The letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelations has always fascinated me. For many years I avoided reading the Revelations because so much of it was allegorical and, I thought, difficult to interpret.
But look at these seven churches. The "allegory" here is quite simple. Take the letters literally as to seven actual churches in Asia. Read them carefully to see the nature of the congregation to whom the letter is written.
To the church at Ephesus, he writes both encouragement and admonition: You have persevered and endured hardships and not grown weary. But you have forsaken your first love.
The first love of the Christian must be Christ. If He is not first in our lives, we have lost it all. The church of Ephesus was going through the motions. The theology and fidelity were correct, but the passion for Christ was missing. The passion for Christ is the foundation of any church. Without that passion, the church is lost.
To the church at Smyrna, he writes encouragement without admonition: I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich!
Without the trappings of the world, this church was rich in the love of God and their unwavering passion for the Word. There is nothing here to admonish, just the encouragement to maintain that faith in the face of any suffering or test.
To the church at Pergamum, he writes both encouragement and admonition: You remain true in a society that persecutes the church. But you tolerate theological heresies that lead to sexual immorality.
This tolerance adulterates the message of Christ and the church. It robs the church of its vital connection to the Lord. The church of Christ is not to tolerate such things. What does not measure up to the edicts of the Lord is to be rebuked and, if not repented of, cast out.
To the church at Thyatira, he writes a similar encouragement and admonition: You are now doing more that you ever did. But you tolerate Jezebel and sexual immoralities that lead to theological heresy.
Pergamum and Thyatira are two sides of the same coin. Theological heresies and sexual immorality are two faces of the same idol. Theological heresy panders to the arrogance of the intellect. Sexual immorality panders to the physical lusts. Both the arrogance of the intellect and physical lust become idols when they are more important than the teachings of the Lord.
Making man the measure of all things is a goal of Satan. Once he does that, he can sit back and gloat because those who believe that man is the measure of all things are firmly and entirely in his grip.
To the church at Sardis, he writes: You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up!
The church at Sardis seems to have been a church of the social gospel. They had the reputation of being alive, but they had lost the breath of life. They were busy with the business of churchianity and had lost the essence of Christianity. What is at the heart is of more substance than what is seen by the world. God sees what is in the heart. That is why their deeds were not complete in the sight of God.
To the church at Philadelphia, he writes of love. Their love for Him and His love for them. And he promises them that their endurance will be rewarded by escape from the final test. You see, the love of God is at the heart of the church. If that love motivates all that is said and done, it will carry the church through all that the world can throw at it, and that church will be a pillar in the temple of God in heaven.
To the church at Laodicea, he writes the most scathing admonition yet: Because you are lukewarm I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Can you imagine being rejected by God? Horrors! But that is what happens to the apathetic, to the fence straddlers, to the indecisive. God doesn't want namby-pamby, unconvinced and unconvicted fence straddlers. He wants people on fire for Christ and the church. People who have just enough Christianity to have become innoculated to the spirit of Christ are of no use to Him - and they are certainly of no use to the enemy either.
Let us be on fire for Christ, sharing His love to all around us, taking care of the social needs of people as an extension of that love, guarding against theological heresy and sexual immorality, remaining faithful and ardent in that first love of Christ which drew us to Him originally.
Restore to us the first joy of our salvation. Remind us of that original zeal and excitement. Keep us faithful to You in all things.
In Jesus' most precious name.