What if i told you that a book was recently written that profiled every church in your area and gave (in detail) the strengths and weaknesses of their ministry and members, so that all the churches could read not only about themselves, but also about all the other churches?
That’s kind of what Jesus does in Revelation 2 & 3. In these chapters, Jesus dictates 7 letters written to 7 churches, and intends for all the churches to read them all (as well as the remainder of the Book of Revelation). In each of those letters, Jesus gives a detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each church, and what they need to do to repent, believe the gospel and continue in faithfulness to their King, Jesus.
We’ve been preaching through a series on Sundays called “Letters to the Church.” If we take an honest look at each of the seven churches in Revelation and what Jesus has to say to them, we can begin to see what we learn about ourselves and our churches. There is a lot for us as believers to learn about ourselves and our churches from these letters. Let’s take a brief look at each church and ask ourselves what we can learn from them.
The Seven Churches
EPHESUS: Commending & Correcting (Rev. 2:1-7)
Every good leader of a business or corporation will give both positive and critical feedback to their people. The goal of this is to always see improvement and growth. Jesus, as our King and Leader, does the same thing in this letter. He commends the Ephesians for their good doctrine and commitment to His Word, but He also mentions that they have forgotten their first love, that is their love for the gospel: that God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to live and suffer for our sins. This can happen easily in churches that focus on having sound theology or reverent worship or strong teaching programs. We can get so focused on our theology and doctrine, that we forget the wonder of the gospel that this doctrine is meant to point us to.
Question: Are you so focused on having the right doctrine and good teaching, that you have forgotten that you are still a desperate sinner in need of Jesus? Have you forgotten the wonder of the gospel and the love of Jesus for you as a sinner?
SMYRNA: Death & Life (Rev. 2:8-11)
The church in Smyrna faced serious persecution. Jesus guaranteed that they would suffer and even die because of their faith. And yet, even though He knew this was going to happen, He allows it to happen and encourages them to persevere; because in the end, He will give them a crown of glory: a crown of victory and wealth in Heaven. Jesus reminds them not to focus on the sufferings of this world, but to look forward to our future glory in Heaven.
Question: Do you ever get so caught up in the news, worries and sufferings of this world that you forget the great promise of the hope of heaven that we have if we are trusting in Jesus? Are you willing to sacrifice your life of comfort for Jesus? Are you willing to give your life for Jesus?
PERGAMUM: Sword & Stone (Rev. 2:12-17)
Remember that movie “The Sword & The Stone?” It was about Arthur, the kid who becomes a king. This happens because as the rightful heir to the throne, he’s able to pull the sword out of the stone. The Sword & the Stone determined who would inherit the kingdom. In Jesus’ letter to Pergamum, He also talks about a Sword and a Stone that will determine who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. The Sword is the Word of God. Those who believe and obey the Word of God (the gospel) will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. At the end of the letter Jesus also talks about a white stone that He will give those who have trusted in Him. This is a stone of forgiveness, acceptance, entrance and dignity. These are things we only possess through faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Question: Do you believe in the gospel of God’s acceptance? That you can only enter the Kingdom of Heaven because of what Jesus has done for you and nothing else? How does that change how we live and interact with the world? What gives us true worth and dignity?
THYATIRA: Judgment & Mercy (Rev. 2:18-29)
Jesus has strong words for the church in Thyatira. After briefly acknowledging their faith and love, He then goes into very detailed explanations of how they have allowed certain sins (sexual immorality and idolatry) to become acceptable in their church, because they are the cultural norm. Maybe in our churches we don’t view sexual immorality and idolatry (literally) as acceptable sins, but we do have a range of sins that have become “normalized” in the church: gossip, slander, bitterness, complaining, ingratitude, selfishness, pride, self-righteousness, lying (truth-stretching), greed, lust (pornography), being inhospitable, etc.
Question: If Jesus examined your life and church in detail, what sins would He find that have become habitual, acceptable or normal? How can you continue to fight your sin through repentance and faith in the gospel by the grace and power of the Holy Spirit?
SARDIS: Wake Up & Wash! (Rev.3:1-6)
The church in Sardis seems to have become complacent. They’re not really engaged in mission. Their just coasting by, doing church life and church things. They tell themselves they are a thriving and healthy church, but Jesus says in reality they are weak and dying. Jesus reminds them to wake up, not to be complacent, to repent, believe the gospel, be washed and strengthen themselves for mission. In reality, healthy churches are growing churches. Not only growing in sanctification and discipleship, but growing through conversion by making disciples.
Question: Are you weak in mission, evangelism & discipleship? Not just your church, but you personally? Do you have unbelieving friends that you pray would come to saving faith in Jesus? Do you intentionally seek out opportunities to talk about the gospel with people? Are you helping, training and encouraging other believers to do this as well?
PHILADELPHIA: Persevere & Conquer (Rev. 3:7-13)
Laura Story wrote a song called “Blessings” that won her a Grammy. In it, she sings about the pains and sadness of this world, but how they point us to the fact that Jesus is near, loves us and knows our sadness. Jesus’ letter to the church in Philadelphia is full of gentleness and compassion. He acknowledges that they don’t have power in society and they are the outcasts. But he reminds them of His love for them, that they will conquer in the end through their perseverance and faith. The struggles, sadness and hardships of life are real. Jesus knows our suffering and can identify with our weakness. He is also praying for us and reminding us through this that we are not of this world and this is not our home. We will one day conquer and be with Him forever.
Question: In what ways can the worries, pain, suffering and sadness of this world actually point us to the joy & hope that we have in Jesus? “What if the trials of this life are Jesus’ mercies and blessings in disguise” (adapted from Laura Story’s “Blessings”)?
LAODICEA: Shut Up & Listen (Rev.3:14-22)
I know, some people don’t like the word “shut-up” (just don’t read this blog post to your kids). I don’t love the phrase either and I don’t really say it, but I wanted it to shock you a little bit. In this church, the members seem to be boasting in their own achievements and in what they believe is important and dignifies them. But Jesus essentially says, “Silence! Listen to me. Let me in. You need me.” In another passage He says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me (Luke 9:23).” Believing and Following Jesus means admitting you actually need Him.
Question: Do you see your need for Jesus daily, or is your life so comfortable and successful that you seem to be getting by alright without Him? Do you even realize that every gift and ability you have come from Him in the first place? How could this change your attitude about your belongings and achievements? Would it fill you with gratitude and reliance on Him?