Saturday, January 30, 2010
1 Corinthians 1:11-13, "For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or where you baptized in the name of Paul?"
John 17:17, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth," and in vv. 20-21, "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe on Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the orld may believe that You sent Me."
Based on these three simple passages of scripture, how can we possibly justify denominationalism? And if it is not justified, can we justifiably participate in it? How should we react to these verses of scripture?
Monday, January 25, 2010
Jesus spoke this parable to the self-righteous Jewish leaers. These religious leaders viewed themselves as holy, but in reality they had not given their hearts to God. Outwardly, they looked pious, but inwardly, they were "full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Mt. 23:27). These arrogant men condemned the tax-collectors and harlots, yet they themselves were separated from God because of their own sinful hypocrisy.
Jesus' point in this parable is simple: it is better to be a sinner who repents and does what is right than it is to be a religious fraud. The one brother wickedly rebelled against his father's command, but afterward he recognized his error and obeyed. The other brother acted like he would obey, but really he never intended to follow through.
The lesson is a powerful one, and I hope that you get it. You may go to church every Sunday and you may pray before every meal, but have you given your whole heart to God? Are you outwardly obedient but inwardly rebellious? If so, Jesus condemns you in this passage.
Or perhaps you are the sinner who, until now, has refused to obey the commands of God. Won't you, like the good brother in this parable, turn from your rebellion and submit to the Father's will while you still have breath in you? Have faith in God, repent of your sins, confess Christ as Savior and be baptized for the remission of your sins. If you do these things, you will be saved!
If you have any questions, please let me know.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
At the same time, professional contractors can finish a house in less than a month. They work on it every day. They know exactly what they are doing, and they are so well-organized that the delays don't affect them as much.
Spiritually speaking, we are all building a house. On an individual level, our spiritual growth is compared to the construction of a house (1 Cor. 3:11-12). Christ is the foundation (vv. 11), and different materials are used to build the house. One fact that we must recognize about constructing our spiritual house (spiritual growth) is that the process takes time. A person doesn't become a mature Christian immediately. Rather, one grows from being a babe in Christ to being mature in Christ (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Pet. 2:1-3). We must nurture our spiritual man, and we must utilize the tools that God has given us so that our spiritual house can be constructed properly.
On an individual level, we encounter delays in our spiritual growth, especially early on. We face peer-pressure (1 Pet. 4:3-4), false teachings that may set us back (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Our former life may tug at us, calling us back to perdition and sin (Lk. 9:62). Just as literal storms hinder the construction of a house, so also do these metaphoric storms hinder our spiritual growth. But there is good news here: the more professional we become as spiritual construction workers, the more easily it will be to overcome these setbacks and to push through them.
What are the lessons here?
- Be patient as you grow in the faith. I remember when I was first converted, I looked at the Bible and thought to myself, "I will never understand any of this," but sure enough, after years of study, I have developed a good understanding of the word of God (not that I know everything, because I don't). Growth takes time.
- Recognize that setbacks and delays will happen. Satan will do all that he can to hinder and/or reverse your spiritual growth. Be ready.
- Use the tools that God has given you. This is huge. In the literal construction business, you have to have the right tools to be efficient. Just the other day, I decided to tie up a few loose ends on some siding work we had done, but I didn't have the tools I needed, and so I couldn't do the work. God has given us all the tools we need (2 Pet. 1:3) to build our spiritual house. We have the avenue of prayer (Heb. 4:16), the local church (Eph. 4:16), and of course, we have the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Use these tools.
I know that one day, my house in Lee County will be finished. I look forward to that day when I can move in and start my new life there. It is such an exciting process and I am enjoying every minute of it. But do you know what I am more excited about? My spiritual growth...and even more than that, I am excited about the day when I will cast off this temporary house and put on the eternal house spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5:1-2: "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven."
Monday, January 18, 2010
Many religious people might argue that the earthquake is an expression of God's indignation towards the Haitians. In other words, because of the sins of the Haitians (I have heard that it is a very ungodly place), God punished them by sending the earthquake.
But can we really make such a claim?
Let's turn to Luke 13:1-5. Here we find an answer to this question. The text says, "There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but uless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.'"
When we witness tragedy, it may be tempting to say that God is punishing the wicked people who are involved. Many today may say this about the earthquake in Haiti. I know that this same reasoning was tossed around when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. But according to Jesus in Luke 13, it is really not our place to make such claims.
John 9 is another great text to consider here. In John 9:2, the disciples' asked Jesus, "'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'" Again, we see that suffering is not always the result of personal sin. In this case, the man was born blind that the works of God might be revealed in Him.
Perhaps the earthquake has struck Haiti so that the works of God might be revealed there. I'm not suggesting that miracles are going to be performed in Haiti, but certainly, this is an opportunity for God's people to show the love of Christ to those people there. We can send financial relief. Perhaps missionaries and evangelists will utilize this opportunity to reach out to the Haitians.
In any case, the tragedy in Haiti reminds us all that God is mighty and infinite in power. As we noticed in Luke 13, instead of exalting ourselves and pointing our judgmental finger at the Haitians, let us instead acknowledge that we are all sinners in need of God's grace.
Having said all that, I also want to point out that it is possible that God is indeed punishing the Haitians. The fact is, God does judge wicked nations. Just read the prophets (Isaiah-Malachi) and even certain parts of the book of Revelation, and this point will be obvious to you. So yes, it is possible that God is judging Haiti, but again, can we as people know the mind of God in this matter? No.
So much more could be said about this subject, but I'll end the article here. May God bless the Haitians during this time of tragedy, and may we do all that we can to help them.
Friday, January 8, 2010
There are many religious people today who claim to have these same abilities. We hear of healing services where multiple people are supposedly healed during the service. In many of these charismatic churches (i.e. Pentecostal, Church of God, Assembly of God, etc), there are people leaping over pews, rolling in the aisles and speaking gibberish which they claim to be tongues, all of which is allegedly the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I have even heard of "holy laughter." I think most of us recognize how silly some of this is, but is it all fake? What about the claims of divine healing, prophecy and tongue-speaking? Does the Bible give us any kind of answer? Yes, it does!
First of all, we need to understand the purpose of miracles. As we're going to see, miracles were not intended to be a means of profit, nor were they merely a source of excitement for Christians. According to God's word, the purpose of miracles was to confirm the word of God.
Mark 16:20 says, "And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs."
Hebrews 2:3-4 says, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?"
Both of these passages clearly identify the aforementioned purpose of miraculous gifts. They bore witness to, or confirmed, the word of God. What does this mean? Well, the law of Christ had never been preached before. It was new to the world. In Luke 24:47, Jesus told the apostles tat "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Imagine the apostles teaching this new law to thousands upon thousands of Jews (and later, the Gentiles). The apostles are telling all of these people that they have to repent and seek salvation in Christ. Who is Christ? Why do we need to change? How do we know that what you're saying is true? I mean, think about it...would you change your whole life simply because someone told you that this Jesus guy died for your sins? Of course not!
But what if they healed a lame man? What if they gave sight to a man who had been blind from birth? What if they raised the dead? What if they prophesied and spoke in your native tongue miraculously? Then you might start to believe them. Hey, these guys must be from God...and if they're from God, then what they're saying must be true. Jesus is the Lord!
That's what miracles did in the first century. They confirmed the word.
So now we have two questions to answer in order to determine whether or not miracles still exist. Number one, has the law of Christ been fully revealed in that it no longer needs confirmation? And number two, does the Bible teach that the miracles would cease when the law of Christ was fully revealed, or confirmed?
First of all, I think most of us understand that the New Testament canon is complete, and has been completed since the latter part of the first century. Matthew through Revelation comprises what we call the New Testament, and most of us agree that any addition to it would be heresy (from men, not God). And the New Testament actually confirms this point.
2 Peter 1:3 says, "As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue."
Jude 3 says, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints."
These two verses seem to indicate that, in the first century, the entire will of God was indeed revealed. It was ONCE for ALL delivered to the saints, and ALL things that pertain to godliness have been GIVEN to us. This law of Christ has been given to us in the form of writing, or scripture (Eph. 3:3-5). Scripture is able to make us "complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Is there ongoing revelation? Well, according to these verses, the answer is No. There is no need for ongoing revelation. We have all that we need to be complete in Christ!
But this point alone doesn't necessarily prove that miracles have ceased. All it does is tell us that the purpose of miracles has ceased. And the burden of proof, I believe, is on me to prove that they have ceased. That brings us to our second question (and the main point of the article): does the Bible teach that miracles would cease when the law was fully revealed?
The answer lies in 1 Corinthians 13.
The members of the Corinthian church had the ability to perform miracles, but these miracles were the cause of much division within the church (really, it was their pride and selfishness that caused them to divide, but they manifested these wicked attitudes through the use of miracles). In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminded them that while there were many spiritual gifts, they were to conduct themselves as the unified body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul rebuked the Corinthians for their misuse of the miraculous gifts. Instead of using these gifts to promote edification (in the infant-state of the church where they didn't have completed New Testaments like we do today), they used them to exalt themselves.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the supremacy of LOVE over miraculous gifts, and he plainly tells them that these miraculous gifts would cease (but love would endure).
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1-2). You see, Paul is emphasizing the supremacy of love. Love is more important than the gift of prophecy, more important than tongues, more important than miraculous knowledge and miraculous faith.
Of course, in verses 4-7, we find the famous definition of faith, "Love is..." But in verse eight, Paul again returns to the subject of miraculous gifts. "Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away" (vv. 8-10).
The inspired apostle clearly tells us that miracles were not intended to last forever. They would cease and come to an end. In other words, a time would come when there would be no miraculous gifts. When would that happen?
The miraculous gifts were said to be in part (vv. 9). Verse 10 says, "But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away." The miraculous gifts (which were in part) would cease and vanish away when the perfect, or complete, came.
That brings us to yet another question: what is the perfect?
And when did it come?
It is my contention that the perfect is the fully-revealed word of God (in complete, or perfect form). My reasoning goes back to the purpose of miracles and the wording of this passage. Miracles existed to confirm the word of God, right? Yes, we established that. Here in 1 Corinthians 13, the in part (incomplete) is tied to the perfect (complete). It's like a pie. A slice of apple pie relates to the whole apple pie. If miracles existed to aid in the revelation of the word of God, then the perfect here in 1 Corinthians 13 must be the complete word of God.
So Paul is basically saying that miraculous gifts would vanish away when the word of God was fully confirmed and revealed. After all, when the word was fully revealed, the purpose of miracles would cease. Do you see the point?
Some argue (and this is the only other interpretation of which I am aware), that the perfect is Jesus, and so they have miracles ending when Jesus returns. First of all, this seems to make Paul's whole point kind of meaningless, but beyond that, there is, within the text, a rebuttal of this interpretation. At the end of the chapter, in verse 13, Paul says, "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." After saying that miracles would cease, Paul says that faith, hope and love abide, or continue. Here's the question: will faith and hope continue after the return of Christ? No. There will be no need of hope in heaven (Rom. 8:24), and faith will end when we see Christ and heaven (Heb. 11:1). This "return of Jesus" interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13 cannot be reconciled with these points. Faith and hope would continue after the confirmation of the word, but it will not continue after the return of Christ.
So are miracles performed today as they were in the first century?
And this is my conclusion only because it is what the word of God says.
Am I wrong? If so, tell me. Answer my arguments. Show me from the Bible that I am wrong.
I'd love to hear from you.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Revelation 3:14 contains Christ's description of Himself: "These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God." The term Amen in the Greek literally means "trustworthy, sure," and Thayer's defines it as "faithful." So you might say that the expression is akin to that which follows it in verse 14, "the faithful and true witness." As we have established in the past, Jesus Christ is the epitome of truth. John 1:1 defines Jesus as "the word" and we are told in John 17:17 that the word is truth.
The phrase "the Beginning of the creation of God" is somewhat controversial in nature. The Jehovah's Witnesses use this statement to teach that Jesus was the first of God's creation, thus making Him a created being and consequently denying His divinity. The JWs argue that Jesus is merely an angel and not God. But that is not at all what Jesus here is saying. The point is not that Jesus was a created being, but that He was the source of the creation (this point is confirmed in Colossians 1:16-17).
As we continue our examination of the Laodicean church, we find Jesus' condemnation of the unfaithful church in verses 15-16, "I know your works, that you are neither cold not hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth." Their first problem was lukewarmness (is that even a word???). In other words, they were not on fire for God; they were not spiritually strong. They lacked zeal and fervor. One might say that they were indeed apathetic.
Christ says that they were neither cold nor hot. Some today argue that the term cold represents complete unfaithfulness while the term hot represents spiritual zeal and fortitude. If this is the correct intrepretation, then Jesus is basically saying that we need to have an "all or nothing" attitude. If you're not going to give God your best, you might as well live in sin. The other interpretation is that both cold and hot represent ideal temperatures while lukewarm represents te unideal...the unacceptable. I tend to take the former position, for it is less redundant. Indeed, if we are not goingto give God our whole heart, if we're going to be lazy, apathetic Christians, we might as well give it up because we're not helping God any and we're not helping ourselves any (see Lk. 14:26-33).
It is hard to believe that an entire church could consist of lukewarm Christians, but I don't think that it's all that uncommon. In the materialistic world we live in, there are countless Christians who have a greater love for the things of this life than they do for the things of God. Sure, people may go to church two or three times a week, and they may have all the right positions on the major issues of controversy, but they neglect personal evangelism, ignore the fruit of the Spirit and they live for self. If we are falling short in these areas, it does not matter that we go to church. Having the fruit of the Spirit is just as critical to our salvation. Having a servant's heart is no less important than faithful church attendance. To be on fire for God is to give God our best in every area of spiritual service!
In Revelation 3:17, we see another one of the Laodicean church's problems: materialism. Jesus told them, "Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked," and then He goes on in verse 18 to remedy the problem, "I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fie, that you may be rich; and white garments that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see." The saints in Laodicea were materialistic, which is perhaps why they were lukewarm. They had all that they needed and desired physically, and this caused them to be complacent, and it caused them to be lifted up in self-reliance and pride. Historically speaking, when people become rich, when they have all that they want in this life, they forget about God.
This reminds me of what Christ wrote to the church in Smyrna: "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)..." (2:9). The Smyrna saints may have been poor physically, but they were rich spiritually. From man's perspective, this is not desirable, but from God's perspective, this is the superior way of life...to be spiritually rich even if one is physically poor. It saddens me to say that many Christians today are more concerned about material wealth than spiritual wealth. They stress the value of a college education more than they do the value of spiritual training. We are willing to work overtime in our secular jobs but we are not willing to put in the extra hours studying God's word. We get more excited about a new TV than we do about overcoming temptation or learning some new biblical truth. Do you get the point? I think to some degree we are all guilty of this at times, but let us resist it with our whole hearts!
Ultimately, true riches come from Christ, and the greatest riches of all await us in heaven (Mt. 6:20). Let this be our focus.
In the final verses of Revelation 3, Christ reminds the Laodicean Christians that there is still hope. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me." In other words, it wasn't too late. Christ was knocking on the metaphorical door of their heart. If they would only turn from their wickedness, open the door, and invite Christ into their life, they would be restored to Him! Likewise, when we sin, Christ is knocking. He wants us to let Him in. He wants to have fellowship with us. Yes, even though He boldly chastized the Laodiceans, He still loved them.
The lessons we learn in Revelation 2-3 are many in number. We learn that faithfulness is hard to come by. We learn that when problems arise within the church, we need to repent and make correction ASAP. We learn that sin and error cannot be tolerated, but we also learn that our personal faith and love for the Lord must not be lost in our zealous opposition of error. But most of all, we learn that we must overcome the trials of this life if we hope to spend eternity with Christ. He is there. He is listening. And He wants to have fellowship with us, but we must not forsake Him.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
As Christ introduces Himself at the beginning of this letter, He says, "These things says He who is holy, He who is true, 'He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens'" (3:7). We know that Christ is holy. We are told in 1 Peter 1:16 to be holy even as He is holy. We are to imitate the holiness of Christ; we are to be consecrated and devoted to spiritual things. We also know that Christ is true. He is the epitomy of truth.
But what does it mean that He "has the key of David?" Well, we all know that David is a type of Christ (Christ being the anti-type). Over and over again in the Old Testament, it was written that the Christ would sit "upon the throne of David" (Is. 9:7). Jesus is the seed of David (Rom. 1:3), and as we see in places like Acts 2, Jesus, as a descendant of David, did indeed arise to sit on David's throne in heaven.
Christ has the key of David in the sense that He is able to open and shut doors. In Revelation 3:8, Christ continues to use this same wording: "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name." One might interpret this to mean that Christ had opened up doors of opportunity for the saints in Philadelphia, or one might argue that this was the door unto eternal rest. Either way, the key represents power and authority, and we are reminded that Christ, as King, is in control.
The Lord goes on to say that they had "a little strength." This is not a slam on the church in Philadelphia. Really, Jesus is commending the saints here. Despite all that they had endured, they were still faithful; they had overcome despite the obstacles in their way.
And what obstacles did they face? Revelation 3:9 says, "Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie--indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you." Oddly enough, this same statement is found in Christ's address to the Smyrna congregation, the only other faithful congregation among the seven found in Revelation 2-3. Apparently, there were wicked Jews who had been giving the Christians a hard time. Christ is here reminding the faithful saints that these individuals would indeed be punished, and ultimately they would humble themselves before the saints. Honestly, I don't know how this was fulfilled or what exactly it means that the Jews would worship before their feet, but I do know that this had to provide a great deal of comfort to the persecuted Christians...to know that their enemies would be judged.
Revelation 3:10 is also very interesting. Jesus says, "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." In reading the book of Revelation, it is obvious that an hour of trial was coming. God was going to judge the enemies of the church (which judgment would affect the whole region), but even before that, the saints still had more persecution and suffering to endure (Rev. 6:10-11). The saints in Philadelphia, however, would escape that trial. Again, I don't know how this was fulfilled, but I know that it indeed happened. Because they had endured so much already, Christ knew that they could not bear much more, and therefore He showed them mercy by excepting them from the tribulation to come.
Christ reminds them in verse 11 to hold fast what they had, that no one would take their crown. The crown here represents the salvation that comes at the end of a faithful life (Rev. 2:10). Their crown could be taken away from them if they did not hold fast. So this is a reminder to remain faithful. Those who do overcome, Christ says, "I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (vv. 12). What wonderful promises! The faithful can anticipate a home in heaven (the ultimate temple, or dwellingplace, of God). We will finally possess the New Jerusalem, which here is another allusion to heaven (described later in Rev. 21). These highly symbolic descriptions of what is to come ought to recall to our minds the fact that we are "sojourners andd pilgrims" (1 Pet. 2:11) on the earth. This world is not our home. Our home is in heaven...with God.
We learn here in this passage that there are some Christians who endure so much for the cause of Christ. Yet they are promised rest and comfort. And yes, faithfulness is possible even in the face of seeminly insurmountable obstacles. Let us all endure and seek that heavenly reward!
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Christ's description of Himself here in Revelation 3:1 is short and simple. He describes Himself as the One who "has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars." To understand this, we have to turn to other passages within the book of Revelation.
- The seven Spirits are defined as the "seven lamps of fire...burning before the throne" (4:5). Or perhaps the seven lamps are defined as the seven Spirits which are "sent out into all the earth" (5:6). Some conjecture that these spirits are literally angels...which would line up well with the theory that the seven angels of the seven churches are also literal angels. Others posit that these seven spirits are symbolic of the seven graces of the Holy Spirit, and thus the Holy Spirit is here intended. It appears more likely that these are angels, and not the Holy Spirit, for these spirits appear to be animated beings (5:6).
- The seven stars are defined in 1:20 as "the angels of the seven churches." Are these the same seven spirits, or are these seven angels, i.e. stars, distinct? It is hard to say. Again, we are dealing with a highly symbolic book. We could spend hours discussing the different theories and in the end we may convince ourselves that one interpretation is more reasonable, but ultimately, it is most important that we understand the significance of the statement in Revelation 3:1...and the point is this: Christ has all power and all knowledge. He is higher than the angels, and not a mere angel. He is the Son of God...He IS God! Christ here is simply establishing His supremacy.
Once Christ introduces Himself to the saints in Sardis, He immediately sets in on their error. Jesus wrote to them, "You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." In other words, they had a good reputation; when people thought of the Sardis church, they thought of an active congregation that was doing well. But in reality, they were inactive and spiritually decaying. This kind of reminds of what Jesus said to the Pharisees back in Matthew 23:27: "For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." God knows our hearts (Lk. 16:15; Ac. 15:8). Even when we look good in the eyes of men, we may look dead to God. And this only motivates us to not only do what is right outwardly, but to do and think what is right inwardly.
It is important to understand that the Sardis saints were not completely dead. According to Revelation 3:2, they were told to "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die." You see, they were on the verge of complete apostasy, but they were not there yet which is why God chose to rebuke them, and not condemn them. Spiritual death doesn't always happen all at once. Sometimes, yes, we embrace sin and we leave God, but all too often, we simply begin to drift slowly away from the Lord. We grow more and more apathetic until eventually we have withered away to nothing. Please, don't let this happen to you.
What is the remedy? "Remember therefore how you have received and heard: hold fast and repent" (vv. 3). We need to first of all remind ourselves of who we are and why we are who we are. Reestablish yourself in the truth of God's word. Study the basic principles of the New Testament. Regain that zeal and love for the Lord. Then, you must repent...change your mind and your actions; commit to a new start. And finally, you must hold fast. In other words, don't let it happen again. Be faithful and do what is right inwardly and outwardly.
If we do not repent and make things right, Christ promises that He will come upon us like a thief, when we least expect it (vv. 4). Some people may thing that they have "the rest of their lives" to change, but we do not know that for a fact...which means that we must take advantage of the time we have now. Do not postpone repentance or salvation, for when you finally make the decision, it may be too late.
Not all the saints in Sardis were this way, however. There were "a few names" who had not "defiled their garments." As a result, they would walk with Christ (vv. 4). Even when those around us are spiritually weak and decaying, we must stand strong.
In verse five, Christ wraps up this letter by saying, "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." There are several interesting points here:
- White garments represent purity and holiness. As God's people, we are to strive for purity and holiness here on earth, but if we overcome, it is said that we will wear "white garments" in heaven. Again, this is symbolic, but there is something here for us to consider. Now, we have to battle temptation and resist sin to be pure, but in heaven, there will be no temptation or sin. We won't have to fight to be pure...we will always be pure, and we will be surrounded by perfection and bliss!
- The Lord goes on to say here that if we are faithful, our names will NOT be blotted out of the Book of Life. The Book of Life is the book which contains all the names of the saved. If one's name is in the Book of Life, they are heaven-bound, but if their name is NOT in the Book of Life, they are bound for eternal damnation (Rev. 20:14-15). Christ implies here in Revelation 3:5 that our names can be blotted out of the Book of Life. This is a crushing blow to the doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved. Our names can be added to the Book of Life, and then blotted out (if we are unfaithful). So yes, we can lose our salvation.
- Finally, Jesus says that He will confess our names before the Father and His angels. This point is also made back in Matthew 10:32. Can you imagine the Son of God uttering your name in the presence of the Almighty God? What a privilege! What an honor! But it only comes upon those who overcome and are faithful.
Do you have a name that you are alive, but indeed you are dead? If so, please repent and make things right with the Lord before it is too late!
Monday, January 4, 2010
In Revelation 2:18, as Christ addresses "the angel of the church in Thyatira," He identifies Himself as "the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass." While the initial part of this description is self-explanatory and a fundamental point of the Christian faith, the latter portion of this description is symbolic and, as a result, somewhat more difficult. Matthew Henry says, "The description we have here of Him is in two characters: - (1.) That His eyes are like a flame of fire, signifying His piercing, penetrating, perfect knowledge, a thorough insight into all persons and all things, who who searches the hearts and tries the reigns of the children of men (Rev. 2:23), and will make all the churches to know He does so. (2.) That His feet are like fine brass, that the outgoings of His providence are steady, awful, and all pure and holy. As He judges with perfect wisdom, so He acts with perfect strength and steadiness." This description of Christ is very similar to that found in Daniel 10:6 (there is so much Old Testament imagery in the book of Revelation).
In verse 19, Christ begins to emphasize the positive characteristics of the church in Thyatira. Through John, He wrote, "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first." I love this about the Lord, and I think there is a good lesson here for us. It is always helpful to emphasize a person's positive qualities before we criticize them. It makes them more receptive to the criticism because it tells them that we are not against them and that we are balanced in our thinking. As with any form of discipline, there needs to be this positive reinforcement.
As far as what was specifically written to these saints, it is clear that they had many things going for them. While the Ephesian church was told to return to doing its first works (2:4-5), this church was told that its recent works were more than the former. This is how it ought to be. We should be growing and advancing spiritually. We should be doing more now, we should be more mature now, and we should be stronger now than we were before. All too often, saints become stagnant in their growth, and as a result they become apathetic. But like the saints in Thyatira, we must be constantly advancing in our walk with Christ.
But the church in Thyatira was far from perfect as the following passage indicates. And do you know what their problem was? It was not that they openly adovcated error or that they were carnally-minded and sensual. It wasn't that they gave in to all the sinful customs of Asia-Minor, or that they were half-dead spiritually. No, they fell short in that they tolerated sin. They didn't advocate sin, but they tolerated it, they put up with it...they didn't boldly stand against it when it entered the church. Their sin was inaction.
Revelation 2:20 says, "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols." Some believe that this woman's name was Jezebel, while others believe that this name was simply symbolic of her character and her beliefs. Whatever the case may be, it appears that she taught the doctrine of Balaam. In verse 15, as Jesus addressed the church in Pergamos, He defined the doctrine of Balaam as the tolerance of fornication and the eating of things sacrificed to idols.
Can you imagine these kinds of things going on in the church? Can you actually picture someone advocating fornication and idol worship? In a sense, I cannot, but in another sense, I also recognize that this happens ALL THE TIME today. Sure, preachers may not be telling church-members to go commit fornication with harlots, but adulterous marriages are tolerated in nearly every denominational church. The Bible says in Matthew 19:9 that "whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery." There are countless religious people today who have been married three or four times, and yet nothing is said. There are cases where church-members divorce their spouses for reasons other than adultery, and then they remarry. According to God's word, the end-result of remarriage in this case is an adulterous marriage...but nothing is ever said. These folks are accepted. The Christian world needs to get back to the Bible when it comes to the issue of marriage and divorce, because the fact is, adultery is tolerated in churches and that only warrants Christ's rebuke and condemnation. This is a serious matter.
Jezebel had been given "time to repent of her sexual immorality" but "she did not repent" (Rev. 2:21). Christ gives us all time to change; that is how He shows mercy to us. Many people believe that Christ shows mercy to us in that He overlooks certain sins, but that is not the case. Christ is merciful to us in that He gives us time to repent. This may involve giving us time to humble ourselves and make the confession, or it may involve giving us time to realize exactly what we have done wrong. Sometimes we pray for loved ones that God give them more time to realize their sin and repent of it. That is an expression of mercy, and this woman Jezebel had been given time to repent.
Because of her lack of repentance, Christ would "cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds." He would "kill her children with death." As a result, all of the churches would know that Christ is the one "who searches the minds and hearts" (vv. 22-23). In other words, Jezebel was in sin and she had led many to sin, and as a result, God's judgment would come upon her. God desired to purge the church of her wicked influence, and He would do so providentially.
But not all of the church-members were guilty. While there were some who engaged in idol worship and fornication, and while there were others who tolerated this sin, there was clearly a minority group within the congregation that had remained faithful. In verses 24-25, Christ said to these obedient saints: "Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come."
There is such a powerful lesson here. When a church develops problems, our gut reaction should not be to leave the church in search of a congregation that is problem-free. In other words, when problems arise within the church, those who are faithful need to remain and do all that they can to fight the sin and error, and to restore the purity of the church. Maybe the church is tolerating some false doctrine, or perhaps the church's leadership is not taking a bold stand against sin. Whatever the issue or controvery may be, we need to fight as soldiers of Christ and not give an inch to the devil. Sure, there may come a time when we must leave, when we've done all we can do and we've given it time, and now we're in an environment that is not conducive to our spiritual growth or that of our family. I understand that completely. But at the same time, we should not be hasty to leave. If we are the kinds of people that leave a church whenever problems arise, we will never be at a church for long because all churches have problems.
These faithful saints in Thyatira didn't leave when problems arose, and they were not told to do so by the Lord. They were simply told to "hold fast" and overcome (vv. 25-26). Let that be our mindset as well.
Local churches today should not tolerate error and sin. We as church-members need to do all that we can to maintain the purity of the church. Do not be complacent. Do not be apathetic. Do not be a coward. DON'T BACK DOWN! These are some of the lessons that we learn from Revelation 2:18-29. If we learn these lesson, if we overcome and keep Christ's works, we shall "rule...with a rod of iron" (vv. 27) and we will be given the "morning star" (vv. 28). The morning star represents splendor and glory according to Adam Clarke. What a wonderful thought!
Will you hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches?