The Church of Smyrna: The Love of Christ is Always Present

While the Church of Ephesus was reminded of their need to return to their first love, Christ’s principal message to the Church of Smyrna is that His own love will never fail.  In spite of discouraging trials and even intense persecutions, the Lord assures the Christians that He is aware of their sufferings and that they are only temporary.   It’s a theme that was important for the Christians of the early centuries who were often challenged with the threat of death because of their faith.  Yet Christ’s message continues to be a powerful one.  Satan adapts his tactics but he remains as dangerous an enemy in modern times as he was in ancient.  Therefore how reassuring to know that Christ’s love for His church has likewise never waned.  Before considering Jesus’ important message to the Christians in Smyrna let us take a look at the background of the city and the church.

The city of Smyrna was located about 60 kilometers north of Ephesus.  It was a very ancient city having been inhabited by the time of John’s writing for about three thousand years.  In John’s day, the city was both large as well as prosperous due to lively commerce resulting from a good harbor.  Smyrna was called “The Crown City” because the surrounding hills gave the form of a crown.

The name of the city was derived from a shrub-like tree which produces a pungent gum or resin called myrrh.  The word itself means “bitter.”  It is mentioned in the Bible as a spice used in the burial of the Lord Jesus.  Surely the name of the city and the divine symbolism associated with it as it applies to the Christians under persecution are more than just coincidence.

Virtually nothing is known of the church in Smyrna apart from this reference in the Book of Revelation.  It is not mentioned in the Book of Acts nor in Paul’s epistles.  The time and manner of its origin remain a mystery.  It is evident, though, that the Christians of Smyrna suffered much and endured intense trials. Furthermore, they did so willingly for the sake of their Lord and in love for His Name.  There is much we can learn from them.

The message of Jesus to the Christian of Smyrna is the shortest of the messages to the seven churches.  It is as follows:

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until 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. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:8-11 NKJV)

Perhaps the most fundamental question that arises is why did the authorities in Smyrna seek to kill the Christians?  What had they done?   The teachings of Christianity are to live moral lives, to honor those in authority, and to love others.  Why should this provoke oppression and persecution?

The simple answer is that the world has no place for Jesus.  Jesus said, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)

Nor does the world have any place for Jesus’ followers.   Nor for the Christian message.  The Christian message is that all of mankind is lost in sin.  Furthermore, there is only one way to be reconciled to God and that is through Jesus.   Not only so, but the mere fact that a Christian seeks to live righteously serves as a rebuke to the hedonistic and materialistic attitudes of the world.   Paul writes, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Tim 3:12)

The Lord warned of a specific period of trials through which the Christians in Smyrna would pass, “You will have tribulation ten days.”  There are two ways of interpreting this statement.

  1. The ten days refer to periods of oppression during the time in church history encompassed by the persecuted church. In fact, there were ten emperors who sought the destruction of Christians.

Nero, A.D. 54

Domitian, A.D. 81

Trajan, A.D. 98

Hadrian, A.D. 117

Septimus Severus, A.D. 193

Maximin, A.D. 235

Decius, A.D. 249

Valerian, A.D. 254

Aurelian, A.D. 270

Diocletian, A.D. 284

  1. The Christians of Smyrna were to suffer during a literal ten-day period lying in the near future.

It is my view that both interpretations are correct.  But beyond that, we must remember that Christians throughout history have suffered persecution.  In fact, the church was born into persecution.  Tradition tells us that every one of the disciples, with the exception of John, died as martyrs.  It has been estimated that 300,000 Christians per year have died for their faith since the birth of the church at Pentecost.  Indeed, freedom from persecution is relatively rare.

We may consider the story of Asia Bibi as an example.  Just recently Asia, a Pakistani Christian woman, was released from prison after eight years of confinement.  A simple peasant woman she had been picking berries with Muslim women when they asked her to fetch water from a nearby well.   Being thirsty herself, she sipped some water from the cup before taking the water to the others.  This brought about a rebuke because as a Christian she was considered to be “unclean.”  Condemnation from the others followed and after considerable rebuke for having trusted in Christ, Asia responded, “Christ died on the cross to save me.  What did Mohammad ever do to save mankind?”  Those words resulted in her detention and imprisonment.  After a short trial, Asia was condemned to death by hanging.  An appellate court later upheld the sentence.  A final appeal was made to the Supreme Court.  Asia was confined alone in a windowless cell measuring only 2.4 meters by 3 meters as she awaited trial in the nation’s highest court.   A survey showed that ten million Pakistanis would be willing to kill her personally.  Two government officials who spoke out on her behalf were assassinated.

Yet widespread and intense international pressure was being brought on the Pakistani government.  The result was that on 31 October 2018 the Supreme Court declared Asia not guilty.  Violent protests erupted and much infrastructure damaged.  Calls were made for the killing of the Supreme Court judges.  Although it may seem strange to those living in nations with religious liberty, there is no doubt that persecution of Christians exists even into modern times.

Yet in these verses of Revelation chapter 2, Jesus sends a message of hope and encouragement to those who are suffering through trial.  Three specific things are mentioned which will help us in times of persecution and tribulation regardless of the time or circumstances.

How to Be Comforted In Tribulations and Persecutions

  1. We are comforted by recognizing that Jesus knows all about our situation.

Twice Jesus declares to the Christians in Smyrna, “I know…”   Jesus knew about their works and tribulation and He also knew of the blasphemies of their enemies.

The book of Hebrews states, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

Christ describes Himself as He “which was dead, and is alive.”  In other words, He knows what the Christians of Smyrna were enduring.  He Himself had been persecuted.  He had been hated.  He had been crucified.   But He is also the source of eternal life.  He’ll never die again.

  1. We are comforted when we recognize that we already have all we need

Paul declared, “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  (Romans 8:37)

  1. We are comforted when we recognize that we have far more awaiting us in heaven than we can imagine.

Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Jesus told the Christians of Smyrna, “I know…thy poverty” but then He added, “but you are rich.” They may have lacked this world’s goods, but their faith and love for Christ resulted in treasures awaiting them in Heaven.

These three teachings must surely have been in the thoughts of the most famous of all the Christians of Symrna, Polycarp, as he faced death for being a follower of Jesus.   Polycarp was an old and dear friend of the apostle John.   In AD 155, an angry mob called for the aged Polycarp’s death, referring to him as an atheist because he wouldn’t burn incense to the emperor (as was required yearly).   He was apprehended and brought before the civil magistrate.  The official, taking pity on Polycarp’s gentle spirit and advanced years encouraged him to simply swear an oath to Caesar.  “What harm can there be in saying ‘Lord Caesar?’”  Yet Polycarp was steadfast in his allegiance to Christ.

On the appointed day of his execution, Polycarp was taken to the stadium.   During the time of pleading with Polycarp to compromise his faith, the lions had been used for the execution of other Christians had been returned to their cages.  And so when the final order came for Polycarp to be put to death it was decided to burn him at the stake instead.

As they were preparing to nail him to the post, Polycarp said, “Leave me as I am, for He that gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to remain without moving in the fire.”  Slowly the flames engulfed the body of Polycarp.  As his earthly body was being consumed by the flames he could be heard praying to God and rejoicing in Jesus.

It is worthy of notice that the city of Smyrna still exists (now called Izmir).   In fact, the city has grown to double its former size and continues to grow.  In the same manner, satanic opposition to the church still exists and can only be expected to further increase.  But the love and faithfulness of Christ never fails.  It is already infinite and super-abounding.  Jesus said, “Lo, I am with you always, even till the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20)

Jim Haesemeyer                                                                (to be continued)

3 Hospitality tips from Martha & Mary

Hospitality can be exhausting to the host and fulfilling to the guest. Often time women take the heavy toll of it. Most people enjoy hosting though it can be tiring. Bible commends and encourages to be hospitable. (1 Peter 4:9)

Martha & Mary are sisters, and they had the rare privilege of hosting Jesus in their home. The last five verses of the tenth chapter of Luke sums up one of those visits and is packed with gems of wisdom on hosting. Based on that narration I would present here three hospitality tips from Martha & Mary.

  1. Welcoming heart

It all starts with your heart. Unless you have a desire for hospitality, it is not going to work. In the above story, we read Martha welcomed Jesus into her home. What a commendable act! If you have a welcoming heart and love for hosting, challenges of hospitality can be easily overcome.

I know of an elderly couple who enjoys welcoming people consistently into their home and bravely make specialty foods. They might have been the last people one would expect to do this especially because of their failing health and tiring age. It all started because they had a welcoming heart!

2. Keep it simple

Even those with a heart for welcoming people may be hesitant to do it because of the hard work of preparing food and home. Martha forgot to spend time with the special guest whom she herself invited and started to complain. Her problem was she got preoccupied with much serving.

Some may be overly conscious about impressive presentations and thereby spending a lot of time on preparations making hosting even harder. There is a recipe for easy and regular hospitality.

Keep it simple.

This is an invaluable advice given to my family by a friend of ours. We have seen her regularly hosting people using this mantra. Don’t misunderstand the word simple. This doesn’t always mean just one or two food types. With some planning and creative ideas, she successfully manages to prepare faster meals, and I never have seen anyone missing seconds. Like most things it will get easier with experience and as you learn ways of pleasant and graceful serving. Undoubtedly, some occasions, like a Thanksgiving meal, demand or expect fancy and exquisite arrangements. Even on such occasions hospitality can be elegantly done with some thoughtful planning.

3. Enjoy the conversations

How many times you have been invited to a home and all the time you talked about food sitting around the table? How many of you didn’t even get to spent time with your invited guests as you got tired and carried away with the arrangements? I bet all of you had experiences like that.

Mary was aware of such distractions and she didn’t let it allow to spoil the fun. She didn’t forget the essential. Jesus says of her one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her. What is that one thing Jesus is talking about? It was Mary seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.

She didn’t let the stress and hard work distract her from the purpose. That purpose of hosting was spending time and enjoying the conversations with the guests. This also requires a lot of patience and practice. Otherwise, quickly, conversations can cross the boundary of offense. Jokes cracked should not be at the expense of mocking someone. A good conversation is remarkably powerful yet hard to happen. But when that happens people cherish those memories.

Three simple tips are presented here, derived from the famous Marta and Mary hosting of Jesus. It sums up as a welcoming heart, keeping it simple and, finally, staying to the purpose, i.e., enjoy the conversations.

Dijo John

The Message to the Church of Ephesus: The Most Important Thing

Let’s begin our study of Christ’s message to the Ephesian church with a review of its historical background.   Ephesus was a major city located on the Aegean Sea in what is now Turkey although at the time it was part of the Roman Empire.   It was a “free city” which meant that it had a degree of self-governance.  It was also a religious city.  Ephesus was home to the temple of Diana (Artemis), one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  Diana was the Greek goddess of fertility.

Interestingly, Ephesus as a city gradually lost importance.  It was a port city located at the mouth of the Cayster River which provided a natural harbor.  However, with the passing of the years the sediment carried by the river gradually formed an expanding delta, moving the shoreline farther and farther away.  In modern times the ancient Ephesian Harbor lies about five kilometers from the sea.  With the silting in of the harbor, the city lost its purpose.   The slow but steady change which took place in the city is, perhaps, reflective of what was spiritually taking place in the church itself—a gradual dissipation of a once fervent love.  It was a church that was losing its purpose.

Jesus’ message to the Ephesian church is as follows:

“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:  “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.   Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.   Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.  But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” ’ Revelation 2:1-7, NKJV

He wants our love to be so overwhelming that our thoughts are upon Him and not the distractions of the world.  He desires both fervency and fullness in our devotion.

Let’s review the good things about the church in Ephesus.

  1. They were a very hard-working church. The believers were laboring and toiling in the work of the Lord.
  2. Not only so, but the Ephesian church was a steadfast church. It is one thing to strive and labor for a short period and limited goals but these Christians did not tire of serving the Lord. They continued on, enduring under trial.
  3. In addition, the Ephesian church sought to remain doctrinally pure. They had no place for those bringing wrong doctrine or a teaching of compromise (i.e. the Nicolaitans).

The above-mentioned qualities were highly commendable and were certainly pleasing to the Lord but sadly they were blemished by a single fault.   Nevertheless, it was the most important thing.  The Ephesians had left their first love.

What is first love?

The Ephesians loved Jesus.   Of this, there can be no doubt.   Jesus says as much in verse 3, “(you) have labored for My name’s sake.”  Nevertheless, their deep, passionate love for Him had waned.  Their love had become cold and indifferent.

First love is distinctive.  It is a love that is absorbed with the object of the love.   Famed evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacharias tells of how he and his wife were once driving near Niagara Falls on a blustery, gloomy day.  They passed by a young couple who were strolling along a wet path seemingly oblivious to the cold, bleakness of the weather.   Ravi remarked to his wife, “I bet they are newlyweds.  They are so interested in each other that they haven’t noticed how harsh the weather is.  That is how young love is.”  To which his wife responded, “Would you be willing to walk like that with me?”

That is, in effect, what Jesus asks of us.   He wants our love to be so overwhelming that our thoughts are upon Him and not the distractions of the world.  He desires both fervency and fullness in our devotion.

First love recognizes that relationship must always precede service.

The importance of first love:

The Bible reveals that God desires an intimate, first-love type of relationship with His people.  For example, God declared His inner thoughts to Jeremiah the prophet.

Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord:  “I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown.  Israel was holiness to the Lord, The firstfruits of His increase…  Jeremiah 2:1-3

First love recognizes that relationship must always precede service.  This essential principle is highlighted by the account of Jesus’ arrival in Bethany.

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.  But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.  But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:39-42

To be in Jesus’ presence, to be at His feet, and to listen to Him, that is the good part.  And we must not let it be taken away.

Paul writes of the priority of love in his epistle to the Corinthians.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.  1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Indicators of having left one’s first love:

How does the Christian know if he is in danger of leaving his first love?   The Bible doesn’t enumerate specific signs but experience and simple reason provide some clear indications.

  1. Neglecting personal time with the Lord is symptomatic of waning love. Remember that first love involves being enraptured with Jesus. Anyone who loves another surely wants to spend time with him/her.
  2. Religious busyness without reflection on the reason for one’s toils. This is what had occurred in the Ephesian church. It is possible to become so engaged in programs and activities that the true purpose is forgotten.
  3. Yet a third indicator of a tepid love for Christ is when the Christian life becomes little more than duty. When the individual feels that he “has to go” to the Sunday morning meetings or when he gives to the church simply because he feels an obligation, he is leaving his first love.

Jesus calls upon them to do those works not out of a sense of obligation but rather because of their deep love for Him.

How to restore the first love:

The Lord outlines three important steps which the Ephesian Christians were to take in order to renew their zeal and passion.

  1. First Jesus calls upon to remember.

Remember therefore from where you have fallen…

The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages them to do the same:

But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward.  Hebrews 10:32-35

  1. Next, Jesus commands the Ephesians to repent.

Repent

We need to recognize that it is a sin not to love Jesus fervently.    When Jesus was asked which commandment was the most important of all He responded by saying:

 “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  Mark 12:29

  1. Finally, Jesus instructs the Ephesians to serve Him as a result of first love.

And do the first works

From an outward appearance, the Ephesians were undoubtedly doing the same works as they had always done.   But now Jesus calls upon them to do those works not out of a sense of obligation but rather because of their deep love for Him.

The great patriarch Abraham knew of the importance of returning to a “first love.”  There was a time when Abraham had strayed from the Lord’s will.  His faith and obedience had faltered and he had gone down into Egypt.   Yet notice how the Bible describes Abraham’s restoration.

Then Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, to the South… And he went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first.  And there Abram called on the name of the Lord.  Genesis 13:1-4

Abraham returned to the place where he had been at the beginning.  And there he called on the Lord.

May our first, beginning love be the same love with which we love the Lord until the very end of our sojourn on the earth.

Jim Haesemeyer                                                                                 (to be continued)

 

The Messages to the Seven Churches of Revelation: Their Meaning and Their Application to Our Lives

The Book of Revelation holds a unique place in Scripture, detailing the astounding events preceding the ultimate culmination of God’s plans for His creation, the glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ, and creation’s entry into the indescribable wonders of the eternal state.   It is a book which outlines the dreadful events leading up to that much longed-for time, and as such is replete with cataclysmic judgments and global catastrophes, graphically depicting a future worldwide alliance under Satan’s control resulting in an epic struggle of mankind against the Lord and His people.

Because the book of Revelation deals with such great and overarching themes it is therefore surprising, that the narrative opens with the Lord’s dealings with seven small churches situated in Asia (modern-day Turkey).   In contrast with the rest of the book which graphically relates the account of satanic aspirations to dominate the global economy and religion resulting in divine judgments in which millions of people will lose their lives and in which the earth itself is rocked and shaken to its very core, these seven churches individually received a message describing seemingly everyday issues and attitudes with which nearly any church elder might be routinely confronted.

Why are the seven churches included in an otherwise prophetic book full of astonishing and breathtaking events? 

Why, then, does the book of Revelation begin in such a fashion?  Why are the seven churches included in an otherwise prophetic book full of astonishing and breathtaking events?  There are generally three views concerning their inclusion:

  1. The seven churches represent seven distinct ages of the church, from Pentecost to the Rapture. This view is supported by the fact that Jesus’ messages to the churches would themselves be prophetic in nature in accordance with the overall genre of the book.
  2. The seven churches represent the distinct types of churches found at any given point during the present dispensation. For example, the Ephesian church represents a strongly doctrinal church while the Philadelphian church represents an assembly with a missionary emphasis. According to this perspective, nearly all churches throughout ecclesiastical history resemble in some aspects at least one of the seven mentioned.
  3. The seven churches are historical churches present at the time of John’s writing. Although the churches were literal assemblies of Christians with each church having specific issues and distinct difficulties which the Lord addresses, there are overall principles and spiritual applications that are applicable throughout the present age both in the context of church life as well as the individual Christian.

Which of the above perspectives is the correct one?  I personally believe that all three views are valid.  They are by no means mutually exclusive and each is worthy of careful study.  However for the sake of our present considerations, we’ll be focusing on the third viewpoint, i.e. how does the message of Jesus to the individual church apply to me and to my church life?  I trust the Lord will use this short series to enrich and strengthen your daily walk with Him.

Jim Haesemeyer                                                                                                   (To be continued)

 

The Gift God Wants

The Lord God is a demanding God.  If we don’t do things His way He would rather we’d not do them at all.  He has a very specific standard and what we do must adhere to it.  It’s true.

It is not something we like to talk about.  Nevertheless, God does demand something of us.  Often times we have the attitude that God will accept whatever we may offer.  No. He demands a specific thing.  And that specific thing is our heart!  It all comes down to that.

In the book of Exodus, we find the Lord asking His people to bring certain gifts. In chapter 35 beginning with verse 20, we find a list of the things the children of Israel were to give. They were supposed to give purple cloth. They were supposed to give gold. They were supposed to bring acacia wood.  Notably, however, every mention of their offerings follows a distinct pattern as recorded in the Bible.  Repeatedly the Bible mentions, everyone came whose heart was stirred.

Without fail each offering was preceded by a stirring of the heart.  The same account continues into chapter 36.

Then Moses called Bezalel and Aholiab, and every gifted artisan in whose heart the LORD had put wisdom, everyone whose heart was stirred, to come and do the work. And they received from Moses all the offering which the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of making the sanctuary. So they continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning. Exodus 36:2-3

The people’s hearts were moved to give.  Indeed their hearts’ desire was to give more and yet more to the Lord.   Such was their generosity that Moses actually had to ask the people to stop giving.  There was no more need for materials for the tabernacle.  There was now an abundance of gold, acacia wood, purple cloth, and spun wool.

Remember, however, that children of Israel had been slaves. They had only recently escaped from Egypt.  They had nothing to their names.  But then the Egyptians approached them and said, “Take this, take this, take this…. Please don’t come back and please take God’s wrath with you because we don’t want it.  So here, take all this gold.”  The Egyptians gave to the children of Israel because of what God had done.

Thus there are two important principles.  Firstly, we need to remember that all that we have has come from the Lord.  What we give to Him He has first given to us.  Secondly, God demands that our offerings to Him come from our hearts.   A gift given to God must not be under compulsion. It is to be given to Him as if spreading it out and laying it before Him.

That is God’s demand.  That is what he is looking for.   God doesn’t demand of us that which we can’t do.   Nor does God does say you must do this.  He is asking, will you do this? And will you do it from your heart?

By James Pearson, New Mexico

 James Pearson is a man saved by the mercy of God. Now, he seeks to know the heart and person of God. To know Him, even as he himself is known.