Lessons from the seven churches of Revelation
Part 1: Don't forsake your first love, and keep persevering!
Over 1900 years ago, seven churches received a letter. This letter, written by John about what Jesus had revealed to him, spoke of many things to come. But it also included letters written to each of the seven churches by name. This letter we now know as the book of Revelation and it's found, fittingly, at the end of the bible.
In this series of articles, we're going to look at two chapters that were written directly to these seven churches. While they're written for seven distinct churches of the time, the repeated command "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:22), reminds us that they're also written for the church today - that's us!
So with that in mind, why don't you grab your Bible, or visit http://www.biblegateway.com before we go any further? There's great stuff for all of us in these letters.
Real churches, real issues
A few months ago, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to the remains of these seven historic cities, located in modern-day Turkey. Not only was I able to see that these places were in fact real locations, but I was also able to learn a bit about the cities and the people there, and understand the seven letters more clearly.
In most of the letters, Jesus commends the churches for their strengths - but he also, often very strongly, reprimands them for their weaknesses. Let's take a look at the first two, written to the churches in Ephesus and Smyrna.
Letter One: To the Church in Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
The Ephesians are recognised for earnestly working for God, persevering through the trials, and for not listening to false teachers who have come their way (v.2-3, 6). So far, so good. But then comes the bombshell. "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love."
The ruins found at the ancient city of Ephesus today show us that it was a pretty impressive place - when you walk in, you can look down the ancient street and see a huge majestic, multi-storied structure ... and that was just their library. Somehow, the church at Ephesus had got preoccupied with the stuff of this world - maybe they were distracted by all they could achieve in their city, all the books that could be read, all the buildings that could be designed. They had somehow strayed away from their strong faith in Christ that Paul had commended them for in his letter to them a few years before. Jesus calls them to repent, and return to him, before judgment comes.
What we can learn: I don't know about you, but I find this letter pretty confronting. Sometimes I think I'm just like the believers at Ephesus - I go to church, do ministry, and yet somehow get caught up in the stuff of this world and don't put my love for God as the most important thing in my life. I fall away from the zeal of wanting to know and love him more and more.
Just like it was for the Ephesians, it's a big reminder for us to never abandon our deep love for our God and Saviour.
Letter Two: To the Church in Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)
The letter to the church in Smyrna can pretty much be summarised in one word: Persevere. Jesus warns them of the trials to come, saying "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." (v.10)
In modern day Smyrna (now called Izmir), there's a church called St. Polycarp's. It's named after the bishop of Smyrna in the second century, who according to Christian tradition was martyred (killed) for his faith. "Eighty and six years I have served him ..." he's believed to have said "... how then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?"
What we can learn: Just as Jesus warned in the letter, persecution came to the church there, and they took his words to heart. The church at Smyrna knew that being faithful to Jesus was more important than life. Will we perservere with Jesus when persecution comes our way? Keep trusting in the one who will give you the crown of life.
The church today
There's two HUGE things we can take away from just these first two letters: not to forsake our first love, and to persevere through the tough times.
The refrain which Jesus says over and over again in these letters is this: "He who has an ear, let me him hear what the spirit says to the seven churches." (v.7, 11)
Are you listening?