy, clueless, and “The weak church, one on life support.”

Jesus had only rebuke for this congregation.

The city—

Sardis was some six hundred years old.  It’s glory was its past.  It was wealthy but degenerate. It had been a capital city and administrative center for the Persian government, but was in decline now.

Five roads converged on Sardis.  That was great for commerce. The area was noted for its colored woolen fabrics.

Twice in its history the city had been defeated because its citizens were too lazy to defend themselves.  Located 1500 feet about the surrounding plain, the city should have been impregnable.  but it wasn’t.  The two times it was defeated (529 BC by Cyrus and 216 BC by Antiochus), the watchmen were asleep.  So the city had a false sense of confidence.

The citizens worshiped a nature god named Cybele (pronounced as though it were Sybil).

The church–

Had a better reputation than it deserved.  One writer said it was located at the corner of Self-Satisfaction and Complacency Streets.  Know any churches like that?  Pity their pastors!

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Thyatira: “Anything goes!” (Fourth of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor)

(tenth of our articles on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:  ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: ‘I know your works….'” (Revelation 2:18ff)

David Jeremiah calls Thyatira “The Suburban Church.”  J. Vernon McGee called it “Paganism unlimited.”  Other commentators call it “The Corrupt Church.”  I call it “The Easy-going, Overly Tolerant Church.”  Apparently it stood for little and fell for a great deal.

This was the home church for Jezebel, a morally corrupt woman who was not to be trifled with.  No one dared cross her, so she was allowed to spread her poison within the church and beyond.

The City–

In 190 BC Thyatira became a Roman city.  It was famous for its production of wool and purple dye.  Lydia, leader of the church at Philippi, was born here (Acts 16:14).  When the city was destroyed it was never rebuilt.  Ruins today cover only a city block.  In the first century, it was the headquarters for many guilds: potters, tanners, weavers, robe makers, and dyers.  It was the center of the dyeing industry.  (The color purpose spoken of in the New Testament is today called “turkey red,” according to J. Vernon McGee.  He said, “And I mean that color is red!“)

How the Ascended Lord spoke of Himself

“These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and feet like fine brass.”  This must be one of the few times where the Lord Jesus refers to Himself as “The Son of God.”  In most cases throughout the New Testament, it was “Son of Man.”  But here He calls Himself by that distinguished title.

What must those eyes have been like?  I have a personal feeling that the eyes of Jesus in their natural human state were something special, and have two scriptures that suggest it.  Both are in Luke 22. “Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him.  And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face….” (vs. 64) They could not stand to look into the eyes of the One they were beating.  Earlier, we read of Peter’s denials.  “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord….and Peter went out and wept bitterly” (vs. 60-62).  Those eyes!

Eyes afire!  This speaks to us of judgement.  And He does have stern words for this church, but they’re not all bad.

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Pergamos: Scary Church! (Third of the Churches of Asia Minor)

(ninth article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos, write:  ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: ‘I know your works….'”  (Revelation 2:12ff).

The cities of Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos were called “royal cities,” and they competed with each other. Ephesus was the great political center, Smyrna the great commercial center, and Pergamos the great religious center.

David Jeremiah calls Pergamos “the inner city church.”  Other names by which this church is called include “Adulterous Church” and “the Compromising Church.”  I call it “The Scary Church.”  Belonging to this church is a risky proposition!

Pergamos was famous for its library, second-largest in the ancient world, behind only the one in Alexandria, Egypt.  Said to contain 200,000 rolls of parchment.  And none of them on microfilm!

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Smyrna: Second of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor

(eighth article in our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna, write:  ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life:  I know your works….'”  (Revelation 2:8ff)

Suppose a friend of yours was in the cross hairs for a massive hurricane or killer tornado, one bearing down on him with a fury.  You would do all you could to alert him and to help him get out of danger. Likewise, our Lord sees that the believers in Smyrna are about to receive a great persecution.  His letter is to warn them to “buckle up,” to get ready.  There’s no escaping it, so all they can do is get prepared and keep their eyes on the Lord.

This is the shortest of the seven letters, only four verses.

The City–

Population was 200,000.  It was a seaport on the Aegean Sea.  Smyrna boasted the largest theater in Asia.  The old city was destroyed by the Persians and rebuilt by Alexander the Great.  The city experienced an earthquake in AD 178 (which is long after the period we’re dealing with).  The Greek poet Homer was borne here.

This is the only city of the seven still functioning, with the other six being archaeological ruins.  Turks call it Izmir.  It’s said to be a beautiful place.

The name Smyrna means “myrrh,” a perfume for the dead.

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Ephesus: The church that forgot to love!

(seventh article of our series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“To the angel of the church at Ephesus, write: These things says he who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks: ‘I know your works….'” (Revelation 2:1ff.) 

The first of the seven churches of Asia Minor is Ephesus.  Its letter is found in Revelation 2:1-7.

Blessed are you among churches, Ephesus. 

You were begun, it would appear, by the highly esteemed husband-wife team of Aquila and Priscilla.  On his way home from the Second Missionary Journey, the Apostle Paul left Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus but did not stay himself.

Ephesus had the ministry of the gifted Apollos, who would have been a media darling in our modern age from all evidence.  (Move over, Joel Osteen!)

Paul spent three years ministering in Ephesus.  (Acts 19 mentioned 2 years and 3 months, but in Acts 20, Paul tells the Ephesian leaders he spent three years there.)  This was the longest time he gave to any one congregation.

Then, Ephesus was pastored by Timothy and later by the Apostle John.  They had had the best.

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Why study the “seven churches of Asia Minor” in the first place

(6th in a series on the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.  Revelation 1-3)

“Now, all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (I Corinthians 10:11).

When I asked on Facebook why we should study the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, a professor friend gave what must be the simplest, clearest and best answer:  “Because it’s easier than anything else in Revelation.”  I laughed out loud, realizing that he had expressed precisely what I have felt over the years in turning to that book.

My New Orleans buddy Jim Smith came up with he most creative answer: “Because the churches of Asia Major weren’t so interesting?”

But, back to the question:  Why should we study letters to seven churches we would never have heard of otherwise?

Maybe the Lord is using it for discipline? Like putting us through boot camp, giving us something really hard–and it is that–to toughen us up for whatever lies ahead.

Maybe He wants us to be historians?

Does the Lord somehow need His children to know what went on two thousand years ago?  Are we to be trivia buffs regarding the first century of believers?  History experts?  Why does this stuff matter?

It’s a legitimate question, one every generation asks.

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Jesus’ last word to the church: Repent.

(Fifth in a series on The Seven Churches of Asia Minor. Revelation 1-3)

“Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30.  Paul’s message to Athens.)

Contrary to popular opinion, the Lord’s final word to the Church was not the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  It was the message of Revelation 2-3.  To five of the seven churches of Asia Minor, that final word was: “Repent.”

I was 27 years old, pastoring a small church on Alligator Bayou west of New Orleans, a recent seminary graduate, and being interviewed by a pastor search committee.  The chairman of the committee, a distinguished businessman named Lawrence Bryant, said to me, “Pastor, what do you believe about repentance?”

I answered, “There is no salvation without repentance.  Twice in Luke 13 our Lord told people ‘Except ye repent, ye shall all perish.'”

What I did not know was that this was a big deal to that astute layman.  Lawrence Bryant had been a lukewarm church member all his life and knew from personal experience the kind of flawed product easy believism turns out.  At the age of 43–ten years before our encounter–he had been righteously, gloriously, fully saved, and nothing was ever the same.  He wanted none of the easy-going churchism that so often passed for the genuine article if he could help it.

He came to the right boy.  The Lord had been impressing upon me the importance and necessity of repentance in Scripture and in life.

The Greek word for repentance metanoia means to have a change of mind which results in a life change.  The message is preached throughout Scripture, but particularly in the New Testament.  “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

You’re traveling a highway. Suddenly, you realize you’re going the wrong way and look for the next opportunity to do a U-turn.  I’ve done t hat a hundred  times.  Before the change of direction, there is a change of mind.

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