A Call To The Church
Notes of a message given in The Moody Church on January 1, 1956, based on Revelation chapters two and three.
In a previous study in this book we looked at the full-length portrait of Christ in chapter 1—the appointed Judge by whom one day God will judge the world in righteousness.
As we are thinking especially in these studies of the judgments of God, we are reminded of the words of Peter (1 Peter 4:17), “Judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”
The second and third chapters of Revelation contain the message of the Risen Lord to seven churches in Asia Minor—His call, His challenge, and His comfort to His people. It was in this area that loyalties of Christians were being tested, and that the fires of persecution were burning highest. These seven churches were strategically placed from the standpoint of highways, and really through them these messages were to be sent to all the churches in Asia.
Each church represents the spiritual condition of any church anywhere, and a call to the church is a call to every member. It is so easy to say our church is Laodicean, but am I? It is the general belief that these seven letters represent the fluctuating state of the church in the world from the first century to the Lord’s return—
Ephesus—the first century church, with zeal beginning to flag.
Smyrna—the persecuted church under Roman emperors to the time of Constantine in the fourth century.
Pergamos—the church from Constantine to the rise of Roman Catholicism in the fifth century.
Thyatira—from the fifth century to the Reformation in the fifteenth century.
Sardis—the Post Reformation church, lapsing into deadness in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Philadelphia—the church of the first and second centuries to the Evangelical Revivals in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the missionary movements began.
Laodicea—the lukewarm church of these days continuing till the Second Coming.
All of these churches are not in the same state at the same time, nor are all Christians. The challenge is to discover what is our condition—my condition before God. Which one most nearly represents me? Am I prepared to face that, as we briefly examine the state of each.
Ephesus (Revelation 2:1–7)
This church was founded by Paul and taught by him for two years (Acts 18:20), and this is the church to which he wrote his epistle 35 years later. See how it is commended—sound, intolerant of evil, patient in persecution, not growing weary in service. Is this a perfect church? No! It has one fault—it has lost its first love. Not its love, but its first love which offsets all else—busy, orthodox, disciplined, but loveless. It is to repent and to call to mind the early days and early zeal, and to get back to its first love for God and souls. It is so easy to become an organization. Amy Carmichael says, “May God hold us to that which drew us first when the Cross was our only attraction.” Repent—don’t offer excuses—do thy first works—go to the prayer meeting again—get out after souls—visit. Oh! the tragedy of a loveless church or Christian.
Smyrna (Revelation 2:8–11)
A church under trial, suffering tribulation, poverty, prison, yet faithful. The price of refusing state worship, of resisting totalitarian powers was being paid. It was going behind the Iron Curtain, but with the flag flying—suffering for Christ and rejoicing in privilege. To them Jesus offers no relief of the pressure, no way of escape, but He says, “Don’t be afraid of what you’re going to suffer.” To Ephesus, He said, “Be afraid of losing your love.” It is better to lose your life than your love!
There is no blame attached—no condemnation. There are four wonderful words of comfort in brackets: “but thou art rich,” therefore, continue unto death and I will give thee the Crown of life—the suffering Christian.
Pergamos (Revelation 2:12–17)
This is the place where Satan’s seat was, where the emperor was worshipped, but Jesus said, “I know where thou dwellest.” This is true of us all in the factory, in the home and shop. “I know where you live,” He says.
But this church had gone down to a low level of idolatry and immorality. It was a lawless church. Here is a call to repentance; to take sides with God against sin, which ensures blessing. If we refuse, God takes side against sin and if we are on the side of sin, He is against us. Yet in the midst of judgment, there was a promise of hidden manna to overcomers and spiritual life would be supported in any circumstances. Jesus knows where we live—is it compromise, lawlessness, or victory?
Thyatira (Revelation 2:18–29)
God speaks here as the all-seeing One, coming to judge. He had spoken before, but they had not listened (verse 21). There was a lowering of standards, an elimination of separation from the world. It was ripe for judgment, yet apparently listless. The voice of Satan calls on us for compromise, while Christ calls for separation, for the way to bless the world is to walk in separation from it.
Sardis (Revelation 3:1–6)
This church had the reputation of being active and alive, but it is pronounced as dead. The early promise had not been realized, “I have found no works of thine fulfilled before my God.” There was good organization, but death. Prayers were offered up, but they were ineffective. They thought the plans for evangelism were good, but they never carried them out—lifeless. Once again the call is to repentance. How often this word is addressed to Christians! If only we would face it, then there would be more repentance among the unsaved.
Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7–13)
There are no complaints here. There are only two like that—Smyrna in fires of persecution, and Philadelphia in fires of revival. To them God gives an open door that no man can shut. The church is not strong, but it is loyal. It may lack equipment and accessories, but a heart exercised before God for souls is worth much more. To them an open door is trusted.
Laodicea (Revelation 3:14–22)
Saddest of all is this church—not a word of praise. They lost all their zeal and had grown lukewarm. Possibly its financial strength and resulting independence were the cause of that. This church was rich, but in wrong currency. It was poor in missionary passion. There as no Moody or Booth then. Indeed if one had arisen, he would have been put out for disturbing the peace. This was a Lordless church.
To this Laodicean church God spoke in judgment—“I cannot bear you; I will have nothing to do with you,” yet if even one member sees his need, there is hope—“Behold I stand at the door and knock.”
Just glance through the condition of these seven churches with me: Ephesus—loveless; Pergamos—lawless;Thyatira—listless; Sardis—lifeless; Laodicea—Lordless. Are you anywhere in this group in relation to your spiritual life? Smyrna—suffering; Philadelphia—witnessing—Are you living with these—the Victors? If you are in the first group, God’s Word is REPENT, and live in the second.