Revelation 2:12-17 // The Church that Compromises

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TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

God of all Wisdom, we have gathered before You to read your holy Word and to be guided by it. Send your Spirit to this place that we might feast upon Your word and digest its meaning to fill our souls with Your wisdom and truth.  In name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. [1]

 

INTRODUCTION:

If you were to travel to the West African country of Liberia 25 years ago, the danger was clear and present. Civil unrest. Armed insurgencies. Political instability. In the 1990’s, the country had become a killing field. But if you would have traveled to Liberia just five years ago, the danger would not have been so obvious. Most likely, you would not find yourself looking down the barrel of a machine gun. But 5 years ago, a simple sneeze could have killed you. As we now know, the Ebola outbreak was just beginning. As of October 2014, almost 2500 Liberians had died from the disease.

This morning, as we once again explore the book of the Revelation together, we will also discover that sometimes, we can become blind to what is truly dangerous. [2]

Some of the most dangerous poisons are the ones that go undetected until it’s too late. Nothing will poison the body of Christ like the poison of compromise. [3]

 

Just listen to what some of those who have gone before have us about this.

 

    • “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

    • “A new Decalogue has been adopted by the neo-Christians of our day, ‘Thou shalt not disagree,’ and a new set of Beatitudes too, ‘Blessed are they that tolerate everything for they shall not be made accountable.’” – A.W. Tozer

    • “Truth always carries confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.” – Francis Schaeffer

 

 

 

 

THE SWORD OF HIS MOUTH

“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” – Revelation 2:12, NRSV

We know from the context clues of the rest of Scripture (Revelation 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:11-16), that this sword is God’s authoritative word.

  • Whatever God speaks, happens. His word doesn’t go forth void.

What the Sword Means

  • According to Paul in Romans 13:4, governments bear a sword.

    • Swords are symbols of authority, and unless someone isn’t using their authority correctly or their being immoral (etc.) then you typically shouldn’t argue with someone that God has given authority to.
    • Just like guns are typically (not always) symbols of authority. A police officer pulled me over on Friday and he said I was going too fast. I didn’t believe him, but I don’t think it would have behooved me to argue with someone who wields a firearm.

  • Jesus is telling them to fear the sword of God rather than the sword of the government.  

 

“As the earliest Christians found in Acts, the church always has to be able to say ‘We must obey God rather than human authorities’, even if the ‘authorities’ in question are not the official magistrates (though the magistrates, too, may pose a threat if the Christians refuse to join in with state religion) but simply the insidious pressures of people saying ‘but this is what everybody does’.

Jesus’ response is clear. The Roman governor may wield the sword, but Jesus has the sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth (verses 12, 16, as in 1.16). His word will cut through the half-hearted spirituality that is happy to face both ways at once.“[4] – N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone

What the Sword Does

This sword that’s coming out of Jesus’ mouth is the word of God.

 

God’s word is His is message to us, but it’s not just His message, it’s His authority, and listen to what it does.

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” – Hebrews 4:12-13, NRSV

  • The word of God reveals everything when it gets inside of us, and it has to. When you go into a room in your house to clean it out, you’ve got to turn on the light to see what’s in there so you know what to throw away, and that’s what God’s word does with us.

  • According to James 1, the word of God is like a mirror and when look at it, and don’t do what it says it’s as if you look at yourself in the mirror and then walk away forgetting what you look like.

 

But our passage in Revelation 2 describes the word of God as a two edged sword. The two edges of the sword are God’s ability to kill and make alive by His word. Look at Deuteronomy 32 just a minute and listen to part of the song of Moses.

 

“See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand. 40 For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear: As I live forever, 41 when I whet my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment; I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me.”
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41, NRSV

 

Now, the question is which edge of the sword are you going to get?

Some might say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament stuff. We’re under the new covenant now. God was mean and nasty then, but since Jesus came along He’s really chilled out.”

 

  • A lot of people really interpret Scripture that way, but God hasn’t changed.

 

This is what’s going to happen, according to Revelation 19, in the New Testament.

 

“Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war…  13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God… 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” – Revelation 19:11, 13, 15-16, NRSV

 

This is what Jesus means in verse 16 of our text when He says, “Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

A TESTIMONY OF FAITHFULNESS

“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” – Revelation 2:13, NRSV

 

The commendation here is simple: considering, you live where Satan lives, you’ve been faithful.

 

“Pergamos was the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living emperor. Hence, Satan’s throne, where he holds court, can also indicate the altar where Caesar was worshiped as lord, and/or where the Roman governor sat in his judgment seat, dealing out capital punishment by the “law of the sword.”
– Orthodox Study Bible

 

  • As I said last week, in that time and in that part of the world, there was no separation of church and state. In that time and place, the state was the church, and caesar was their god. The motto of the state was “Caesar is Lord.”

  • The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is not simply a religious message, it’s a political message. It’s political message that says we will have no king, but Christ.

 

“According to tradition, the early martyr Antipas was bishop of Pergamos and was martyred in AD 92 by being burned to death in a heated bronze bull, having witnessed before the Roman governor that Jesus is Lord.” – Orthodox Study Bible

 

We need pastors and church leaders like Antipas with a backbone who will stand up and say, “Hello, World! Jesus bought this place with His blood. Deal with it.” (Tony Sumpter, Blood-Bought World)

So, so far we see that they have a Testimony of Faithfulness, but unfortunately, they also have a Tolerance for Corruption.

 

A TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION

“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” – Revelation 2:14-15, NRSV

 

The first problem Jesus addresses is that there’s people who hold to the teaching of Balaam.

 

  • In order to really understand that you have to go back and read chapters 25-31 of Numbers. Basically, Balak is a king of Moab and he’s afraid that the people of Israel are going to come in and take up his land. What he doesn’t know is that God commanded Israel earlier not to touch anything that belonged to Moab.

  • So, he acts out of fear and contacts a man named Balaam. Balaam is a Moabite, he’s not an Israelite, he’s a pagan Gentile. Brandon Hanson actually describes Balaam like this: “He was a thief and a trickster who meddled with powers beyond his comprehension… He was one who regularly dealt with demons disguised as various deities, making deals and inquiring of them for the knowledge he needed to perform spells and incantations, blessings and curses. Like Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus, Balaam sought to steal “fire” of his own—divine knowledge for his personal gain.” [5]

 

  • Balaam was the kind of guy you would contact if you wanted a voodoo doll made. He was a Hocus Pocus Hitman.

  • Balak contacts Balaam to put a curse on Israel, and Balaam soon realizes that he can’t. God speaks to him several times and actually causes him to bless Israel instead of curse them. Balak finally parted company with Balaam who could do nothing but bless Israel. But as Balaam is leaving, he offers one last piece of advice: Moab might defeat Israel if he told the Moabite women to prostitute themselves amongst Israel and invite them to worship their gods, eat their food offered to their idols, and sacrifice.

  • What Balak is really saying is “If you can’t put a curse on them, then maybe you can get them to do things that are conducive to a curse. All you have to do is get them to do things that will invite chaos and destruction into their life, and they will take care of themselves.”

Satan doesn’t have to come into your house and knock stuff around for you to be under a curse. All he has to do is get you to do things that invite chaos into your life, and I’m not talking about something stupid like yoga or whatever.

  • Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony – There’s a reason the Catholic Church called these the seven deadly sins. Every time you sin, it’s because you give in to one of these seven things.

    • The cycle of sin is usually the same: we think we’re entitled to something, or we think we deserve better than what we have (pride), so we want something we can’t have (envy, greed, lust), so we lash out at those around us (wrath), and then we’re depressed and we overindulge in the things that we can have (sloth and gluttony.)

 

So, what then is the teaching of Balaam? The teaching of Balaam is that if you don’t like God’s Word, then just change it. Believe a different word. Balaam basically told Balak that if he didn’t like God’s word of blessing, then maybe he could get Israel to go whoring after other gods and get them to believe a different, a word other than the one God has spoken.

  • This is what people do when they don’t like God’s word, they try to change it. This is what society does when they say, “Well, I identify as…. Whatever.” God has established reality, and whenever people think they do something like change their gender, what they’re saying is, “I don’t like what is true so I’m going to change it.” What else do you expect from a society that believes truth is all relative?

    • The cry of much of the LGBT community is “Live your truth.” No, live THE truth. There’s only one truth, and you can’t change it.

 

One more thing that I thought was so profound about this passage is the way that Jesus addresses the church.

  • He doesn’t say, “You people are a bunch of heretics and Nicolaitans and heretics.”

  • Instead He says, “You have heretics and Nicolaitans among you.”

And what this reminded me of was Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. That kept coming to my mind all week while I was reading this passage. I want us to think about the parable and see if there’s some comparisons that can be drawn here.

We remember the parable of the wheat and tares, right?

  • You’ve got a wheatfield. And then while everyone is asleep an enemy comes in and plants tares or weeds among the wheat.

  • One of the slaves notices it and said to the owner of field, “I know you have sown good seed, but an enemy came in and planted these weeds.” And the slave asks, “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”

“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” – Matthew 13:29-30, NRSV

 

So, what you have here is a congregation that has wheat and tares.

  • Jesus is addressing the wheat, and He’s saying, “I have this against you that you have some here who are tares.”

And what is Jesus’ solution to all of this? He doesn’t say, “Kick these people out.” He doesn’t tell them to go on an inquisition in an effort to “cleanse” the church – He simply tells them to repent.

 

THE INVITATION TO REPENT AND LISTEN

“Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” – Revelation 2:16, NRSV

What Jesus says is very simple – repent. He doesn’t lay out a 5 step church growth program or anything like that, just repent.

  • Repentance means turning to Christ, and turning away from your sin. When the church as a whole begins the process of repenting together, then you won’t have to weed out the tares, they’ll weed themselves out.

People who don’t want the uncensored, unfiltered Gospel of Jesus Christ won’t stay in a place where it’s preached for very long. 

Here’s the invitation.

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17, NRSV

Why hidden manna? Why a white stone with a new name?

It’s simple. They’re living in a secular, pagan wilderness where they are in danger of being killed for their faith, and while everyone else is out in the open, running to the temple of Caesar, and worshipping at the altar of Zeus in search of some blessing, they don’t need a temple. Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Their sacrifice is one of praise and reasonable service. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15)

 

CONCLUSION

It’s the same for us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have been bought with a price, and our sacrifice is one of worship and reasonable service.

 

  • And part of our reasonable service to proclaim to the world that Jesus bought this place with His blood, and He sits on His throne.

 

Think about it, Jesus tells the church, “You live where Satan’s throne is.” Their job was declare that is Jesus is on His throne even though Satan was on his throne. That’s bold, and that’s possible because Jesus already defeated Satan 2,000 years on an old rugged cross, and Jesus got up three days later to affirm that victory. Jesus lives and because He lives, so do we. Let’s pray.

 

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, Your Word is life and light. Give us the power to declare Your name even in the darkest of places, even where Satan’s throne is. Give us strength to share Your victory with those feel as those they’re defeated. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

___________________________________

  1. Based on the Prayer for Illumination found here: “Prayer for Illumination | Epiphany 3C | January 24th, 2016.” Liturgy & Hymns By Stephen M. Fearing, http://www.stephenmfearing.com/liturgy//prayer-for-illumination-epiphany-3c-january-24th-2016.
  2. Church Plant Media. “Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised (Revelation 2:12-17).” Way of Grace Church: Buckeye, AZ, http://www.wayofgracechurch.com/sermons/sermon/2014-10-19/pergamum:-constant-but-compromised-revelation-2:12-17.
  3. Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.
  4. Wright, N. T. Revelation for Everyone. Westminster John Knox, 2015.
  5. Hanson, Brandon. “Revelation 2:12-17 | To the Church in Pergamum: Part 2 | 016.” Christ Hold Fast, 16 Jan. 2019, http://www.christholdfast.org/blog/revelation-212-17-to-the-church-in-pergamum-part-2-016.
  6. ” “

Growing Up Pentecostal

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Photographer: Trey Ratcliff

There’ll be singing, there’ll be shouting
There’ll be sorrow, there’ll be pain;
There’ll be weeping, there’ll be praying,
When our Lord shall come again.

Words to hymns like these filled the air every Sunday morning, and every Sunday and Wednesday evening. In those days, we didn’t have to wait for our Lord to come again hear singing, shouting, weeping, and praying. In those days you never knew what was going to happen, what songs were going to be sung, or who had “the key to the service.”

We would be in a worship service and the pastor of the church (usually) would stand up in the middle of the service and say, “Someone has the key to this service! All you have to do is obey God!” And then sure enough, someone would spontaneously shout, dance, pray for someone who was sick, share a testimony of their salvation, or sing a song, and the whole atmosphere be filled with the peace of heaven.

As much as my hardshell Calvinistic theology would like to inform me that this goes against the “regulative principle of worship” or that “things simply don’t happen like that,” I’ve seen an entire congregation come to life with godly joy over someone simply coming down to the altar for prayer.

There wasn’t a “repeat this prayer and you’ll be saved” kind of rhetoric (most of the time). There were genuine, Jesus-loving people who want to help you communicate with God in prayer.

Tim Challies wrote an article about a well-known leader the early Pentecostal movement, and someone who commented on the article was disparaging their own Pentecostal upbringing (they are Reformed now). I am also Reformed now. I’m a Calvinist, and I hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith (with some minor caveats), I can’t disparage my roots. Maybe their experience was bad, but mine wasn’t. Granted, I’m not going to say that everything I witnessed go on in a Pentecostal church during a worship service was right and biblical because it wasn’t, but overall, I feel as though my upbringing helped me more than hurt me.

My grandparents taught me the Bible. By the time I was in my teens I could quote more Scripture from King James Version of the Bible than anybody my age, and it wasn’t because I participated in Bible Quiz Bowls or sword drills. My grandparents didn’t pressure me to memorize verses or play with Bible flash cards. They didn’t do in-home discipleship, family worship, devotions, or anything like that. They simply lived godly lives at home in front me, and as a result, I learned the Bible by watching how much they valued the Bible. I learned hymns by listening to my grandma sing while she was doing chores around the house. When she taught me to play piano, she taught me to play hymns and southern gospel because that’s all she knew.

When other people talk about their bad experiences in Pentecostalism, I have to sigh and unfortunately say, “I know.” I’m all too familiar with the legalistic horror stories of young women being called whores because they had a little blush on or because they wore a pair of knee-length shorts that might cause someone “to stumble” *eye rolls* …whatever.

In those moments, I can only wish they had had my experiences. My experiences weren’t completely free of legalism and unwarranted insecurities, but those things didn’t matter when the worship service would start (or at least, those things didn’t matter to me).

I was free and somehow, I knew it.

Revelation 2:8-11 // The Church that is Suffering and Afflicted

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TEXT: Revelation 2:8-11, NRSV

PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen. [1]

INTRODUCTION:

Smyrna was founded in 1200 B.C. That is two hundred years before King David, and back in the days of the judges of Israel. In the sixth century B.C., Alyattes, king of Lydia, conquered Smyrna and dispersed the inhabitants into tiny villages throughout the area, where they could be no threat to his rule. For almost four hundred years, Smyrna was in eclipse. Alexander the Great wanted to rebuild it, but the task fell to his successor, who rebuilt the city around 300 B.C. on the slopes of Mount Pagus, about two miles south of its former site. It had wide and spacious streets. Its major street (called “the street of gold”) began at the harbor, curved around Mount Pagus, and ran on to the foothills away
from the sea.

Smyrna had been destroyed, yet she had come back to life. It was remarkable, and Smyrna ended up with the nickname “the city that was dead, yet lived.”

  • Jesus reminds them, “You may be a resurrected city, but I am a resurrected savior.”

Smyrna was not only beautiful and prosperous, she was extremely nationalistic. Three hundred years earlier (265-146 B.C.), when Rome was fighting for its life against the Carthaginian empire, Smyrna had sided with Rome. She was the first city in Asia to declare allegiance to Rome, and she built a temple to Roma, the goddess of Rome. That was in 195 B.C., almost one hundred years before Julius Caesar.

In 26 A.D., when the whole world wanted to be friends with Rome, eleven cities competed for the privilege of erecting a temple in honor of Tiberius Caesar. Smyrna won the honors. Rome considered Smyrna the most noble and worthy of the cities of Asia. Cicero called Smyrna “the most faithful of our allies.” Roman nobility came to visit and vacation there. After 70 A.D., when Jerusalem was destroyed, Smyrna was a favorite place for Jewish settlement, and the Jewish community there was large and influential.

So the scene is set. Smyrna is beautiful, prosperous, highly patriotic, and of esteemed reputation. Its citizens are proud of their city, and they feel fortunate to live there. [2] Sound familiar?

No one really knows the origin of the church at Smyrna, but the facts are clear. They are guaranteed suffering, and this is completely antithetical to North American Evangelicalism.

Jared C. Wilson, who is a Christian, wrote an article this week about how Christian movies are sending the wrong message, and he said:

“There is a kind of prosperity gospel that pervades contemporary Christian art. It’s there in Christian Music radio, of course, and it’s all over Christian movies, including the ones based on true stories. The team has to win. The sick person has to defy the odds. (If you can get a sick person and a sports team in the same story, you’ve hit Christian movie gold.) The atheist professor must get owned. The unbelieving spouse must be converted. On and on it goes. Why? Because “if you just believe,” you can win.

Christian movies have embraced a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross. This is why, apart from inauthentic dialogue and stilted acting, Christian movies ring so untrue to ears tuned to reality. We know real life doesn’t work this way — even for believers. The world of Christian movies is uncomfortable sitting in the ambiguity of suffering, confusion, or chaos for too long. But if we must have Christian movies, they above all others, should be brave enough to tell us the truth, which is messier than what the market usually wants to hear.[3]

There is an implicit lie within Christian media that if you believe hard enough you’ll always win in life. Try selling that to starving Christians in Venezuela.

In John 16:33, Jesus said in no uncertain terms, “In this world you will have many trials and sorrows.” That’s the bad news and it’s important that we remember because it makes the good news so much sweeter.

  • The good news is the rest of John 16:33, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

So, as we look at the text this morning, I want us to see three things: A Picture of the Savior, A Promise of Suffering, and A Promise for Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SAVIOR

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life: 9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:8-9, NRSV

What we’re mostly dealing with in these two verses is who Jesus is and what Jesus knows. And, if you’re suffering, both of those things should be comforting.

  • Jesus told us I would have trouble. He knows we’re in trouble, and He is the Son of God who conquers the world that is giving us trouble.

The first thing Jesus says is that these words are the words of the first and the last.

In the Revelation 1:17, the first thing that Jesus says to the Apostle John is, “I am the first and the last.”

  • This is Jesus affirming Himself to John. This title of the first and the last is something that God says about Himself three times in the book of Isaiah, and by telling John, “I am the first and the last” his mind immediately goes back to Isaiah 44:6 where God says, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”

 

The second thing is, “These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life”

  • Resurrection is authentication. This proves that Jesus is who He says He is. So, Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church.

    • His resurrection means our resurrection.

  • How much do we really believe this though? Here’s the test: Imagine if Jesus’ had never risen from the dead. If Jesus had never risen from the dead, and you [as a church, not an individual] can go on living how you’re living now, and function as you are now if Jesus had never risen from the dead, then you are not living in the power of His resurrection.

“and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20, NRSV

“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11, NRSV

Let me say this again: Christ’s resurrection is central to the life of the Church. If the life of the church wouldn’t be any different if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead, then we are not living by the power of His resurrection.

The next thing that we learn about Jesus is in verse 9, “I know your affliction and your poverty…”

Jesus knows our affliction and our suffering. He identifies Himself with the poor, the afflicted, the suffering. He identifies Himself with the marginalized.

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” – Isaiah 53:3, KJV

A man like this isn’t coming for the righteous, but the unrighteous. He’s not coming for people who don’t suffer. He’s coming for the oppressed. He’s coming for the victims.

  • He’s coming for people who mourn, people who are hungry and thirsty, people who are meek. Because, according to Matthew 5, they’re the ones who receive the blessing.

The fourth idea here is that He knows our hearts.

“I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” – Revelation 2:9, NRSV

So, who are the Jews in question? Are they actual Jews by lineage and race or is Jesus using the word “Jew” to mean something else?

“For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.”
– Romans 2:28-29, NRSV

  • Just as a side note: Romans 2 is the key to understanding Romans 11, when Paul says, “All Israel will be saved.” He’s not talking about the nation of Israel or all ethnic Jews. He’s talking about all those who trust Jesus as their Savior and Messiah.

In Revelation 2, Jesus is saying “I know those who say they are Jews and are not, they are not they are of the synagogue of Satan.”

  • In Smyrna there was a Jewish synagogue not too far from where the church would meet, and the Jews would do all kinds of awful things to get this church in trouble with political authorities.

  • They would even come into the church and pose as converts and try to tear the church apart.

Jesus knows who they are. Jesus knows who is a genuine believer and who isn’t. Jesus knows who really loves Him and serves Him and who doesn’t.

In this passage, not only do we see A Picture of the Savior, but we also see A Picture of the Suffering.

 

A PICTURE OF THE SUFFERING

“Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:10, NRSV

When we talk about suffering in terms of persecution, I always want to make sure that if we’re suffering, then we should be suffering for the right reasons.

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed… Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.” – 1 Peter 3:13-14a, 16b-17, NRSV

Now, listen to what Peter says in the next chapter.

“If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.” – 1 Peter 4:14-16, NRSV

Let’s put this in perspective: Revelation, 1st and 2nd Peter, and Jude, and John’s Letters are all written to Christians who are suffering under persecution, and Peter is saying: If you’re going to suffer (and you will because Jesus said you would) then do so for the right reasons.

This important information for us because here in America we think we’re being persecuted when someone says, “Happy Holidays!”

Meanwhile there are Christians in China who are actually suffering for their faith.

  • If we’re suffering we need to evaluate why we’re suffering. Are we really suffering for our faith or are we suffering because we are “mischief makers” as Peter says.

Jesus knows the suffering of the Church of Smyrna, and it appears that they’re suffering for the right reasons, and so He tells them, “the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction.”

This is not the message of the prosperity Gospel. You’ve got people in the charismatic movement who will walk saying, “God told me to tell you x.”

  • There are really people with prophetic gifts and I don’t want to disparage that, but when you claim to have that gift and all of your “prophetic words” are encouraging and positive, then I’ve got to wonder what’s real and what isn’t because in the Bible, not even all the messages from the men and women who spoke for God were positive and encouraging.

The prosperity Gospel will not tell you that you are going to suffer, but Jesus does. Jesus doesn’t beat around the bush, but there’s good news here.

  • He says, “for ten days you will have affliction.” Here’s the thing: you can interpret this a million different ways, but ultimately it all means the same thing. Jesus named a specific amount of time that their affliction would last and that tells me that it’s temporary.

Your suffering, your affliction, your trouble is temporary. If you’re a believer, if you’re a Christian, then Jesus personally sees to it that your suffering is only temporary.

  • Satan is at work to make sure you have pain and trouble, but Jesus is has come to make sure your suffering isn’t forever.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10, NRSV

Not only do we see A Picture of Jesus, A Picture of Suffering, but we also see A Promise to Faithful Conquerors.

 

A PROMISE TO FAITHFUL CONQUERORS

“Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.” – Revelation 2:10b-11, NRSV

Listen to what’s being promised:

  • Be faithful until death and you’ll receive a crown of life.

  • Conquer and you will not be harmed by the Second Death.

Here’s the thing: because we haven’t faced the real threat of death for our faith yet, I don’t think we appreciate this as much as Smyrna did.

According to John MacArthur, this place was the hotbed of emperor worship. You must treat the caesar as a god.

  • In America, what little emperor worship we see is voluntary; in Rome it was mandatory, and it was all over the place.

  • The promise of a crown of life is more valuable to you when you live in a state that tries to suppress any kind of hope that you have simply because you’re giving your worship to Whom the worship is due, namely Jesus.

    • Jesus is always a threat to secular authorities because He has what they want and they’ll never have – absolute power and authority.

 

Jesus’ promise of a crown of life means that we can look at those earthly kings and rulers in face and say with boldness, “Do your worst.”

Do you know Jesus this morning? Do you understand that this promise to the Church of Smyrna is for you?

“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” Let’s pray.

CLOSING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word and we are Your people. When suffering comes, give us the strength to endure. Send Your Holy Spirit to give us power and strength when we need it most in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

_______________________________________________

  1. Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Second Sunday After Epiphany
  2. Revelation Sermon Series – Bruce Van Blair
  3. “Why Christian Movies Are So Terrible.” For The Church, 7 Jan. 2019, ftc.co/blog/posts/why-christian-movies-are-so-terrible. 

Making Word Vomiting Great Again

MWVGA

As a Christian, I’m tired. I’m not tired of being a Christian. I’m not tired of looking to Christ. I’m not tired of trying to help others look to Christ. But I am tired. I think I’m disappointed and frustrated so much with the current state of affairs that it’s actually manifesting itself in tiredness.

So, for the sake of my own sanity, I think I’ll voice my frustrations. I know some aren’t going to agree with me on a lot of these issues, but I don’t particularly care. I just have to get some things off my chest, and just for clarification, some of these issues are not related to one another, they are just things I’ve been thinking about for a while.

Jesus Doesn’t Care About Making America Great

It’s really hard to get people to look to Christ when people who are Christians are looking to politicians to “make America great again.” Yep, you know who you are. With our mouths we tell people to look to Jesus and seek His kingdom, but with our Facebook posts we give the middle finger to everyone who doesn’t vote like we do. As a pastor, that’s something really hard to watch, but I see it all the time, and it kills me. I’m proud to be a Libertarian, but at the end of the day, I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, or a part of the Green Party. If you love and serve Jesus, then we can hold hands and fight the same battles side by side. The more Christians make political affiliation a matter of importance the more people will believe that Jesus is a flag waving, Republican or a Democratic Socialist, or a member of whatever party you affiliate with. You can either choose to make America great or you can choose to display the greatness of God’s kingdom. You can’t do both because the USA is not the kingdom of Jesus came to establish.

 

Christianity is a Religion, Get Over It

Secondly, can we stop pretending like “It’s not about a religion, it’s about a relationship” is not the dumbest thing to ever come out of someone’s mouth? Oxford (the only English dictionary that matters) defines ‘religion’ as such: “The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” Do you believe that God is personal? Do you worship Him? If your answer is “yes” to both of those questions then your relationship with God is your religion. Grow up and stop pretending like religion is a dirty word. If you think religion is a bad thing, then try to argue with God when He inspired James to write James 1:27.

Don’t know what James 1:27 says? Good, then I can move on to my next point.

READ YOUR BIBLE!

One of the biggest problems with the American Church is that Christians are biblically illiterate. It seems like no one in the south who claims they are a Christian reads their Bible, and if they do, then they tend to read it with preconceived ideas about what it means. According to Lifeway Research, 34% rarely or never read the Bible. That’s 1/3. That’s a lot of people!

If God has given you a book, and directly spoken in said book, and you rarely or never read it, then either a) you don’t care about what God has to say or b) you don’t really believe that God has spoken in said book. That’s a problem! The reason why there are pastors who continue to preach trash in the pulpit is because of biblically illiterate churches who let them.

Saved by Grace? Yes? No? Pick a Side and Stay Over There

I’m tired of hearing Christians say things like, “Well, we’re saved by grace, but…” and then they’ll follow it some with some qualifier that completely goes against the first part of their sentence. They put qualifiers on grace. If grace has qualifiers then it’s not grace that’s all there is to it. They might as well be saying, “Jesus loves you, but don’t let that go to your head.”

Sunday Morning Worship Isn’t About You, and America Isn’t a Christian Nation

“Well, I just didn’t care for the music.” How many times have you heard this to describe a church service? Or, “It’s just not my style.”

When people use words like, “I,” “My,” or “Me” to describe a worship service, then they are making themselves the center of worship. A Sunday morning service becomes a time where they can have their preferred music, their preferred hymns, their preferred elements in worship instead of what is pleasing to God.

On the Sunday before the 4th July, many churches sang patriotic songs including “America the Beautiful” and our own national anthem as part of their worship service that morning. Why? Because we either believe a) America is God’s country and therefore, America should be worshipped along with God or b) we just don’t give a damn about Sunday morning worship and we should be able to sing about whatever we want depending on whatever godless holiday the world is celebrating.

I can hear patriotic Christians now pecking away at their keyboard, “But ‘Murica is a Christian nation.” First of all, only people can be Christian not nations. The only way a nation can be Christian is if every individual who is considered to be a father of our nation is in fact a Christian, and if you believe Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin are Christians (as admirable as they both are), then you have terrible theology.

Before you recommend David Bartlett and Wallbuilders to me in an effort to change my mind, just know that it’s not going to work that easily, and I know I’m probably not going to change your mind either which is why this post isn’t longer than what it is.

I will finish this section of this post with this thought, when God gave Moses the law, the first command was first the Israelites to worship no other god before Him. They didn’t have freedom of religion. God told them Who they were to worship and the book of Leviticus told them how they were to worship. They didn’t have freedom of religion. So, it is with our nation. We cannot say that America was established as Christian nation while the first amendment people to worship whatever and however they choose. I have no problem with the Constitution, I think it’s a fine document, but I’m not going to pretend that it is a Christian document nor will I pretend that America is or was a Christian nation.

It up to the Christians of this nation, not to establish a nation or kingdom of our own, but to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” God establishes His kingdom. He doesn’t need our help. Our job is to live as citizens of His kingdom first, and in so doing we provoke others to inquire about the hope that is within us. (1 Peter 3:15) Our hope is not that any politician will make things better, but that Jesus will make all things new.

Conclusion

Alright, I think I’m done for now.

Go ahead, type up an angry email. 

Ministry Matters: Ministry That Unites // Ephesians 2:11-22

Ministry Matters 3

Text: Ephesians 2:11-22

Introduction:

The most significant wall of modern times was the Berlin Wall, which was tangible evidence of an “Iron Curtain” separating communist East Germany from democratic West Germany after World War II. The 97-mile wall was constructed of stone and concrete. It stood for more than 25 years and hundreds of people lost their lives trying to cross it.

In 1988, a Lutheran pastor started holding weekly “Prayers for Peace” services at his church of St. Nicholas. Rev Christian Führer (führer is the German word for “leader”) was significantly influenced by the teachings of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He advocated non-violent change.

Numbers increased every week till tens of thousands gathered in his church courtyard for weekly prayer vigils. The movement culminated with the “Peaceful Revolution” on November 9th, 1989, when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. The oppressive government was experiencing a time of great weakness and the strength of the Christian witness and desire for the God given gift of freedom contributed to lasting change. [1]

There’s not a greater physical illustration of separation than that of a wall. A wall is a barrier that separates two areas or parties.

When someone is closing themselves off or separating themselves, we often say that they’re building walls and they’re not letting anyone in.

Well, this is what’s going on. The Jews are building walls and saying that the Gentiles have to conform to their culture and be circumcised first, then they can be saved, and the Gentiles are saying, “No way! You Jews had your chance at the Gospel and you blew it, and now the Gospel is coming to us!” And Paul is saying, “Both of you are wrong! Jesus came to destroy the barriers that separate you both, and take you both into Himself, and out of Himself create one new man.”

And what I really want us to see today is that what Paul is saying is relevant to us. Paul may have initially wrote this concerning Jews and Gentiles, but you might as well have Caucasians on one side and minorities on the other, and the meaning is still the same. There’s no denying that we have racial tension in this country on both sides. Both sides need to tear down their walls. Both sides need to understand that Jesus died to create one new humanity within Himself, and when we hide behind the walls that we build with our own prejudices then we attempt to build up the very thing that Jesus came to destroy.

Jesus died and rose again primarily so that we could be in relationship with God the Father through Him, but also so we could be in relationship with one another.

So, this morning I want to pose that three things are necessary if we’re going to tear down the walls that we’ve built to keep others out.

We have to think of the past, we have to think of our present, and we have to think of our future.

 

Thinking of the Past (v. 12)

“Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” – Ephesians 2:12, NRSV

Paul tells us right off the bat that he wants us to think about where we were.

We were without Christ, aliens, strangers, no hope, and without God.

If you were here Wednesday night then you remember that a couple of you talked about how you felt before you were saved. You didn’t care about God, you didn’t care about the Church. If someone said, “I’m praying for you,” you were just like, “Okay, whatever, have fun with that,” but in reality you were in danger and if you had died in that condition and had never repented and came to faith in Christ then you would be burning in hell, still cut off from Christ.

You can also think about it this way: you were relationally cut off from God’s people. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant between God and His people. Gentiles weren’t circumcised unless they converted to Judaism.

And you had Jews who had been circumcised and they were holding it over the heads of Gentile believers. And Gentile believers were getting puffed up because they didn’t have to be circumcised.

  • And now under this new covenant, none of that matters. Circumcised or not, your new sign of covenant community is now baptism.

I’m going to read Colossians 2:11-12, and I want you to keep in mind that this is all one sentence. This is all one cohesive thought that I believe ties into Ephesians 2.

“In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” –  Colossians 2:11-12, NRSV

So, what Paul is saying is that you who were once separated from one another are now raised up together through baptism. Circumcision is no longer the standard of acceptance, baptism is and baptism is available for everyone. Jew or Gentile.

If Judaizers had their way, then you would be allowed to be baptised because you’re not one of them. You would be cut off from the signs and seals of God’s promises to you unless you became a Jew first.

  • Naturally, we’re all Judaizers whether we realize it or not. We want to make people jump through hoops to see whether or not they’re really worthy of our love or our fellowship.

  • “Well, I just don’t know about so and so.” Did Jesus love them enough to die for them? Then you have no right to withhold love or fellowship. It’s really not that complicated.

“Remember that at one time you were without Christ… strangers to the covenants of promise.”

We were cut off from Christ, and as a result we were cut off from God’s people.

Thinking of the Present (v. 13)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” – Ephesians 2:13, NRSV

Whenever Paul wants to think about how we should treat one another he always appeals to what God has done for us in Christ.

If God treated you based on how you treat others whether it’s customers, your boss, those who are in authority over you, how would you fare?

What about people of other races, ethnicities, or even people on the other side of the political aisle? Or maybe you would never actually mistreat them, so what if God thought about you the same way you think about them?

Thankfully, He doesn’t. God always treats us better than we deserve. That’s grace, and that’s grace that we should show to others.

Now, like I said, Paul appeals to what God has done for us in Christ when he wants to think better of one another, and he does this at least twice, once in Ephesians and then in Romans.

 

  • “…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” – Ephesians 4:32, NLT

  • “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” – Romans 15:7, NRSV

 

Paul is saying that at one time you weren’t forgiven, at one time you weren’t welcomed, but now you are and you have a responsibility to one another.

“For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.” – Ephesians 2:14-16, NRSV

Jesus died and shed His blood to break down division and hostility. The Gospel, the good news, is about the creation of a new humanity. We see this idea most prominently in Ephesians 4:4-6.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:4-6, NRSV

The body of Christ is one new living body that is made up of Jews and Gentiles. We are not a Jewish body, we are not a Gentile body, we are one new body. We are one new building that Jesus has framed together.

As a matter of fact, there’s three ways that Paul thinks about the Church in Ephesians, and it should be easy for you to remember because they all start with “b.”

  • In Ephesians 2, Paul says that we are God’s building.
  • In Ephesians 4, Paul says that we are God’s body.
  • In Ephesians 5, Paul says that we are God’s bride.

Look at verses 19-22.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” – Ephesians 2:19-22, NRSV

I preached this passage this passage this morning at Hector along with the lectionary reading from the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 7.

  • In 2 Samuel 7, David is high on victory. God has given David’s enemies into his hand. He’s at peace in his house and he’s at rest from his enemies, and he says, Why should I live in a house of cedar and God’s ark dwell in a tent?

  • And Nathan the prophet doesn’t even let him finish his thought, he says, “Yeah, Buddy. Do whatever you want!” But God comes to Nathan that night and tells him to give David a message.

  • God tells David through Nathan: I have never once asked for a house not even since the day that I led my people out of Egypt.

  • I have never once commanded a judge or a leader to build me a house of cedar. And God goes on to tell David I’ve brought you from the pasture tending sheep, and I’ve been with you wherever you went.

  • In verse 10, God says, “I will build a place for my people Israel.” And then in verse 11, He tells David, “I will build a house for you.”

David wants to build a house for God, and all this time God has been working throughout redemptive history to build a house for David. Eventually, David’s son Solomon would come along and build the temple, and God would keep His promise and He was a father to Solomon.

But then eventually, a greater son of David would come along and build a better house. Jesus the Messiah, the son of David who sits on His throne has established a better house than Solomon’s temple, and that house is made up of the body of Christ. In Matthew 16, Jesus said, “I will build MY church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

If you want the church to succeed then let Jesus build His Church! Get out of the way, and let God be God!

The Foundation of God’s house is laid with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone.

[Illustration: You don’t see cornerstones anymore, but they were the first block to be laid on a building. A lot of times when churches would build a new building they would put a Bible in the cornerstone at the groundbreaking that they those in attendance would know that the Scriptures were going to be at the heart and soul of the congregation.

Central Presbyterian Church in Russellville still has the cornerstone that has the letters CPC on it from when it was a Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Clarksville First Presbyterian also used to be a CP Church. They still have the stone sign that says, “Cumberland Presbyterian Church.” But you can go to the University of the Ozarks and read the minutes of the dedication service that they had in that beautiful building. The first hymn that was sung in that building was ‘How Firm a Foundation.’]

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

God has built His house on His son, Jesus as the chief cornerstone, and on the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets as the foundation.

The Bible that you hold in your hands is their testimony that God has and always will have a house for His name and that house is the Church. That house is made up of God’s elect people of all tribes, nations, races, tongues, democrats, republicans, independents, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, and yes, even Pentecostals.

Which brings us to our final point.

Thinking of the Future (Revelation 5:6-10)

“Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9They sing a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
   saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
10you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
   and they will reign on earth.” – Revelation 5:6-10, NRSV

God in Christ has purchased for Himself a people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

While we were at PAS, we visited McKenzie First Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They had a traditional service and a contemporary service. We visited the traditional service the first week, and the contemporary service the next week.

In both services, I noticed something that you don’t see in many churches around here. There were people of all races, all ages, all backgrounds. There were more older people in the contemporary service than young people. There are were about as many young people as there were older people in the traditional service.

And I thought, “This is the kingdom of God.”

All of these bloodlines of race, ethnicity, and tribe, they all come together and meet at the bloodline of Jesus the Messiah who has brought both Jew and Gentile into Himself and made one new man.

I’m going pray for us, and we’re going to sing one more song.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, send Your Holy Spirit to apply Your Word to our hearts. Make us desire the same things that You desire. You sent Your Son to put hostility to death so make us hate hostility. You sent Your Son to break down the dividing wall between races whether that be Jew or Gentile or between any other races. You sent Your Son create unity among all of those who call upon Him for complete salvation. So, I pray that You would give us Your heart, and let us desire the things You desire. In the name of Your Son who who taught us to pray:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.


[1] Sermon Illustration taken from this document: http://www.augsburgfortress.org/media/downloads/0806695951_session2_preaching.pdf

Three Guiding Principles for the Church

Sometimes it’s good to get back to basics. Doing so may reveal that we’ve gotten off track. Or it may affirm and empower us in the way in which we are already going.

With so many voices and competing truth claims pulling us this way and that, it behooves us to recall what it is that we are to be about as Christians, both individually and collectively. And when we turn to the Bible, God has given three main guiding principles. They are:

  • The Creation Mandate
  • The Great Commandment
  • The Great Commission

Let’s look at each briefly.

The Creation Mandate

Otherwise known as “The Cultural Mandate,” this is the nickname given to Genesis 1:28 which says: “God blessed them and said to them,Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'” Christians throughout the ages have seen this as a call to cultural, familial, and societal participation. It calls people to get married and have children. To work to provide for yourself. To contribute to society. To pursue creative endeavors. To grow food. To take care of animals. To build cities. To seek the good of your community.

These ideas are echoed elsewhere in Scripture. To The Jewish exiles, the prophet Jeremiah passes on a message from God, urging them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7) The Apostle Paul also reminds the Thessalonian church: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12)

This guiding principle tells us that God assigns dignity to the mundane, to the normal parts of life. God does not call us only to evangelism or only to loving one another; he calls us also to work in the contexts of creation and our families and communities.

The Great Commandment

We see this spoken by Jesus in Luke 10:27. “He answered, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” It is the call to be guided by love in all we do–first by love for God and then by love of other people. We love God by learning about him, using our energy to serve him, and communing with him. 1st Corinthians 13 lists ways that we can love our fellow humans–by treating them with kindness, being patient, assuming the best, and speaking the truth. This principle, the call to be guided by love, reminds us that God cares not just about our knowledge, but also about our affections and motivations.

The Great Commission

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus commissions his disciples specifically and the church generally, saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Similar ideas are expressed in Acts 1:8, which quotes Jesus as saying, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The idea is that Christ wants his church to grow—in breadth (making new converts) and in depth (creating mature disciples). Another component of “breadth” is that Jesus wants disciples of all kinds of people. Following the pattern of Acts 1:8, Christians are to evangelize and disciple those near to them (Jerusalem), those unlike them (Samaria), and those far away from them (the ends of the earth). This guiding principle reminds local church bodies to look beyond themselves in the cause of bringing people to maturity in Christ. It may require immense effort and discomfort, and yet it is what God has called and empowered the church to do! Christ will build his church, the Gates of Hell will not prevail, and he calls us to participate in such a work.

Conclusion

When the church neglects any one of these principles, it becomes unbalanced; worse, it fails to live according to the call that God has given. On a corporate level, various denominations may tend to focus on one principle while neglecting another. On individual level, a person’s culture or personality may lend itself more towards one over the others. The point is not that everyone needs to apply these principles in the same way, but rather that all three should be pursued in some way–individually, yes; but even moreso, corporately.

On the other hand, to those who feel discouraged, unsure if their tasks matter, may these principles offer encouragement. Whether you are caring for children at home, making beautiful YouTube videos, teaching missionary kids, holding the hands of the sick, praying with a co-worker, or participating in local government—what you are doing matters for God’s Kingdom! Press on, dear friends!

So, in closing, let us remember the dignity of work, the beauty of creativity, and the weight of our duties to society and family. May we be guided by holy affections and motivations. And may we live out the vision of the expansion and maturity of Christ’s church.

Let’s get back to basics, shall we?

~Hannah 🌸

7 Reasons Evangelicals Struggle to Respond Properly to Allegations of Abuse and Rape

Editor’s Note: contains references to rape, sexual harassment, and abuse.

In light of the Paige Patterson situation (read Rod Dreher’s description of and comments on it here), I’ve been reflecting on why time and time again evangelicals fail to respond properly to allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, or rape.

It looks like pastors telling abuse victims to return home and submit. Urging rape victims not to report crimes to the police. Sharing objectifying comments about young girls met with laughter rather than rebuke. Assuming alleged victims are lying or exaggerating. Handling allegations internally rather than reporting to the authorities and bringing in experts. Being unwilling to examine the evidence. Dismissing those who do as gossips or slanderers.

On the one hand, it blows my mind that people can be so ignorant and/or evil. And on the other hand, I recall that it’s only been in the last few years that I myself have learned about such things. But now that I do know, I see it everywhere—including in the church!

But why is this? Why do people, and particularly conservative Christians, repeatedly fail in these ways? Why the aversion to truth? Why so slow in the ways of justice? Why the failure to love neighbor? Why the disbelief that such evil could be in our midst?

One reason Christians fail is because people fail, and Christians are people. Other reasons relate to beliefs and fears that are specific to evangelical culture. In this second category, I’ve come up with seven reasons why Christians may tend to fail to respond properly to allegations of abuse or rape (or why they cannot tolerate the idea of those they respect having responded poorly). At the end of this article, I’ve included some suggestions for how Christians can respond better—in a manner befitting our commitment to love for one’s neighbor and love for God—and some resources for further study.

  1. A distorted view of authority. God is the ultimate authority and has created earthly authorities. He has given authority to governments, church elders, parents, and others. Christians are right to believe in and properly submit to such authority. The problem comes, however, when an earthly authority is made ultimate and unaccountable, above all critique or criticism. (Behind this is perhaps of fear of anarchy, of the dissolution of rightful authority, as well as a fear of losing control of those under authority.)
  2. Viewing specific churches, denominations, or organizations as ultimate and necessary. Sometimes Christians place too high an importance on specific churches or organizations which can lead to obsession about reputation and appearance over truth and justice. One might call this an idolization of power. This relates to a conflation of the success of a church or denomination with the success of the church or the gospel. People worry that if their organization falls because of “scandal,” the gospel itself will fall.
  3. Ignorance about harassment, abuse, and rape. Some Christians don’t understand abuse dynamics, reasons for delayed reporting, or even the basic definitions of harassment, rape, and abuse. Thus they fail to respond appropriately. Part of this may be because many Christians cannot fathom what it would be like to perpetrate abuse or rape, and they impose their “goodness” on those around them, failing to take into account the depth of evil possible even by professing Christians.
  4. Failure to understand the seriousness of sex crimes. Sometimes Christians engage in “sin leveling” when it comes to sexual sins, failing to recognize that sexual assault is much more grievous than lustful thoughts; in such cases, the result tends to being minimizing of sex crimes. Similarly, some fail to understand that some things are “merely” sinful while other things are both sinful and criminal.
  5. Misplaced opposition to liberalism. In American culture at present, liberals–whether political, cultural, or theological–tend to talk more about rape, harassment, and abuse than conservatives (who talk more about chastity, pornography, and adultery). This has led some conservatives to wrongly conflate opposition to sex crimes with liberalism. Perhaps it is difficult to accept truth when it comes from “the other side.” In my opinion, liberals have much they could learn about sexuality from conservatives; however, a proper understanding of and response to abuse and rape are some of the issues in which conservatives could learn from liberals.
  6. Fear of heroes falling. Humans like to have people to look up to. We love our heroes. The mere suggestion that those whom we respect could be guilty of grossly mishandling allegations of sex crimes (or of the sex crimes themselves!) can be extremely disconcerting. We wonder what will happen to us, and what it says about us, if our heroes are deeply flawed. And so it is easier not to entertain such thoughts, rejecting such accusations as being from “the haters.”
  7. Faulty theology of repentance and reconciliation. At the heart of Christianity are repentance and reconciliation. God, through Christ, reconciles sinful humanity to himself when they repent and believe. This reconciliation is echoed in relationships between people. Reconciliation, however, can be misapplied when victims of abuse are urged to “forgive and forget” at the expense of truth, justice, or healing. Or when the perpetrator feeling bad for being caught is mistaken for genuine repentance. Or when even genuine repentance is seen as necessitating the alleviation of consequences.

In summary, Christians may respond poorly to allegations of abuse due to ignorance, idolatry, fear, or flawed theology. The call, then, is: to embrace truth even when it’s difficult; to trust that Christ will build his church (even if our local churches or denominations fail); and to believe that doing justly on behalf of victims of abuse or rape is right and is actually a better testimony to the watching world than excusing or covering it up.

What Should Christians and Churches Do?

  • Learn about power dynamics and abuse dynamics.
  • Learn to recognize tactics abusers use to cover up their crimes and the likely responses to exposure.
  • Evaluate doctrines of authority, repentance, the church, and reconciliation to see if they are in line with truth.
  • Listen to and support (emotionally and practically) people leaving abusive relationships.
  • Speak up when you witness harassment and objectification.
  • Teach respect, chastity, and consent in your families and communities.
  • Support legislation based on best practices for dealing with harassment, abuse, and rape.
  • Advocate for good policies in churches, organizations, and denominations.
  • Be humble–willing to learn.
  • Admit when you’ve acted or believed wrongly, and seek to make it right.

Sample Resources

This concludes my current ponderings on the way Christians deal with abuse. Thank you for reading—especially as this is a serious and grieving topic. But friends, it is so important!

What about you? How have you seen Christians respond to abuse? What are some other factors that could contribute to poor responses? And what resources do you recommend for those wanting to learn more?

Until next time,

~Hannah 🌸

Check out some of my previous articles:

Believing Jane: Reflections on a Rape and it’s Cover-Up at The Master’s College & Seminary

When Traditional Values Create Toxic Churches