Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Friday, 2 December 2022:
2 Kings 21 — Manasseh, Judah’s most horrific king was born during Hezekiah’s extra fifteen years. He never would have been born had Hezekiah accepted God’s initial plan for him.
2 Kings 21:3 — For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven and served them.
One unfaithful generation can tear down what previous faithful generations have built.
2 Kings 21:8 — And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.
God’s blessings are not automatic; they are conditional upon obedience. Don’t expect God to bless your compromise.
2 Kings 21:11 — Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did….
A wayward believer can do more evil than an unbeliever.
2 Kings 21:12 – Behold, I am bringing upon Jerusalem and Judah such disaster that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.
The God of Grace does not simply ignore sin.
Revelation 2:1-7 — To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 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. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”
Ephesus is the first church Jesus addresses in the book of Revelation. The church in Ephesus was planted by Paul with the direct support of Priscilla, Aquila, and Apollos. For more background on the church of Ephesus, see Acts 18-20 and the Book of Ephesus. The letter to the church of Ephesus is a message we are to take to heart as well and receive as both a warning and a promise.
Jesus, “who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands,” commends Ephesus for their works, toil, patient endurance, rejection of false teachers, and hatred of the works of the Nicolaitans (who likely accepted sexual immorality). The church members in Ephesus were strong defenders of the doctrine of the Gospel in a metropolitan, multicultural city well known as a center for occultic arts, and the church’s fidelity required great perseverance under social pressure and persecution. Certainly, we can appreciate the challenges associated with being an influence without being influenced by a godless society and facing the condemnation associated with proclaiming Christ and Christ alone in a culture of ‘tolerance’ and moral relativism. The church in Ephesus stood strong, yet Jesus warned them of a potentially fatal flaw – “You have abandoned the love you had at first.”
Apparently, in their staunch defense of the truth, the church in Ephesus had become unloving. Paul had previously warned them to speak “the truth in love” and to “walk in love as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4:16, 5:2) Apparently, the Ephesian church new the truth but had in some way abandoned the love upon which truth is grounded – “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2) They spoke the truth but didn’t “walk in love as Christ loved us” and subsequently failed to “do the works [they] did at first.” The warning and challenge for us revealed in Jesus’ message to the church in Ephesus is to remain faithful to the truth and to love. As Dennis Johnson of Ligonier Ministries states –
“Keeping a firm grip on both poles — truth and love — is a constant challenge for redeemed sinners who swing like pendulums from one extreme to another. Too often, churches and their leaders either stand for biblical truth vigorously but lovelessly or else they preserve apparent unity and love at the expense of truth. Of course, when the truth of the gospel truly grasps our hearts, love for others must result; and, by the same token, the love that delights Jesus grows only in the rich soil of fidelity to God’s truth. Jesus’ sobering threat to remove the Ephesians’ lampstand — to snuff out this truth-loving congregation’s witness to truth amid its pagan community — shows how seriously He regards His summons to blend doctrinal fidelity to the Bible with sacrificial love for the saints.”
Jesus concludes His message to the church in Ephesus with a promise – “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” Let’s hang on to that promise and speak the truth in love.
Revelation 2:2, 23 — I know your deeds…. I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
In today’s reading from Revelation, Jesus commends and rebukes the churches based upon their deeds. The church of Ephesus is commended for its perseverance, refusal to tolerate “wicked men” and false teachers, and for its hatred of evil practices. Yet, it is also rebuked for slipping from its original height and commanded to repent. Meanwhile, Smyrna receives no rebuke, only praise and encouragement to remain faithful through affliction. Jesus commends Pergamum for refusing to renounce their faith under persecution but also rebukes them for immorality including sexual sin. He warns Pergamum that if they don’t deal with their sinful behavior, he will personally “fight against” those who practice such behavior. Thyatira is commended for “love, faith, service, perseverance, and growth. However, Thyatira is also rebuked for tolerating false teaching and immorality. Jesus warns that, without repentance, he will personally punish such behavior that God may be glorified. The end of chapter 2 states, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – these letters have a message for all of God’s people. My takeaway: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8, 9). However, God holds us accountable for our words and deeds on earth as His ambassadors. God calls His people to repent from false doctrines and immorality which dishonors His Holiness. God does not take sin lightly and will punish His people for sin. Churches that fail to repent lose their “lampstand.” Reward awaits those who persevere and overcome.
Revelation 2:3, 4 – I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
You must endure patiently, but you must do it out of genuine love, not merely a sense of duty. You must be patient because you really want to for God and not just because you know you are supposed to.
Good deeds are not enough. God is concerned about your heart. Your actions must be the fruit of love, not the fruit of pride, self-righteousness or self-preservation. How can two people do the same deed and one is accepted by God and the other isn’t? The answer is that one person is motivated by genuine love and the other isn’t. What motivates you to do what you do?
Revelation 2:14, 15, 20 — You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam… so that they might… practice sexual immorality…. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans…. you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality.
God warns his churches that syncretism (the blending of God’s truth with the world’s lies) will destroy the churches if not stopped. Despite their “toil and… patient endurance… and bearing up”; despite their ‘holding fast’ to the Name of God and their refusal to deny their faith; despite their ever-increasing “love and faith and service and patient endurance,” the influence of the world around them threatens to erode their holiness, salt and light, thereby rendering them powerless and worthless as a church. It starts with ‘tolerance’ of evil within the church which turns into acceptance of evil within the church. Soon the word of God is filtered by God’s people to accommodate their sins which are abhorrent to God and misrepresent His character and His will before the world. The Bible points out over and over again that sexual sin is the most obvious or blatant indicator of infidelity to God. First the church starts to tolerate sexual sin (this usually starts with entertainment); then the church accepts it; then we stop preaching about it or, even worse, we pervert the word of God to justify current cultural norms. We do all this in the name of ‘love.’ However, the Provider of Grace has a much different message to the churches – “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.” (Revelation 2:5)
God will not tolerate sexual immorality within the body and will “war” against it. God strictly forbids sex outside the covenant marriage of one man and one woman. All other sexual activity is an abomination. Remember, this is Jesus speaking. Don’t let anyone convince you that His grace accommodates unrepentant sin after salvation.
Again, God forbids you to tolerate any form of sexual immorality. Don’t view inappropriate things and then go to the Lord in prayer, expecting God to honor your prayer. Purify yourself.
Revelation 2:9 — I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Christians must be willing to really pay the price for doing the right thing. Wealth obtained in an ungodly way (like taking advantage of others or working for ungodly organizations) is not wealth at all. To be faithful to God, you might have to pass up on opportunities to get what you desire.
See how many places the Bible points out that the church will go through the tribulation. Many Christians think they will escape the suffering that comes when God judges their nations.
Revelation 2:10, 11 – Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
God will let His faithful servants suffer and die, and He warns them not to be afraid of their earthly demise. He will reward them for eternity. You likely won’t hear this message preached in the “seeker sensitive” church.
Revelation 2:21 – …she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality.
Once again, God will not tolerate sexual immorality.
Revelation 2:26, 27 – The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.
Those who are most faithful will rule on earth with Jesus in His new Kingdom; not everyone receives a position of leadership in that kingdom.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 2 December 2022: Today, proclaim the Gospel, and speak the truth in love.