Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Let me preface by saying that I’ve heard tons of sermons on this topic. However, after reading through Revelation again, the Holy Spirit kept reminding me to right down this message. Seriously; I tried not to since it’s covered so frequently in sermons but for like three days I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Alright, onto today’s article.
There are no perfect Christians. In fact, John tells us that if you think you’re perfect in your walk with Christ, then you are in error. We read, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Wisdom-master King Solomon agrees, writing, “There is not a righteous man on the earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). However, our problems are not always the same; in fact, most Christians aren’t even on the same page in their walk with Christ. Realizing the rampant imperfection among humans and our inability to even stumble together, Jesus wrote seven letters to the varied churches of John’s day in order to cover the spread of where we are in Christ and how to continue in our relationship with our Lord. Today we’ll look at those letters and try to understand what Jesus is saying to everyone. Also, today I’m gonna try a different format; we’ll see how it works.
The Church of Ephesus
-The Ephesian church has persevered, tested the spirits, and basically done everything right.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary (Revelation 2:1-3).
-The church in Ephesus also strongly opposed false religions and ideologies.
But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate (Revelation 2:6).
-The Ephesians are accused of forgetting why they’ve done all of their righteous deeds: their initial love for God.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place (Revelation 2:4-5).
What This Means for us
-The church of Ephesus was the shining model for churches of old. They were in line with the law of Christ and they never stopped being loyal to God even after suffering persecution. However, much like many Christians, their enthusiasm began to wane. What they did at first out of a divine love for Christ and his salvation turned into more of a habit or daily ritual. Instead of avoiding sin because they loved God, they avoided sin because that’s what they’re supposed to do. Those of us believers who have been in church for many years know what this feels like, you do the things you’re supposed to do, but it’s not so much wholehearted devotion more than it is just keeping the status quo. Christ is particularly critical of the Ephesians because they are falling into the same trap as the Pharisees of his day. As believers, we need to remember the most important part about having a relationship with Christ- enjoying that relationship. Remember when Jesus visited Mary and Martha. Martha set about all the work of the house and preparing to feed and take care of Jesus, whereas Mary just relaxed and listened to Jesus talk. Martha was upset because she was serving the Lord but Mary was being lazy. However, Jesus gave an unexpected response:
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Don’t forget, brothers and sisters, that Jesus is the focus of our life. The only thing we need to do is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). After that, everything else should fall in to place.
The Church in Smyrna
-The church in Smyrna was suffering for Christ in all manners: pain, poverty, and persecution.
To the Angel of the church in Smyrna write:
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan (Revelation 2:8-9).
-None actually. However, our Lord and Savior warns the believers in Smyrna that things are going to get worse before they get any better.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10).
What This Means for us
-All around the world, Christians are suffering. Be it the Christians who are facing brutal oppression in the Middle East due to Muslim extremists, or the Christians who are being told by their teachers that they’re stupid because they trust in God’s Word. Not only that, but despite what a lot of churchgoers may think, we’re supposed to be on the losing end here on earth (since we have the final win). Paul gives a preview to the Corinthians what it’s like walking with Christ here on earth,
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).
If as a follower of Jesus you are facing hardship, don’t let it deter you. Actually, suffering let’s you know you’re doing it right, as odd as that sounds. Unfortunately, times aren’t gonna get better right away, so stay strong and don’t forget your love of God, for he’ll see you through the hard times. And when you’ve held up under everything coming against you in the name of Christ, God will reward you.
The Church in Pergamum
-The believers in Pergamum were doing an amazing job of remaining faithful in a very sinful land.
To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live- where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city- where Satan lives (Revelation 2:12-13).
-Our Lord felt that though the church in Pergamum was staying true to Jesus and his name, they were too accepting of sin, false religions, and heretical ideas.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth (Revelation 2:14-16).
What This Means for us
-The Church in Pergamum fits well when comparing it to the Church in Ephesus. Both seem to be facing similar outside difficulties (temptation, false doctrines, Nicolaitans), but they respond to these differently. While the church in Ephesus is acting perfectly in the face of adversity but losing their love for God, the church in Pergamum abounds with the love of Christ- which is causing them to be far more open than they need to be. It’s a fine line that many Christians find themselves unable to balance on. Do you stick close to the law, or do you love everyone and let God sort it out? Well, Jesus says that although love is important, so is condemning evil. This is a difficult concept to spread in the modern church, as we are focused on trying to emulate Christ’s love and forgiveness. But Paul had to deal with a church that was too accepting in his day as well. Here’s what he writes,
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
There are no perfect people. However, the church shouldn’t be seen as only a refuge for the sinner. Really it is to be a house for those who are trying to reform their lives through the grace and mercy of Christ’s sacrificial death on a cross. According to Paul, people who have no intention of changing their sinful lives do not belong in the church. When Paul tells the people to hand the man over to Satan, what he means is that until he gets his act cleaned up (and separates from his mother) he should not be a welcomed member at church- dangerous thing to say, I know. But Paul doesn’t say this without reason, this man needs to come to terms with his sin through a little bit of natural suffering (that is what is meant by handing him over to Satan) until he is brought to a point of repentance. By allowing this to happen and not telling him “It’s ok, it’s ok” the man will be delivered by Christ both from his sin and from an eternity of hell. Later, presumably after the man had been put out of the church and had come to repentance, Paul wrote, “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). Paul wasn’t saying to fight against the sinner, but against the sin, and when that sin was repented of, the man was to be welcomed back into the fold with open arms. One of the hot topics in the church these days are homosexual pastors. Now I’ve looked on both sides of this topic but it seems to me that an openly gay pastor is an openly sinning pastor. He or she shows no sign of wanting to change a lifestyle that Scripture says is sinful. The Bible says,
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither will the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
And so while the love of Christ compels me to embrace and love a homosexual person who desires to be involved with the work of Christ, my devotion to the Lord tells me that such a person needs to come to repentance over a major sin in their lives before real progress can be made. I mean, think of if the leader of an AA meeting was still getting drunk every day with no desire to change, would he be effective in his work? Of course not. We too need to consider such things as we administer the Love of God. I think the protest sign equivalent would be, “Jesus Loves You; but he would really like you to stop living in sin.” Paul tells us, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). We should fight sin, but in a loving way.
Of the Nicolaitans; I did a quick Google search and nobody really has anything too definitive on what this sect really was (at least within the confines of a 3-minute search). However, what I’d say is that judging by the way it’s presented in his letter; the believers in Pergamum were too willing to compromise their doctrine. So I’d compare this to the current young-earth creationists versus the theistic evolutionists. Evolution is a model that has life coming together over millions of years of growth and development. The world’s education systems support evolution and there’s a feeling that anyone who doesn’t accept evolution is somehow denying the obvious. This has led to many in the church trying to adapt Scripture to match the concept of evolution. However, there’s a very large underlying problem with a Christian adopting evolution into their doctrine. Aside from the fact that the current evolutionary model doesn’t fit the days of creation in the right order (even if you extend the days over years), if evolution is true then Christ’s death on a cross was meaningless; and to that end, so is your faith. The Bible tells us
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned- for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come (Romans 5:12-14).
If Adam did not introduce death into the system through his sin, then Paul is wrong, and if Paul is wrong, Jesus was mistaken in sacrificing himself for us, and if Jesus was wrong then there is no way to save you. However, the only way for Adam to be the one to introduce death into the world was for him to have been there in the beginning, standing amongst ancient animals like dinosaurs and the like, rendering evolution entirely incompatible with the Word of God. Do not compromise your faith, brothers and sisters, just to make the church look better- but at the same time don’t allow your love to be compromised either. It’s not easy, but it’s what we’re called to do.