Comments on the 7 churches:
- Ephesus. Sound doctrine but they had left their first love.
History. Acts 19. Then Paul met with elders of Ephesus at Miletus (too dangerous to return to Ephesus). Warned of grievous wolves, even wolf elders. Apparently they took him seriously and made sound doctrine a focal point of church.
But they left their first love. How? By being so harsh on false teachers and false apostles that they became sectarian and judgmental of anyone who disagreed with them, no longer teaching the truth in love (Eph 4:16)? By being so focused on sound doctrine that they lost the emphasis on love among the members and love in general?
Does that sound like a lot of coc churches?
- Smyrna. The poor (but rich), suffering church.
This must represent the 3rd world poor, suffering Christians around the world, b/c it sure doesn’t match the rich church in the U.S. (neither poor nor suffering). Some suffering about to come on them (mello) but outcome sounds like death, not just temporary suffering. Could this match the period of Nero’s persecution of Christians in 64 AD in Rome which spread to other cities?
- Pergamum. Faithful under persecution but allowing false teaches who promote immorality.
Many temples to the gods and even one to emperor Augustus. Faithful under testing, even at a time when witnesses like Antipas (one of their number) were being put to death (they might be killed also). So, a strong faith church, never denying Christ under persecution. But a few things? Apparently they “tolerated” or continued to fellowship some false teachers of the Nicolaitan persuasion who taught open immorality like that encouraged by Balaam at Peor (Numbers 25). I know of some churches that I really admire overall, but I notice they are becoming more accepting of open adultery, even homosexuality, among members. Study 1 Cor 5 as Paul dealt with the church being too lenient on immorality.
- Thyatira. Slow start, better lately, but tolerating false prophets.
This is the post-modern church of the future. Maybe a slow start, but revitalized lately with a post-modern benevolent concern for others and for good causes (the poor, etc.). Actually doing a lot of good works (soup kitchens, etc.) but also easily led astray by false teachers, even false prophets who claim to have direct revelation from God. This led many in Tyatira into immorality. Today, it would be the homosexual immorality tolerated by many post-modern churches. The Methodist church barely voted to stay with the traditional view of marriage (53-47 %), but with large help from their conservative African brothers who have yet to lose faith in the inspiration of Paul.
- Sardis. The dead, and still dying church. Strengthen what remains.
This church became well known among the brotherhood for a long time for its faith, good works, sound doctrine, etc. It still had a name that is alive. You hear the name of the church mentioned, and think, “great church”, when really it is now dead. It still have a few good things going, and a few good members who are still alive, but the things that remain are even dying. Why did this church die? We might think this is about the size of the church, but it is not. A lot of factors might cause a church to grow large, but then become smaller in the future. Location, demographics, urban flight, members moving, etc. But that church, now smaller, could still be alive. The Sardis church apparently died because they lost their faith, zeal, etc. Maybe they became very materialistic and just lost their priorities. Maybe a split or two along the way due to church politics and inward squabbling. There is still hope. A core of concerned members and a few good things that remain. Focus on strengthening what remains.
- Philadelphia. The little church that could, and did.
Totally positive for this church. To whom more is given more will be expected. Give, and God will give you more so you can give more. 2 Corinthians 9 10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. Seed for the sower. God can use churches and individuals who are good stewards to do great things for Him. He will open new doors of opportunities. One church I know of made their motto: “God, show us the opportunities and good works that you want us to do”. Instead of giving to meet the budget and busy work involving the church business, that church gave as needs arose and got involved in good deeds away from the building. That might mean dismantling the business and budget, and most churches won’t do that. The Lord could show them a new need and they would say, “Sorry Lord, it’s not in the budget!”
- Laodicea. The lukewarm church.
This church will always be known as the lukewarm church. Neither hot nor cold. Business as usual. Routine. Duty. All the items and ministries in their budget are getting done. But no zeal or enthusiasm. Everyone taking their turn to carry on the business. Still sound doctrinally. Probably a well paid staff and local preacher. Many charter members who aren’t excited about the church, but who wouldn’t leave it. They probably have a building paid for and cash to change the carpet and make renovations. They have a large, steady contribution. They think of themselves as a very good church, but God says they are blind to their real spiritual condition. We tend to judge churches by their size and budget. On a positive note, at least the church is not dead, like Sardis. It is not zealous, like Philadelphia, but maybe with a lot of prayer, repentance, and honest self-analysis this church could become hot. Notice that God is knocking at the door. He offers them eye salve so they can see their condition. He hasn’t written them off. If they don’t change, He will spew them out of His mouth.
So which of these, if any, is your church?
Many think that the number of churches chosen by John to send the letter to is a special number, 7, that would represent all churches. I don’t know about that. Surely this letter was circulated to more than the 7 churches in Asia. Surely other churches read it and thought, “we are just like Sardis, etc.”. Surely other churches read the warnings and knew that those warnings could apply to their church also. Rev 1:3 3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and [b]heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near. Of course, that specifically applied to the 7 churches of Asia concerning things that were “about to” happen (that word Mello is used several times) to them. But in a secondary sense, surely anyone else back then or even today who read and took heed to the warnings would be blessed.
And what about me individually as a member of my church? Have I become complacent? Am I so preoccupied with worldly stuff that the spiritual status of my church doesn’t bother me? Do I just go to church as routine, duty? Have I lost my zeal and enthusiasm? Have I lost my first love? Do I now love the world more than I love Jesus and God? Have I taken a back seat and left the leadership of the church to others?
The church will only be as good and strong as the individual members. I pray that God will use the comments by John to the 7 churches to motivate us as needed.