July 27, 2006
Before we commence our study of the individual messages to the churches, I would like to take a moment and point out a few important details that apply to all the churches. All seven letters, to all seven churches, are personal, from the mouth of Christ Jesus from a position of glory and power, and all seven letters are divided into seven different parts.
Two of the churches, namely Smyrna and Philadelphia receive a special word of praise, from Christ, for their faithfulness and obedience.
Revelation 2:1, "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, these things says He who holds the seven stars in is right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands:"
As one believer so aptly put it, John was placed in the position of being Christ's secretary throughout these messages to the churches. He writes, only what the Lord tells him to write, without adding or taking away anything. In His obedience, John was simply taking dictation, as Christ was speaking these messages, and in his humility he was content in fulfilling this task. I mention this because so many today are called of God simply to be messengers, to take dictation if you will, and pass it on, and for some unexplained reason pride unfurls its wretched wings within them, and rather than give God the credit, and the glory, they greedily place it upon themselves, giving themselves titles and positions, when all they were asked to be was lowly laborers, secretaries.
I abhor the idea of honoring men, and have not an ounce of respect for anyone who would receive the honor as their own.
Galatians 6:3, "For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself."
Imagine the self promotion and self praise, if such a revelation as what John was shown, would be revealed to one of the evangelical luminaries of our time. Imagine the titles, and awards imagine the fanfare, the bodyguards, the private jets, the stretch limos, and the self-righteous, I am better than you air. Something is amiss in Christendom today, something is tragically amiss, for we behold the humility and piety of those who came before us, those whom God used in ways we can scarcely even imagine, and see the pride, excess and opulence of the so called modern day servants, and even with the naked eye the inconsistencies are too vivid, too clear to ignore. Humility has taken a backseat to prime time exposure, piety has been silenced for the sake of diamond rings and fancy suits, obedience has been corralled for the sake of broader viewer ship, and Christianity is all the worse for it. Truth suffers in silence, while deceivers boast, and its guardians are seduced away by promises of fame and fortune.
Although this letter is addressed to the church of Ephesus, and the other letters to specific churches in Asia, the entire message of these letters is an actual call to every believer: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
The spiritual condition of these seven churches can readily be found in the world, at any given time, as well as in individual Christians. As we read these words, these admonishments, and corrections, these warnings and encouragements, may we receive them as for ourselves, for it is the individual Christian, and church bodies that they were intended for.
There is a great difference between the Ephesians that Paul wrote to, and the church of Ephesus to which Christ was addressing His letter, for the church remains in Ephesus only for a season, in the spiritual condition that Christ described the church of Ephesus as being in, but it does not belong to the Ephesians. The name itself has a symbolic significance, and the message is for the Church in its entirety, which at some point has found itself in the spiritual condition of the church of Ephesus.
This is why Christ proceeded to dictate these letters to John, that in the light of that which would be written, we would examine our hearts, and hear what the Spirit says to the churches. It does not say to hear what the Spirit says to the church, but rather, to the churches all seven, as a whole, so that we may learn from their shortcomings, strengthen that which needs to be strengthened, that we may have victory, and be found sanctified in His eyes.
The word Ephesus, in its simplest interpretation, means desirable, or worthy of wanting. The spiritual condition of Ephesus had many positive aspects that are indeed desirable; however along the way they allowed a cooling down of their desire to know all of God to creep into the congregation, and a fissure was soon visible in the fortress of righteousness and love.
Christ wants us wholly for Himself, and jealously so, for only a whole vessel, a complete servant can be of use to the kingdom of God. The question that begs to be asked, is do we have some of Ephesus's traits in our hearts? A chipped vessel, or one that is broken is no longer usable, but rather becomes a stumbling block in the way of its master.
One other aspect worthy of noting is Christ's introduction of Himself, to the church of Ephesus. To every church, and in every letter, He precedes the message to the church with a different introduction of Himself. To the church of Ephesus, He introduced Himself as He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, and who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands. In every letter the introduction is different depending on the situation, and spiritual condition of the church. Here, for the second time in the book of Revelation, He reaffirms His position as He who holds the seven stars in His hand, a truth that should strengthen the heart of every believer, for nothing can pluck a true follower of Christ from His all powerful hand. This is our blessed assurance.
Now many have taken this truth to mean that once you make a commitment to Christ, it is impossible to fall away, and comforting as this may be for some, it simply has no scriptural foundation. It is true that no one can pluck you from Christ's hand, but one can willfully walk away from under His protection and guidance. The gift of salvation can be rejected, just as it can be received. God does all He can to keep us by His side, but if we choose to stray, if we choose to walk out from under His covering, He cannot follow us into the world of sin and defilement, for His righteousness will not allow it of Him.
1 Thessalonians 4:7-8, "For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit."
Hebrews 10:26-27, "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries."
Hebrews 10:36-38, "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him."
I could go on for many pages, quoting scripture that point to the seriousness with which our commitment to Christ and the cross must be taken, and to the seriousness with which we must study our hearts, walk in humility and righteousness, and continually look into the mirror of God's word, seeking to see if we are the image of Christ, or if there is something still deep within the recesses of our hearts that we must do away with in order for God to perfect His will in us.
The tragedy of it all is that the Church has lowered the standards of God, when God never lowered His standards. We came upon the revelation that the lower the standards, the more people in the seats a decade or so ago, and we have pursued this with great zeal and much enthusiasm, to the point that rarely is true spirituality, righteousness, or maturity found in God's house anymore. A counterfeit gospel is being preached in America, one of easy salvation, and cheap commitment, one wherein no sacrifice is required, and all can come as they are, leave as they came, and as long as they sign up for membership, and throw a little money in the plate, their spirituality is a non issue.
A question however, begs to be asked especially considering the times we are currently living in, that question being, what will become of those who never pressed in, who never sought out, who never desired the fullness of God, but were merely content with a shadow of what they were destined to be? What will become of the spiritually immature, weaponless and defenseless churchgoers of today's modern age, when trials and tribulations begin to assail them on all sides, and their only refuge will be a God they never took the time to know, whose will they never bothered to do?
As we return to the letter to the Ephesians, we notice that Christ not only stands in the midst of the seven golden lamp stands, but also walks among them. There is a circle among which the Lord moves here on earth, namely His beloved, and His movements are visible to those who have eyes to see, and those who have ears to hear can hear His voice.
The ways of the Lord, those among which He walks, are not resigned to a certain nationality, or religious denomination. He walks among them, and works among them, but not to lift up any given grouping. His intent is to strengthen, perfect, and purify His bride, the entire body, not just one member of the body.
The writers of church history speak to us of movements, and the works of men in the churches, they highlight the accomplishments of the leaders in individual denominations, and alas, also point out their shortcomings and downfalls, and when perceived as a whole man's history of God's church solicits sadness and disappointment. Our inner struggles, our denominational divisions, our warring with each other, and underscoring of doctrinal differences, have taken away from the time that would have been better spent simply trying to lead people to Christ, and further the kingdom of God.
Although every denomination has its heroes, each one lauding the accomplishments of their leaders, very little is written concerning the Lord who walks among the seven golden lamp stands, His bride, and only when we stand before our Creator, and are welcomed into paradise will we know the fullness of His work among us here on earth.
As we've already discussed the seven golden lamp stands signify the churches of believers, but also denote their responsibility here on earth. As the fruit of Christ's labors, they are set apart, purified, and sanctified by His blood, and are perceived by God, as precious gold. It is the spiritual condition of a church that makes it a golden lamp stand, and only in a constant state of maturity, and righteousness can they maintain the testimony of Christ here on earth. If they fall away from spiritual maturity, if they lose the bond, and fellowship with God and do not repent, they lose their place, and their lamp stand will be removed from its place because they are no longer fulfilling the purpose for which they were made a lamp stand in the first place. They are no longer bringing light to the darkness they are no longer as a lighthouse on a stormy night, compelling weary travelers to come to its shores in order to find peace and shelter from the storms of life.
We must perceive this message as it was intended, and understand the mind of God, that the Church is accountable toward Christ, as is every individual, to shine with the love and grace of He who redeemed and delivered us, to ceaselessly cry out to a dying world that in Him there is life, and life more abundantly.
Every day of our lives, we are given unique opportunities to be that lamp stand of which this scripture speaks, to be a witness, to be a living testimony, to show Christ through our actions and our conduct, and failure to take advantage of these opportunities, failure to see God's plan in what many deem chance encounters, will require an answer. We are accountable to God not only for the things we do, but also for those opportunities He brings into our lives that we fail to take advantage of.
Revelation 2:2, "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;"
Although we can readily hide from, and deceive other men, we can never deceive God. He knows the very depths of our being, He knows the intent of every action, and pierces the thoughts of men before they spread their wings and take flight. There is nothing hid from His eye, and no matter where one may run to, no matter where one may try to hide, God is always there, always aware of our actions, always seeing whether we bring glory or shame to His name.
Psalm 139:7-10, "Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me."
God knows the good, and the evil that is in the hearts of men, and He is impartial in His judgment, for He is a just and holy God. Too often I hear men think themselves entitled to a wider path, or greater tolerance from God, because they are in ministry, or because they've given a certain amount of money to the poor. The thought that we can purchase more grace and tolerance than our brethren when it comes to disobedience has been around for centuries, and although the story has changed, the punch line has remained the same; if you do more for God than your brother, then He will overlook more of your sins. It is a doctrine with no Biblical foundation, and one that leads many to a lukewarm walk with God. God judges without partiality, regardless of your lineage, who you are in the eyes of your peers, what you've done, or where you come from.
Romans 2:11-12, "For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law, will be judged by the law."
To the eyes of men, we can seem better, or worse than how we truly are. Others perceive us not as a whole, but by certain individual actions they see us perform, by how consistent our church attendance is, by how generous and open hearted our giving, or by how often we volunteer for new projects or duties in the body of Christ. God however, sees us as we are wholly, and bases His conclusions of our spiritual state, our walk, and our faithfulness not by a few hours in a day but by the perpetuity of our lives. God stands before every one who calls themselves a Christian, and says to them, as He said to the church of Ephesus, "I know your works."
We often lose sight of the fact that we serve an all knowing, and all seeing God, a God from which one cannot hide, a God that one cannot fool. Not only does He know our works, He also knows the intent with which they were performed. Whether for His glory, or for our own personal vainglory, whether to further His kingdom, or build our own kingdoms on earth, He knows the intent, the root cause of why we do what we do.
I have often seen men perform good works, but for the wrong reasons. The intent of their heart was not pure, and just as Cain's sacrifice was not received because it was not birthed of a pure heart, so it is with many believers today, their sacrifice being a worthless act in the eyes of God, because the intent of their heart was not simply to do good.
Whatever it may be that we are called to do, to further God's kingdom, whether give of our time or finances, it must be done out of a pure and sincere heart. If I give simply to receive a greater return on my money, looking at my sacrifice as simply a good investment, or if I give just so I can say I gave more than my brother, or for the promise of a plaque with my name on some soon forgotten wall, I have given for the wrong reasons. May God give us wisdom to do as Able did, and bring our sacrifices to the altar with the right heart, that our offering may be pleasing, and acceptable in His sight.
One doesn't have to give millions for God to take note, one doesn't have to travel halfway around the world and preach to savages for God to write it down in His book of remembrance. One simply has to be obedient to the voice of God, and do, as God requires, comforted in the knowledge that God rewards the obedience of what we do for His name's sake, and not an amount, or an action.
Men will never see, or respect, your works, on the contrary perhaps many will even despise them, but God sees every glass of water you give to the thirsty, every crust of bread you give to the hungry, every tear you wipe away, every heart you comfort with your words, every prayer you utter for your neighbors, and for all these things, though men may not consider them worthy of mention, God will reward the obedient with eternal life.
Mark 9:41, "For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."
As we return to the message to the church of Ephesus, we see that Christ begins with a word of praise, commending them on their works, their labors, their patience, and also on the fact that they could not bear those who are evil. As mentioned earlier, there are some desirable things in the spiritual condition of the church of Ephesus, some things worthy of aspiring toward, and God is quick to recognize the good in them, for they not only labor, and are patient, but they also do not bear those who are evil, and have tested those who are apostles, and are not and have found them liars. By this we are led to believe that there is a certain amount of spiritual enlightenment among the church of Ephesus, and they did not merely receive all that came in their midst claming to be apostles, but rather tested the spirit, to see whether or not they were of God.
Even in its fallen state, as we will see later, having abandoned their first love, the church of Ephesus, was wiser than most churches are today. Even though they were not as God required them to be, they still retained the presence of mind to test those that came among them, to see whether or not the teachings were rooted in God's word, to see if truth was found within the words they spoke.
Tragically, the church today has become like some crippled invalid, unable to feed itself, dependent on others to spoon feed it whatever they choose, absent of objection no matter how wretched and befouled that food may be. Mouths agape, they receive whatever is on the menu, masticating with glee spiritual poisons that slowly but surely strip the spirit of any power, any zeal, and any desire for the greater things of God.
If only we were as wise as the church of Ephesus, and tested those who come among us, if only we peeked into their little bag of goodies, and were not enchanted by the wrapping, but tore it away to see what they are about to feed us, we might indeed discover that there are more wolves among the sheep than there are shepherds.
Throughout the Bible the warning has gone forth to the Children of God, concerning those that would deceive the flock in the latter days. In these, the end times we are living, the onslaught of false teaching and baseless doctrine is reaching its crescendo, and we as faithful servants can do nothing less than know the word, test the spirits, and stand on the promise of God. These are dangerous times, not for the true believers, who are rooted in God's word, who are mature in their walk, but for those who still wander, who still seek out more tolerant doctrines, more enigmatic speakers, for surely the wolves await them with open arms.
When I first came to America, my mother would take us to the supermarket with her, and as young children are want to do, my brothers and I would always search out the candy and cakes. The packaging was enticing, and the promise of a nice sugar buzz was enough to start crying in the middle of the store if my mother refused to buy it for us. During one of these trips, as we returned to the shopping cart with enough candy to feed a school, my mother looked at us and said something that is relevant in this discussion as well. "Just because it looks good," she said, "it doesn't mean its good for you."
Words of wisdom from a concerned mother that echo the words of a concerned God. Just because it looks good, it doesn't mean its good for you. Often times however, we are as little children distracted and drawn to the shiny things, the entertaining things, the new things, leaving by the wayside the tried and true path of righteousness that has been more than sufficient for all who came before us.
1 Timothy 4:1-2, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron."
There is a proven way to avoid the spiritual condition of the church of Ephesus, namely having some virtues worthy of praise, but also some worthy of condemnation. If daily we stand before our God, and ask Him to search the innermost parts of our being, to burn out all that is not pleasing in His sight, and to show us with clarity the path of righteousness that He has set before us, we will never be in the precarious condition the church of Ephesus found itself in, wherein due to the combination of good and evil, the final product brought shame rather than glory to God.
God is holy, he is unleavened, and He desires us to be unleavened. The amalgamation of good and evil, the mixture of virtue and sin, can only bring about the ruination and destruction of the vessel. The two cannot coexist they cannot cohabitate in one vessel.
This is why I take issue with the idea that although a man's doctrine is not founded on God's word, you can still wade through the muck and pick out some good things, and some interesting ideas that he puts forth. A little leaven, leavens the whole lump, a little deceit corrupts the entire message.
Leaven is a symbol not only of sin, but also of false teaching, a teaching that has its origins in something other than Christ, and the grace of God. The Galatians are a good example of what can happen when one allows a little leaven, when one allows a false teaching to take root in their heart, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time. Just one doctrine absent of Christ, and the Galatians found themselves unsure of the grace that had been poured upon them, and the sun that had warmed their hearts, the reality of salvation was overshadowed by doubt.
We can have no tolerance toward something that we know is foreign to God's word, something that would lead us away from the path of righteousness, and trust in our heavenly Father. There can be no compromise when it comes to sin, the spirit of the world, or doctrine that would lead us astray.
Revelation 2:3, "And you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary."
The church of Ephesus was by no means an indifferent church. It was by no means a church that did not see its share of trials and hardships, for they persevered and had patience, and even labored for His name's sake. All these are great virtues, worthy of imitation, and Christ praises them that all may know these are desirable traits.
A virtue praised, is an encouragement to even greater virtue, and a powerful example for others to follow. On the other hand, a sin exposed, is a warning sign, a stumbling block in the way of the sin that it would proceed no further. It is troubling that many leaders today overlook sin in the camp, and define it as love for their brethren. If sin is not confronted, it will continue to infect and pollute the entire body, only when sin is confronted and dealt with, can the restoration and healing commence. If the thorn is not removed, if the sin is not cast out from among the brethren there can be no healing, but rather a growing and spreading cancer that will consume all in its path.
Jesus praises the virtues of the Church of Ephesus, as an encouragement to a deeper more thorough introspection, and examination of their spiritual walk, that no link would be missing from the chain of virtue, and that they be a whole, and complete body, ready to stand and do battle against the darkness. A broken chain, or mere links of a chain is useless, as is a body beset with sin and indecision.
Christ was not the first to use this means of encouraging a body to examine itself, and even Paul used praise to compel the Thessalonians to draw closer, and seek a deeper spirituality.
1 Thessalonians 2-5, "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God."
Although Paul began his letter to the Thessalonians with a word of praise, and encouragement, commending them on their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope, as the letter continues to evolve Paul begins to point out certain things that they must accomplish in order to grow, and encourages them to an even closer walk with God. This is the same method that Christ used when writing to the church of Ephesus, for although they had some desirable virtues, worthy of commendation there were still certain issues they had to confront and resolve in order to return to the place wherein they would be in God's perfect will.
1 Thessalonians 4:1-2, "Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received form us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus."
It is worthy of note, that whenever we receive a commendation from Christ, it would be wise to take a moment and search our hearts, to study the inner depths of our being, and with sincerity, and openness see whether there is anything there that still remains to be weeded out. If we are sincere with God, and ourselves, the truth will be revealed to us, and as faithful servants, without delay we must remedy that which requires our attention.
One hundred virtues, can readily be overshadowed by one sin, and most often it is a sin we could have easily sidestepped, avoided, or resisted. This is why the word of God continually encourages us to search our hearts, and examine ourselves, that throughout our walk we may be pleasing in the sight of God, and bring only glory to His name.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.