Friday, January 24, 2014

Smyrna: The Faithful Church

In the second and third chapters of Revelation are letters from Jesus to seven of the first century churches in what is today Turkey.  While I believe these letters were addressed to real churches of that day, I also believe they have great application to our churches today.  The second of these was to the church of Smyrna.
“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:

These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
Revelation 2:8-11 NIV
I suspect that most people, if they are church shopping, would not give Smyrna a second look.  They appear to be a church that was experiencing difficulties and had little to commend them materially.  Imagine a church today who can barely afford to keep the lights on, the heat is minimal, the furnishings are old and drab, the sound system is non-existent, and the building is in need of a coat of paint.  Pretty attractive isn't it?

Smyrna was also a church that was experiencing some opposition from other local churches, maybe because of the message they proclaimed, and maybe because of their ministry efforts to less desirable elements of the community.  There were those who wished that the church of Smyrna would just quietly close their doors and quit being an offense to their sense of how 'church' should be done.

But someone very important didn't share their opinion of this church; and that someone was Jesus.  Where many saw a poor church, Jesus saw a rich church, one that was faithful, laying up riches in heaven, following his example in reaching out to the poor, the disadvantaged, the outcasts of society.  Where the world saw a church that was dying, Jesus saw a church that was very much alive and victorious.

We would like to think that if a church is really being faithful to Christ, like the church at Smyrna was, that they would not have budget problems, that they would not face challenging times, and that life as a church would be grand.  And while some of that may be true some of the time, for Smyrna it was not.  Jesus warns them of continuing challenges, some that are worse than what they are currently experiencing.  And he encourages them to remain faithful, and to experience the victor's crown.

Smyrna was a faithful church, one whose focus was not on their problems, but rather on Jesus.  In Jesus eyes, success as a church is not based on how many attend, how elaborate and well maintained the facility is, how many programs are offered or how well they are run, how inspiring the worship services are.  To him, success goes hand in hand with faithfulness.

What is the mark of success for the church you are a part of?  Is it based on numbers, whether people, money or programs?  Is it based on appearances, in the form of facilities, worship or prestige?  Or is it based on faithfulness to his call to be the body of Christ?  And, even more importantly, are you faithful to God's call in your life, and service within his church?

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