(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.
Among the fifty or so responses to my question on Facebook, several people suggested the Lord wants us to study the Seven Churches of Asia Minor to inform us about the seven church ages. Our previous article “Playing Games With God’s Word” dealt with that, and my reasons for rejecting it. Personally, I find it offensive that we can take something clearly meant to be what it is and turn it into a magical formula for predicting the future. It’s one of many ways some of us “play games” with Scripture, and it’s unworthy. (Note: I certainly do not mean to offend readers who disagree, but my strong conviction I is that those who see seven church ages in Revelation 2-3 are trying to make God’s Word say something it doesn’t.)
I love to recall the question 7-year-old Holly Martin asked her mother once in the middle of my sermon. We’ve long since forgotten what I was preaching, but I was making some long-drawn out point, when little Holly turned to her mom and said, “Mother, why does Doctor Joe think we need this information?”
Every pastor ought to be stopped half-way through his sermon and made to answer that question.
Here are some of the reasons we study the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 1-3:
One. It shows what the Lord values. When the Lord gave the Ten Words (aka, Ten Commandments) one of many reasons was to reveal His heart, to show what He values and wants from His people.
Two. It shows how the Lord works.
It’s not the way we work, you can be sure of that. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are the Lord’s ways higher than ours” (Isaiah 55). We have to keep learning this truth.
Three. It shows the seriousness with which the Lord takes holiness within the church. I fear that the typical church member–and far too many of the church leaders–think the Lord has thrown us out here to do as we please, hoping against hope that we might get it right, but basically abandoning us to our own ways. They seem to have little concept of the seriousness of what they are doing, and of how important these things are to Almighty God.
Some who have played fast and loose with the holy things of God, I fear, are going to find out the hard way how important these things were to God.
Four. So that we may obey Him better. In John 13:17 our Lord said, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” He’s not nearly so interested in us knowing about the seven churches as He is that we obey His teachings, a point that these seven lessons underscore repeatedly.
Five. God wants us to study His message to those seven churches so we might see ourselves and our churches in the reflection. We too, in this so-called modern age, struggle with doing His works but without the love, with serving His truth but without taking a stand against false teachers, and going about His business in a complacent, dead way.
Six. As I Corinthians 10:11 says, “These things are examples to us.” They are teaching vessels. We study what they did, what God said, and we learn about what we are to do and how to go about it.
One of my FB friends said the problems churches today are all found in what these seven churches faced. While I value their lessons, I wouldn’t go that far. After all, we have the further lessons of the Church at Corinth, with its divisions, its pettiness, its lawsuits among members, and its prideful flaunting of spiritual gifts, none of which are found in the Asia Minor churches but which are very much a part of the modern ecclesiastical condition.
Seven. Perhaps the most obvious–best?–reason for studying these churches was given by the friend who said, “Because it’s in the Book.”
Indeed it is. And so we study it and learn from it, to the glory of God.