Jump Start # 3047
Revelation 1:11 “saying, ‘Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’”
Our verse today are the words that are addressed to the church at Philadelphia. I find it interesting that there wasn’t seven separate letters written, one going to each church. Instead, there was one letter. Ephesus was first. As the letter was read, the brethren in Ephesus not only knew what the Lord thought about them, but they also know what the Lord said about the other congregations. They got to hear it before the others did. I think today we’d be extremely bothered by that. We’d throw the word “separate and “autonomous” into the conversation and demand that no one else has a right to know what was going on in our congregation. And, “separate and autonomous” may have become expressions for “isolation.” Everything that is done within a congregation is kept secret from all others. So Ephesus knew that Sardis was dead, even though they had a name. Ephesus knew that Sardis was dead before Sardis knew. And, everyone knew about the woman Jezebel who was tearing up the church in Thyatira. And, everyone knew that Laodicea was lukewarm. They all knew. And, this was God’s intention.
Here are a few lessons that come from this:
First, the Lord never asked Ephesus to get involved with Sardis. Each congregation had their own work to do and those that needed to change, had to change from within, not from without. The fear of getting involved with other places and even overseeing other congregations may have led some to swing a bit too far the other way. Ephesus knew about Sardis, but Sardis had to fix their own mess that they created.
Second, knowledge of what was going on in these other congregations was helpful. First, it would let them know that they weren’t the only place dealing with idolatry and compromise. In a recent class on these seven churches, having seen that to hold a job often meant acknowledging a patron idol and even going to the doctor often involved recognizing pagan gods, someone asked, “Why didn’t the Christians just move?” My answer was “Where?” The church in Rome dealt with eating meats to idols. Corinth, the same thing. Everywhere was saturated with idolatry. There was no escaping it. Realizing that other brethren in other places were also fighting these same battles could encourage and help you in your location. Second, hearing the Lord’s stern warnings about compromising and tolerating error would remind other places to be true to God’s word. The temptation to compromise was strong. How would you keep your job unless you participated in the idolatrous feasts? How would you help your sick child unless you followed the doctors orders to get medicine at a pagan temple and to pray to those gods for healing? But understanding that God wanted His people to be faithful, even in all of this, was a message they needed to hear. And, third, knowing congregations were pleasing the Lord, such as Philadelphia would be an encouragement that each of them could strive to do better and do more.
Third, building a network or organization larger than the individual congregation just isn’t supported in the Scriptures. It’s one thing to ask for advice from someone in another place, but to try to build a communication exchange where everyone everywhere shares things just isn’t a good idea. We must remember that these words to the seven churches were Heaven sent. It was not the idea of these brethren to do this. This was God’s idea. However, we do not see a system or organization beyond the local congregation to do the work God intended. Once one starts down that path, it’s hard to turn around. Who is going to run that organization and how is that organization going to be organized. And, immediately, one is outside the boundaries of the N.T. One is flying on their own and that is always, always a dangerous place to be.
Fourth, what these seven churches remind us is that we all experience similar things. It also reminds us that the Lord knows what is taking place, even though others don’t. They also remind us what is important to the Lord. Nowhere in these words to the seven churches do we find any idea about the size of the congregations, where they were meeting, who was preaching there, and if they had an eldership or not. Those things concern and consume us. What the Lord was interested in was whether or not these churches were staying faithful to God’s word. Sometimes we can major in the minors and forget what is most important. Having a paid off church building, a nice young preacher, clean bathrooms, trimmed shrubs, means nothing about the spiritual temperature within the group. Are they growing spiritually? Are they walking with the Lord?
A letter to seven churches…an interesting thought. One must wonder what the Lord would write to our congregations today?