6. Command Two: No Imitations Please (2)

Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 6. Command Two: No Imitations Please (2)

Ex 20:4,5   “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;  

Significance: What do these verses say? They say, put most simply, that God will not tolerate imitation competitors or substitutes and will hold His people accountable if they do hold to such ‘competitors’ (though they are in reality no competition!) or substitutes. We said in the previous study that an idol is “an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship,” and as we noted previously, this command requires the people of God not to have any substitute ‘gods’ or make any such representations of those ‘gods’ who we considered in detail in respect of Israel and other nations in history.

But why? Why was it that Israel kept turning to idols? We highlighted it before: they wanted gods and idols that they could see. But it is more than that, they wanted something closer to them who they felt they could speak to and though whom they could feel reassured about daily life, who they felt they could rely upon. There is something about expressing out loud your concerns. We do it through prayer and we must assume that Israel did it with their idols in some measure or another.  They would burn incense to these idols as a means of ‘doing something’ they felt might please the idol, the god. There was a reliance there upon the god, through the idol.

An idol, therefore, was a substitute for God although it is difficult not to assume that in the case of the three golden calves (at Sinai and on the north and south borders of the northern kingdom) these idols were initially, at least, supposed to represent God. The Eastern Orthodox Church uses icons as ways of directing their thinking towards God. The Roman Catholic church uses statues of Mary similarly. Both would deny that they worship these as God but are simply tools to help their faith, yet whether it be in modern forms or in the life of Israel, such practices can easily become a substitute for a real, live, vibrant relationship with the Living God.

And Us? An idol today, therefore we might say, is anything we use as a substitute for God but that doesn’t take us to the heart of the matter.  The apostle Pail wrote, Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.(Col 3:5). To the Ephesians he also wrote, For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph 5:5) Now we tend to simply equate greed with idolatry here but, if we read it properly, the truth is that he is saying in both cases – and this is very important – that all of these things that “belong to your earthly nature” are the thing (the expression of ‘self’) with which we replace God.

The person who rejects God does so because they make ‘self’ the all-important heart of their life. They rely upon themselves to the exclusion of God. It is not a case of making one particular thing in their life – money, ambition, fame, family, work, an expensive car, two houses, a yacht, all the things that usually come to mind in these conversations – but the whole issue of what their life is given to, worshiping and relying upon self, or worshiping and relying upon God is what is important. Those things in that list I have just given are not in themselves wrong, none of them! They become ‘wrong’ when they are the expression of God-excluding-self.

But why – again! We still haven’t, I feel, yet got to grips with why people do this. In the first of this series we spent some time considering the absence of wisdom when we focus on behaviour rather than identity, on self-effort achievement rather than change that flows out of a Cross-centred and Holy Spirit based love relationship with God through Jesus. As I ponder on the two verses above from Colossians and Ephesians, I can’t help but feel that the heart of it is the effect of the presence of sin in every person seen in the form of that propensity that we have to ‘self-centred godlessness’ (my usual definition of Sin). The fallen world around us is often unpleasant and unkind and we want to take protective steps against that but with it comes a blindness (2 Cor 4:4) which can even remain in believers (Rev 3:17) and which so often prevents seeing life as it is, or the reality of the Gospel as it is.

So what changes that? The word of God that is the Gospel that comes by the Spirit usually through the mouths of others, and certainly on the pages of the New Testament. This and this alone, I would suggest, is how God brings a blend of conviction and hope that brings us – whether unbeliever for the first time, or believer perhaps again and again – a reason for turning away from ourselves and turning towards Him, of giving up our reliance upon ourselves and declaring our reliance upon Him. That reliance has to be in respect of the Cross – the foundation for any reassurance that forgiveness, cleansing and a new life is possible – and the presence and filling of the Holy Spirit – who is our power source to enable that divinely supernatural life to be lived.

Not that Simple: Now that may appear simple (when your eyes have been opened) but there is a little verse in Scripture that should bring warning. When Israel, the northern kingdom, were deported by Assyria in 722BC ending their existence after about 208 years, the king of Assyria did what was common practice back then of importing people from elsewhere but also sent back a priest to teach these new people about how to respond to God (see 2 Kings 17:24-28) but sadly it proved semi-abortive because those new people then exercised a mixed religion – “They worshiped the Lord, but they also served their own gods.” (v.33) Do you see that? Worshiped God (great!) BUT they also served their own gods.

Now from what we have been saying, the options we presented are worshiping the god of self or the One True God, but the verse above reminds us that you can try and do the same – apparently worship God but at the same time hold on to major expressions of self.

So How? It isn’t a case of focusing on individual ‘bits’ of our lives, for that simply takes us back to behavioral theology, self-effort, the try harder approach that we rejected at the beginning. Yes, it is important to teach and face these things as stumbling blocks in our lives, but the bigger issue is still all about identity. This, we said at the beginning, is all about who you are in Christ, this is the wonder of what he has done for you, this is what he thinks about you, these are the resources he has provided for you, and here is the wonder of the life that you can aspire to with the help of his Spirit and his word.

Focusing on individual imaginary ‘idols’ simply brings us guilt, a need for more self-effort and likely sense of failure. Recognizing the wonder of who we are, in its fullest, sense – loved and accepted children of God, forgiven and cleansed by the work of the Cross, now indwelt by the Holy Spirit – these are the remedies for that self-life, these are the things that are at the heart of the Gospel, and these are the things that deliver us from the guilty wonderings of how to apply this commandment.

If you have been brought up in a legalistic Christian environment that has left you with guilt, shame, and an ongoing sense of failure, may I invite you to read back through the fairly detailed content of this particular study and ask the Lord to open your eyes to the wonder of who you are in him, and set you free from your past. Amen? Amen!

(There is more that could be said about this particular command but I don’t want to detract from what we have here, so we will simply move on to the next command in the next study.)

Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord Jesus, thank you that you have saved me and delivered me out of the dominion of darkness into your kingdom of light. I affirm you alone are my Lord and I give my life to you afresh this day. Amen.”

Snapshots: Day 122

Snapshots: Day 122

The Snapshot: “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” (Josh 3:6) The ark of the covenant usually dwelt in the heart of the Tabernacle, the place of God’s dwelling, but when Israel were on the move it always went ahead. When it came to entering the Promised Land and crossing the Jordan it was those carrying the ark who stepped into the water first and then it miraculously divided. Do we want to see miracles return to the life of the church (as Jesus’ instructed – Mt 11:5, Jn 14:12, Mt 28:20)? Then ensure Jesus goes first, ensure we are ‘following’ him, watching him and then doing what he wants to do (Jn 5:19). The Son is the head of the church (Eph 4:15) so let’s ensure we are a responsive body that follows.

Further Consideration: “Letting Jesus go ahead sounds the most simple description of being a disciple. I mean, it was the only thing the first disciples were called to do – follow me. Where Lord? That doesn’t matter, I’ll show you, just follow me. And he went ahead. Lord, what do you call us to do? That doesn’t matter, you’ll know when the time comes and you find someone or some situation before you that I’ve led you to, just follow me and watch me, sense what I want to do – through you – and do it. It will be that simple, just follow me.

But I’m scared about what you might ask me to do. For example you asked Peter to walk on water. Child, realize there was only one Peter and only one instance of walking on the water. Peter could handle that so I told him to come and he did. None of the others asked and so I called none of them to do it. I know what you are capable of doing – yes, with my enabling – and I know the encouragement you personally need to step up and step out to do such things, but they will be things that are unique to you because I know what you and I can do together.

But I don’t know how to heal people, deliver demoniacs or perform miracles. No, but I do and all I ask of you is your heart and your voice when it comes to it; I will provide the power that brings the change. That’s what I did with my disciples, that’s what I will do with you if you want me to. But of course I want you to! Do you, do you really, do you really want to experience the uncertainties of stepping out in faith and possibly failing?

But, Lord, that’s just it, I’m afraid of failing, of not hearing you properly, of being presumptuous and going ahead of you. That’s all right, Peter often did, but he learned. I am pleased when you reach out in faith and if the time is not yet right, don’t worry, you are still learning and I am still pleased. The more you try, the more you will learn to be sensitive to me. Just trust me to turn up when the time is right, learn to let me go ahead and, yes, follow me.    

Recap 2: Struggles of the Church

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  Recap 2: Struggles of the Church

Rev 1:4  To the seven churches

Perspective: When we read the letters of the various apostles we find them addressing the various things they feel the local church needs to consider and often it is in the context of who we are. One of the things I have not sought to consider in these studies, to keep them relatively short, is the nature of the environment in which each church found itself, the spiritual background of the city or the culture of the area, for although they are important the problems that they throw up tend to be the same sort of problems that the Church across the world faces in one degree or another all the time. I have titled this short series ‘The Church Kaleidoscope’ meditations because it crosses my mind that, as I have commented before, we all have similarities but also differences. However, when it comes down to it, the reality is that the sorts of problems we face as church can ultimately be boiled down to just a few. Rather than go through each church as I did in the previous study, here I will simply try to group together the different sorts of issues that face the church.

Enemy Opposition: This varies from place to place and from nation to nation. If we sought to categorize the ways the enemy wages war against the saints, this would be identified as ‘outright opposition or hostility. In some parts of the world enemy hostility against Christian believers is blatant and intensive and, if reports are true, in China the opposition of the Communist Party (which is greatly outnumbered by the number of Christians in the country) has become more intense at the end of this second decade of the twenty-first century.

In Smyrna, the Jews slandered the church (2:9) and indeed (and we’re not told by who) the opposition against the church is going to intensify so that some believers will be even put in prison for their beliefs (2:10) and there will be a (limited) spate of ongoing persecution. In Pergamum, they had likewise suffered persecution and one believer, Antipas, had been martyred, so intense had been the persecution. In Philadelphia there was also a hint of persecution (3:9,10).

Deception – Wavering Belief: Again, it is often said, the battle that the enemy wages is a battle for the mind. Ever since the Garden of Eden (see Gen 3) deception has been a weapon he employs. Throughout my Christian life (over fifty years now) I can look back and see a number of instances where some new fad or way of thinking and doing has come to the fore that has proved to be a deception which has then passed away. Although those ways of thinking were specific (tending to be) doctrinal issues, there has, especially in the last ten to twenty years I believe, been a general watering down of the Faith in many quarters (not all thankfully). I have commented on it before but the whole area of sexuality has become a battle ground from the enemy, so that the biblical standard that limits sexual activity to ‘one man plus one woman, committed to each other for life’ has been abandoned in many quarters and is under severe pressure in others, and mayhem reigns. In an even more troubling battle-zone attacks upon the Bible have been coming from within the church, by what were once described as liberal thinkers, but has been regularly occurring in recent years, a trend where books are appearing that demean or demote the Bible as our foundation. The foundation for Christian belief and practice has been getting whittled away.

Deception in one form another is always near the surface. In Ephesus, they had to contend with false apostles (2:2) as well as with the false watering-down doctrines of the Nicolaitans that also appeared in Pergamum, linked to that softening deception of Balak (2:14,15), which we summarized as ‘a little conforming to the ways of the world is all right.’  If you have any doubts about this deception in today’s church, ask yourself, “Do I see a church where people are on fire for God, on fire for His word, and on fire with the Holy Spirit, or do I see a people more concerned with the ‘good life’ that affluence and materialism and modern technology  brings in the twenty-first century?”   Thyatira suffered another form of deception (2:20) by having a woman (or was it a whole way of looking?) who, as I noted above in parts of today’s Church, allowed sexual immorality and blurring of the boundaries between righteousness and unrighteousness. These are all belief issues that lead into changing of behaviour issues.

Seduction of heart and mind: The third enemy strategy we see coming out in some of these letters has to be a seduction that uses complacency and indifference to lull the church into a place of deception, not so much of false teaching but more as shear spiritual laziness that produces a lack-luster faith which more and more walk away from. This probably can be seen as simply an absence (and the joy with it) of the life of the Spirit in the life of the Church. Again, if you are not sure of this, ask yourself here, “Do I see in my church the outright activity of the Holy Spirit so that there is a life and vitality in the congregation that produces a regular flow of people being born again, delivered and healed, with a sense of the wonder of the Presence of the Lord in the midst that creates a mixture of awe and rejoicing?” Be honest, can you say you see that in your church? If not, it’s time for prayer!

In Ephesus, this was manifested as having lost their first love (2:4). In Sardis it was seen in the form of comatose religion, where they appeared spiritually dead and needed waking up. In Laodicea it manifested itself as luke-warmness, or what I called half-heartedness. The first of these three were good at activities but it failed to have love for Jesus at the heart of it. The second would have had a good reputation for holders of doctrine but not for life in the Spirit. The third one were just blind to their true state, no doubt like many of us today who think we are ‘fine’ or ‘OK’ without realizing how far short if the biblical picture on Christ’s heart we are.

And So?  These things are not said to depress or make us feel bad about ourselves, but to open our eyes to the truth or reality of how life can so often be in the Church and this is why Christ says these things to these churches back there in history, so that we might see them and through them perhaps see where we too fall short. The goal is not to pull down but to stir hearts to prayer and action and bring change. Jesus wants his Church renewed and revived and where we fall short of what is on his heart, then repentance is the first step. Identifying where we are similar to these churches should then enable us to seek him for his wisdom to put things right, or seek his Spirit to bring fresh life to us so that we may truly become the body of Christ that the New Testament describes, gifted, empowered and sent to do the works of the kingdom (check out Lk 4:18,19 and Mt 11:5 together with Jesus instructions in Jn 14:12 and Mt 28:20). To conclude this penultimate study, can we heed James’ instructions to, “not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (Jas 1:22) Amen.

Recap 1: The Risen Lord

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  Recap 1: The Risen Lord

Rev 1:17,18  I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

Approach: Trying to get an overview of these seven letters is difficult because they have similarities and differences. To each of them Jesus comes with a different description of himself, but it is a description that matches what he needs to do with that particular church and so in what follows in this particular summary/recap study we will just look at what he says about himself and what he will do in the light of that description. In the next one we will look at the commendations / challenges and then the promises to the overcomers.

The Seven Churches & Descriptions of Jesus:

Ephesus: “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.” (v.2) “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (v.5) This is the Lord of the Church, the head of the body, the one who gave his life to bring the Church into existence. This is the watcher who walks among the churches, the one who not only brought the churches into being, but also the one who can remove the churches, any one, any time. So often we feel so secure in our complacency, our enjoyment of life, that we feel it will go on for ever and ever regardless. We look at our leaders and, like we look at the world, we feel nothing will change – but that ignores the head of the church. I have watched those who felt so secure in their leadership and I have even brought a word to one leader aboard about him being taken out. I am sure he felt secure but four weeks later (and I don’t know the details) he was out of leadership, out of the church. When Jesus calls us to repent, we would be fools to ignore him.

Smyrna: “him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” (v.8) “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” (v.10) This is the eternal one who stepped into time-space history and gave his life for us, only to rise from the dead. This is the one who has passed through death and therefore knows the stresses that come with life-threatening situations, that come when the opposition rises up against us, this is the one who will be with us in such times and so this is the one who is not being unthinking when he calls us to be faithful even when it is life threatening.

Pergamum: “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” (v.12) “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) This is the one whose words can be devastating, penetrating, painful, chastising, disciplining, correcting, words that come like a two-edged sword. How to avoid this? Make sure we keep pure lives, righteous lives, spirit-filled lives, godly lives. Check them out.

Thyatira: “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (v.18) “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.” (v.22) This is the one from heaven, the very expression of the Godhead before us, one who came and was tried in the fires of opposition and death but who stayed true. This is the one who holds accountable those who oppose him, who oppose the will of God, who turn to the enemy and to the world, who relish their sin. This is the one who will deal with them. Again, make sure we give him no cause to gaze on us with his eyes like blazing fire, eyes full of anger and the righteousness and wrath of God.

Sardis: “him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” (v.3a) “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief,” (v.3b) This is the one who brings life by the power of his Spirit, the one who brings the very life of the church out into the open, the one who calls us to be awake to his presence and his moving and his desires. This is the one who watches and watches, looking for signs of life (so that perhaps we think he is not there and not concerned) but who in a second when he knows the time is ripe, comes like a flash of lightning, suddenly without any warning. We have already had all the warning we need.

Philadelphia: “him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (v.7) “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” (v.9) This is the one who can open the doors of the kingdom and usher in the works and will of God, the one who makes opportunities for us to go through those doors and experience the wonder of the life, the activity, and the power of the kingdom – and expects us to take those opportunities.

Laodicea: “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.(v.14) “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (vb.18) This is the one who came to the earth from heaven and suffered all the temptations the evil one could lay before him, this is the one who received all his taunting as he hung there on the cross, this is the one who suffered misunderstandings, betrayal, rejection and denial but remained true to the purpose of his Father in heaven. This is the one who now rules at his Father’s right hand, ruling over the world in the midst of his enemies, ruling until the time is ripe for him to return in triumph and hand the kingdom back to his Father. This is the one who laid down his life for his Father and for his future people, so this is the one who can now call those people to live similar lives, lives on fire for him, lives that are all out for him, lives that glorify the Father in heaven. And amazingly, this is the one who still holds out his hands of love and acceptance calling for our repentance so we can come again and share his life afresh, share fellowship afresh with him, commune with him, shares hearts with him.

And So? The Lord of the church shows himself to us as the one who is holy, the one who is faithful to his Father’s calling, the one who remained true during the trials of life on the earth, the one who gave his life to win us and redeem us, this is the one who see everything, knows everything and calls us all to accountability. And when we face him with our failures and our weaknesses, he looks for three things: first our repentance, our acknowledgment of having got it wrong, then our reliance upon his work on the cross on our behalf, letting him be our Savior, and finally our reliance upon his guidance and direction and empowering as we let him be our Lord. Kneel before him in submission, in honesty and in worship.

7. The Laodicea Experience: Half Heartedness

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  7. The Laodicea Experience: Half Heartedness

Rev 3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write” 

Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Amen tends to be a word, meaning “so be it!”, that is put at the end of a solemn statement to strengthen or guarantee it. Jesus thus comes as the One who brings truth to all we know of God, the One who confirms the revelation of the Old Testament, the One who is the “faithful and true witness”. To his disciples he said, If you really know me, you will know my Father as well …. Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Jn 14:7,9) To the crowds he taught, “I know him because I am from him and he sent me,” (Jn 7:29) and, “he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” (Jn 8:26) Later the writer to the Hebrews was to write of Jesus, his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:2,3) This is the Jesus who comes to this church, the Lord of the earth.

Assessment – Half-Hearted: The one who walks among the church and who sees and knows all things declares, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (3:15,16) Neither hot nor cold? Must be tepid, half-way, half-hearted, lukewarm, and because they are neither one thing nor another, he warns, “I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Wow! This is serious.

Self-Deceived: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (v.17) I suspect the bigger the church (building) the more likely this is true today. Ours is not massive but it is beautiful and therein is the danger. We sit there week by week and we feel good about ‘our church’. We are well-dressed and well fed, and we have such a nice environment that we feel so good. If you worship in a great building, ponder on this deeply. Jesus said of this church that they were, “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” Check those words out: wretched – shameful; pitiful – pathetic; poor – weak and feeble; naked – undressed. Consider their opposites, what we should be: wretched – glorious; pitiful – glorious; poor – rich; naked – clothed. Can we say we are a glorious body of Christ (revealing the glory of God), rich in all the spiritual attributes, graces and gifts, clothed in the glorious robes of righteousness that distinguish us from the world round about us?

The big issue here is not only their state, but that fact that they don’t realize it. They are deceived into believing that they are all right, even more than that, that they are rich. Simply because we are well off, more affluent than any previous generation, does not make us spiritually rich. A spiritually rich church is one that is alive with the presence and power and activity of God by His Spirit, where life and vitality, where fellowship and friendship, where power and authority, pour through the congregation, through this hopefully wonderful ‘body of Christ’, bringing constant life transformation, with conversions, deliverances and healings being a regular feature of their life. We may think we are rich but if these things are absent, we are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

The Threefold Answer: Jesus may be on the verge of spitting them out but he still brings them counsel to enable them to change: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (v.18) First, buy from Jesus (with your obedient, loving, sacrificial lives) refined gold – real faith formed through suffering (1 Pet 1:7), faith that stands out in its reality, its expression, lives that truly respond to the living word of God that continues to come. Faith is what makes us rich in Christ. Second, white clothes that reveal the work of Christ. When we are naked we are seen in all our weakness, our vulnerability, but when we are clothed with the robes of righteousness that God provides for us (see Zech 3:3-5 for a lovely picture of this) all that is seen is his work in us, and he is glorified. Third, salve to cleanse our eyes. Surely this must be truth, that clears out the deceptive muck and allows us to see reality as it truly is.

Hear Me!  “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (3:19,20) What an amazing offer. First of all, you repent. That has got to come first always. But then, second, hear my knocking, I want to come into your lives in a new way, I want to eat with you, sit and fellowship with you, hear your lives and share mine with you. This is a staggering approach of the Son of God, the Lord of all things.  This is the equivalent of the way he dealt with the apostle Peter when he had denied him three times. If we had been onlookers we would have been watching for Jesus to shred him to pieces but instead, he commissions him to lead the Church. Incredible grace! And now here, can we see this same thing? He has thoroughly condemned them and shared that he had even been thinking of spitting them out, but what do we now find? He is offering to come to them afresh to enter into a new time of intimate fellowship. Unbelievable! Well, not really, but yes it is incredible!

The Overcomer: Again he is not writing them off but offering a possibility that is mind-blowing, well certainly if you are a wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked and motley crew. Get it sorted, he says, and then, “I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  Note NOT stand or bow before him in abject surrender of the vanquished failures that they are, but to SIT ON HIS THRONE with him, i.e. to share in the role of ruling over all things! It comes through death to self, just as it did to him who had to pass through death on the Cross, but the reward is this mind-blowing offer that probably defeats our understanding so incredible it is.

I think we need to reflect again on each of these visions of Jesus and on these churches, their good points and bad, so let’s move on to do some summarizing of these two amazing chapters in the next studies.

6. The Philadelphia Experience: Fearless Faithfulness

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  6. The Philadelphia Experience: Fearless Faithfulness

Rev 3:7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write” 

The Speaker:  Jesus comes to this church as the one who, “is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (v.7) In the days of Isaiah, Isaiah had a word that would depose Shebna the palace administrator (Isa 22:15), the man who permitted access – or not – to the king, a man who thought himself mighty (v.17) and was proud of his power (v.18). He, Isaiah said, would be replaced by Eliakim, who will not be so self-concerned but will be “a father to those who live in Jerusalem and to the people of Judah,(v.21) and, the Lord said, I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isa 22:22) A key is an instrument of authority and putting it on his shoulder is a double reference to authority. Yes, he will have the authority to allow in those who he feels are right people to enter the king’s presence. Because David had been a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) he had been given authority and brought peace to the land by having victories over all his surrounding enemies. Jesus comes to this church as the one who has authority to allow entry to the kingdom of God – or exclude those who are not worthy, from it.

Commendation: The one who walks among the churches and sees and knows all things declares, I know your deeds.” (v.8a) But instead of saying much about those deeds, instead he goes on, “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (v.8b) We are not told what this door is but any door is an opportunity to move on into new areas. At the very least in the light of how he described himself, it seems like Jesus is saying, I am opening up new opportunities for my kingdom to be expanded. This opportunity, which I suspect must have been obvious to them, looked tough and they might have expected opposition, hence “no one can shut” – no one will stop you going through this door. Yet they felt small and weak but, he says, see how you’ve done so far, “you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”  While many others were wavering, they have stood firm in the face of opposition and this fearless faithfulness will keep them and enable them to go through this door.

The Opposition: The opposition is always the enemy, Satan, and those who have given themselves over to him, who stand in opposition to the believers. They, like in Smyrna, have established themselves and it feels like the enemy has a synagogue, an assembly of people who follow him, and in this case they are the Jews who opposed believing Christians: “I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.” (v.9) These people may oppose the church but Jesus will bring them down, will humble them, and they will confess the truth. The church need not fear them.

Protection: Indeed, he goes on a stage further, not only have they stood so far and not only will he bring down the opposition but, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (v.10) They have been obedient, they have been faithful and true, and so Jesus will guard and protect them from the upheavals that will yet come on the earth. Throughout the book, the faithful believers are saved from the terrible upheavals coming on the world. They may be martyred but they will not suffer the judgments that God will bring on the world.

Continue to Endure: Don’t be misled into believing that the way through the open door will be easy, for they are still living in this fallen world and there are still deceptions and temptations so, “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” (v.11) There is the reminder that the Lord will be returning. ‘Soon’ simply means surely in the will of God it won’t be delayed, he will come at the appointed time. So, hold on to what you have and don’t allow anyone to demean you and don’t be demeaned in your own eyes – realize that in the kingdom you are rulers. Hold on to that.

Reward: Then comes a threefold reward. First, “The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it.” (v.12a) A pillar is part of the structure that maintains the structure. They continue to uphold, strengthen and support it. The church is held up by strong believers. Second, “I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God.” (v.12b) A name, engraved or written on, identifies the object, the clothing or the person. It also indicates their destination, almost like a luggage label when travelling abroad. They are God’s and their destination is the eternal city and no one or nothing will change that. Third, “and I will also write on them my new name.” (v.12c) Jesus is going to have a new name and they will have that name on them as well. Jesus has many names in Scripture but when all has been fulfilled and he is shown to be the one in his Father’s hand who has achieved it, he will be seen even more gloriously than we see so far in the book. That is his destination and it will also be their destination.

And Us? In this church we have an example to follow: to be a people who have an opportunity put before them which they are encouraged to take. The kingdom is always about taking new ground. There may be opposition and we may feel weak but the Lord encourages us to remember how well we have done so far, and to let him stand on our behalf against the enemy. As he leads us through such doors, the enemy may try to tempt us and deceive us, but he can do no more than that – try. In Christ we ARE triumphant and with his enabling we will go through such doors and do his will. May it be so. Amen!

5, The Sardis Experience – Come Alive!

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations: 5. The Sardis Experience: Come Alive!

Rev 3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write”

The Speaker: Jesus comes to this church as the one who, “holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The holder of the seven spirits, or the Holy Spirit (seven being the perfect number indicating the one perfect Spirit), the administrator of the kingdom, is the one who holds life. He also holds the angels or leaders of the seven churches, they are in his hand and he can do what he wishes with them. He is indeed the Lord of the Church, the one who brings life to create and establish it, the one who holds its leadership in his hand, to protect it or even discipline it.

The Challenge: The one who sees and knows all things comes and brings a devastating assessment over this church: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Oh my goodness! You look good, you are making the right noises but the reality is that this life that I hold in my hands, the life of my Spirit, is absent, you’re dead! There is some explanation that follows, but what does ‘dead’ mean? It means there is an absence of life, there is no movement, no change, no growth. A body that is ‘alive’ does all these things.

And Us? I normally leave this part to the end but the question needs asking here, because it is so easy to just read the words and pass over them with little thought. So let’s ask the question, does our church really flow with life? Life doesn’t just mean there are deeds because this church was doing some stuff, but was and is the life of God truly flowing in this church, my church? Is there ‘movement’ in this body, are things happening that reveal the presence and life of God here because He is the source of spiritual life? Are there changes constantly taking place in people, is there individual growth and numerical growth, is the Spirit flowing in such a way that the body of Christ is growing because when it does, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:15,16) Are we a ‘body’ that is conscious of its head, Christ, who is inspiring and directing it? Are we a united body where the life flows between us and we get life and strength and power and direction from one another? Are we conscious of being built up in love, a living, moving, serving, spiritually active body in which life flows and then is able to flow to the surrounding world? If not, do we fit the description of this church? Known for our deeds, our activities, our events, but in reality lacking this life we have been referring to?

And yet, hope: Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (v.2) All is not completely lost. There are just one or two glimmers of life, you have done stuff but not gone on and completed what God called you to do. In the presence of God, death can be considered sleep. You can yet wake up, come alive again, it is not too late. You may have become lethargic, weak and fit for little good, but it is not too late for that state to be changed. If you receive these words, they can act as the stimulant that the Sprit can use to re-energize you. So how do we go about this?

A new possibility: “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.” (v.3a) While you are still able, think back and remember what you have been, what God has said and done for you, who and what He has made you to be, realise afresh the possibilities of who you can be in His hands. It’s not too late, but you do need to act. Grab hold of what you knew, hold on to it, and repent of what you have become. This does require honesty to face what you are like now and compare it with what you were and it does require heart changes, but it is not too late.

The Warning: The warning is simply and open ended: “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (v.3b) If they don’t heed this word they will suddenly find Jesus turning up with the rod of correction. What that means is left hanging in the air, but the ominous warning is there.

And Yet: “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. (v.4) Our clothes? Robes of righteousness (Isa 61:10), “washed…and made … white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:14) When these clothes are ‘soiled’ it means the wearers of the righteousness that Christ conveys to believers, have allowed unrighteous acts to mark and spoil them. But there are indeed some still in this church who have not allowed this to happen and so they will be part of the heavenly host seen in Revelation (e.g. Rev 7:9-17) for they have proved themselves worthy to be with him.

The Overcomer? The overcomer, the one who is victorious in each case, will be one who addresses and responds well to the complaint of the Lord of the Church. In this case, they will be the ones who heed the admonition to wake up, remember the past, strengthen what is there and let life flow again. They will rejoin those who have just been referred to who have not got blemished righteousness so they will be, “like them, be dressed in white.” (v.5a) There is hope that follows repentance so that, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” They will still remain part of the great congregation that will stand before God in the great throne room (see Rev 4 & 5).

To Recap: The goal of the Lord of the Church, the one who holds the Spirit of life, the one who holds the leaders of the Church in his hand, is not to bring his Church to an end, but to restore it so when his words come, they address the things that are wrong so that we may put them right. The first step is always repentance, that awareness of having fallen short, that awareness of grief and contrition, and that pleading for forgiveness and help to enable us to put it right. Repentance always means heart anguish and then action to bring change. God’s desire is not to bring death but life, and that life comes from His Spirit and He is given when we are obedient (Acts 5:32) May we not be known for our activity and yet failure to allow the life of the Spirit to flow in and through us. May we heed his words and act accordingly.