It has been hard for us to generate a sense of momentum in our series through the book of Revelation due to the breaks from it we have had. When I originally mapped out the schedle for it, I knew we would have two weeks out of Revelation—the week that I was in Peru and then this past week, with Bob Walz here to preach. What I did not count on was the week we had to cancel our service due to weather. What it has created is an inability for us to get a sense of where we have been in the book and where we are going. Because of this, I am starting my post with a review of where we have been so far.
Thus far we have discovered that first and foremost Revelation is a highly symbolic unveiling of Jesus Christ, and this such that if readers respond, the result will be great happiness (1:1-3). Much of this revelation of our Savior is designed to change our view of the world and of the church so that we see:
· Those of us who are in Jesus Christ have been saved by him, freed, and so we have the resources of the triune God to empower us for following Jesus. (1:4-8)
· We are part of the kingdom and so can live underneath God’s reign, on mission, and to his glory. (1:9)
· Because we live on mission in a broken and sin-cursed world, our following of Christ and love for the world brings push-back, even persecution sometimes, and this all in addition to the other trials we face. (1:9)
· Yet, genuine believers endure through this, even if not perfectly. (1:9; ch’s. 2-3)
· A big part of why we can be faithful growing in Jesus, serving him, and also sharing him with others is that he has us in his hands and he is in our midst to empower and encourage us. (1:12-20; ch’s. 2-3)
· Much of the way we are propelled forward is both because of our love for Jesus Christ that leads to holiness and mission (2:1-7) and also by focusing upon the promises of eternal reward Jesus Christ makes to us. (2:7, 11, 17, 27-28; 3:4-5, 12, 20-21)
· Additionally, we should be motivated to repent as needed, when confronted with our disobedience and idolatry. (2:4-5, 14-16, 20-23; 3:1-3, 15-20)
The need to repent prepares us for the last main message Jesus Christ wants churches in Revelation 2-3 to hear so they can be happy and healthy in him: We must respond to and give correction. God wants us to respond to his correction and discipline he brings our way because he loves us (Prov. 3:11-12; Heb. 12:5-6); he wants us to make corrections to self as we see the need in his Word (Ps. 94:12; James 1:22-25); he wants us to be willing to give correction to and receive it from others (James 5:19-20), and all of this is necessary because, even though we have been saved and transformed by Jesus Christ, we are still inclined to all kinds of evil and can easily deceive ourselves (Heb. 3:12-13). The willingness to receive correction from and to give it to others is one of the marks of a true and healthy local church (see Mt. 16:19; 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Thes. 3:14-15; Titus 3:10)! Consider these contemporary confirmations of that point.
Gerald Bray (God Is Love, chapter 6 [emphasis added]) writes:
Church discipline is too often understood in terms of who should and should not be allowed to belong to the fellowship of believers. People want to know what others believe and what commitment they can expect from them before admitting them to membership, which is perfectly understandable. However, the real task of church discipline begins after people have joined the fellowship—it is designed to help church members grow, not to chase away those who our human minds think are undesirable. It is hard not to think that the church could avoid a great deal of trouble by realizing that it is a home for sinners, not a company of the righteous who have no need of repentance. It can begin to do this by structuring its sense of discipline to focus not on punishment and exclusion but on forming a Christian mind and heart in those who have come under the teaching of the gospel.
Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Vintage Church: Timeless Truths And Timely Methods (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 38, write (emphasis added):
The local church is a community of regenerated believers who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. In obedience to Scripture they organize under qualified leadership, gather regularly for preaching and worship, observe the biblical sacraments of baptism and Comunion, are unified by the Spirit, are disciplined for holiness, and scatter to fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as missionaries to the world for God’s glory and their joy.
Mack Stiles, “Nine Marks Of A Healthy Parachurch Ministry,” 9 Marks eJournal, 8, 2 (March/April, 2011) explains (emphasis added):
The church is the God-ordained local assembly of believers who have committed themselves to each other. They gather regularly, they teach the Word, celebrate communion and baptism, discipline their members, establish a biblical structure of leadership, they pray and give together. Certainly the church may do more, but it is not less than this.
Notice how all three agree with Scripture and what the Church has historically affirmed, that one of the marks of a healthy and true church is discipline. In other words, there is a willingness to give and receive correction.
In Revelation 2-3 we discover this need for correction in three main areas.
1. We Are To Give And Receive Correction In Regard To False Teaching And Practice.
We see this several places in these two chapters. Jesus commends the church in Ephesus for correcting false teachers (2:2), and for hating the works of false teachers, as Jesus himself does (2:6). Yet, he goes on to tell them they have left the love they had at first, need to repent, and to return to it (2:4-5). This certainly can be at the heart of much false belief and teaching. Jesus exhorts the church in Pergamum for allowing idolatrous, false teaching, and immorality (2:14-15), and he similarly exhorts the church in Thyatira for the same reasons (2:20). He even goes so far as to tell the church in Sardis they are dead and need to wake up (3:1-3).
What we see over and over again in these chapters is that we must be willing to be corrected, to make corrections to self, and to correct others in regard to false teaching and practice. The receiving and giving of correction in love to one another is particularly important since there are so many aspects of our thinking and behavior that we can be blinded to by the hostile and anti-Christian cultures around us. It is easy for us to be like the proverbial frog in the kettle. In other words, as the heat is turned up around us and pressue is put on us to change our beliefs to match those in vogue around us, we keep giving in little by little until we find ourselves in boiling waters of great compromise and heresy!
There is a second area in which we must give and receive correction.
2. We Are To Give And Receive Correction In Regard To Deafening Idolatry.
Idolatry is “believing in created things, rather than the Creator, for our hope and happiness, significance and security” (New City Catechism, #17).
Idolatry is a strong emphasis throughout these two chapters seen in the exhortation at the end of each message, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” (2:7a, 11a, 17a, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). This statement arises from the reality that we become like what we worship—blind and deaf (Psalm 115:4-8; Isaiah 44:9) and so we do not have ears to hear what God is saying to us (Isaiah 6:9-10). Idolatry, which usually includes love and desire for good things, makes us wobbly, unstable, and unresponsive to those things that are important to God, as if we are drunk on other things (Revelation 14:8). Typically these other loves and desires are confirmed by the cultures around us that make them seem normative, the way things ought to be. When this happens we simply don’t hear what God is saying to correct us or we explain it away as too extreme to follow—the weird and unusual view of a pastor or teacher.
This is why gospel community is so important. In other words, we need to come together by the gospel’s influence on us and for the purpose of helping each other live out the effects of the gospel—to correct one another when we are in danger of sin’s hardening and deception (Heb. 3:12-13), and also to spur each other on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24).
Keeping away from idolatry is so important that John ends his first epistle with the admonition, “keep yourself from idols” (1 John 5:21). Yet, we usually need the aid of each other to do this.
One of the ways to do this is to commit to a Bible Fellowship and an Iron Man/Woman team.
The final area in which we are to give and receive correction is a catch-all. In other words, it is every and any other area.
3. We Are To Change Course No Matter What Wrong Path We Are On.
If we are not willing to do this, Jesus may: War against us (2:16); remove our lampstand, i.e. our witness as a church (2:5); bring sickness and death (2:22-23); come upon us for discipline as a thief, unexpectedly (3:2-3); and remove from us his protection and empowerment (3:15-20).
Whether or not we live faithfully, on mission, for God’s glory, as joyful followers, and endure in this all truly matters. Whenever we are off the path we are to make corrections. If God speaks to us through the Word as we read it alone, through a fellow believer, in a book, by a sermon, or while sitting under someone’s teaching, we are to receive and make corrections. We also are to help our family members, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to do the same.
It is a fearful and sober thing, to ignore the conviction and/or correction of God—directly upon conscience, through a friend/fellow believer, or through a pastor or teacher. Therefore, we need to develop a responsiveness to how God wants to grow us and change us, rather than protection against what he wants to do.
We should remember “…the reproofs of discipline are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). And, we need to help each other in this whole matter because of the joy of growing in our knowledge of Christ and of following Him (Rev. 1:1-3).