3. The Pergamum Experience – Endurance

The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations:  3. The Pergamum Experience: Endurance

Rev 2:12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write” 

Speaker: In this letter Jesus comes with, “the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” In chapter 1 we saw that coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword.” (1:16) This ‘sword’ clearly represents the words he speaks. Paul spoke of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:17) This pointed, sharp, two-sided sword was a serious weapon of warfare. History tells us that Roman governors were of two sorts, those who had ‘the right of the sword’ and those who didn’t.  Those who did had the power of life and death and could order a person killed on the spot. When Jesus says he has this sword he is challenging all other authority with an authority that comes with his word. He too only needed to speak a word and it was done. We see that throughout Genesis 1 that God speaks a word and it is done.

Approval & Encouragement: Again we are reminded that Jesus, walking among the lampstands sees and knows all things. Here he says, I know where you live.” (v.13a) We once had two men in our church, fairly young believers who decided the read the Bible together and they read this passage together and when they came to these words they said it reminded them of some gangster film where the hero was threatened by the chief gangster with, “I know where you live!” They said the Holy Spirit impacted them both with a sense of awe – He knows where I live, He can come for me at any time!!!!

Yet for the church there, this knowledge first comes with approval: “where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.” (v.13b) Now there is much speculation as to what all this actually means, but let’s just leave it that this major city, this city of culture and government administration, was a place where, for one reason or another, it seems Satan reigns. Here, Jesus says, he has his throne, here he lives. Now let’s never lose sight of the fact that he is merely an angel, fallen yes, but nevertheless a created being, created by God for His purposes, and he is limited by only acting according to God’s permission (see Job 1 & 2). He only ‘reigns’ where the human beings give him permission to do so by their willingness to reject God and follow self-centred, ungodly and unrighteous ways. Such was his activity through the people of this city that one of the Christians had been martyred here. Yet in the face of all this, the church had held firm to their faith and remained true to Christ, not giving up on their faith for one moment – despite the demonic environment, despite the opposition and despite one of their number being killed for his faith. This church has endured.

Challenge: “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you:” (v.14a) That sounds worrying – a few things? More than one?  Yes, in fact there are two. First, “There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (v.14b) In the church – not all, but some – there are people who have fallen to the deception of Balaam (see this two-faced prophet who gave advice to the enemy how to undermine Israel – Num 31:16 – and died for it – Num 31:8).  The simplest way, perhaps, to summarize his tactics is to say he persuaded the Israelites that a little conforming to the ways of the world was all right. It wasn’t! I believe there is a blurring today of the boundaries between the church and the world, between righteousness and unrighteousness and so although some commentators suggest historical allegory in these letters, saying Laodicea represents the present day, the truth is that each of these errors are pertinent to every period of history, and now is no exception!

Nicolaitans? “Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (v.15) This group had been mentioned in 2:6 in Ephesus and we just simply identified them as heretics but maybe we need to say more here.  One of the early church fathers, Irenaeus, in his ‘Against Heresies’ wrote of the Nicolaitans, “they lived lives of unrestrained indulgence.” and another early church leader said they “abandoned themselves to pleasure …. leading a life of self-indulgence.” They distorted Christian freedom and turned it into licence. Doesn’t that sound familiar? I don’t know that I have heard that preached but the practice of so many lives in the affluent West seem to be characterized by pleasure and self-indulgence, and when that happens there is a blunting of spiritual sharpness which then gives way to spiritual complacency and spiritual indifference – a disarmed church!

The Challenge: “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (v.16) I don’t know if you have ever heard the expression spoken out by a parent to a child, ”If you don’t stop that out you’ll get the rough edge of my tongue,” which means unless you sort it out, you’ll get a severe scolding, a strong reprimand. In modern-day language Jesus might say, “Guys, sort this or you’ll be hearing from me – and you won’t like that!” My wife rarely has prophetic words but when she does, they tend to be corrective and you know where they are coming from. Somebody once said, “When she starts prophesying, people start diving under their chairs.” Jesus’s words, that come like this two-edged sword have the ability to wreak havoc with our pride. I’ve also noticed that my daughter, again rarely prophesies but when she does what she brings fits that biblical description, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) When Jesus speaks correctively, beware, his words carve open the heart, revealing the very soul, and then addresses the things needing correcting.

The Reward: For the overcomer in this situation, the one who rejects conforming to the world and living a life of self-indulgence, the promise is, “I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (v.17) Wow, what does that mean? Manna (see Ex 16:11-15) was God’s supernatural provision for His people in the desert. Then it was clearly observable and had to be picked. Today God’s provision is hidden, it comes by the Spirit. If you hold firm to God and refuse the seductions of the world, the promise is that God will feed you through His Spirit and you will be satisfied and never yearn for more, you will have total contentment.

But a white stone? Whatever we say here has to be speculation but years ago I asked the Lord about this and what I saw was this: a husband may give to his wife a locket on a chain to be hung round the neck with a picture of both of them in it. It is a constant reminder of the preciousness of the relationship they have. Now the thing about this white (pure) stone is that it has on it your name given to you by Jesus that no one else knows. Do you have a pet name for your partner, something no one else knows? It is not uncommon. Again it is a sign of something precious and intimate between you. That is what we have here, Jesus is conveying something of the preciousness of your relationship with him, your unique relationship, no one else has what you have, they have their own relationship with special aspects to it, but your relationship is unique between you and him. Don’t try and get your sense of meaning, purpose and even fulfillment from the world around you, get it from that sense of unique relationship with him that he wants to convey to you.  Awesome!

7. Aspiring to Perseverance

Aspiring Meditations: 7.  Aspiring to Perseverance

2 Thess 3:5  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Pet 1:6    For this very reason, make every effort to add to self-control, perseverance

Rom 5:3,4  we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope

Let’s from the outset, give ourselves a simple definition of ‘perseverance’. It is hanging in there when the going is tough. Looking up synonyms for perseverance we find: Perseverance – persistence, doggedness, determination and as it develops it produces Endurance – stamina, staying power, fortitude. Now one has to say it is not one of those things we all relish. It’s like someone says, “You need to aspire to going down to the Gym and getting fit, but I’m afraid you won’t get fit (that’s ‘endurance’) until you really push on and keep on attending to putting some serious effort in.”  Right! The thought of being fit and healthy sounds good, but the way of getting there isn’t thrilling!

In spiritual terms it is the same: you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:3) James was a real killjoy and he won’t let it go: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (Jas 1:4) i.e. if you want to grow up and be mature spiritually, you’ve just got to recognize that sometimes life appears tough but you’ve just got to hang on in there. A bit later, he does try to bring a little bit of encouragement: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)

If some well-meaning evangelist said in your hearing, “When you come to Christ, he will look after you and guide you and life will be brilliant,” he was actually speaking the truth, it was just that he omitted that bit that should be added,  “but there are times when, to toughen you up spiritually, he will either lead you into, to let you walk into a tough time. The end result will be good, so just hang in there!”

That fuller message comes over in Scripture in various ways. For example, as Jesus explains to the disciples the Parable of the Sower he says, “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:15) I had never noticed that word ‘persevering’ before, but he says if you are to be fruitful in your life, you will need to learn to persevere. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1)

Now one of my favourite verses is, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). The writer to the Hebrews calls our life a race “marked out for us” while Paul says this life, “God prepared in advance for us”. Both imply the life we walk is one mapped out by the Lord. It is a combination of His directing and our exercising our free will that leads us into a multitude of situations, yet the writer to the Hebrews is kind enough to warn us that this walk that God has mapped out for us, will sometimes need perseverance.

So, yes, if I am to be true to this calling to aspire to all these things the Bible lays out before me, then that is going to have to include trials and difficulties that are going to require perseverance and at the end of it, will have worked ‘endurance’ into me. But don’t ask me to rejoice over that because who rejoices over the pain the dentist might cause when he’s mending your teeth. Oh no! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2) I don’t believe it! Well yes I do actually, but here’s the thing: we spoke in an earlier study about ‘grace’ being God’s resources. I need grace even to face the thought of going through testing which, humanly speaking at least, I would much prefer not to go through.

So what help can I get, what encouragement can I find in the Bible? Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews said about Moses: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:27) Moses ‘trial’ was having to face Pharaoh with all his pride, anger and power, a seriously scary situation, so how did Moses cope? What was it that helped him handle it and go on handling it for the period of the plagues and then for the next forty years? He met God. He encountered God at the burning bush, even though he did not see Him there. Nevertheless he heard Him and then found himself performing a couple of miracles at God’s direction. Later he met with God on Mount Sinai and the record tells us that he and his leaders actually saw God. Amazing. Meeting with God in the tent of meeting became a regular experience for Moses. So how I am going to learn to persevere? By meeting with the Lord. If you try to cope with it on your own, you are doomed. Part of the lesson behind every trial and testing, is just that – turn to God, sense His presence, get His help. Learn to wait on Him, be still before Him, cry out to Him. The many examples of David in the Psalms doing this should help.

But then in Paul’s speaking about love, in that famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we find of love, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:7) Now Paul also wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thess 3:5) That is interesting phraseology. “direct your hearts into…” The JBP version puts it, “May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ. Christ pressed through, as the writer to the Hebrews put it, Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane clearly showed he didn’t want to face the Cross, and yet he knew it was the plan of the Godhead, and so he persevered in it. What helped him? Two things. First, his love for his Father: “love… always perseveres.” Second, the thought of what would be on the other side: glory, rejoicing, millions and millions of people saved and entering heaven.

For us, the indwelling presence of one who was referred to as ‘the Comforter’ also helps. Also the fact that Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling over this world and that his eye is always on us.  Check out and read out loud Psalm 121 and let its truth settle in your heart. Never let the enemy seek to put fear into your heart about what ‘might’ happen in the future – it might not! And whatever happens, the Lord will be there with you in it: Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan 3:25) THAT is the truth. Hallelujah!

8. Motivation

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 2 :  8 :  Motivation

1 Thess 1:3   We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We said in the previous meditation that we would consider in Part 3 of these mediations in this particular series, the instructions that come in this letter to work out your Christian life and we noted a number of verses that cover such things. However, before we do that, here in the  second part we will consider a number of principles that come in verses in this little book and to start, in order to avoid falling into the trap of legalism, we need to consider the whole subject of motivation. Legalistic Christians take the instructions found in the Gospels and letters of the New Testament and turn them into ‘laws’ to be followed. The problem with trying to keep laws, as Paul found and showed in Romans 7, is that we constantly fail to keep them and failure produces a sense of guilt and guilt stifles a relationship with the Lord.

So how are we to see such instructions? Well, they should come as guidelines that come AFTER we have committed our lives to God through Jesus. The Christian life starts from a point of surrender. At conversion, or rather leading into it, there has to be repentance and confession and a willingness to throw yourself entirely on the mercy of God, putting yourself into His hands for Him to lead and guide you through the rest of your life. Anything less than this causes problems.

So, we put ourselves into His hands for Him to bring us into a good place with Him through the work of Jesus on the Cross. He forgives us because He justifies us and He adopts us. From that point on He is working into our lives to bring good to us; He is bringing blessing upon blessing into our lives, His decrees of goodness for us. Because we are so tainted with Sin we struggle to believe this but it is true. He is working to restore us to Himself and to the image of the person He has designed us to be. Within that overall process He has given us many what I have called guidelines because they are indeed instructions on how to live a life where His goodness and blessing flow. They are NOT the means of our salvation and keeping them does not mean He loves us more and failing with them does not mean He loves us less.

It is important to understand that we don’t keep these instructions to win His approval or win His love. We don’t keep them to make ourselves feel more approved or more loved or more worthy of His love; we keep them simply as a means of developing our relationship with Him, so that His blessings can flow more and more in our lives. We are, after all, talking about a relationship with the One who has given His one and only Son to bring us to Himself so He can love and bless us. As the apostle John wrote, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) Our love is a response to His love.

And so we come to this verse which is all about motivation, at the beginning of the letter which speaks of “work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We have noted it previously but we need to think more about it now. We have three end products – work, labour, endurance and each of them is brought about or motivated by something else – faith, love, hope. The Greek word for ‘work’ is the general term for work or business, employment, task. The word for ‘labour’ means toil or hard work. It is easy then to see the flow to ‘endurance’ or ‘tough struggle to keep going’ in our work. What we find, therefore, is Paul moving on from easy work to tough work or toil to really tough work or a struggle to keep going. That is how life can be sometimes.

If the outworking of the Faith is work (meaning any expression or outworking of the life of Jesus in and through us) and we also know it is a battle, sometimes, as the Thessalonians well knew, it could be really tough. But at whatever level we are at, there is something provided for us that helps and motivates us. Initially whatever we do is a response to what we have heard from God (which may come through His word or through His Spirit.) That response is faith because Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing (Rom 10:17). So initially we start off motivated by what we have heard from God, but then, perhaps, the going gets a little harder and we have to toil at the Christian life it seems. But now there comes an awareness of the love of God. That had been there at the beginning but now we seem to appropriate it more fully. Aware that we are loved we find strength to continue.

But then the opposition digs in and we find ourselves seeking to look beyond the present circumstances to the long-distant future when God will come and deliver us for eternity. It is what Paul does again and again in the letter as he talks of the Lord’s second coming which, as we have seen previously, he does to take their eyes off the present and realise they are in it for the long haul which WILL mean good. The writer to the Hebrew showed this is how Jesus worked: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame.” (Heb 12;2)  As he faced the Cross with all of its awfulness, Jesus looked beyond it focusing on the wonder that would be on the other side of it. Thus we look beyond the present trying circumstances to realise that one day we are going to be with Him and all these present things will be dealt with by Him.

So here we find examples (and there are more in Scripture) of things that will motivate us on. It’s not by ‘trying harder’ but by receiving the grace and goodness of God by word and by the Spirit, and so we prevail and overcome Hallelujah!

37. Fight the Good Fight

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 37:  Fight the Good Fight

1 Tim 6:11,12   But you, man of God…..  pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

In the previous meditation we saw verse 11 in the light of what went before, but actually it also goes with what follows. In the face of the false teaching, confused ideologies and mixed up ‘believers’,  Paul reminds Timothy that he is a man of God who is called to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” (v.11) These six characteristics are part of the inheritance that every believer can come to experience, they are the hall marks or brands of the believer and where they are absent you see a believer who has a long way to go to maturity.  But the truth is that there is a battle and the enemy would seek to stop these characteristics coming about in us.

Thus as we move on we find Paul making this very simple exhortation: “Fight the good fight of the faith.” (v.12a) For those who mistakenly think that the Christian life is just sitting back and receiving all the good things that God has to give, this comes as a cultural shock. Fight? Fighting suggests effort, effort to resist and effort to overcome. This has the same sort of feel to it that we find in Ephesians 6 where Paul wrote, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) Other versions use the word ‘wrestle’ instead of struggle but the same sense is conveyed, there is a battle to be fought, a struggle to overcome. Every time you are confronted with a temptation, there is a struggle to be overcome, every time you are confronted with a doubt or a challenge there is a struggle to be overcome.

But this is a fight “of the faith”, it is what comes with the package, it is part of the life to which we have been called, ‘the faith’, and we should NOT think badly about it for it is “the good fight” or as some have put it, “the noble fight”. It is a fight that is worthwhile for in fighting we are made stronger and through fighting we come through to a better place. In Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev 2 & 3) there are seven calls to overcome. When we ‘overcome’ we get the better of the enemy, of sin and of temptation, we prevail against them, and we come through stronger. It’s a good fight!

So, he continues, “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”  Eternal life isn’t just for after we die; it begins the moment we come to Christ. From that moment on, we are living in the eternal dimension by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. When God called us, it was to enter into and enjoy the fruits of this life which, as we just said, started the moment we were saved and continue on through this life and into eternity. The call to Take hold of the eternal life” suggests this is an action our part, an act of will. The Christian life is not passive, it involves resisting the enemy and it involves actively taking hold of the things God promises in His word.

This eternal life, says Paul, came when “you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” That probably refers to the confession of belief that Timothy made when he first came to Christ  and which almost certainly would have been repeated before the congregation at his baptism.

Paul exhorts him strongly to persevere with his faith: “In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame.” (v.13,14) He makes this charge in all seriousness before God and reminds Timothy how Jesus had testified before the Roman authorities. In the same way Jesus had been fearless, so (by implication) Timothy is to be fearless is testifying. The good confession that Jesus made was probably, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” (Jn 18:37)

The command that Paul refers to is probably that of verses 11 and 12, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” i.e. go all out for that to which you have been called! When he says, “without spot or blame” he is saying, don’t let there be any points where you hold back and there could be accusations of half-heartedness against you.

Do this, he continues, “until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time.” (v.14,15)  i.e. keep on doing it until Jesus comes, whenever God decrees that will be. It doesn’t matter how soon or how long, just make sure you are going all out for these things until he comes.

So we have seen the call – to go all out to fulfil his calling – the importance of it – with a charge before God – and the duration of it – until Jesus comes. That’s it! Go for it!