Fundamental Evangelistic Association

selected articles from:

©

FOUNDATION

A MAGAZINE OF BIBLICAL FUNDAMENTALISM
Dennis W. Costella, Editor; Karel Beyer, Production Manager; Matt Costella, Copy Editor M.H. Reynolds, Jr. (1919-1997), Founding Editor

Christ Speaks to the Seven Churches
And Christ's Message to the Church in the Twenty-First Century Part 1
by Matt Costella ©Foundation Magazine, Jan-Feb 2001

BELIEVERS IN FUNDAMENTALIST churches today often take the time to study and scrutinize
Paul's epistles to the early New Testament churches, but they often overlook John's epistles to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Yet these seven "mini-epistles" found in Revelation chapters two and three contain a wealth of truth for the church today, just as Paul's epistles to the churches at Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Galatia, Thessalonica and Colossae are applicable to the lives of all believers in this present age. As the Word of God, these letters to the seven churches should be studied and applied just as any other portion of the New Testament, for they contain words of encouragement, exhortation or rebuke to believers in the twenty-first century Church. Sadly, the Church through the ages has usually taken one of two approaches to the interpretation and application of these "mini-epistles." On the one hand, many tend to either neglect the study of the entire book of Revelation or spiritualize it in a manner so as to drain it of any relevance to the Church today. On the other hand, many tend to view these messages primarily as a collective, panoramic view of church history throughout the ages, thus failing to apply the messages for each church to believers in the present age. Yet the messages to these churches must be interpreted and applied as one would interpret and apply any other epistle written to an early New Testament church. These letters to the churches must be taken literally, for they were literally written to living believers at a particular time in history. Yet these letters are also exemplary in that they can be applied to the church today just as the Pauline, Petrine and other Johannine epistles were written to literal local churches in the past but apply to the New Testament Church in the present. The apostle John wrote the letters to these churches, and the entire book of Revelation, while exiled on the isle of Patmos as a result of his testimony for the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 1:19 contains a general outline of the entire book of Revelation; in this verse, Jesus Christ tells John to "write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." The first chapter of Revelation contains a detailed description of those things that John had already seen up to that point–the resurrected, glorified Christ as He stood in the midst of the candlesticks (signifying the seven churches to which John wrote). "The things which are" refers to Christ's messages to seven different churches that existed at the time John penned the book of Revelation. These accounts of "the things which are" comprise the second and third chapters of Revelation. Finally, "the things which shall be hereafter" refers to John's vision of that which is still yet future, even today–the seven-year Tribulation, the second coming and millennial reign of Christ and the eternal state. These events are

recorded in chapters 4-22. As Revelation chapters 1-3 reveals, Christ is walking in the midst of the churches today acting as their Inspector and Judge. He is observing the outward actions and attitudes as well as the hearts and motives of those within the church. A careful study of Christ's messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor is important for the Church today for several reasons. First, such a study reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the early churches, and today's churches can likewise measure themselves against the positive and negative aspects of those local bodies of believers. Second, such a study reveals the mind of Christ concerning the various motives and activities of the local churches. The reader can discover Christ's thoughts concerning suffering, false doctrine, love, lethargy and many other characteristics of these early churches. Finally, such a study should serve as a true blessing and encouragement, for it reveals to the reader that Christ is walking in the midst of the churches and is intimately acquainted with their every thought, word, motive and deed. In a day when it seems as though the majority of professing Christians are readily espousing a pragmatic philosophy of ministry while searching for ecumenical unity at almost any cost and are lethargic in their approach to applying and understanding sound doctrine, it is necessary to read and study Christ's words to these seven specific churches in Asia Minor, for the messages of these miniepistles are just as applicable to the Church today as they were to the early churches approximately 1900 years ago. God's Word is timeless and always relevant in every age.

Ephesus Revelation 2:1-7
Background: Accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, the apostle Paul founded the church at Ephesus (Acts 18: 18-22). Shortly after the establishment of this church, wicked men attempted to imitate the apostle Paul's special gifts. But such signs were soon proven to be counterfeit, and the Word of God grew and prevailed in this city (Acts 19: 8-20). Yet Paul knew that in this region, false teachers lingered and were ready to destroy the work of God. He called the Ephesian elders together at Miletus and warned them about the wolves in sheep's clothing that would arise and attempt to destroy their church (Acts 20:17-38). The church at Ephesus was surrounded by materialism, paganism, heathenism and immorality. Christ's Commendation: Christ commended those in the church at Ephesus for several qualities. First, they were hard workers, or "laborers, " for Christ who persevered for His name's sake. These believers were not lazy nor idle. Rather, they spent their time working diligently and therefore growing weary as a result of their labors. Second, they were patient and steadfast. Despite the fatigue from their labors, they were persistent in doing that which they knew needed to be accomplished. Third, they hated and condemned that which was morally wrong. They kept themselves pure from immorality despite the fact that licentious behavior surrounded them. Finally, Christ commended them for abhorring that which was theologically wrong. Apparently, the leaders in the church at Ephesus had heeded Paul's warning to them recorded in Acts 20: 17-31. The believers in-this church hated the deeds of the false teachers known as the Nicolaitans (v. 6). They exercised spiritual discernment and kept themselves pure from compromise and theological error. They did not tolerate false teachers, nor did they give up in the battle for truth even though it was often wearisome to carry on. While they physically grew weary in the work, they did not grow weary of the work. They persevered patiently and worked diligently for Jesus Christ. Christ's Complaint: Despite such admirable works, Christ had a solemn rebuke for this church: It had left its first love (v. 4). While the church at Ephesus appeared to be the perfect church from the outside, Christ knew their hearts, and He knew that something was missing: a love for Him that fueled their motivation for service. The first-generation Ephesian believers possessed an unwavering love for Jesus Christ, as is evident in Acts 19:17-20. These believers changed their lifestyles as a result of their

unwavering love for Him. But this second generation of Ephesian believers consisted of callous Christians. They worked hard for the cause of Christ as they contended for the faith and fought for doctrinal purity, but they lacked a yieldedness to Him due to their waning love for Him. First, the Lord commanded them to "remember" (v. 5)–they were to take time to recall the joy of their salvation that they experienced when they were first abiding in Christ and feeling the peace of God in their hearts. The church will not realize its need to possess a love for Christ unless it remembers what it is missing in the first place. Second, Christ commanded this church to "repent" (v. 5)–this is an act of the mind that determines a change in behavior. Once these believers remembered the joy, sweetness and reality of their "first love," they needed to decide with God's help that they would desire to know that same love once again. Finally, Christ counseled them to return to Him-this is an active change of behavior. He said, "Do the first works" (v. 5). What were the "first works"? They consisted of simple faith in Jesus Christ and a genuine love for Him for what He had done for them on Calvary's cross. Love for Christ is the proper motivation for Christian service. Most likely, many Fundamentalists today are valiantly contending for the faith and fighting one battle after another; but for some, their motivation for service falls short: Love for their Savior is no longer the reason behind their preaching, teaching and contending for the Faith. It is certainly easy to become so caught up in the battle that a proper perspective and motivation for service is lost, but Godly, Bible-believing Fundamentalist churches today need to especially take heed to Christ's message to the church of Ephesus: Outward "good works" mean little to Christ if one is serving Him for the wrong reason. The consequences of failing to heed Christ's counsel were serious. Christ said He would cause the church of Ephesus to lose its influence to the point that it would no longer exist as a light in the midst of darkness (v. 5). Eventually, their light did burn out. Even today, any work not motivated by love for the Savior is empty and futile. First Corinthians 13: 1-3 further reveals the importance of love as the impetus for service. Perhaps some Fundamentalist churches and ministries through the past century have ceased to exist as a result of an improper motivation for service. Fundamentalist ministries today that seek to preach, teach and contend for the faith should carefully consider Christ's message to this church at Ephesus and evaluate their own reasons for service to Christ.

Smyrna Revelation 2:8-11
Although Smyrna was a beautiful seaport town just 35 miles north of Ephesus, it was a city full of hatred against Christians. The church at Smyrna was plagued by severe physical persecution at the hands of evil men and false teachers within the city who were fueled by the Jewish community which hated the followers of Christ. Even several years after John had penned this small epistle to the believers in the church at Smyrna, the pagans within the city murdered Polycarp, the 90-year-old bishop of Smyrna who served as a student of the apostle John. Christ's message to the church at Smyrna was short-only four verses long. Yet these four brief verses contain unparalleled words of comfort to this church. Christ introduced Himself as "the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive" (v. 8). Even this introduction was comforting, for it revealed to the readers in the church at Smyrna that Christ is the eternal One who humbled Himself and came to earth, who willingly suffered and died on Calvary's cross but is now alive forevermore! Christ's resurrection assured these saints at Smyrna, who were being martyred for their faith, of their own future resurrection and everlasting life. This comforting introduction revealed to the believers that the one for whom they were dying was the one who had the power to guarantee their personal resurrection one day yet future. Jesus Christ knew about the "tribulation" that the saints at Smyrna endured (v. 9). This strong word does not merely refer to trials or difficult situations but rather to physical persecution and even martyrdom. He was also aware of their "poverty," that is, their utter lack of material possessions. This

abject, physical poverty consisted of the loss of all material possessions as a result of the persecution these believers were called upon to endure. History reveals that the Jews in Smyrna incited the pagans in the city to unlawfully loot the possessions of the Christians and drive them into hiding. Yet Christ also knew "the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not" (v. 9). The Lord could see the very hearts of those who were afflicting His children and knew that the believers at Smyrna were being persecuted falsely in the name of religion. He explained to them that Satan was the mastermind behind this great persecution, calling the instigators the "synagogue of Satan." In verse ten, Christ even tells the believers that Satan himself would cast some into prison and mastermind an intense period of persecution that would last for ten days. The church today must remember that in the past, Satan has persecuted the true church in the name of "religion" and he will continue to do everything in his power to ruin the testimony of the church. Christ's Commendation: The resurrected, glorified Christ declared to these faithful saints, "Thou art rich" (v. 9). While they were physically destitute, these saints at Smyrna were spiritually wealthy. Christ's statement of commendation tells today's church much about the way in which the believers reacted to their persecutors. They did not act like victims and wallow in self-pity. Rather, they continued steadfastly in the work of the Lord and refused to allow their intense persecution to detract from what they knew needed to be accomplished for Christ. Once again, Bible-believing Fundamentalist churches can learn much from the believers at Smyrna. While today's North American church does not even remotely begin to experience any form of persecution similar to that of the church at Smyrna, believers today can learn from this text that when they are scorned, scoffed or ridiculed for the Biblical positions they take, they must not retreat from the battle nor act as though they are the "persecuted remnant" who are left alone to fight the battles of the faith. Rather, their attitude should be one of holy resolve and persistent diligence in that which God has called them to do. Christ's Complaint: Christ did not utter one word of complaint against this church. He did not find any fault with the way in which the believers at Smyrna responded to their persecution or with the works accomplished by these faithful saints. Concerning the absence of any charge against the church at Smyrna, G. Campbell Morgan noted that in this instance, "silence is more eloquent than all language. " The conduct and the character of this church perfectly satisfied the Savior. Christ's Counsel: Christ's instruction to the church at Smyrna was to "fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer" and "be thou faithful unto death" (v.10). Christ never gave them advice on how to avoid the persecution but only exhorted them to be fearless and faithful to Him even though they would suffer for His sake. They would one day receive a crown of life (v. 10) and would not experience the second death (v. 11). These martyred believers had no need to fear–nor do faithful believers today, for they will receive the approval of their Savior and are assured of escaping the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Christ likewise exhorts His children today to diligently honor and serve Him at all costs. Believers must know why they believe what they believe and remain rooted and grounded in the Faith (1 Pet. 3:13-18). They must also realize that God often allows suffering in order to make the believer more suitable for the Master's use (notice Phil. 1:27-30 and I Pet. 4:1-2). The church today must be aware that in the midst of trials and temptations, the manner in which it responds is vitally important. Believers need to use such times of difficulty to honor and glorify Christ who suffered and died for all (1 Pet. 4:12-16).

Pergamos Revelation 2:12-17
The city of Pergamos (or Pergamum), which was located approximately 50 miles north of Smyrna, was the great religious center of the Middle East at the time John wrote the book of Revelation. Pergamos was home to the imperial cult which centered around the worship of the Roman emperor. It

also contained several notable temples to pagan gods and goddesses and was the site of the altar to Zeus. Christ introduced Himself to the church of Pergamos as the One having "the sharp sword with two edges" (v. 12). Symbolic of the Word of God which discerns both the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12), this sword is used by the Lord to judge and declare a verdict against whatever does not conform to His Word of Truth. The believers in the church at Pergamos needed to see Christ in this light. Christ told the believers in this church that He realized the difficult situation in which they found themselves: "I know... where thou dwellest" (v. 13). This comment is especially noteworthy, for Christ then adds that they were actually living in the very midst of Satan's domain. At the time of the writing of Revelation, Pergamos was the center of Satan's seat of power. Not only did he use its paganism and false religious systems to destroy the lives of its unsaved inhabitants, but he also attempted to destroy the local church. Despite popular belief, Satan is alive and actively working today as well, and he is the ruler of this present, evil world. But Christ knows that Satan controls the world system. He knows where Satan is located, and He knows how the believer can gain victory over the enemy of his soul. It is important to notice that Satan chose Pergamos, not Smyrna, to be the place of his personal, concentrated work. Although he fueled the persecution of the church at Smyrna, his own individual work focused upon pagan religion and the attempted infiltration of such a world system into the church. Likewise today, Satan is using "religion" and false teaching even within the church-to lure unsuspecting individuals away from a relationship with God. The Lord told the believers at Pergamos that He knew the difficult situation in which they found themselves. He knew that they were surrounded by unparalleled worldliness and paganism. Even though these believers lived "in the world," they needed to refrain from partaking "of the world." Christ's Commendation: Christ commended the believers for holding fast to His name and not denying the faith (v.13). They remained loyal to Jesus Christ, the center of their belief. They resolutely affirmed the Person, work and deity of Christ as they preached sound doctrine. Despite the many false religions around them that certainly mocked their belief in Jesus Christ as God and as the only Savior of mankind, they held fast to the Person of Christ and did not renounce Him nor embrace a doctrine that rejected His very nature. Furthermore, they did not distort nor misrepresent the nature or Person of Christ in a misguided attempt to draw unbelievers to a knowledge of God. Christ told them, "Thou ... ~hast not denied My faith." Such "faith" to which Christ refers pertains to the body of truth that concerns His perfect, finished work on Calvary's cross and the pure teaching that had been delivered to the church. This faith belongs to Christ. It was not theirs to distort or deny. The church at Pergamos believed the Truth and faithfully affirmed It, even to the point of death. Sadly, the church today often feels as though it has a right, or even the prerogative, to change the message, to dilute the message or to make the message more palatable to the masses. Yet the body of truth revealed to believers is God's message-the believers at Pergamos understood this and respected it. They preached sound doctrine and did not succumb to the pressure to deny or misrepresent their Savior. Christ's Complaint: Despite the fact that these believers did not deny nor distort God's message, Christ brought a grave charge against them: They did not always separate from false doctrine. Christ said, "Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam " and "so hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans" (vv. 14, 15). Christ's complaint against the church at Pergamos centered around its lack of separation from those who espoused false teaching. While the corporate church body did not hold to false doctrine, some in the assembly did, and the church did not separate from them. The problem with the church at Pergamos was that these believers tolerated error even though they did not embrace it themselves. The church was guilty of fellowshipping with those who held to false doctrine. Christ's Counsel: First, Jesus Christ instructed the church to repent-they had to change their mind

concerning who they would allow to remain in their fellowship. Notice that He directed this exhortation toward the church ("thee"), not to the individuals who were espousing the false doctrine ("them"). Second, He instructed the church to take action. The only course this church could take was to separate from those who embraced false doctrine-to exclude them from their fellowship. Christ said, "Repent; or else ..." (v. 16). He did not leave room for dialogue or compromise. He knew the course of action they needed to take, and if they refused to exclude these people from their fellowship, Christ said He would "fight against them with the sword of [His] mouth" (v. 16). Again, the Word of God is the standard by which man will be judged, and those who reject or twist the Scriptures will do so only to their own destruction. The message to Pergamos is extremely relevant to the church today, for many Evangelical and even Fundamentalist churches tend to preach sound doctrine, proclaim the Gospel to the unsaved and even contend for the faith but refuse to separate from those who embrace false doctrine. Many leaders within professing Christendom today undermine the Biblical doctrine of separation when, in reality, God's Word clearly declares that separation from false doctrine, and even from believers who espouse false doctrine, is necessary. Refusing to take God's Word seriously concerning this matter is a dangerous mistake, for compromise and tolerance of error are greatly displeasing to the Lord. Fundamentalist, Bible-believing Christians today must make sure that they are not only doctrinally sound (like those in Pergamos) but also doctrinally pure in their fellowships.
Continued in Part 2 FOUNDATION Magazine is available from the Fundamental Evangelistic Association. Click here to go to the ordering form / price list. Return to FOUNDATION Magazine Index Page

Fundamental Evangelistic Association
selected articles from:

©

FOUNDATION

A MAGAZINE OF BIBLICAL FUNDAMENTALISM
Dennis W. Costella, Editor; Karel Beyer, Production Manager; Matt Costella, Copy Editor M.H. Reynolds, Jr. (1919-1997), Founding Editor

Christ Speaks to the Seven Churches
And Christ's Message to the Church in the Twenty-First Century Part 2
by Matt Costella ©Foundation Magazine, Mar-Apr 2001
Continued from Part 1...

Thyatira Revelation 2:18-29
Unlike the other cities already mentioned in Revelation chapter two, Thyatira was not a major center of religion or political power. Rather, it was a small, seemingly insignificant city known in the first

century for its trade guilds and its production of dye. Yet despite the city's political, social and religious inconsequence, the Lord issued a specific, important message to the church at Thyatira, a message that the Church in the twenty-first century likewise needs to heed. Christ's Commendation: Christ knew the works of the believers in Thyatira, and He first commended this church for its love ("charity"). This agape love involved an unselfish love for others. Christ knew that these believers selflessly loved God and their fellow brethren and that this love was their motivation for service. Second, He commended them for their service, for He knew that they genuinely desired to help others in need. The word service in verse 19 means "assistance." Their compassionate love compelled them to aid needy individuals within the church. Both a spirit of love and a humble attitude of service motivated the works of the believers in Thyatira. Third, Christ commended them for their faith, knowing that they possessed complete confidence in Him. He understood that their works were accomplished out of a spirit of steadfastness to His Word and a knowledge that what He said would certainly come to pass. Fourth, He commended them for their patience. He recognized that they continued to endure in their work for His name's sake despite the unpleasant circumstances in which they found themselves. Finally, Christ commended this body of believers for continually improving upon its works. Not only did the Savior see their activity for Him and not only was He aware of the motivation behind their activity, but He also knew that their works only grew more perfect as time passed. Rather than slowing down in their service for Christ, these believers became more productive and motivated as they served the Lord. Christ's commendation of the church at Thyatira in verse 19 should serve as a measuring stick for today's churches. Bible-believing churches in this present age must evaluate whether they are serving the Lord out of a proper motivation and continually growing in Christ and improving upon their service for Him. Sadly, many churches today are satisfied to simply meet the status quo. Rather than attempting to do more for their Lord, they try to merely survive by doing as little as possible. But Christ commends only those churches that seek to grow and excel in their service for Him as they purpose to glorify Him out of a pure, loving heart. Christ's Complaint: Despite His words of praise for the church at Thyatira, Christ also leveled a serious charge against this body of believers: It allowed a woman who called herself a prophetess to remain in the congregation and influence the believers (v. 20). Notice that Christ does not accuse the church of corporately committing certain sins, but rather, He condemns the church for allowing or tolerating sin within the congregation. The issue in the church at Thyatira, like that of Pergamos, was their theological compromise and refusal to separate from that which was contrary to the teaching of the Word of God. Such unwillingness to separate from sin and error is extremely serious in the sight of God. These believers within the church refused to separate from and discipline, this woman who claimed to have received extra-biblical revelations (to the extent that she even called herself a "prophetess") and who induced the believers to commit fornication and embrace idolatry. This false prophetess claimed to have received special knowledge of what Christ described as the "depths of Satan" (V. 24), which led some within the church of Thyatira to commit immorality and idolatry against the Lord. As in the city of Pergamos, Satan used sexual licentiousness to destroy the lives of men and women within the city of Thyatira, clothing such wickedness in a cloak of religion. This woman's extra-biblical "revelation" supposedly gave those within the church license to do that which God had clearly forbidden them to do, namely, to commit fornication and practice idolatry, causing the believers both physical and spiritual ruin. Christ gave this woman a period of time to repent of her false teachings, but she refused to repent (v. 21). Consequently, He declared that judgment would fall upon this false prophetess and her followers. Any who heeded and practiced her doctrine, even those within the church at Thyatira, would surely die; this judgment would serve as an outward example of Christ's omniscience and His lack of toleration for sexual and spiritual fornication and idolatry. Christ's Counsel: While this woman did teach and seduce some within the church, many did not

follow her ways; however, they were guilty of keeping quiet and tolerating her false teaching. To those who refused to heed her doctrine (that is, to claim to know "the depths of Satan"), Christ reminded them, "I will put upon you none other burden" (v. 24). To what was Christ referring? One must keep in mind that He was writing to those in the church who had refused to believe in this woman's "advanced revelation" and follow her licentious behavior. When Christ told these believers that He would "put upon [them] none other burden," He was reminding them that they would not receive any other messages from Him besides that which had been already written by the New Testament prophets and apostles and that which was currently being written to them in the form of this epistle. The "burden" does not refer to trials, for the church would certainly experience difficulties as they lived in a corrupt, pagan culture. Nor does the "burden" refer to yet another woman who would similarly invade the church with false teaching, for God had not cast the false prophetess upon this church in the first place. This "burden" refers to additional divine revelation beyond that which they had already possessed and that which they were receiving from the apostle John. The word burden is used in a similar manner in Acts 15:22-29. This text reveals that in the early church, certain Judaizers were telling believers they needed to keep the Law and be circumcised. Yet Paul and others declared that they would "lay upon [the believers in the churches] no greater burden than these necessary things" (v. 28). While the believers needed to refrain from being a stumbling block to weaker brethren in the faith (v. 29), the only requirement for salvation was faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The Message was settled once and for all. Christ instructed the faithful, "But that which ye have already hold fast till I come" (v. 25). He promised the church that it would not receive any other revelation from God; thus, they would know that any who professed to have obtained another message from the Lord was actually a false messenger of Satan. Christ's Message to the church at Thyatira, and His Message to the Church today, is complete. The doctrine to which the Church is to adhere is enunciated solely in the written Word of God, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ to the apostle John was the last of the Written Word. Like those believers in Thyatira, the Church today must hold fast to the Word she has already received until the return of Christ; and accordingly, she must reject any other message that someone claims to have received from God.

Sardis Revelation 3:1-6
Sardis was a city entrenched in worldly, pagan activity like that of the other cities already studied. Yet the church at Sardis is unique from the four churches previously addressed by Christ in that it was completely enveloped by the worldliness that surrounded it—the church at Sardis could not even be distinguished from the world! It is extremely important to study and better understand this church because so many leaders in the present realm of Christendom are actually exhorting and encouraging today's churches to live like the world and conform to the lifestyle, attitude and actions of unbelievers. Fundamentalists today must keep in mind what Christ has to say to a church that is so similar to many congregations existing in this present day—churches that fit right in with the world. Notice how Christ introduced Himself to this church: "He that hath the seven Spirits of God" (v. 1). The "seven Spirits of God" likely denotes the ministry of the Holy Spirit as proclaimed in Revelation 1:4 as well as Isaiah 11:2-3. The Holy Spirit fulfills many duties, one of which is to guide the believer into the truth of the Word of God so long as the believer is yielded to Him (Isaiah refers to the Spirit of "wisdom," "understanding," "counsel" and "knowledge"—all denoting the idea of an acquisition of Truth). The problem in the church at Sardis centered around its lack of yieldedness to the Spirit, both on the part of the laity and even on the part of the pastor-notice how the introduction adds that Christ is the One who has not only the seven Spirits of God but also "the seven stars." While Christ held up the pastor of the church in a place of leadership and authority, this pastor's lack of submission to the will of

God caused the church to plunge into spiritual ruin. Today, Christians sitting in the pews of Biblebelieving churches need to ask themselves whether or not they are yielded to the will of God and heeding the guiding ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Likewise, the pastors and leaders of these churches need to ascertain as to whether they themselves are surrendered to the will of God and, thus, completely submissive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Christ's Commendation: Like His addresses to the previous churches, Christ told the church at Sardis that He knew their works (v. 1). But this time, these words seem to have been uttered in a completely different tone. Now, Christ's words usher fear and dread into the hearts of the believers rather than the typical joy and comfort that comes as a result of knowing that Christ is pleased with a "job well done. " Christ said nothing commendable concerning the service of these believers in Sardis. Rather, He stated, "Thou hast a name that thou livest." The church at Sardis appeared to be alive on the outside, for it was doing all it could to live up to its reputation within the community. But notice that this church was void of any reputation that was praiseworthy in the eyes of Christ. Therefore, its "name" (v. 1) and notability must have been rooted in that which was popular with the world rather than that which was pleasing and acceptable to the Savior. The worldly society of Sardis apparently looked at this church and was enthralled with what it saw. It appeared to the unsaved that this church could meet their perceived needs and give them the counsel and direction they felt they needed—it was the "trendy," "alive" and "happening " place to be. But in reality, this church had nothing worthy of commendation in the eyes of its omniscient Inspector. Their outward works consisted only of that which the world found admirable. The church at Sardis apparently had a reputable name in the world, a reputation that likely brought them fame, fortune and recognition fro the worldly masses of people around them. Yet Christ knew the reality of their situation and observed that they were dead to spiritual things. These believers were more concerned about their reputation before the world than their reputation before their Savior. How similar this first-century church is to so many churches within professing Christendom today. A pragmatic, man-centered philosophy of ministry prevails in a growing number of Evangelical and even Fundamentalist churches. Rather than being concerned about honoring the Savior and remaining true to His Word, these churches attempt to appeal to the unsaved and find favor with the world rather than with God. If one were determined to find at least one commendable statement about this church, it could be noted that at least some within the congregation had refused to live and act like the world (v. 4). Notice how this differs from the churches previously studied—in those churches, any who compromised or held to false doctrine found themselves in the minority within the church. But in Sardis, the believers who did "not [defile] their garments" comprised the minority of the congregation. The fact that Christ said only "a few" in Sardis were not defiled reveals that the outward actions of this congregation were sorely displeasing in the sight of God. Christ's Complaint: Christ bluntly proclaimed, "Thou art dead." The believers at Sardis were inwardly dead. They possessed no living, intimate relationship with Christ despite the fact that they were His children. Outwardly, the world looked at this church and saw "success" and "prestige." Yet any who attended this church and hoped to find the "meat of the Word" being taught or lived out in the lives of its members would find no such thing. It is interesting to note in studying the church at Sardis that man's view of a "dead" church seems to be at complete odds with Christ's view of a "dead" church. Today, men and women believe a church to be "alive" if it features entertaining messages, moving music, lively drama and motivational speeches that both Christians and non-Christians alike can find enjoyable or helpful. They believe a church to be "dead" if they do not leave a service feeling amused, entertained or emotionally charged. Yet Christ defines a "dead" church as one that is comfortable with the world, applauded by the world and steeped in the ways of the world. In the Lord's eyes, an "alive" church, on the other hand, is one that faithfully preaches the whole Word of God and glorifies the Savior through Christ-honoring music and untainted fellowships. This dichotomy between man's definition and God's definition is yet another instance in

which it is evident that God's thoughts are not man's thoughts, neither are His ways man's ways (Isa. 55:8-9). Not only did Christ tell those in the church at Sardis that they were dead, but He also added, "I have not found thy works perfect before God" (v. 2). This church was not only inwardly dead, but outwardly dead as well. In the eyes of Christ, one cannot be out of fellowship with Him and simultaneously please Him through any outward works. The unsaved world looked at the superficial deeds of this church and saw life. God looked at the outward works of this church and saw utter emptiness. The word perfect in verse two means "to be complete or fulfilled." While these believers were most likely "going through the motions" on a regular basis (meeting each Sunday, praying, etc.), they were busier doing what they felt they needed to do rather than what God had actually commanded them to do. Their works were not perfect before God for two reasons: First, because they were inwardly shipwrecked in the faith, and second, because they outwardly fulfilled that which was popular in the sight of the world rather than in the sight of God. Christ's Counsel: First, Christ counseled this church to "be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die" (v. 2). What "remained" in this church? Those works that were not perfect before God: their weekly meetings, their prayers, their offerings, etc. in God's eyes, these acts were accomplished in vain; but since this church's works did still exist, the Lord exhorted it to support its outward actions through inward change so as to make this church at Sardis alive once again. Even the semblance of true Christianity that still existed would entirely disappear unless this church changed her ways. This is likewise true for Christians today on a personal level. Many leave good Fundamentalist churches to seek "greener pastures" in a New Evangelical or Charismatic congregation. Usually, however, the "problem" lies not with the church they left but with their inward attitudes and spiritual condition. Often, such individuals eventually end up forsaking anything even pertaining to orthodox Christianity. Remember, this continually happened to the Israelites of old who coveted the gods and religions of the nations around them and eventually fell prey to the snares of Satan. The flesh will never lead the believer to a closer relationship with his God. Believers must keep their eyes set upon the Word and will of the Savior, for only then can they experience true joy and satisfaction. Christ then exhorted the church to "remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent" (v. 3). First, they were to "remember" God's instructions to them. These believers already knew what was right. They had previously received and heard God's Word just as they were presently receiving His Word from Christ Himself through the pen of the apostle John. Second, they were to "hold fast" that which they had received and heard. They were to personally heed and apply the Word of God to their own lives. Finally, they were to "repent," that is, change their thinking about Christ and His Revelation to them. As with the churches at Ephesus (2:5) and Pergamos (2:16), Christ vowed to destroy the testimony of the local church at Sardis unless it changed its ways (v. 3). Christ was serious about error and worldliness and did not want His church to be identified with such wickedness. Fundamentalists today can easily point fingers at other churches that clearly fit the description of the church a Sardis, churches that appear to thrive and gain the applause of the world but are actually void of true spiritual life. But God desires for Fundamentalist churches that profess to be true to Him to examine themselves and determine whether or not they are falling short or beginning to follow path of pragmatism and spiritual " deadness. " He wants believers to look within themselves to see if they a perhaps "alive" in the eyes of others, but in reality, are actually dead. If true spirituality is found to be lacking, the believer must heed God's call to the church in the twenty-first century to remember, to hold fast and to repent. Blessings await the yielded, sanctified saint (v. 4).

Philadelphia Revelation 3:7-13

Philadelphia was a city much like its surrounding cities in that it was plagued by paganism, heathenism, wickedness and evil men who persecuted the true believers. But how did the believers in the local church at Philadelphia respond to their surroundings? It is evident from the Biblical text that they took advantage of every opportunity they had to serve God and be faithful to His Word despite their circumstances. As Christ stood in the midst of the church at Philadelphia and inspected their outward works as well as their inward motives, He had nothing negative to say to this church. The church at Smyrna was the only other church to which Christ never uttered a complaint. Compared to the church at Sardis, the congregation at Philadelphia was small and seemed insignificant, but remember that Christ said the large, "successful" church at Sardis was dead in His sight while this small, unpopular church at Philadelphia was spiritually thriving. Despite the similarities between Philadelphia and Smyrna, the believers in Philadelphia were not dying for the cause of Christ, as were those in Smyrna. They were suffering persecution, but not physical persecution to the point of death. So while the church at Smyrna needed to be reminded that Christ was God who was dead and is now alive, the believers at Philadelphia needed to hear that Christ was in complete control of all that was occurring around them. Notice how Christ introduced Himself to this church at Philadelphia (v. 7). First, He described Himself as "He that is holy. " This reveals His character. Christ is completely free from any sin or impurity, and because He is holy in His very nature, it is impossible for Him to be anything but holy. Only One who is holy can call the believer to a life of holiness (1 Pet. 1: 15). Second, Christ introduced Himself as "He that is true." This reveals Christ's conduct, His actions. Christ is the Author of all truth (for He is Truth), and all His works are accomplished in righteousness and justice. The believers in the church at Philadelphia needed to remember this fact. Third, Christ identified Himself as "He that hath the key of David, He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." This denotes Christ's kingship, His sovereignty and His authority over not only the Millennial Kingdom yet future but also over all the earth and over all the churches. It was Christ Himself who both opened doors of service for the believers in Philadelphia and also closed doors of opportunity at times. He wanted to remind these saints at Philadelphia of His holiness, truth and sovereignty. In verse eight, Christ told the church that He had specifically set before them an open door of opportunity and service. This "open door" must have been similar to that which the apostle Paul had desired when He entreated the Lord for an open "door of utterance" to proclaim the Word of God (see Col. 4:3 and 2 Cor. 2:12). While the specific "open door" that Christ set before the church at Philadelphia cannot be deduced from the text, it is obvious that these believers recognized the fact that the door was opened and they subsequently did all in their strength to take advantage of their Godgiven opportunity. Christ's Commendation: Christ told those in this church, "Thou hast a little strength" (v. 8). From the context, it is clear that this statement denotes the physical insignificance of these believers in the eyes of men but their spiritual power and strength in the eyes of God. The church at Philadelphia was small and insignificant—a remnant within the city—yet they possessed the necessary strength to accomplish the will of Christ in that city. This should serve as a warning to Fundamentalist churches today that seek to place a greater emphasis on numbers and programs than on the clear, consistent proclamation of the whole counsel of God. Conversely, it should serve as an encouragement to those faithful churches that are not large, impressive or influential in the eyes of men but are striving to be faithful and pure in the ministry to which they are called. God does not call the church to rely on the power of numbers or seek to gain political influence or devise social programs. On the contrary, the Lord is more concerned that the church honor and obey Him in spirit and in truth as it proclaims the Gospel, teaches the Word and contends for the Faith once delivered to the saints. Christ commended these believers for their fidelity to His Word. Not only did they possess a little strength, but, He stated, they "have kept My Word." This denotes this church's adherence to sound doctrine and subsequent obedience to it. They persistently and consistently obeyed the clear teaching of

God's Word and refused to tolerate error. To "keep" God's Word involves offensive action (obedience) as well as defensive reaction and caution (separation) from anything that contradicts God's Word. Christ then commended the believers at Philadelphia for not denying His name. This denotes the believers' inward attitudes—their true love and motivation for service. Not only did they refuse to renounce their faith when it would have been easy for them to do so in order to avoid strife and persecution, but they also labored for Christ for the right reasons. They did not leave their first love, but rather, they held fast to His name through both good times and bad. To "not deny [His] name" involves faithfulness to Christ—an attitude of the heart. Finally, Christ commended these believers for keeping the "word of [His] patience" (v. 10). Not only did those at Philadelphia adhere to the "faith once delivered" in its entirety, but specifically, they held fast to Christ's command to be patient unto His coming. They kept Christ's mandate to persevere and wait for His return—a command that is continually set before the church throughout the New Testament. Today, believers are likewise exhorted to stand firm on the truths of the Word of God as they wait for His coming (Jas. 5:8; 1 Jn. 2:28). The child of God is to "occupy, " or "do business," until the return of Christ (Lk. 19:13). Christ's Promises: To these faithful, righteous saints, Christ promised vindication (v. 9). This verse could possibly refer to an actual historical event to which the Church today is not privy, but most likely it pertains to the time when the unsaved will finally know of Christ's love for His Church and experience His judgment at the Great White Throne. Then, all will acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah and will know of His love for those who have believed in Him. For the church at Philadelphia, Christ outlined the future exaltation of believers and humiliation of unbelievers. Christ's second promise to the believers at Philadelphia was that He would deliver His saints out of the coming Tribulation (v. 10). This promise is not merely referring to general testing and persecution, for the saints at Philadelphia (and those in many other cities throughout the history of the Church) certainly did experience and continue to experience persecution. Concerning this deliverance, one must notice that Christ promised to "keep [the believers] from" a particular span of time: "the hour of temptation (testing)." One must also understand that this period of time consists of a great testing that will come upon the whole world in order to "try them" that dwell upon the earth. Finally, one must recognize that the believers are delivered "from" (εκ, meaning "from" or "out of" in the Greek) this span of time, not merely protected through it. It is evident through careful study of this passage that Christ is referring to the coming seven-year Tribulation. The church at Philadelphia possessed the Scriptures and was aware of that which Jesus and the apostles taught concerning the cataclysmic future events. But Christ told them they did not need to worry about enduring this horrible period of time. These believers in Philadelphia, as well as all believers who have died up to this point in the twentyfirst century, have been delivered from the Tribulation by virtue of their physical death. But even today, believers can have the assurance that they will not experience this seven-year period in which God will pour out His wrath on an unbelieving world. Those saints who are alive at Christ's coming (the rapture) will be caught up and delivered from this time of testing that will come upon the whole earth (1 Thess. 4:16-18). Christ also promised a crown, or a reward, to those faithful believers who held fast to His Word (v. 11). He exhorted the saints at Philadelphia to watch for His coming and to "hold that fast which thou hast" so they would not lose the reward they had laid up for themselves in heaven. Many of the other churches were to "watch out" because Christ would come upon them suddenly to remove their candlestick as a result of their infidelity to Him. But this "watching" on the part of the church at Philadelphia consisted of a hopeful expectation rather than a fearful, dreaded anticipation. Today, faithful Christians are assured of the same promises as those given to the Christ-honoring believers in Philadelphia—they will be vindicated one day, they will be delivered out of the seven-year Tribulation and they will receive a crown or reward for their faithfulness to the Savior. The church at Philadelphia was persistent and faithful in serving Christ, in watching for His coming and in taking

every opportunity He gave them to minister to others. This church was small and insignificant, yet the power of God rested upon it. Persistent obedience (action) and faithfulness (attitude) are the keys to a truly successful church. Fundamentalists today must sincerely examine themselves and seek to emulate the obedience and faithfulness of those in the church at Philadelphia. In doing so, they will glorify Christ in every aspect of their ministry, meet His approval and enjoy a blessed relationship with their Lord.

Laodicea Revelation 3:14-22
Christ's letter to the church at Laodicea contains a message deeply relevant to today's Fundamentalist, Bible-believing churches. Oftentimes, this church is unjustly vilified as an apostate church and is categorized as that which is outside the bounds of true Christianity. But such was not the case, for the text reveals that this church at Laodicea consisted of true believers who were walking afar off from a right relationship with their Savior. The believers in this church were self-deceived concerning their spiritual well-being and apathetic about their need to be "lights" and "witnesses" to those around them. Believers today have much to learn from the church at Laodicea and must not write it off as that which they are not or that which they could never become. No, Christians today must listen to what Christ said to this church and search their own hearts and lives just as He Himself is inspecting and searching the hearts and lives of all His children at this very moment. Like many of the surrounding communities, Laodicea was a city full of wealth and paganism. It is interesting to note that the church in Laodicea is mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament Scriptures. Four times in his letter to the church at Colossae (a city located only 11 miles from Laodicea) the apostle Paul referred to the congregation in Laodicea (2:1-3; 4:12-16). Paul was deeply concerned about the heart condition of these believers and told the Colossian saints to make sure that his epistle to them would be read to the church in Laodicea as well. Evidently, by the time John penned Christ's words to this church, it had already been established for many years, for when Paul had written his Colossian epistle several years earlier, the spiritual needs of the congregation in Laodicea were already obvious to him. Quite possibly, the church in Laodicea had been a sister church to the one in Colossae. Notice Christ's introduction to this church (v. 14). First, He introduced Himself as "the Amen." This word, in the New Testament context, means something that is established, positive and sure. It is also translated "verily" or "truly" in the New Testament. Jesus Christ is the "Amen." He is Surety and Truth, the ultimate Authority, the Certainty, the Amen. He is "the Truth" (Jn. 14:6) expressed in a Person. Second, He introduced Himself as "the faithful and true Witness." Jesus Christ is the all-faithful One and the true communication of God the Father to mankind. Nothing He says to the church is an inaccurate or untrue representation of the facts. Nothing He says can be challenged or debated because He is "the faithful and true Witness." Finally, He introduced Himself as "the beginning of the creation of God." The word beginning ( α ρ χ η ) means He is the cause or originator of creation. Colossians 1:15-18 relates this same fact. This statement not only reveals the glory due Christ, but it also continues to underlie the authority by which His letter to the church in Laodicea is written. Christ's Complaint: The Savior wrote, "Thou art neither cold nor hot" (vv. 15-16). Such a statement denoted the general spiritual condition of the church at Laodicea. Apparently, the terms "cold," "hot" and "lukewarm" describe three different spiritual states in which God classifies believers. To be cold is to be frozen, lifeless or void of any activity. To be hot is to be active, zealous and full of life and vitality. To be lukewarm is to be tepid, to have the name "Christian " but to actually be indifferent and apathetic to sound doctrine and faithful witness. To the church at Laodicea, Christ said He preferred that they would be either cold or hot rather than lukewarm. The fact that Christ would even admit that He preferred the church to be cold rather than lukewarm reveals both His extreme displeasure with lukewarmness and the spiritual peril of those who are found to be "lukewarm."

Because this church at Laodicea was lukewarm, Christ said He was ready to extinguish any flame that remained of the candlestick of Laodicea (just as He had promised to do with the other churches that did not heed His counsel). In fact, their lukewarmness was so distasteful to the Lord, so utterly intolerable, that He was ready to vomit the church from His mouth. Obviously, this church in its tepid state did more to harm to the cause of Christ than to advance His cause. The believers in Laodicea believed themselves to be prosperous (v. 17); they assessed their spiritual state as "rich, and increased with goods. " But this church was self-deceived. The believers thought they needed nothing from Christ because they possessed all the world could offer them. They relied upon their own efforts, programs and strategies in order to satisfy their own perceived needs. This selfsufficiency was nothing but lukewarmness in God's sight. Without doubt, one of the most dangerous delusions that any Fundamental church can have today is to think itself to "have need of nothing." For that matter, any self-delusion on the part of a local church concerning any matter is dishonoring to God and spiritually detrimental to those within the fellowship. Christ declared this church to be lukewarm, but the church, in turn, replied that it was rich and in need of nothing. Christ then pronounced it wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked (v. 17), denoting its true spiritual condition as judged by the omniscient Christ (notice the word order in vv. 15-17: "thou art ... thou sayest ... thou art"). These believers were "wretched"—they were oppressed with a great burden (cf. Rom. 7:24) but did not even realize it; "miserable"—they were pitiable and full of misery; "poor"—they were spiritually destitute to the point of beggary; "blind"—they were void of spiritual discernment; and "naked"—they did not possess any spiritual glory, light or outward fruit characteristic of true Christianity. Notice the contrast between the church at Laodicea and the church at Smyrna: The Laodicean church was physically rich but spiritually impoverished while the church at Smyrna was physically destitute yet spiritually wealthy. Christ's Counsel: Christ's instruction to this church was fourfold. First, they were to "buy of [Him] gold ... white raiment ... eye-salve" (v. 18)—Christ exhorted them to rely solely upon Him for their sufficiency. They needed "gold" because they were wretched, miserable and poor (v. 17). The gold represents true spiritual riches and satisfaction that can only be obtained through refining fire rather than ease and comfort alone. These believers needed to be different from the world, and such action would result in the scorn and persecution of the world but true spiritual blessing from Christ. They needed "white raiment" because they were naked and needed to clothe themselves not only in the righteousness of Christ which clothes every believer, but also in the righteousness of the saints which results from producing spiritual fruit and abiding in Christ. They needed "eye salve" because they were blind and could not see things as Christ saw them. These believers were destitute of wisdom and discernment and needed to realize that only conformity to the Word and will of God would cause their eyes to be opened. Second, Christ counseled them to be zealous (v. 19), that is, to be hot rather than lukewarm. After relying upon God for true spiritual riches and 20/20 vision, this church needed to return to her first love and zealously serve Him alone. Third, Christ admonished this church to repent, that is, to change its mind concerning itself and its relationship with the Lord. Finally, Christ entreated those in the church at Laodicea to "open the door" (v. 20), a statement that reveals Christ's patience and longsuffering with those who had forsaken Him. He desires to fellowship with His children, but He forces such fellowship upon no one. He stood at the door, hoping that even one man, woman or child in the church at Laodicea would hear His voice and open the door and fellowship with Him. Christ loved the church at Laodicea despite its apathy and self-delusion, and that is why He rebuked these believers so severely (v. 19). Yet He hated their spiritual condition. Notice once again Paul's statement concerning the church at Laodicea in Colossians 2:1-3. He wanted them to realize that true riches are only found in Christ and that the moment any church thinks itself rich and in need of nothing, it immediately becomes "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. " Yet hope is not lost. Christ is standing, knocking on the door and waiting for His children to return to fellowship with Him. He is the Judge and Inspector, standing in the midst of the churches. He knows the status of every

church today, and although man may deceive himself, he can never deceive the Lord. Believers must study and heed Christ's words to these seven early churches, for these congregations mirror thousands of local assemblies that exist today. Every church must determine where it stands in the eyes of the great Inspector and judge who knows the hearts. Such careful introspection can only be accomplished by measuring oneself against the very words of God found in the Holy Scriptures. Those who fall short must, even now, "remember, repent, and return."
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