Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What the Church Needs to be Overcomers

I and the rest of the Bible teaching team at our church met with our senior pastor last evening, focused on determining future teaching plans for our adult Bible classes. As part of this, he led us through an incredible examination of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2-3. These letters contain striking words from Christ, the Lord of the church, and reveal much about what He holds as signs of a successful church. And also what He considers as indicators of an unfaithful church, and what He will do to such churches if they don't repent. It's somewhat chilling to read Jesus' words to these pastors, to hear His stern warnings to five of them, and to think of these warnings in the context of our postmodern evangelical church. And even more so, to evaluate our own church and ministry in light of Christ's words.

For example, consider the church at Ephesus starting in Revelation 2:1. Christ commends them because they had great doctrine, exercised Biblical discipline, didn't tolerate false teachers, and had endurance in these things. They had the ministry of the Word down. They were faithful in their proclamation of the Bible and keeping it at the center of their church life. Sounds like the kind of church I want to be part of, right? None of this 'Bible-lite" Christianity for me. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the church that I am part of.

But keep reading Jesus' words in 2:4-5: "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." Did you catch that? Christ says they're doing all the right stuff, remaining faithful and true to the Biblical doctrines and exercising them rightly. But they are doing so out of a cold sense of obligation and duty, because the love for Him that they had at first is not there anymore. They have abandoned it, walked away from it, lost it. Their motivation for doing Christ's ministry Christ's way had originally been based out of a fervent and passionate love for the Savior. But they had since fallen from that motivation, to something else, something less. And is this important? Obviously so important to Jesus that He commands them to remember the love for Him that was their motivation in the past, repent of their state of cold-heartedness, and return to doing His ministry motivated by a love for Him. Or else He will personally come and take them out. Christ says that if their ministry isn't flowing out of a holy love for Him, then He doesn't need them, doesn't want them. The implications are obvious. If we are doing the ministry of the Word well, we must also see to it that we are doing it motivated by a passionate love for Christ, for His glory, for His name, for His gospel.

Then look at what Jesus says at the end of this letter to the Ephesian pastor, a pattern repeated in each of the seven letters. First, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Translation: "Listen up." Then He says "To the one who conquers I will..." Over and over He echoes different promises to those who conquer, to those who overcome. The Greek is νικάω, to prevail or to gain victory. The context makes it clear that He's making these promises to those who respond to His warnings and repent, return and endure in that repentance until the end. In the case of the Ephesians, His promise is to those who return to the love they had for Him at first.

This pattern is repeated in each of the seven letters. Affirmation (well, not to all of them), warnings against what Christ sees needing corrected, and promises to those who overcome through those corrections. So putting all these things together, we get a picture of what Jesus wants His church to be and do to be conquerors and overcomers. And as we learned through this study last night, what we as the stewards and undershepherds and teachers of His church need to be focusing on imparting to His people to enable them to be overcomers. And not just what we teach, but why we teach it and how we teach it.

  • We need to impart a passionate love for Christ, as the Ephesians needed.
  • We must help believers develop endurance and perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution, as the church at Smyrna needed.
  • We must teach and promote sound doctrine, as the church at Pergamum was warned.
  • We must promote holiness, purity and right worship as needed in the church at Thyatira.
  • We must seek to develop spiritual vitality and life like the church at Sardis needed.
  • We must teach and model faithfulness like the Philadelphian church needed.
  • And we must foster a Christ-dependency rather than a self-sufficiency as Jesus warned the Laodiceans.
A tall order for Christ's churches, to be sure. But imperative if the church is to be the church that Jesus Christ has called us to be, saved us to be, empowered us to be, commanded us to be and warned us against not being.

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