Character Matters Part 1 – Revelation 2:1-17 – Pastor Eric
If someone asked you, “What should I look for in a church, what would you say?” If you put together a list, then it might include things like: engaging music, an excellent speaker, authentic relationships, and a thriving community. These things are important things, but the Apostle John teaches us that character of Christ should be at the top of the list. John gives us this central truth: God calls the church to be humble champions of character and hope. God wants for the church, His people, to be conquerors in this fallen world with qualities of love, faith, and integrity. Thus, the character of Christ must be at the top of the list.
(1) God calls the church to be people of love, not legalism. God desires for His people to major on love and not religious obligation. God wants the church to champion a love for God and a love for people. God never calls the church to self-righteousness. (Revelation 2:1-7)
In verse 1, God holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. Christ holds everything in control from the seven stars, the angels or messengers of the church, and He holds the lampstands, the churches. Christ personally walks with His church, step by step, and His character impacts the character of the church.
The city of Ephesus was known as a super metropolis in Asia and considered one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus was a powerful city, and the church of Ephesus was a powerful church. The church was birthed by Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila, and it was ministered by famous pastors like Paul, Timothy, and John. So, the Ephesian church was proud of its position in Asia and in the Christian world, and there was much to praise this church about.
But God had this against them, they had left their first love. For all their good deeds, this church was dangerously on the edge of becoming a Pharisaic and legalistic church. They had great external deeds, but internally, they were dying, for they had lost their first love. Their love for orthodoxy had overcome their love for orthopraxy, and their love for theology and doctrine had become their god, not Christ and the church.
God calls them to Remember! They are to never forget and always recall where you have fallen from. They must keep recalling the gospel over and over again. Just like 9/11, we will never forget what happened and those who lost their lives. In the same way, as Christians, we must never forget Christ’s death. We must continuously remind ourselves that God gifted us Himself and eternally out of an amazing love for us, and His kindness leads us to repentance.
In application, the church must look to be conservative in what we believe, and liberal in how we love. The church must hold firmly to the Scriptures and to the gospel, but not to the point that it prohibits us from love. The church must have a strong grip on the gospel and an open hand to all people - no matter the color of their skin, no matter their background, no matter their economic status, and no matter their struggles.
(2) God calls the church to be people of fortitude, not fear. God desires for His people to become steadfast disciples and not fly by night converts. God wants the church to champion endurance and perseverance, not to cower in fear. (Revelation 2:8-11)
This section begins with another characteristic of Christ in verse 8 - the first and the last, who died and came to life. God is sovereign over all history from the beginning of creation in Genesis 1 to the far end of time in Revelation 22. God powerfully controls the past, present, and future including life and death. This is good news for today as we live in shelter in place, orange skies, and civil unrest. Praises to our God for He’s in control, not us!
The character of Christ was especially impactful for the church of Smyrna, because they were a poor and persecuted church. They were poor, because Jewish leaders and pagans mobbed early Christians in Smyrna to steal and to rob from them. The political pressure was so intense that Jews denounced Christians as being against the state, and Roman authorities arrested believers for not bowing down to worship the emperor. These Christians were being persecuted and thrown into prison for their faith and ultimately, martyred for their beliefs.
Verse 11 offers hope, because there is no fear in death for Christ has claimed victory over death by rising up from the grave. So that, the dead is not one to weep over but to rejoice in. The believer will not suffer again but will be ushered into paradise. The Christian will be free from shelter in place, free from loneliness, and free from suffering.
(3) God calls the church to be people of character, not compromise. God desires for His people to become individuals of integrity and not individuals of the world. God wants the church to champion virtue and morality, not immorality and promiscuity. (Revelation 2:12-17)
John again begins by setting our attention upon the character of Christ for He has a sharp two-edged sword. In Rome, the double edge sword was a symbol of Roman justice and power. This picture of Christ is a direct rebuttal to the city Pergamum, which was known for its religious and imperial power. Pergamum was a leading city of religion with many temples, altars, and shrines dedicated to Zeus who was seen as a savior god. Plus, Roman emperor worship was a common place linked to civic loyalty and patriotism.
So much so, Christians were called atheists for their rejection of Roman gods and government. Sadly, the state of affairs in the culture had crept into the culture and character of the church. For believers had begun to compromise their faith by surrendering to false teaching. Balaam was an old enemy of God in Israel’s past history when the Israelites had surrendered to Balaam’s ways of sexual and spiritual adultery. The church was doing the same thing.
God’s solution is simple and strong, “Therefore repent!” In the Greek, it means to have a change of mind. Repentance is godly sorrow over sin. However, most of us see repentance as God catching us red handed in sin. We think God is going to condemn or to judge us in our repentance. So, we despair over repentance, and we see it as a shameful act. But this is just not true for the Christian.
This is where the gospel is essential. God has already judged and condemned His very own Son on our behalf. Therefore, repentance can be a privilege to tell Jesus our mistakes and mess ups. Repentance happens in the context of love, not judgment. Thus, repentance helps us to let go of our earthly treasures in order to take hold of our infinite treasure, Jesus Christ.
We began by asking the question, what should I look for in a church? Now, we must ask ourselves the question, what the church, what do I look like? As you listen to God and apply these truths, then ask yourself, which church do I most resemble? Smyrna, Pergamum, or Ephesus?
It is imperative for us to see our own character flaws and bring them to the Lord in repentance. It’s essential to remember there is love and forgiveness in repentance. So that, God might change us, and He will make us into champions of love, fortitude, and character.
For the world desperately needs to hear and to see the character of the church, so that the world will be able to hear and to see the character of Christ.
Praise Songs: O Worship the King, Build My Life, Come Thou Fount, In Christ Alone, Doxology