August 31, 2023

The Sins of the Church

God has chosen to speak primarily to and through His Church. But are we listening? Revelation 2-3 contains messages and warnings from Jesus through the apostle John. When we understand the cultural context of these letters, we can more accurately understand what the Spirit was saying and heed the message ourselves.

In this episode, Whit and Casey discuss the dangers of defending truth apart from love, a self-sufficient mindset, and becoming disconnected from the Source.

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We so often look at scripture through the lens of “what does this mean for me?” However, we have to first consider what it meant to the intended audience. Only then should we ask, what does it mean to me?

John’s letters to the seven churches contain invaluable insight into the nature of the Church and the human condition. Once we understand the cultural context of his letters we can understand what Jesus’ words through John mean for us today.

Let’s look at the first and last letters: the letters to the church in Ephesus and Laodicea.

Ephesus: Fighting for Truth, Losing Love

At first glance, Ephesus seems like a beacon of virtue, championing the truth. However, their passion for upholding truth has inadvertently overshadowed their capacity to love. They’re words and actions come from a sincere place, but the best lies sound mostly true.

The crux of the issue lies in their forsaking the initial love they once held: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). But what kind of love are they abandoning?

Are We Supposed to Love the World or Not?

1 John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

But then there are verses like John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16), or Matthew 5:44 where we’re commanded to love our enemies.

So, what do we make of these verses? What kind of love did Ephesus lose?

The distinction is between humanity (those God created in His image) and the wicked impulse of humanity to pursue its own end, or “the way of the world.” That’s what we’re called not to love–the mentality that we can be our own god.

You Can’t Disconnect Love of God and Compassion for His Creation.

When we get into the harsh mindset that we must defend truth at all costs, we’re not being motivated by love but by fear–fear of loss or change.

When you go to the sword as a Christ-follower you all to often end up cutting off the ears of the people you should be trying to reach.

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him (Luke 22:49-51).

As the Church, we need a balance. We should, of course, be willing to stand for truth. But we must also not forget our first love.

When we become disconnected from who God is, we begin to distance ourselves from the people Jesus came to save and lose sight of them as fellow image-bearers.

It’s hard to love even when you don’t feel it. But our witness is broken when it’s disconnected from love. 

Here’s a Practical Way to Move Toward People Relationally:

Dr. Marcus Warner developed an acronym (CAKE) that serves a helpful reminder for how we can truly recognize and show love to someone.

Be curious about someone. What’s their story? What are they passionate about?

– Appreciation
What good do you see in someone? Look for the things that make them unique.

– Kindness
Treat others how you would want to be treated. Choose your words carefully.

– Eye contact
Are you truly seeing someone? Commitment to relational growth and genuine care for others can lead to transformative connections.

Laodicea: A Warning Against Self-Reliance

The letter to the church in Laodicea contains well-known passages often connected to the idea of apathetic Christianity: I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth (Revelation 3:15-16).

However, when we look at the cultural context of Laodicea, it makes a huge difference in how we interpret these verses. Laodicea was a financial and banking center. It was highly prosperous and self-reliant.

On one side of Laodicea was a hot spring and on the other was cold mountain water. Both have their purpose. Hot has it’s value; cold has it’s value. But water becomes stagnant when it’s disconnected from its source, leaving it with no purpose.

Laodicea had become disconnected from the Source and therefore useless:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me (John 15:4).

Nothing Can Make You Feel Like God Quite Like Prosperity.

Have you ever noticed when life is going smoothly it’s easy to forget to pray? Success has a way of giving us a false sense of self-sufficiency, and that’s exactly what happened to Laodicea. They lost their sense of desperation and reliance on Christ.

Laodicea reminds us that apart from God, our pursuits are futile. We should never trade short-term honor and esteem for an eternal destitution.

The Spirit is Speaking.

Before Christ judges the world, He judges the church. But Jesus rebukes His Church because He loves them. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me (Revelation 3:20).

When we read John’s letters, we’re looking at the words of Christ to His Church, and we are reminded that the Church doesn’t always get it right. Where there are people, there will be brokenness. But Jesus calls His Church to repent.

Let us stay connected to the Source – for in Him, our purpose is fulfilled. He’s still speaking to His Church.

Are we listening?

Show notes:

Check out the message: Letter to the Churches

Check out this blog on the most helpful tool to understanding Revelation: The Number One Key to Reading Revelation


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