Christianity 201

September 5, 2013

God’s Epistles

Lying in bed this morning, I was thinking about the idea that while books like Galatians and Ephesians constitute Paul’s epistles, I & II Peter are Peter’s epistles, James is James’, and I, II and III John are John’s; in a very real sense the second and third chapters of Revelation constitute God’s epistles. Imprisoned on Patmos, John receives a dramatic vision that apparently begins with him taking some dictation. (For the record, I believe in plenary inspiration, but in this case, would lean toward these chapters being more precisely commanded.)

Most analysis of these chapters focus on God’s assessment of each of the seven churches to whom sections are addressed in terms of what each is doing right and what each needs to do. This reminds me of a previous item I posted here which paraphrases II Tim. 3:16 — All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness — to read:

All scripture has its point of origin in God’s mind, and

  • shows us the path God would have us walk
  • highlights when and where we’ve gotten off the path
  • points the way back to the path
  • gives us the advice we need to keep from wandering off the path in future

Today’s blog post appeared a year ago at the blog Gospel Musings, and was written by Ben Toh who is a bi-vocational pastor in Chicago. Instead of looking at the two chapters church-by-church, he looked at the content each contains. You can read this at source where it was titled: Christian, Listen Up! (Rev 2:1-3:22)

Text: Rev 2:1-3:22


Revelation 2:1-3:22; Key Verse Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:6, 13, 22

“He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (1984, 2011 NIV).

All human beings suffer from a selective hearing disorder. No one ever forgets a pretty girl saying to them, “You’re cute.” But when our boss calls us into his office to chew us out, we tune him out and don’t hear well. We also have selective spiritual hearing disorder. No Christian ever dislikes hearing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26). But will we listen if God says, as he does to the church in Laodicea, “…because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. …you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:16,17)? To stress the utmost importance of listening to the Spirit, Jesus repeats 7 times to the 7 churches the exact same plea: “He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Rev 1:1-20 reveals Jesus as the one who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood (Rev 1:5). This is the gospel, the foundation of the Bible and of Revelation. In Rev 2:1-3:22, Jesus addresses the 7 churches in Asia (Rev 1:4,11), which is modern day Turkey. These 2 chapters may be the easiest in Revelations to understand, for they do not have an abundance of difficult symbols and prophesies. But to hear Jesus’ assessment, admonition, indictment, rebuke and challenge to the churches may not be easy to hear. Thus, Jesus repeats the exact same encouragement 7 times: “He who has an ear, let him (Whoever has ears, let them) hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Instead of going through each church in sequence, let us look at all 7 churches together in the following parts:

  1. The Church.
  2. The Commendation.
  3. The Condemnation.
  4. The Command.
  5. The Christ.

I. The Church What are these 7 churches like?

  1. Ephesus: The Loveless Church (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: The Suffering Church (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: The Worldly Church (Rev 2:14).
  4. Thyatira: The Immoral Church (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: The Dead Church (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: The Faithful Church (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church (Rev 3:16).

1 and 7 are in grave danger. 2 and 6 are in excellent shape (no condemnations). 3-5 are in between, nether good nor bad, with 5 being the worst of this lot.

II. The Commendation

  1. Ephesus: Deeds, hard work, perseverance, uncompromising, enduring hardships (Rev 2:2-3).
  2. Smyrna: Affliction, poverty, slander, suffering, imprisonment, death (Rev 2:9-10).
  3. Pergamum: Unwavering in faith (Rev 2:13).
  4. Thyatira: Deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance, doing more than before (Rev 2:19).
  5. Sardis: None!
  6. Philadelphis: Faithfulness, patient endurance (Rev 3:8,10).
  7. Laodicea: None!

Church going, but dead and lukewarm Christians are the worst (Laodicea). But even those with good deeds, hard work, faithfulness, uncompromising, persevering, doctrinally sound, innovative, “improving” churches may be loveless (Ephesus), worldly (Pergamum), immoral (Thyatira), and dead (Sardis).

III. The Condemnation

  1. Ephesus: Lost their first love (Rev 2:4).
  2. Smyrna: None.
  3. Pergamum: False teaching (Rev 2:14-15).
  4. Thyatira: False teaching (Rev 2:20).
  5. Sardis: Fake reputation (Rev 3:1). Incomplete deeds (Rev 3:2).
  6. Philadelphia: None.
  7. Laodicea: Lukewarm (Rev 3:16). Wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, naked (Rev 3:17).

The holy God expects a holy church with holy Christians. Though we may be good in many ways, God is sorry when our love is lacking, when we compromise with the world, when we are pretentious rather than authentic, and especially when we are lukewarm and blindly unaware of our true inner state. On the last day, they will be many who say, “Lord, Lord,” but Jesus will respond, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!” (Mt 7:21,23).

IV. The Command: All are encouraged to listen and overcome (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 29; 3:5-6, 12-13, 21-22), and they will be blessed. “To him who overcomes” (NIV 1984) is replaced with “To the one who is victorious” (NIV 2011).

  1. Ephesus: Remember. Repent (Rev 2:5). {Eat from the tree of life (Rev 2:7)}
  2. Smyrna: Be faithful (Rev 2:10). {Receive the crown of life (Rev 2:10); not hurt by the second death (Rev 2:11)}
  3. Pergamum: Repent (Rev 2:16). {Hidden manna, white stone, new name (Rev 2:17)}
  4. Thyatira: Hold on (Rev 2:25). {Authority over the nations, morning star (Rev 2:27-28)}
  5. Sardis: Wake up. Remember. Repent (Rev 3:2,3). {Dressed in white, name acknowledged in heaven (Rev 3:5)}
  6. Philadelphia: Hold on (Rev 3:11). {God’s name, God’s city, new name written on him (Rev 3:12)}
  7. Laodicea: Buy gold, white clothes, salve (Rev 3:18). {Sit with Jesus on his throne (Rev 3:21)}

We should remember God’s grace, repent of our sins, and faithfully persevere by his grace. Yet all of these biblical commands and imperatives, even if obeyed, would be unable to save us, for our own deceitful hearts incline toward evil (Gen 6:5), and deceive ourselves (Jer 17:9). Even our very best and pure deeds are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Thus, all of these commands are able to give life only because of what Jesus has already done for us on the cross (Rev 1:5). When we remember the grace of Jesus, his commands are never burdensome (1 Jn 5:3). If they are, it is because we fail to understand the gospel on account of our own hearts being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:13).

V. The Christ

  1. Ephesus: Faithful Friend (Rev 2:1).
  2. Smyrna: Living Savior (Rev 2:8).
  3. Pergamum: Warrior Lord (Rev 2:12).
  4. Thyatira: Heart-Searcher (Rev 2:18,23).
  5. Sardis: Judge (Rev 3:1).
  6. Philadelphia: Sovereign King (Rev 3:7)
  7. Laodicea: Ruler of Creation (Rev 3:14)

Despite our incorrigible sins, Jesus is ever faithful to love us (Jn 13:1; Heb 13:8; 2 Tim 2:13). He is our friend who never leaves us or forsakes us (Heb 13:5), and who promises to be with us to the very end of the age (Mt 28:20). He died for us and now lives forever (Rev 1:18), so that we who should die may live. He is the Living Word, the searcher of our hearts and the righteous Judge to help us truly know ourselves, so that we may come clean before him, and be purified. He is the Sovereign King and Ruler of all Creation, the King of kings and Lord of lords, yet he is ever loving and merciful, and rich in kindness, tolerance (forbearance) and patience (Rom 2:4; Eph 2:4; Tit 3:5).

When David stumbled in the sin of adultery and murder, God, through the prophet Nathan, said to him, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?'” (2 Sam 12:7-9) Though David was blessed in countless ways, he stumbled in sin. Though David was far from God, God’s love for him did not change, and through Nathan, called him back to repentance, as recorded in Psalm 51. As David did, may we listen to his word, repent, and overcome by God’s help. Behold him, so that by his grace we may be transformed into his image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

Let us hear and listen and take to heart a final word from Rev 3:19-20. 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.” God is not like a homeless transient who needs to come in to be helped and served by us. The doctrine of divine aseity holds that God is entirely self-sufficient, that he is not dependent upon any other thing either for his existence or for his nature. Our God of aseity (self-existence) has no needs (Acts 17:25; Ps 90:2), including no need of us humans. But God has bound himself to us to share with us his boundless love and joy. Yet in our sin, foolishness and self-deception, we think and live and express ourselves as though we might find fulfillment somewhere in the world and became vile idolators. Despite ourselves, God graciously continues his appeal to the churches and to us, at great cost to himself (Rev 1:5), so that we might listen to his tender voice, and open the door of our hearts to him. Will you do so?


  1. Morris, Leon, The Book of Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1987, 46-57.

  2. Jensen, Irving L, Revelation: A Self-Study Guide. Chicago: Moody Publishers; New Edition edition, 1990.

  3. MacArthur, John, Because the Time is Near: John MacArthur Explains the Book of Revelation. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2007.

  4. MacArthur, John, The MacArthur Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, updated edition, 2006.

  5. The ESV Study Bible.

February 15, 2012

Tim Chester: Communities of Performance versus Communities of Grace

Tucked away in the November, 2008 archives of Timothy Chester’s blog is a fascinating distinction between two types of Christian community. He writes:

In performance-oriented churches people pretend to be okay because their standing within the church depends on it. A ‘sorted’ person is seen as the standard or the norm, and anyone who is struggling is seen as sub-standard or sub-Christian. In this kind of environment to acknowledge that you’re struggling with sin is difficult and distressing.But this is the opposite of grace. Grace acknowledges that we are all sinners, we are all messed up people, all struggling, all doubting at a functional level. But grace also affirms that in Christ we all belong, all make the grade, all are welcome, all are Christians (there are no lesser Christians).

Imagine such a church for a moment:

  • Here is Andrew: he sometimes uses po rn because he struggles to find refuge in God.
  • Here’s Pauline: she sometimes has panic attacks because she struggles to believe in the care of her heavenly Father.
  • Here’s Abdul: he sometimes looses his temper because he struggles to believe that God is in control.
  • Here’s Georgina: she sometimes has bouts of depression because she struggles to believe God’s grace.
Communities of Performance Communities of Grace
*the leaders appear sorted *the leaders are vulnerable
*the community appears respectable *the community is messy
*meetings must be a polished performance *meetings are just one part of community life
*identity is found in ministry *identity is found in Christ
*failure is devastating *failure is disappointing, but not devastating
*actions are driven by duty *actions are driven by joy
*conflict is suppressed or ignored *conflict is addressed in the open
*the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they’re sorted) *the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)

When they [Abdul, Paulina, Georgina and Andrew]  come together they accept one another and celebrate God’s grace towards each other. They rejoice that they are all children of God through the work of Christ. And they remind one another of the truths each of them needs to keep going and to change. It’s a community of grace, a community of hope, a community of change.

In a later post, Chester noted that communities of performance impede mission; that is to say they prevent real ministry from taking place:

Communities of Performance Communities of Grace
*talk about grace, but communicate legalism *people can see grace in action
*unbelievers can’t imagine themselves as Christians *unbelievers feel like they can belong
*don’t attract broken people *attract broken people
*the world is seen as threatening and ‘other’ *people are loved as fellow-sinners in need of grace
*conversion is superficial (people are called to respectable behaviour) *conversion is radical (people are called to transformed affections)
*people are secretly hurting *people are open about their problems
*people see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion *people see faith and repentance as daily activities
*the gospel is for unbelievers *the gospel is for both unbelievers and believers