Posted by: cghearn | 10/12/2014 | 12:36 pm
What did Christ think of the church in Smyrna?
We’re going to see today in this passage that Christ had some somewhat terrifying things to say to this congregation in Smyrna. Being poor, already persecuted by the “Jews” in Smyrna, and about to be even more heavily persecuted soon, Smyrna was a tough place to be a Christian. There are things we’re called to do as believers, including being part of a congregation of other believers, that are not going to be easy. For me, this was church planting.
It was 2010 and I had just planted a church in my basement. God put us through a lot that first year:
- We were very poor
- We had to set up and break down every Sunday
- I had to work part time to support my family
- No one believed we could do it
- A lot of people came from churches in an attempt to make their vision, our vision
- Being abandoned by those who said they’d stick with you
I want to let you know that I’m not talking about these things in order to move you to feel sorry for me, because I wasn’t planting a church for me…I was doing it for Christ. I would never have thought to plant a church unless Christ had called me to it. I’m certain that the apostle Paul, who probably planted the church in Smyrna, probably felt the same way. Also, Polycarp, who may have been the bishop of Smyrna when this letter was written wouldn’t want you to feel pity for him. We were and are being given an opportunity to obey and serve our master.
Polycarp was certainly, around the time that Revelation was written, bishop of Smyrna; and if not during, then just a short time after. Polycarp was arrested by Roman officials and when brought into the stadium, Polycarp was told to renounce Christ or die. It appears as though the persecution of the church in Smyrna wasn’t just for the age approaching when John was writing, but also many years later as well.
While it may not be easy, it is always good. Before Polycarp’s death, he was quoted as saying, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
Doctrine of sermon:
Christ will reward the church that stands firm regardless of circumstances
Christ will reward the church that stands firm regardless of financial blessing
In this passage, we can see very clearly that financial blessing is not a sign of Jesus Christ’s favor. These saints were extremely poor and yet Christ reminds them that despite the fact that they are destitute, that they are actually rich. In fact, you can see that even though this church is poor, they are still favored by Christ.
There are many in the world who would teach otherwise:
- Joel Osteen teaches “God has already done everything He’s going to do. The ball is now in your court. If you want success, if you want wisdom, if you want to be prosperous and healthy, you’re going to have to do more than meditate and believe; you must boldly declare words of faith and victory over yourself and your family” From Your Best Life Now, p.132. Obviously the church in Smyrna wasn’t proclaiming things in faith.
- Benny Hinn is quoted as saying, “Poverty is from the devil and that God wants all Christians prosperous.” Wasn’t it the synagogue that was of Satan? Now Benny tells us the church of Smyrna was of the devil too?
- “I am a billionaire, because the assignment that the Lord gave me, He said: ‘I want you to begin to confess the billion flow.’” ~Kenneth Copeland
As Christians, we need to realize that we may never be rich and that even if we were, it doesn’t mean that we’re any more or less favored than Jesus. God is doing what God will and God gives to whom he will
I can remember a few years ago, a pastor told me about when one of his congregation died of cancer. This man had come into the church and wanted to get involved with the ministry. Then the pastor was curious when the man didn’t show up again. Almost 6 months later, he found out that the man had prostate cancer and as a final request, had asked for him to preach at his funeral. At the end of the funeral service, the pastor told me that the family tried to give him some money for the service he had performed. The pastor told them he didn’t do it for financial gain, but rather to be present in their time of need.
Ministry isn’t about getting as rich as you can, it’s about having been loved deeply by God and in turn, loving others like Christ did. What happens when the church asks for people to change diapers in children’s ministry? What happens when the church asks for volunteers to clean bathrooms? What happens when the church asks people to go out and talk to people about Christ? What about when the church asks for extra donations to help cover the cost of some large expense? Being a believer may cost you in a very real, material sense but in return, you get to experience the love and peace of God.
Being part of the church isn’t something that you do so that you can become wealthy, it’s something that you are part of so that you can serve and maybe even suffer for.
Christ will reward the church that isn’t afraid to suffer for his name
This life is going to have blessing, joy, sorrow, and suffering. I need to tell you that there is no greater cause on earth than suffering for the sake of the gospel. You are going to suffer one way or another, why not for the name of Christ
–Turn to Matthew 10:16-25
On November 22, 1873 a steam ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives including one man’s four daughters who drowned during the event. He, filled with grief, began sailing soon after to go to the funerals of his 4 children and in route wrote these lyrics:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
His name was Horatio Spafford and the song is “It is well with my soul.”
Suffering is an impossible sell. Jesus shows us what we might have to suffer for his name by giving himself on the cross. The church in Smyrna was well aware of that. You see, if you truly don’t believe that there is a heaven where you’ll be rewarded for the sufferings you’ve had in this life, then there’s no way you’ll sell the little happiness that you do have in this life for the promise of nothing when you die. It all boils down to faith.
When my son Isaac was only 2, we used to stand on the stairs and catch him when he’d jump from the top. He must have thought that was pretty fun because it started being a normal thing for him. It started to be a problem, however when we weren’t prepared for it and we’d be coming up the stairs. Then we’d hear our son yell, “catch!” as he would jump at us expecting us to catch him!
There’s no way that you’ll jump unless you expect God to catch you.
The only way to be willing to suffer as a church during hard times is when we truly have faith that God is with us through that suffering.
Christ will reward the church that is faithful unto their death.
For some death comes sooner and for some death comes later. I like that this passage mandates that only those who are faithful unto death will be given the crown of life. In this spiritual journey we must remain faithful until death comes to meet us face to face. We can rest assured that if we bear the cross we will also wear the crown.
It’s important, especially when we go through pain and trials, to remind one another of why we’re doing it in the first place. That’s what Christ was telling the church in Smyrna. The church in Smyrna was about to experience tremendous hardship amidst the hardship that they were already experiencing.
A woman walked into a doctor’s office and the doctor told her he had some bad news for her. The doctor told her, “I’m sorry, but you have cancer, and that’s not all.” The old woman what else is there? The doctor told her, “You also have Alzheimer’s.” The woman said, “Well, at least I don’t have cancer.”
Sometimes, things will simply go bad from bad to worse, but that’s why we look forward to being in glory with Christ. When we get there, if we have borne our cross then we will also wear a crown.
Sometimes, the only hope you’re going to have will be in Christ, but then again, that’s really the only hope we really have.
Doctrine of sermon:
The church must remain steadfast if we’re going to enter into eternal life
When we become distracted, which human beings tend to do from time to time, we may for a moment grow weak. We may ask the question, “Why did God choose this church in particular to suffer so greatly?” We live in a fallen world with fallen people and the only hope we have of seeing that change is by knowing that Christ is coming someday to change that; that’s why we’re going through the book of Revelation in the first place! But he has not left us unaware; if we know that the distractions and sufferings are coming (which Smyrna did and we do) we at least can prepare ourselves for them…and we can stand firm when the suffering comes.