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Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Revelation 3 as we begin to look at the seventh of the seven letters that our Lord Jesus Christ addressed to the churches in Asia Minor. We’re on the tail end of our series entitled You’ve Got Mail, which is already being heard on Know the Truth, and so I better finish this series before they run out of broadcasts.
Revelation 3:14, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot: I could wish you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” That’s a rather striking image, isn’t it? I will vomit you out of my mouth.
Verse 17, “Because you say, I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked: I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: therefore, be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him, and dine with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with me on my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
I want to begin a message this morning entitled Taking Sides, Taking Sides. Jim Elliot was a 23-year-old Christian missionary who gave his life to share the Gospel with the Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador. You can read his story in the book, Through Gates of Splendor, written by his wife Elisabeth Elliot. And in it she tells how Jim, along with several other ambassadors for Christ, landed their little plane in the Central America jungles, only to be harpooned to death by the natives they had come to help.
These men knew the risks that they were indeed facing, but they were gripped by a burning passion to reach the unreached for Christ. In fact, a few years earlier, aged 21, while a student at Wheaton College, Jim Elliot wrote this in his journal. Listen to these words. Quote, “Lord, make me a crisis man. Let me not be a mile post on a single road, but make me a fork, that people must turn one way or another in facing Christ in me.” Isn’t that challenging? Isn’t that convicting? Lord, make me a fork, that people must turn one way or another in facing Christ in me.
There was no sitting on the fence for Jim Elliot. There was no walking down the middle of the road for Jim Elliot. He was a man who had decidedly given himself to Jesus Christ, and desired to live in such a manner that his walk and his witness to the world provoked people to sides, to take sides. His was a all or nothing faith in Christ that demanded a take it or leave it response from people that confronted Christ in him. You see, for Jim Elliot, it was either Heaven or Hell, Christ or antichrist, truth or error, light or darkness, the broad road or the narrow road. Jim Elliot understood that Christianity allows for no neutrality. And that’s what we’re going to get to in a moment when we begin to unpack this seventh letter. Jesus doesn’t want neutrality. Jesus won’t settle for lukewarmness. Jesus won’t settle for you and I walking down the middle of the road. I’d prefer you were either hot or cold, but lukewarm won’t do. Take sides. Be a fork in the road.
You see, Jim Elliot was a crisis man, just like his savior, the Lord Jesus. Have you ever studied the Gospels and noticed people’s reactions to the Lord Jesus Christ? He was a polarizing figure. You either got mad, glad, or sad when you encountered the Lord Jesus Christ. Read the Gospels, people either hated Him, feared Him, or fell at His feet and adored Him, but there was no trace of people expressing a mild approval of the Lord Jesus. No, Jesus, too, was a crisis man, a fork in the road, both in terms of history and humanity.
Look at the Gospel of Matthew and you’ll see this. Jesus is speaking in Matthew 10:34. Jesus indeed challenges those who are confronted by Him and His claims. Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth: I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies will be those of his own household. He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take up his cross, and follow after me, is not worthy of me.” In fact, in an adjacent chapter, chapter 12 and verse 30, the Lord Jesus Christ puts it in these stark terms, “He who is not with me is against me.”
Jesus was a fork in the road. With regards to Christ, there was no in between. There could be no mild approval. In fact, think about this. This is true, isn’t it? If you and I really grapple with and grasp who Jesus is, His person, and what Jesus Christ came to do, His purpose, there is only one course of action appropriate, and that is all to Jesus I surrender, all to Him I freely give. When you understand the glory of who Jesus Christ is, God incarnate, and the magnificence of what He came to do, to reconcile us to God through His own death upon the Cross, mildness, moderation, and mediocrity are words that must be expunged from the Christian’s vocabulary.
Jim Elliot’s write, “Lord, make me a crisis man.” CT Studd bought into this, didn’t he? He was a man who was a blue blood in England, had a very comfortable future ahead of him, he was a star cricket player, but he shocked his day when he rejected his fortune, sold up and sold out to Jesus Christ and went to India as a missionary, leaving his fortune and his sports career behind. And do you know what motivated him? Do you know what drove him? “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then there is no sacrifice that I can make that’s too great for Him.
You see, in the face of the Cross, lukewarmness is unacceptable. It’s odious. And as we turn the page into this seventh letter, that’s where the Lord Jesus Christ has a beef with the church at Laodicea. He’s up in arms about this very thing, this is a church that’s giving Him mild approval. And Christ announces and denounces this fact, that you cannot be tepid. You cannot indeed have a calculating Christianity. That nauseates Christ. Apostacy angers Him. Apathy sickens Him. And as He looked at this church in Laodicea, the Lord Jesus Christ was struck and sickened by the fact that they had a common denominator kind of Christianity. They were happy to meet God in the middle, one foot in the church, one foot in the world. They always seemed to have something in reserve. They hadn’t given their all.
What we have here is the tragedy of a half-hearted church in a hell-bent world, and that just won’t do. Jesus isn’t going to accept that. And He warns them, if things don’t change, if they don’t repent, if they don’t indeed recover their zeal for the things of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then He’s going to spew them out of His mouth. You see, a calculating and a casual Christianity is unacceptable given the jealousy of God, given the polarity of Heaven and Hell, given the press of eternity, given the hourglass of time, given the purchasing power of the Cross, given the regal lordship of Jesus Christ. This church needed to step up or be spit out.
It’s scary stuff. And we’ll get into much of it next week, but I want us to look at this letter. But as we do, I want to pause. I want us to step back, because this is the last study of the seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor, and I want you to, with me, take some stock of the commendations and the condemnations that the Lord Jesus Christ issued to these churches. If you remember back to our earlier study, we tried to understand the significance of the fact that Jesus addresses Himself to seven churches in Asia Minor, but we know that He left out the church at Colossae and the church at Hierapolis. There were others, good and great churches in that area, but Jesus doesn’t address them. And I think the answer to that question is because these seven churches represent all the other churches.
We saw in biblical numerology that the number seven means completeness. And so I think what we have here is not an unfolding of the church’s history from its inception at Pentecost to the Rapture, which closes the church age. I think what you have here is a summary of all kinds of churches throughout church history. We have a complete picture, we have a full body scan, an MRI of the church, its health and its illness. And I think that’s important for you and I just to pause and take stock of, to take a look at the summary that Jesus gives us here of the church at large in the first century. And if we look at the commendations and we look at the condemnations, if we let the positives stand and we turn the negatives into positives, we have seven marks of an ideal church, seven marks of an ideal church. What we have in Revelation 2 to 3 is Jesus spelling out what He values among His people.
Let me unpack this for you. And I had a little bit of fun recently with Mark Dever. I was invited to speak at the last minute at the Truth for Life conference up at The Master’s college. Dr. MacArthur was sick and they couldn’t find anybody else, they scraped the bottom of the barrel and they gave me a call. They knew I was down the road. I think they had scanned the country and go, “Hey, we’ll settle for the course he’s done in Orange County.”
So I came up, and Dr. Ligon Duncan was speaking, and Dr. Mark Dever was speaking. And Mark Dever has written a book called 9 Marks of a Healthy Church. Our own elders have gone through it. And so I was introduced to him. And as I got to know him over the couple of days, I kind of poked a bit of fun. I says, “Mark, you got it wrong. There’s not nine marks to a healthy church, there’s seven, seven marks. We find them in Revelation 2 to 3.” He looked at me and kind of concluded I was an idiot, and we moved on in our conversation.
But I want you to see the seven marks of an ideal church. Let me run through them quickly. It’s a study in itself, and I suppose if we were putting up the values of Kindred Community Church, this is what our values should be, because Jesus addresses a number of issues here. Number one, the first mark is love. Go back to the church at Ephesus, and chapter two and verse four, what does Jesus say? “Nevertheless, I have this against you, you have left your first love.” Whatever else they were doing, there was something missing, and what was missing was critical, and Jesus addresses that. And so we take from that that it’s critical that a church is marked by love. This was a church that was busy, this was a church that was orthodox, but you know what? It matters not what is present if love is absent, and it matters not what is absent if love is present.
And so Jesus reminds them that a biblical Christ-honoring church is one that measures and motivates its behavior by the Cross. Because that’s where God demonstrated His love for us, right? In that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And that’s a love that goes out of its way, at cost to itself, to help others, to leave them better off than it find them. That’s what the Cross is all about. And may that mark us as a church. May we be a loving body that goes out of the way at a cost to ourselves to leave our brothers and sisters better off than we find them this week. It’s the first day of the week. What are we going to do this week to encourage one another? Some of our brethren are without jobs. Some of our brothers and sisters are in the hospital. Some of them are struggling in the faith and in the front line of a spiritual battle. We need to show love to them.
There’s a second mark, suffering. This is the church at Smyrna, chapter two and verse 10, will you notice, Jesus commands them, “Do not fear any of those things which you’re about to suffer: indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you will have tribulation 10 days: be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
Suffering is another mark of a church that indeed is biblical and Christ-honoring. The church at Smyrna knew nothing of the prosperity gospel. They knew the gospel that taught that you take up your cross, you deny yourself, and you follow Jesus Christ. And as you lose your life for the sake of the gospel, you actually find it. That’s the gospel they knew, because that’s the real gospel. The prosperity gospel’s a false gospel. It’s an aberrant gospel. And if you and I want to be true believers, we’ve got to ask ourselves, where and when do I suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ? Is my love for Jesus Christ so radical that it actually provokes the hatred of the world?
See, we’re meant to love Him and love each other. And if we truly love Him, we just might provoke the world, because they hated Him; and if we look anything like Him, they’ll hate us. Maybe the fact that we’re so comfortable in our workplaces and our neighborhoods is because we really don’t look that much like the Lord Jesus. And so the contrast between what they’re doing and what we’re doing, what they’re watching and what we’re watching, how we’re spending the money, how they’re spending the money, there’s no difference. The true church will show courage under fire. CH Spurgeon said, “Better to be taught by suffering than to be taught by sin! Better to lie in God’s dungeon than to revel in the devil’s palace.”
There’s a third mark, truth, truth. This is the church at Pergamos, a compromised church, a church that was giving away the store when it came to the Gospel. Go to chapter 2 and verse 14. Jesus commends them for a number of things, but He says this, “I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to put a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus also you have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which I hate.”
They were allowing some to teach in the church what Jesus hated. They were failing to do what Paul encouraged the elders at Ephesus to do, have your eyes open and peeled for the fact that there are wolves in sheep’s clothing and they’re going to come in and destroy the flock, they’re going to wreak havoc on the church. And so, as a church, we’re not only to be loving, but we’re to be unbending in our commitment to truth. Those things are not at odds with each other. First Corinthians 13 tells us what? Love does not rejoice an iniquity, love rejoices in the truth. And so a church that is one that pleases Christ and doesn’t displease Christ is a church that has a theological backbone, that rises up to defend the Gospel, that points out false teaching and false teachers.
There’s a fourth mark, holiness. Look at chapter 2 and verse 20, and we’re now at the church at Thyatira. And Jesus says, verse 20, “Nevertheless I have a few things against you,” here we go again, “because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.”
This was a church that was indeed compromised. This was a church that looked more like the world than the body and bride of the Lord Jesus Christ. And what Christ desires of His church is love, a willingness to suffer, a commitment to the truth, and a manifestation of holy living that puts on display the beauty of Christ’s character and holiness. A good church, a great church, it may not be a big church, but a good church and a great church is a church that honors virtue on abhors vice, that fears the world, that watches for a seeping, creeping worldliness that comes in to how its people act, that doesn’t allow itself to be pressed into the thinking of its day. There are certain norms out there and there are certain standards of behavior that are a world away from that which Christ has called us to. The way people dress, the way people act, the way people speak, that ought not to be us. We need to be attractively different. We need to be holy people.
If the word holy scares you, if you have the image of a black suit and a black tie and a Scofield Bible and all sorts of ideas of what holiness is, get that out of your head. The Hebrew word for holiness is simply separate, different. If you might read it like that, you know that verse, “Be ye holy as I am holy”? When you read it like this, be different as I’m different, how different are we? The church ought to be different in how it acts and how it behaves. The church is not meant to melt in with the surrounding culture. The church is meant to stand out and stand up.
That doesn’t mean you’re odd for God. It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy life and pursue things, because God has given us all things to enjoy. But behind it all there’s a holy passion, that whatever you’re doing on the sports field, on the factory floor, in the living room, in the kitchen, in the pastor’s office, whatever we are doing, we’re doing it differently. We have a different perspective, we have a different purpose, we have a different passion. Whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God. Oh, that’s what a church ought to be, loving, committed to the truth, willing to suffer, radically holy in its behavior.
There’s a fifth mark, sincerity, sincerity. Look at chapter three and verse one. Now, we’re at the church at Sardis. Remember what we said at the beginning of this series, this is the postal route. And so the messenger that was carrying these letters would’ve started in Ephesus and headed in a northwesterly direction, ultimately going in a northeasterly direction as he looped over the top of Asia Minor. And so, he’s gone to Ephesus, he’s gone to Smyrna, he’s gone to Pergamos, he’s gone to Thyatira, and now he’s heading downward to Sardis.
And Jesus opens this letter bluntly, “To the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things says he who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know your works, that you have a name that you’re alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain.”
Here’s another mark of a biblical ministry, a Christ-centered assembly, integrity, sincerity. There ought not to be duplicity. We ought not to be playing some kind of spiritual shell game. One thing on a Sunday, another thing on a Monday. One thing to each other’s face, another thing behind each other’s back. No, that’s not the way the church behaves. This was a church living on its reputation. This was a church with a false front.
When I pastored Placerita Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, just up the road from us was Melody Ranch, where the old kind of Western B movies were made. And if you go to Melody Ranch, you can walk down this kind of Wild West town, and then you kind of get a feeling of what it would’ve been like for a shoot out in the middle of the street. But when you walk through the door of the saloon or the door of the sheriff’s office, you come out into nothing. It’s all just a facade. There’s nothing behind it, bar woodwork that’s holding the facade up.
And Jesus said that’s not the way you ought to be as a Christian, and that’s not the way we ought to be as a church. We have got this kind of front, this facade, where with our lips we draw near to God, but with our hearts we are far from Him. No, we want sincerity. We want integrity. We want an organic unity between our creed and our conduct.
We trust that when Jesus stands among us, as He is this morning, that He doesn’t see a show, but He sees a people hungry and thirsty after righteousness. Not a perfect people, but a people who are genuinely trying to love each other, committed to the truth, wanting to be different in the world. Matthew Henry said this, “The beauty of holiness needs no paint.” It’s a great quote, “The beauty of holiness needs no paint.”
Sixth mark, evangelism. Revelation 3:8, now we’re at the church at Philadelphia. Remember that study, and how Jesus comes to them, they’re strategically placed geographically? And so He says, “Hey, I’ve set before you an open door.” You can go in a number of directions with the Gospel, and all kinds of commercial trade is passing through your city. What an opportunity to get your hooks into some of these people that are passing by, who are going to places where there is no church at the moment, and be a witness for Jesus Christ. He says, “Look, I want you to be missional in your approach to life.” With your life and with your lips, make Christ known to those to whom He is unknown, make Christ large to those to whom He is small.
And that’s what every church should be marked by. That’s why transform would be a great choice for you in the month of August. We all need to be challenged, myself included, to be more bold, more involved, committed to evangelism, because that’s why we exist. Archbishop William Temple said, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” And so the church at Philadelphia is challenged to be evangelistic.
And now we’re into the seventh letter. What’s the seventh mark? Zeal, zeal, passion, blood earnestness about the Blood of the Cross and the One who shed His blood for us. That’s what Jesus says, right? We’ve read it, but let’s read it again. Verse 15, “I know your works, that you’re neither hot nor cold: I could wish that you were cold or hot, but what I won’t settle for is the fact that you’re lukewarm.”
Christianity is not a pleasant pastime. Christianity is an all consuming 24/7 passion that counts all things but loss for Christ. Philippines 3, that’s Paul’s testimony. That’s Paul’s description of how he came to Christ and what was involved in coming to Christ. He had got a lot of credentials. He hung around with the high-up muckety-mucks of the Jewish community, but when he came to Christ, he set it all aside. It was all a liability. It all got in the way. And not all of it was bad, but do you know what he says of it? “I counted it all but rubbish.” That’s the clean and polite version. Dung is really the word, excrement. Paul says, “Hey, anything that gets in the way of me praising Christ, treasuring Christ, and making Him known and more glorious in the eyes of others, I will set it aside like you would toss a slop bucket out of your house.” That’s zeal, isn’t it?
Is that where the 21st century church is compared to the first century church? I like what William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army says, “I want my religion like my tea, hot.” You see, the church at Laodicea was like the tea that’s served up in an American restaurant, it’s horrible, horrible. It’s neither hot nor cold. But we like our tea hot, and Jesus likes His church white hot.
Now, put that together. We’re not there yet, no church is fully there yet, but that’s the guideposts for this church and any church. These are the seven marks of the ideal church. We see it in what Jesus commands and we see it in what Jesus reprimands. And when we put it all together, He wants churches to be marked by love, suffering, truth, holiness, sincerity, evangelism, and zeal. This isn’t exhaustive, there’s other things the church needs to be, but it is comprehensive. It is clear. It is convincing. It is a criteria by which we can judge this church and by which we can judge any church, in fact, sadly, some of our people in transition.
We’re in the throes of losing a number of our young couples who have either moved out of state or jobs/job hunts are taking them elsewhere. And they’ve been talking to me. And probably talking to some of the other leaders about, “Do you know any churches in that area or what ought we to be looking for?” Here’s what you ought to be looking for. In some measure, you need to find a church where you can tell people love each other sacrificially. They’re not trying to be popular, they’re just trying to be faithful. That they preach the Word of God faithfully and without fear or favor. That they’re serious about their walk with God. That they want to be a holy people. That piety and holiness are not dirty words in the church. That they’re sincere and real, even about their faults, and that they have a love for people and a zeal for the glory of God.
This is Jesus’s last word on the church. Remember, this is the last book in the Bible. We tend to think that Jesus’s last words to the church was the Great Commission, but these are Jesus’s last words. Therefore, they are lasting words; they are words of first importance. And we’ll just stop and pause here this morning and pray that God indeed may make us increasingly this kind of church and these kind of people.
I like the story I came across recently about Spencer Tracy. Now, he was a well-known actor of a generation ago, famous for his brilliant performances. He seemed to glide across the silver screen effortlessly, flawlessly. And when people asked Spencer Tracy what his secret was, he used to shrug his shoulders and reply, “I learned my lines, and I keep from bumping into the furniture.” Is that it? That’s what he would say to young actors, in fact, “Hey, learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture.” What he was saying, “Hey, get the fundamentals down. They’ll take you a long way. An actor may be a lot of things, but he needs to know his lines, he needs to get into his character, and he needs to know his way about the set.” And while the church can be more than what we have said this morning, the church can be nothing less than what we have said this morning. These are the fundamentals of church life, and may God give us grace to play our part in performing them. Amen?
Philip De Courcy (34:05):
Let’s pray. Lord, we pause this morning. You’ve brought us to the tail end of our series on the churches in Revelation. We thank You for all that You’ve taught us. They are indeed a summary of all kinds of churches and all kinds of Christians. And, Lord, we have to admit, there are times when we have left our first love. There are times when we’re allowing the world to press in, and we’re looking more like the culture than the church. There are times when we don’t have the guts to speak a word of truth and to defend the Gospel in the marketplace or in the public square. There are times we’re frightened to call out ministries and ministers who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. God, there are times when we put on a front, and we’re really not doing as well as we pretend, and we’re being hypocritical. Forgive us for all of that.
Lord, give us a zeal for You. Give us a love for the lost. Help us, indeed, to look for open doors to preach the Gospel. Lord, this is Your church. We’re young. We’re growing. We’re making missteps. We’re making progress. We’re flawed, but our desire is to be marked by these seven fundamental features of biblical ministry. Oh, God, enable us as shepherds to lead our church in this direction. Help us as a congregation not to come with our own shopping list, but, indeed, to rip it up and to take this script and to play our role and our part well. Lord, make us indeed a church that loves, suffers, is committed to the truth, is holy in life, is passionate about evangelism, is sincere and zealous in all that we do. And these things we pray and ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.