Answer: Because the strong, even hard message that was directed to some of these Churches came out of love. With God it is always like that – God is love! We shall see that even the hardest statement of all – “because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (3:16), is followed by “I correct and discipline everyone I love. Take this seriously, and change the way you think and act” (3:19 “God’s Word” translation). In other words, as I used to hear so often as a young Christian, “God hates the sin but loves the sinner.”
FACE THE TRUTH. The Lord doesn’t want to feed us a lot of sentimental “positive thinking” stuff when we are behaving in ways that will inevitably result in harm for ourselves and others. He wants us to wake up, face reality, repent if we need to and be truly forgiven so that we can live a blessed and successful Christian life and fulfil His great plan for our lives! This can only happen when truth, even hard truth, enters our lives.
The Jesus speaking is the same Jesus that we meet everywhere in the New Testament. As John pointed out in his Gospel: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). We need both truth and grace. We need to face reality (truth) and also receive God’s free gift of forgiveness and life (grace). We can’t have one without the other!
LEVELS OF INTERPRETATION. There are at least four different ways of looking at the messages to these seven churches.
- It is a fact that these were seven literal churches that existed in the towns mentioned. Ephesus, Smyrna etc. were actual cities in Asia Minor and each of these cities had a church. I don’t want to spend much time on these churches and their individual histories.
- Of greater interest to us should be the application of these messages to our own situation. Each letter contains the words: “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. In other words there is a message for me personally – if I am spiritually perceptive enough to hear it! At different times in my life I have seen myself in all of these seven messages and have received the encouragement but also the chastisement, heeded the warnings and responded to the call for repentance!
- Those of us who are leaders of congregations or have responsibility for cell groups can also get a message for our own area of responsibility.
- From the prophetic perspective these messages have been applied to stages in Church history. “Ephesus” seems to represent the Church in John’s day, already beginning the process of losing its “first love”, “Smyrna” would represent the Church facing a long season of persecution under the Roman Empire and so on until we reach the final stages of the Church represented by the last group. Laodicea, obsessed with worldly success, image and money.
In our next session we will begin to explore the lessons we may learn from the seven churches.