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Calling the Bride - The Seven Churches - A Sermon for the Church

The second and third chapters of Revelation are among the most important of all the Scriptures. Those who have been called to oversee the church must be diligent in hearing and receiving those principles that the Spirit is conveying to God’s people, and be bold in proclaiming its truth to His church.

     These messages to the church were designed to speak to the spiritual condition of the Lord’s church through every age. The errors that infected those first century believers are infecting the church of this present age and as we descend into the prophesied apostasy we can learn from them how to avoid falling into our own personal apostasy. Only then will we reap the rewards Jesus has promised to His “overcomers.”
     There were more churches than these seven at that time, and I believe that these were chosen because all but two harbored elements that can lead to apostasy and it is vital that we understand what these keys are.

Some view each of these churches representing a particular church age cumulating with lukewarm Laodicea. If we behold these churches from a distance as if we are examining a painting, we can see an impressionistic portrait of the church from its inception to its spiritual decline through the ages. This interpretation can apply in general. For as we come closer, and we begin to study this painting in more detail, we come to observe that the spiritual conditions portrayed for us are also operating simultaneously throughout the church age and can also be present in individual believers today before the Lord returns. Laodicea’s lukewarmness and complacency will be accompanied into tribulation with Jezebel and her followers, with liberal Sardis and the imbalanced Ephesian’s tagging along behind.
     In other words, as a pastor steps up to his pulpit, he is viewing a collective embodiment of the spiritual conditions described in Revelation’s portrait of the church. He is beholding God’s Ephesians, Philadelphians, Laodiceans and the others sitting before him in his congregation. Thus the portrait of the church described in Revelation’s pages becomes a mirror of our own souls. I am going to be lifting up this mirror so we can see ourselves in this looking glass of words. I’m only going to ask you to do one thing – if you see yourself anywhere in this reflection – then be honest, don’t look away, be willing to allow the Lord to adjust the spiritual appearance of your heart. How we respond to being convicted is an indication of spiritual maturity. If we wince at the light of a candle, then how shall we stand before the Son? Conviction itself is like a grain of sand in an oyster shell; it is the necessary irritant that grows the pearl.

     To those in leadership; our goal should be to learn how to minister to the spiritual errors the Lord is showing us and correct them, in ourselves and those that have been entrusted to our care, which is the purpose of the admonishments in these chapters. It is the responsibility of the church leadership to heed them and respond.

In Jesus’ admonishments to the churches in Revelation’s chapters two and three, we are shown that it is only the Philadelphians who are promised protection from the “hour of temptation” (apostasy) which in turn would logically protect her from the “hour of His Judgment” in Revelation 14:7, the tribulation. She shares the same characteristics with the church of Smyrna, the only other church that has no need to be corrected by the Lord. Both of these churches are martyrs in different ways. Some experience physical martyrdom, others like the Philadelphians are promised protection, but both churches are martyrs of the self and willing to die rather than deny Jesus. The point is, these churches are not harboring the errors of the other five churches.
     I am going to give a brief overview of what each of those errors of the five churches are so we can avoid them and qualify for that Philadelphian category.

The church at Ephesus is the first church to be addressed. This church’s error as we shall see, begins the slide into apostasy. To help us understand why, we need to comprehend what I call the “Three Pillar Principle.”

We begin by recognizing with the Apostle Paul, that John, Peter and James were “Pillars” in the early church (Galatians 2:9). Each of these three apostles represent pillars of doctrine that must be retained in the proper balance or the church will no longer be functioning properly. The first pillar represented by John is the pure, simple Gospel.
     For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

     The second pillar illustrated by Peter, stands for holiness, the divine nature, (I Peter 1:4).
     The goal God has ordained for every believer is to be conformed into the image of His Son. This means that those qualities that are in Jesus are to be developed in the believer over time by the Holy Spirit. This is what it means to be discipled, and that is what this second pillar represents.

     The third pillar is represented by James who shows us the result of abiding in the first two pillars which is Christian service. Faith without works is a dead faith (James 2:17). We are saved by faith alone and if we are saved then that grace works in the believer, resulting in a changed life and service to our Lord. So we see that the first foundational pillar is the Gospel. The foundation of the first pillar is the atonement. When there is no atonement, we are standing upon a counterfeit gospel and an artificial pillar.
     The foundation of the second pillar is John chapter fifteen. We must abide in the true vine of Messiah Jesus in order to be discipled correctly and to bear the fruit of a holy character that only His Spirit can provide.
     The foundation of the third pillar is the first two pillars and their foundations. Fruitful service can only arise properly from these first two pillars. All of these pillars must be maintained in balance or the church will ultimately wobble off on her own and be in danger of removal. This is the error of the Ephesians as we shall see.

     1. The Error of the Ephesians

     Jesus begins His instructions to the believers at Ephesus with encouragement, which is the best pattern to follow when we have to administer correction to someone. Praise them for the good they are doing first.

     I know your works, and your labor, and your patience, and how you cannot bear them which are evil; and you have tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and has found them liars; (verse 2).

     They were very zealous in their commission to guard the holy gates of the Lord’s house. Their zeal was well pleasing to the Lord. He continues praising them for what they have done for Him. –

     And has born, and has patience, and for My name’s sake has labored, and has not fainted (verse 3).

     This church has grasped the fact that every believer has been called to serve the Lord in some capacity. However, their zeal had become imbalanced. –

     Nevertheless I have somewhat against you, because you have left your first love (verse 4).

     What was the first love of the church? In order to understand we must continue to verse five. –

     Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come to you quickly, and will remove your candlestick out of this place, unless you repent (verse 5).

     The church is being commanded to “do the first works.” The first works, or the first love of the church were the first two pillars. The early church zealously preached the Gospel; Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead. We are saved by grace alone. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, all need repentance. Believers were discipled according to the words of our Lord and His apostles. Many years had passed since the Holy Spirit ignited the church at Pentecost. The Ephesians had become zealous spiritual policemen. They were neglecting the first two pillars to rid the church of apostates, not realizing that when the first two pillars are not balanced with service, the church has deviated from her purpose. When a church is no longer making the Gospel and discipling her priority, then she will ultimately be removed, because unless the church is producing reproducers, adding new believers and discipling them, then the church will die out.

     The Ephesians had read Paul’s letter to them and had zealously held onto his instructions to; – Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:11).
     They were great reprovers, but they needed to “remember from where they had fallen.” They had to be reminded that they too were at one time sinners in need of the Lord’s grace; to remember how it felt when they knew they were forgiven and to impart that same message of forgiveness to everyone, including those they thought needed to be reproved. An imbalanced message will produce condemnation and not converts, empty pews, closed doors, and a self-righteous, loveless, religious spirit in those who are doing the reproving.

     In summery; the church begins her descent into apostasy when she fails to make sharing the gospel and discipling (reproducing reproducers) her first priority. These are the “works” (Rev. 2:5) that the Ephesians neglected. The “first love” (Rev. 2:4) of the first century church was reaching people with the gospel and discipling believers into the image of Christ.
     For a church to remain healthy this first century model must not be abandoned or neglected. The gospel must be first.

     2. The Error of Pergamos

     The church must maintain sound doctrine as it was established by Jesus and His apostles. The church at Pergamos symbolically began to marry “foreign wives;” she was allowing herself to be influenced by doctrines that were not supported by the apostles. God’s word must be taken as the final word above man’s philosophies, opinions, and doctrines.
     To remain healthy a church must cleave to the pure simplicity of the scriptures and not abandon the authority of the first century apostles who alone were handpicked by God to establish the doctrines of the church.
     “We (the first century apostles) are of God: he that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears not us. Hereby we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (I John 4:6).

     3. The Error of Thyatira

     The move away from the pure authority of God’s word, breeds a spirit of compromise like worms on stale bread. The spirit of Jezebel that pollutes this church represents moral compromise with the world. Repentance from sin is not preached and God’s moral standards are diminished. The world’s acceptance of sexual immorality is emulated.
     I know Christians who are compromised in this area and like those at Thyatira, they are promised great tribulation unless they repent. The spirit of Jezebel does not preach repentance and the scriptural fact that there are consequences for sin. Her mantra is “God does not punish” which is not supported by the scriptures. Because this church has negated God’s word by permitting the doctrines of men to override the final authority of the scriptures, Jezebel’s followers, who have been promised by this lying spirit that they will all go in a pre-tribulation rapture, are going to be in for a rude awakening.
     In order for a church to remain healthy and not fall into apostasy, holiness and separation from the world must be embraced. A healthy church recognizes the value of the Lord’s correction, and the benefits of holiness. This church rejects the spirit of compromise with the world and strives to live a separate holy life as we are exhorted to do by the apostles and the entire counsel of God’s word.

     4. The Error of Sardis

     This church is a further development of the same liberal spirit that infects Thyatira. Because she has allowed the doctrines of men to override God’s pure, simple truth, this church is risking her salvation because she is abandoning the basics of the Christian faith. She no longer believes that the cross, or faith in the atonement is necessary for salvation, embracing the lie that all religions are valid. Thus this church is denying Jesus, the only other error that can cost a believer his salvation apart from perpetual unforgiveness (Matthew 10:33, 6:14,15). Therefore she is warned that unless she repents her name will be blotted out of the book of life (Rev. 3:5).
     A healthy church recognizes that Jesus is the only way to the Father and cleaves to the cross for her spiritual safety.

     5. The Error of Laodicea

     While this church has retained a fundamental knowledge of the Lord, she has become complacent and self-centered. Her desire for comfort has replaced the desire to save the lost. She has no zeal for the things of the Lord. All of the errors of the previous four churches are operational to some degree in this church, which represents the culmination of the latter day apostasy.

     A healthy church remains zealous for the things of God, makes sharing the gospel and discipling her first priority, cleaves to the authority of the Holy Scriptures, preaches repentance, refuses to compromise with the world, values and practices holiness, retains a healthy reverence for the Lord and is aware that obedience to His word is important. This church would rather die than deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and the only way to heaven.
     I have just described the characteristics of the Philadelphian remnant who has kept God’s word and will be rewarded for her faithfulness as the Lord has promised her. To those who remain trapped in the errors of the churches of the Ephesians, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea, I will say to you the one word the Jezebel spirit does not want you to hear, “Repent” in this space of time before the hour of God’s judgment begins.

Copyright 2020 by H.D. Shively

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