We are continuing a blog study we started earlier in June. Titled “Ancient Wisdom”, we wrote about a couple of things we could learn from the church in the city of Ephesus that was addressed in Revelation 2:1-7.
As we begin, I believe each one of us can attest to things, over the years, we have learned that made a difference in our lives. Maybe it had to do with the career fields we chose, along with practical thoughts on how to live in ways that honor God.
Or, we may have seen in the lives of others, characteristics such as forgiveness, grace, mercy, and kindness. We watched and learned from real life examples of God’s Word lived out.
We mentioned in the last posting how the Bible, though completed by 100 A.D., offers wisdom for living. The Holy Spirit teaches and guides us as we study the pages of God’s Word.
When we looked at the church at Ephesus, we noted two things that were applicable to us today. We learned that what we believe is important. One thing that the church at Ephesus had done over the years was they had stayed doctrinally sound. Belief, as we noted in an earlier blog, does dictate how we live. This was an important point to remember.
A second thing we noted was that love was important. The church at Ephesus had grown cold in their love (Rev. 2:4). They had lost that fire, and it seems they were going through the motions of their faith, serving others and guarding against false doctrine, all good things, but what was missing was that crucial ingredient of love.
Love forgives, is kind, and does what it can to help others be the best they can be for God. As we noted, these two areas of the church in Ephesus, doctrinal correctness and purity of love, we mentioned that we needed to stay focused on God’s Word and to show the love of Christ to others. These are choices we make.
Today, we look at the next church addressed by Jesus. It was the church at Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11). This church, like the church at Philadelphia, is never called by Jesus to repent of any wrong doing. They were faithful to the Lord in the midst of tremendous persecution (Rev. 2:9).
The city in which this church was planted was very supportive of Rome and was also a pagan worship center. As examples, temples to Apollo and Zeus, among others, were found in Smyrna. It was also a center of the emperor cult having won from the Roman Senate the opportunity to build the first temple in honor of Tiberius. Under Domitian the emperor, worship became mandatory for all Roman citizens under threat of death. This could easily explain the persecution of these believers.
Polycarp was the pastor in Smyrna quite possibly at the time John wrote. Though they were going through tough times spiritually, and most likely, financially, Jesus first commends them for being spiritually rich (Rev. 2:9). They had undergone tremendous pressures but stayed true to God. That is so very commendable, their decision to not buckle under pressure.
Second, under severe testing, like the church at Ephesus, they stood strong, and it was because they were spiritually rich that they were able to do so.
They were also slandered (Rev. 2:9) by others, but none of that mattered because of their walk with God. Jesus complements the church on being spiritually rich and faithful.
Being “spiritually rich” could mean that as the letter to the Ephesians tells us, the believers at Smyrna understood their position in Christ as chosen, adopted, sealed by the Holy Spirit, forgiven, redeemed, and based all they did and how they responded to that security in Christ. As Jam. 2:5 says they were "rich" in faith.
Jesus encouraged this church to remain faithful in the midst of suffering (Rev. 2:9-10). Around the world, there are countless Christians suffering for their faith. Many are in prison and many have died because of their faith. The believers at Smyrna could relate to those today going through tough times because of what they believe.
As we finish, what are two lessons we can learn from this passage in Rev. 2:8-11?
1) Stand our ground. Difficult times can make or break us. It is our response to those times in our lives that is the key. There may have been those at the church in Smyrna who felt overwhelmed by all that was going on.
There were those who made a decision to stand, to face the tough times. Character develops when we learn things about ourselves in the midst of difficulties. When hard times come our way, what do we do? Run from those soul bending encounters, or do we allow them to teach us, to strengthen our character? We learn much about ourselves during those times in our lives.
I want to encourage us that when trials hit…don’t quit. Draw close to God and ask God for wisdom when these things happen. James 1:2-5 is worth hanging on to at those moments.
2) Pray for the persecuted church around the world. I would encourage you to go to the website of “Open Doors”, a ministry to the persecuted church and download the World Watch List. This gives an overview of the 50 most difficult countries in the world to be a Christian. Pray for a country on that prayer list. Pray for the believers in those lands as they endure suffering for their faith.
It is important to be “rich in faith” as we walk through this life journey. We don’t always deal with difficulties because we are Christians. That is not the issue. The issue is knowing God deeply, of being transformed into the image of Christ. Study, pray, serve, be involved in a local church, think on Scripture. These are important in our growth to richness in faith.