Through the years, I’ve been involved in four churches that have really changed my life. I grew up in one, attended another while in college, and have spent my adult years pastoring the other two. Every church has its own personality, its strengths and weaknesses. If only we could see our churches as Jesus does! That’s what we have in the miniature epistles to the seven churches, written by Jesus in Revelation 2-3. In some ways, this is a discouraging passage, because the Lord is honest about the failures of these congregations. In other way, however, I find it strangely encouraging to know that the churches John pastored and worked among in the first century were grappling with the same struggles we face today. So far, we’ve looked at:
- Ephesus: The Church that Left its First Love (Revelation 2:1-7)
- Smyrna: The Church that was Being Persecuted (v. 8-11).
- Pergamum: The Church that had Immoral Believers (v. 12-17); and that brings us to:
- Thyatira: The Church that Tolerated Syncretism (v. 18-29). The small town of Thyatira was about forty miles from Pergamum, and it was aknown for its manufacture of purple dye; it was at the center of an important indigo region. Lydia, the convert in Philippi in Acts 16, was from this town. But the Lord singled this little church out of a sharp rebuke. A woman reminiscent of the Old Testament’s Jezebel had joined the church and was bringing with her customs from the local pagan temples. Pagan religions in antiquity combined sexuality with worship, and many temples had male and female prostitutes. This gave the “worshippers” a deeply physical and emotion “worship experience,” and it provided the religion with funds. Incredibly, this female teacher had evidently brought some of the local color into the church, and a syncretism was developing between the church and the local temple. This woman was corrupting the church as Ahab’s wife had corrupted Israel (1 Kings 16:29-33). Not everyone in the church, however, was deceived. The Lord told those who had maintained their biblical faith, “Hold on to what you have until I come.”
- Sardis: The Church that Was Dying (3:1-6). Sardis was an important city on a major trade route, and the church there had once been on fire for the Lord. Some people thought the church was still thriving; it had a reputation for excitement. But in the Lord’s eyes, it was dead or dying. It reminds me of mainstream liberal churches today; but we have to be careful to examine ourselves and make sure our own faith is alive, thriving, and well. The Lord’s message: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains.” Some in Sardis, however, were very much alive; their faith and testimony was as vital as ever. And the Lord promised them, “They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.” (For an explanation of “white clothes” see Revelation 19:6).
It’s frightening to think that Christ’s evaluation of us might be at considerable variation of our own assessment. It’s a good idea to frequently pray, as the Psalmist did: “Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my ways. And see if there be any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).