Revelation 006 – The Death of DiscernmentRevelation 2:1-3 • Dr. Andy Woods • July 8, 2018 • Revelation
The Death of Discernment
7-8-18 Revelation 2:1-3 Lesson 6
Good morning everybody. If we could take our Bibles and open them to the second chapter of the Book of Revelation. The title of our message this morning is The Death of Discernment. If you have been tracking with us as we have been moving through the book of Revelation we sort of started the series by kind of orienting ourselves to the background of the book. From there we moved through what’s called the prologue, or the introduction, the first eight verses in the book. And along the way we’ve noted that the Book of Revelation has three parts to it. John is told to write down the things he has seen, the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. [Revelation 1:19, “Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.”]
The things that, part 1, that’s the information in chapter 1. John receives a guest appearance, (if you will) of Jesus Christ at the close of the first century on the Island of Patmos. He sees Christ in His glorified state. And we have a description of what John had seen in chapter 1. But you’ll notice that the instruction manual continues and John is told to write down, number two, “the things which are.” The “things which are” would be part two of the book and that would include seven letters to seven churches in Asia Minor. Jesus, through John, is going to dictate seven letters, seven epistles if you will, to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Ephesus, the church we’re going to look at today is the first one addressed. And then the geographical pattern sort of moves upward all the way up to Pergamum; and then the geographical pattern sort of sweeps southeast all the way to a church called Laodicea at the end of chapter three.
I have sometimes referred to this section of the Scripture that we’re entering into as the forgotten section of the Bible. Most people, most Christians aren’t even aware that these letters are here because when we think of letters we think of Paul and we think of the general letters that we call the epistles. And we don’t normally think of the fact that the Book of Revelation has seven more epistles in it, this time not written by Paul or John or Peter or anybody else, but directly from Jesus Christ. So most people when they think about epistles they don’t think about Revelation 2 and 3. And most people when they think about the Book of Revelation they think about all the cool end times stuff, the mark of the beast, the one-world system, Babylon, all that interesting information. And I’ve been in churches where pastors teach through the Book of Revelation and they will just skip right over chapters 2 and 3, because we want to get to the good stuff, right?
The problem is even though this is a neglected part of the Bible you will miss out on so much if you ignore these letters, if we ignore them. It’s stunning, it’s staggering the things that are revealed here as Christ is giving His final word to His church. I mean, what if Jesus wrote a personal letter to your home church? How would that letter read? And that’s what you have here in the Book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, seven letters total.
Here’s sort of the breakdown and the description of this section. We have first of all the letter to Ephesus, Revelation 2:1-7, the loveless church. Secondly we have Smyrna, Revelation 28-11, the persecuted church. Third you have Pergamum, and then Thyatira, to sort of wrap up Revelation 2 and this would be the church in compromise, the compromised church, one Pergamum, the compromised church two, Thyatira. Then you get into Revelation 3:1-6 and you have the dead church. And then finally you get to a note of optimism, the church at Philadelphia, I’m not talking there about Pennsylvania, and it’s Revelation 3:7-13 where we have some information about the missionary church. And finally the letters conclude with the church at Laodicea, the end of Revelation 3, the man-centered church.
It’s interesting that the Lord only chose to address seven churches. We know that there were many more functioning and thriving and planted by this time. We don’t have any information here about the church at Rome; even in this general Asia Minor area we don’t have any reference to the church at Colossae, the church at Philippi. I mean, why these seven exactly. I believe that these seven churches were specifically selected by Jesus Christ because they represent unique problems that would characterize all churches of all time.
There’s a slice of Ephesus in every church. Sadly there’s also a slice of Laodicea in many churches. I could even take this a step further and I would say this: each letter would not just represent a different kind of church but they may even represent a different kind of Christian. I mean, what kind of Christian are you? Are you a Pergamum Christian, a Sardis Christian, a Philadelphia Christian, a Laodicea Christian. And I believe because of the universality of the principles that are revealed here this is why the Lord targeted these seven churches for a final word from Him at the conclusion of the first century.
So we’re moving into a section of the Bible that is not prophetic as much as it is epistles, letters. And what you’ll discover is each of these letters follows a pattern. In fact, with a few exceptions that I’ll mention in a minute you’re going to find these eight elements in each letter. So with each letter we study I will be putting this outline back up and we’ll be working through the eight elements.
First there is a destination. What church is it we’re talking about? And there you’re going to have a place of geography, Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis, Pergamum, etc. And I’ll share with you a little bit of background about that geographical locale because what you’ll discover is that the Lord uses analogies from their own time period that they would understand as illustrations for spiritual truth.
Secondly, each letter is going to have within it a description of Jesus Christ. Christ will describe Himself. And the information that He uses to describe Himself is not just random information but He specifically selects things that we’ve already studied in chapter 1 where we got that great description of what John had seen, the glorified Christ. And Christ, at the beginning of each letter will go back into that imagery and highlight something and bring it to that church’s attention. Again the data is not just random and accidental. When Christ surfaces information about Himself He surfaces information that directly applies to that church, their situation and their need. For example, to the dead church, Sardis, He will describe Himself as the One holding the seven spirits, the fullness of the Spirit. Why would He describe Himself that way to Sardis? Because these people need a wakeup call in Sardis. They need the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
And then as the letters progress Christ will give each church a word of commendation. He will tell them generally what they’re doing right. And then that word of commendation is followed by a sharp rebuke telling them what they’re doing wrong. And then He doesn’t just leave them on the cutting room floor bleeding, He exhorts each church to change. And that’s where He will use a word that’s hardly ever spoken of in evangelicalism today, a word called repentance, which as we will be explaining means a change of mind. And then he will explain that if you do not change, number 6, there is a consequence. The consequence isn’t related to salvation; the consequence isn’t related to heaven or hell, the consequence is not related to your arrival into heaven one day. It relates to something temporal or temporary that you give up, a benefit, a privilege if the Lord’s exhortation to change is not followed.
You see, as a Christian, if you go back into sin you may not lose your salvation but there’s an awful lot of things of value that you forfeit, and each church is told of a consequence that will follow if they don’t change. And by the way, when you look at steps 3, 4, 5 and 6 that’s a pretty good leadership pattern when you think about it. Some of you are in positions of leadership where you are overseeing the work of other people. Some of you are leaders in your home or your family. You’re a leader in your church, you’re a leader in your place of education, you’re a leader in your place of business. How do you handle people? How do you manage people?
You’ll notice that Christ gives a pretty good formula here. First you commend people on what they’re doing right. Sometimes we lead to criticism of people without acknowledging what they’re doing correctly and that kind of has a way of desensitizing them a little bit. But then you point out what they’re doing wrong, a rebuke. And most people, if they just hear rebuke, rebuke, rebuke, rebukes all the time they’re just going to tune you out because your average person is designed to hear at least five positives before they hear one negative.
You say where are you getting that from? I don’t know, some psychologist somewhere said that, it must be true… right? But it makes common sense that you would commend what they’re doing right and then you would tell them what you’re doing wrong and then you don’t just leave them bleeding, you tell them how they can change their performance. And then you tell them if they don’t change here are the repercussions of that. And think how much tension would be alleviated in the home, in the business world if these basic steps were followed.
The second towards the last one is an exhortation to listen; each letter will say, “To him who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” and how today we need to be listening to the Spirit and the voice of God. Our lives and minds are so crowded with things and distractions that there’s almost no time for listening to God, reading His Word, listening to the proclamation of His Word. And then in the final part of the communication process, the elements, there’s a promise to the overcomers within the church. And Jesus will tap into glorious promises that are yet to come in the eternal state all the way there to the far right of the screen, which is the final two chapters of the Bible, which is our future in God. It’s a glorious, glorious future and Jesus will reach into that section of the Bible and encourage each church with a reminder of their destiny in God because if you know the destiny that you are headed for problems in this life are much easier to endure. Amen! So you’ll notice in step two he’s reaching back into chapter 1; you’ll notice in step 8 he’s reaching into the end of the Book of Revelation.
Now there is sort of a discussion or a debate in our circles about who the overcomers are. “To him who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Every letter will say “To him who overcomes,” and there’s a lot of discussion about who these overcomers are. A very popular view today is the overcomers are the winner Christians, the sanctified Christians, the Christians that are really making great progress in the middle tense of their salvation, progressive sanctification, and that’s who the overcomers are. And a lot of my friends believe that.
I personally do not believe that that is what is being addressed here in Revelation 2 and 3. I think if you are a Christian, even a struggling Christian, even a young Christian, you’re already an overcomer. You may not understand it, you may not know it, but you are an overcomer, not because of yourself but because of who you are related to by way of faith. Didn’t Jesus say in John 16:33, “I have overcome the world?” [John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”]
Question: where does Jesus live right now? He lives inside of us, doesn’t He? This is why John in his other book, 1 John 4:4, says “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” You may not think like it, you may not feel like it but if you are related to Christ by way of faith, if Christ through the residence of the Holy Spirit is living on the inside of you, you are already an overcomer. Your destiny is secure, you have all of the resources in Christ necessary for victory in daily living, whether we access them or not.
For example, to the church at Ephesus He tells the overcomers that they’re going to eat from the tree of life, Revelation 2:7. [Revelation 2:7, “’He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’”] Is that just some Christians that are going to eat from the tree of life in the eternal state or will all Christians eat from the tree of life? The answer would be ALL. Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14. [Revelation 22:2, “in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city.”]
To Sardis, Revelation 2:11, He says if you’re an overcome, “He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” [Revelation 2:11, “’He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’”] What is the second death? It’s the lake of fire. You see if you’re born once you’ll die twice; if you’re born twice you’ll die once. Think about that.
Is it just winner Christians that are going to be exempted from the lake of fire? No, all Christians are exempted from the lake of fire, Revelation 20:6, Revelation 20:14, Revelation 21:8. [Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” Revelation 20:14, Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”]
To the church at Philadelphia he says if you’re an overcomer your name is in the Book of life and nothing can erase it. Is it just some Christians whose names are inscribed in the Book of life or are all Christians inscribed in the Book of Life? The latter would be true, Revelation 20:12, 15. [Revelation 20:12, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.”  “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”] So the overcomers is a reference, I believe, to all Christians. I’m not going to exclude overcomers to some, although that is a very popular interpretation today.
But you’ll notice that each letter has eight elements to it: destination, description of Christ, commendations, rebuke, exhortation to change, consequence if there is no repentance, exhortation to listen, and a promise to overcomers who would be all Christians. And although this is the general pattern that the Lord follows you’ll notice that there are times He will make creative deviations. For example, when we get to two churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia He will skep step four; He won’t rebuke those churches. Wouldn’t that be great if you had a boss that never rebuked you? And that’s what Jesus does to those two churches. And you say well, why? It’s very interesting to observe that those are the two churches that are being persecuted. They’re being persecuted by a group of people called the “synagogue of Satan.”
And isn’t it interesting how a persecuted church is a pure church. I know that in my personal life the times that I am closest to God are times of adversity, not times of prosperity because when you’re walking through difficulty, persecution, isn’t it interesting how we have a tendency to rely upon the Lord more thoroughly and not wander off the path of righteousness. And so although this is a general pattern when Jesus comes to two persecuted churches He will skep step 4.
And then eventually we’ll come to Laodicea, the man-centered church. In fact, the very word “Laodicea” means this in Greek: the people ruling! It comes from two words, laos, meaning people, and dikeo meaning to rule; Laodicea means the people ruling. They’re having church without Jesus. They’re having Christianity without Christ. Money is rolling in, the budget looks good, the numbers are up, the problem is Jesus is outside the door, knocking, wanting to get in, the people ruling! And when we get to that church Jesus will completely omit step three. With these other churches He struggles to find something good going on. Not so in Laodicea. So although this is general blueprint what you’ll notice is there are some deviations to the blueprint.
There is a view that is very popular in our circles and it’s called the historical prophetic view. In fact, when I was in seminary my mentor, J. Dwight Pentecost, we called him Dr. Pentecost because he was so old we thought he was actually there on the day of Pentecost… And he’s with the Lord now and he probably had more influence over the way I think than any other human teacher or theologian. One day it shocked us, he went over and turned on an overhead projector. This is a man that would come into class and it was such a privilege to sit under his teaching, no notes, no power points, no fancy degree from Europe, just teaching out of the abundance of the life he spent in God’s Word. And one day, we didn’t even think he owned any slides or power points or overhead projector, it shocked us, he turned one on and he put up this slide right here, and what this is, is the historical prophetic view which is the view that each church does not just represent a church but it represents a section of the last 2,000 of church history. Ephesus would represent the church of the apostles; Smyrna would represent the persecuted church after the apostles left the scene, right up until the time of Emperor Constantine who legalized Christianity. And then you have the church at Pergamum which is a time period of compromise when the church was basically viewed as a symbol of honor within Rome.
[Genesis 2:10-14, “A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters.  The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold.  (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.)  The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e]  The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.”]
Who wants to hear a boring sermon about that? It’s much more exciting to hear the spiritual view. The problem is the spiritual view is only clear in the mind of the person espousing the spiritual view. And there’s no way to test if the allegorist is accurate. So Philo said those four rivers, do you know what they really represent? They represent four parts of the soul, and I would say well why not four parts of the compass, why not four angels? You could make it sound any way you wanted.
And so one of the things that the Protestant Reformers rejected, and if you’re interested in this study I would encourage you to listen to our Protestant Reformation study which we did in Sunday School some time back. They rejected allegorization. And it’s very interesting to me the very people that promote literal interpretation and are anti-allegorization are the first people to allegorize the text. I mean, how would you know just from a surface reading of this that Ephesus is the church of the apostles? How would you know that Smyrna is the church of the persecuted; it borders on allegory using the plain language of the text to bring in some kind of mystical or higher meaning. And that’s the fourth reason why I don’t believe that this view is true. I do respect people that hold it, if you want to hold it that’s fine, we will get along just fine, we can still be friends at the end of the day. I’m just trying to explain to you why I’m not going to make references to this as we move through this section.
In fact, I was called here at the office by a Lutheran pastor; he was doing a study on dispensationalists, which is what we are. I’m a Dispensationalist, with a capital D by the way. And he had apparently read something I wrote on the internet and he had never actually talked to a dispensationalist before; he wanted to talk a real live dispensationalist, like I’m something out of the endangered species list. [Laughter] And he was a very nice individual, very smart, and he kept referring to the fact that there can’t be a kingdom coming because we know that the prophecies about the kingdom are non-literal. And every once in a while in the conversation he would say well, you believe they’re literal right? And I would say yes sir, I do. And the conversation would kind of roll around and a few minutes would pass and he would say you really take that literally, don’t you. Yes sir, I do! This happened two, three, four times, and then he pulled out his atomic gun seeking to defeat me and he said but don’t you realize us dispensationalists, don’t you allegorize Revelation 2 and 3. And I had to be honest with him, although we condemn allegorization there are times that we as dispensationalists are sometimes its greatest practitioners, and I had to explain to him that yes, there are those of us that do allegorize this section of Scripture but I don’t. And you say well Andy, then what’s the meaning of the seven letters to the seven churches. Here’s the meaning—you ready? Jesus wrote seven letters to seven churches. That’s about as high and as far as I’m willing to go in this particular study.
So with that background in mind let’s move into the very first of our letters. Look at what Jesus says to the first of the seven churches, the church at Ephesus. Here is our outline. You’ll notice first of all the destination, chapter 2 and verse 1, it says, “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:” now in prior sermons I have sought to explain that I think the angel mentioned here is not a literal angel. The Greek is angelos, or a messenger. You’ll find him an instruments being used with the Greek word angelos in Matthew 11:10 of John the Baptist; of Jesus sending out His human messengers, Luke 9:52. And of the spies that entered Canaan, James 2:5.
[Matthew 11:10, This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’” Luke 9:52, “and He sent messengers on ahead of Him, and they went and entered a village of the Samaritans to make arrangements for Him.” James 2:5, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”] So it’s very clear that yes, an angel literally means a normal angel; an angle, or an angelos can be a messenger and I believe that the messenger here is the preacher or the pastor over the church at Ephesus. Just like there is an angelos over the church at Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, etc. etc.
One of the things that we have noted in our study is that in the chain of communication, from the Father to the churches, which is the chain of communication, divine communication that this revelation went through there is increasing hierarchy, the Father being the most important, the highest. And the message was passed off to the Son who is equal with Father in terms of deity but subordinate to the Father in terms of role. And then to an angel who was obviously under the Trinity, and then to John (since humans are created a little under the angels), then ultimately to a book. And then it’s handed off to a preacher who would be under the apostles. And then ultimately to the preachers of the various churches there in Asia Minor. So you’ll notice that it goes from greater to lesser and if you make the angelos a literal angel over Ephesus then the order starts to descend and then it bounces right back up, which seems to be kind of odd because there’s an obvious downward progression here.
So when Jesus says to the angel of the church at Ephesus He is speaking to the one who is given the authority over that particular church to herald, to teach, to proclaim, biblical and divine truth. You’ll notice that this letter was written to the church at Ephesus. Now we know a lot about Ephesus, don’t we, in the Bible? When did the church at Ephesus come into existence? It came into existence in Paul’s third missionary journey in Acts 19 where he set up shop in a school called the school of Tyrannus and lectured there for I believe two years, and what it says is “all in Asia,” Acts 19:10… you think my series go on a long time, think of Paul’s. [Acts 19:10, “This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.”]
This took place for two years so that all who lived in Asia heard the Word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. He did all of that, by the way without a Wi-Fi connection. And masses and masses and masses of people came to Christ, many churches most of which that we’re reading about here came into existence through Paul’s tremendous ministry in Ephesus. That’s how the church at Ephesus was born. Ephesus was the key church of the first century. Things were transitioning to Rome but before Rome became prominent Ephesus was the key church. That’s why it’s shocking to discover what Jesus will say to that church. If you don’t change I’m going to remove your lampstand. That would be like taking the biggest church in America, in the world, and Jesus noticing something in that church that was not right and promising to shut the whole thing down. That’s what He’s saying here to the church at Ephesus.
By the way, Ephesus, being the most prominent, is addressed first. They had some pretty good pastors, people like Paul, Timothy, John himself. In fact, Ephesus in the Bible has a paper trail; they were the recipients of many, many letters. One letter is obvious, the book of Ephesians. You throw into the mix 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy because Timothy was at that time pastoring at Ephesus. And then finally Jesus will speak directly to this church in Revelation 2:1-7. And yet the story of Ephesus, as I’ll be sharing ends on a sad note. It doesn’t matter how great you are in God. It doesn’t matter how effective you are. It doesn’t even matter how successful you are, God reserves the right to shut down, to remove the plug from any church. And that’s what happened to Ephesus. In fact you can visit Ephesus today in Asia Minor, assuming you can get in, most of these churches are what we call modern day Turkey. You’re not going to find a thriving church in Ephesus. What you’re going to find is a pile of rocks where greatness once existed.
You know, the fastest growing religion in that part of the world isn’t even Christianity. It’s what? Islam. And that’s why we need to listen very carefully to what the Lord is saying to His churches because if it can happen there in can happen here in the United States, can’t it. In fact, I would argue this, to some extent it already is happening. You go today to Europe and what you see in virtually every European city, you see Cathedrals with beautiful architecture, beautiful stained glass windows, worship centers that once housed hundreds if not thousands of worshippers, the cradle of the Protestant Reformation, go into one of those churches today on a Sunday morning and what are you going to see? You’re going to see the guy that opens the door to the church, the janitor, maybe the pastor and his family, the rest is empty. Christianity is dead in Europe, 1% roughly of the population where the very Protestant Reformation happened is Christian today as we know it. Islam is on the march in Europe, it is on the march in Asia Minor, it is on the march in Turkey, and beloved, as God is my witness if we don’t pay attention to what the Word says the same exact pattern can and will replicate itself, even here in the late great United States of America. My God help us to understand the severity of what is being communicated in these letters.
Part 1 is the destination. Part 2 is the description of Christ. Look, if you will, at the second part of verse1, Jesus describes Himself as “The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:” You say well, who are these “stars in His right Hand?” We were already told that, weren’t we, at the end of chapter 1, which says, verse 20, “The seven stars are the seven angels of the seven churches” Dr. John Walvoord, in his very excellent commentary on the Book of Revelation explains that you do not have to rely on your sanctified imagination so interpret the Book of Revelation. If you spent any time on You Tube, which I don’t recommend you do too much, and you are going to see some of the strangest things you’ve ever heard, people coming up with wild ideas about what the Book of Revelation is talking about. They’ve never been taught basic Bible study interpretation; they’ve never been taught that the Book of Revelation in the same context will interpret itself at least 26 times. There’s no debate on who these seven stars are; they are the seven angels of the churches.
As I explained earlier these are the seven pastors of these seven churches and you’ll notice that it has repeated something that are brought up twice in chapter one, that these pastors are being held by Jesus Christ, not in His left hand but in His right hand. Why is Jesus holding these preachers in His right hand, the hand of honor? Because the pastor’s job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. If you don’t have an equipping process taking place through the perpetual teaching of the Word of God you have a flock of people that don’t know how to minister. They don’t know anything about ministry and yet Ephesians 4:11-12 talks about the gift of pastor-teacher, for what purpose? For the equipping of the saints for the work of service for the building up of the body of Christ. [Ephesians 4:11-12, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”]
In the natural world there are obstetricians that help with the birthing process and a completely different discipline called pediatrics, pediatricians to help the newborn child grow. I am not an evangelist and I wish I were; an evangelist works amongst the unsaved. That’s a completely different spiritual gift than the gift of pastor-teacher which helps people that are saved to mature correctly. And that’s where we are at here at Sugar Land Bible Church. We’re not here to give people a bunch of human opinions. What we’re here to do is to teach the Word of God in a way they understand it and can apply it, which is going to equip them on how to be the right marriage partner, how to be the right parent, how to be the right boss, how to be the right employee, how to handle your finances and how to pursue ministry within the context of the local church.
We’ve got far too many CEO’s today in the pulpit. We’ve got way too many marketers and we certainly have our surplus of psychologists in the pulpit. That is not what Christianity needs. Christianity needs Bible teachers, Bible preachers who will equip the saints. That’s the ministry God’s behind; that’s the ministry God blesses. And if you want to pray something for America you ought to pray this: all over this country do you know what’s happening in pulpits? They’re empty. Why are they empty? Because the pastor that’s been holding the line is at retirement age and there’s no one to fill his place.
That’s one of our purposes in Chafer Theological Seminary. You wouldn’t believe the calls that we get in our office asking for a Bible teacher, asking for a pastor, asking for a preacher and teacher. We got more calls coming in, we’ve got such a demand coming in, we only have students to meet the demand. Pray that the Lord would touch the hearts of those that He wants to be pastors and teachers, that are given that spiritual gift. Pray that God will raise up people like that because this country is lost if that need isn’t filled. I don’t care who wins the next election, if you don’t have preachers and teachers, you don’t have pastors that are biblical you are lost as a church, you are lost as a country, you are lost as a culture. The plumb line of truth has been severed.
So Christ is holding these stars, or angels, or pastors in His right hand and you’ll notice what He’s doing? He’s walking among the seven golden lampstands. What are the seven golden lampstands? Don’t rely on your sanctified imagination, just back up to the end of chapter 1. The seven lampstands are the seven churches. Which churches? The seven that are being selected here in Asia Minor.
Notice that Jesus, how aware He is of what is happening in His church. He’s walking in the midst of them as He’s portrayed here. And why wouldn’t He, He’s the head of the church! He’s the groom of the church. He’s the builder of the church. And He is the One who has purchased the church with His own blood. Your elders never did that for you. Neither did your pastor. Neither did your favorite Christian celebrity. It’s Christ and His blood that made the church the body of Christ, the work of the church even possible.
And you’ll notice that He moves on from the description of Himself to words of commendation, what they’re doing right, verses 2-3, and then also in verse 6. And He says to the church at Ephesus there are four things that are happening in your midst that are great. Thumbs up, keep up the good work, a pat on the back. The first is their deeds, notice, if you will, verse 2, “I know,” we could camp on that, couldn’t we? Jesus as He walks amongst the seven churches and holds these pastors in His right hand, knows exactly what’s going on in every church and in every life. It’s called the omniscience of God. He sees right through the veneer. It reminds me of John 2:23-25 when many people were coming to believe in Jesus but it says there,  “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing.] But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men,  and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”
All those that were trusting in Christ, Christ wouldn’t entrust Himself back necessarily to everybody. He only poured treasure into those that He could trust to handle that treasure correctly. How can He do that? Because He knew what’s in people’s hearts. He knows what’s in man. You know, this business where we think that somehow we’re pulling the wool over God’s eyes, fooling God, playing church, playing Christianity. What kind of insanity is this? What incomprehensible stupidity to think that, given an omniscient God whose eyes are like a fire, He can see directly into people’s hearts, directly into Sugar Land Bible Church, directly into the leadership here, I know.
But there are some things that are very commendable, number one, your deeds, “I know your deeds and your toil and your perseverance.” [Revelation 2:2, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;”] He commends them for their deeds. Why wouldn’t He do that? We’re saved, not by works, Ephesians 2:8-9. [Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”]
But have you read verse 10? We’re not saved by good works but we’re saved unto good works. [Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”] The design of God when a person trusts in Christ for salvation is that God Himself might express Himself through that person to reach a lost and dying world. You know, we’re so clear on salvation by faith alone that we give the people the impression that good works are somehow bad. Good works on the front side of salvation won’t get you anywhere with God, but how the Lord desires to create good works through His people.
The Book of James, chapter 2 and verse 26 says, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” And I don’t believe that means here your faith doesn’t exist and you’re not going to heaven; I think what it means here is faith without works is dead, faith without works is worthless in terms of God using you strategically to reach others. Oh, you might have your fire insurance paid up and you’re going to heaven and praise the Lord for that but there’s so much more that God has for our lives. And so He commends them for their deeds.
Now look at what it says here in verse 2, “your toil and your perseverance,” more on perseverance later but notice this word “toil.” Over in Luke 5:5 the same root of that word is used as a very where it says, “Simon answered and said Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing.” Think of these people toiling away for the cause of Christ, being compared to working all night, going without sleep, going with deprivation, and so the Lord commends them for their work.
He also commends them for their discernment and that’s why we titled this message The Death of Discernment. Notice what he says: I know your deeds, I know your toil, I know you perseverance, look at this, end of verse 2, “and that you cannot tolerate evil men, you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false” or you have found them to be liars. These people were not just workers for the cause of Christ; these folks at Ephesus were discerners. And how we need today discernment within the body of Christ.
Today we’re living in aa climate called post modernism where you have to be open to everything and certain of nothing. In fact, if you want to be certain of something the only thing you can be certain of is your own uncertainty. And boy, let me tell you, I came out of the academic world. Let me tell you the kind of treatment you get within evangelical scholarship for standing on certainty. I mean, you’re called every name in the book, narrow minded, closed minded, arrogant, prideful, you name it. And yet Jesus never criticized the folks at Ephesus for being discerners. He said look what you’re doing right, that’s what you’re doing well. I wish I had time to read all the verses I have down here on discernment.
But jot down Deuteronomy 13:1-5, just this one possible verse where the nation was entering the promised land and Moses says when you come into the Promised Land there’s going to be people in the Promised Land that are going to function as prophets and they’re going to announce signs and wonders and those signs and wonders will even come to pass. But you are to NOT follow them. Why? Because the Lord is testing you to see if you’re going to test them, because this same crowd is going to say let’s follow other gods.
[Deuteronomy 13:1-5, “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder,  and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’  you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.  But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.”]
And the moment they say that is the moment you know that they’re not of God regardless of the miracle that just happened, because the devil can perform miracles. Our culture in our churches today are being conditioned to believe something is true if it’s miraculous, if its experiential. Let me tell you something, the devil can give you all those experiences. Ask Mohammed about that someday… of course you won’t be able to ask him about it because I would think he’s in hell, but he had a manifestation from the angel Jibreel which he thought was Gabriel of the Bible that gave him the doctrines of Islam. Joseph Smith, same thing, had a visitation from the angel Moroni. You have experiences, I have experiences, I would scare you to death if I told you some of my experiences but they have no weight or authority if they’re not in accord with the Word of God because God can’t say something on Monday and contradict Himself on Tuesday, because God cannot lie. That’s contrary to His nature.
And this crowd in Ephesus could not tolerate certain teaching; there were people coming in with the title “apostle,” wow! That’s a pretty high title; I mean, not everybody who claims to speak for God is actually speaking for God. You put them to the test; you have examined them in light of what God has already revealed, and you found them to be liars; you pushed them out of your church and what does Jesus say to the church at Ephesus? Well, you all are so closeminded, you’re so unloving1 NO, thumbs up Ephesus! Thumbs up with deeds, thumbs up with discernment.
Maybe I could sneak in one more; the third thing is their perseverance. You see that there at the end of verse 3, “and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake and you have not grown weary.” Perseverance, the word is hupomenē, it’s the same word used back in verse 2. It’s the same word that John himself mentions concerning his own trials on the Island of Patmos during the reign of Domitian. He calls himself a fellow partaker with these churches in perseverance. John was persevering, the folks at Ephesus were persevering. What does it mean to persevere? Hupomenē, it’s a capacity to bear up under difficult circumstances.
Anybody can whistle the Christian tune when everything is working out well in their life, but what about when you get the layoff notice, the negative doctor’s report, a relational conflict? The work of the Spirit in our lives is such that God desires through the Spirit to create in us hupomenē, perseverance in the midst of difficulty. And you’ll notice that their motive was right. A lot of people out there are doing the right thing but with the wrong motive. Not these folks. They weren’t doing it to win a popularity contest; they weren’t doing it to get a pat on the back; they were doing these things “for My name’s sake.”
And guess what? They hadn’t grown weary. What does the Book of Galatians say, chapter 6 and verse 9? “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.” You know why some of us never really enter the blessing of God? Because we gave up too soon. We quit in our ministry, we quit in our marriage, we quit on our business idea, and we’re so close to entering the Promised Land and yet the fatigue kicks in and we just don’t follow through on what God has called us to do. And we’re just like the Israelites eleven days from Canaan and yet we miss the blessings of Canaan because we just gave up on God.
These folks at Ephesus hadn’t done that; they had not let the fatigue, I think it was the famous football coach, “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” [attributed to Vince Lombardi] And they had not let fatigue short-circuit their work in God. Is that my life? Is that your life? And so they’re commended for it.
The fourth thing that they’re commended for, which we’ll get to next week is their holy hatred. You mean God gives Christians permission to hate certain things? That’s a strong word, hate! Yes, you as a Christian have permission, not to hate people but certain things which are destructive to people called sins. And this church had so much going for it. You say well, what went wrong? Where did it get derailed? And you’re going to find your answer there in verses 4 and 5.
I think in our success syndrome we’ve misanalysed everything. I think man would look at the church at Ephesus and see success all over it. And there were some great things happening but something went wrong and the Lord wasn’t looking at things as man does. Man, Samuel 16:7, looks at the outer appearance. [1 Samuel 16:7, “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”] The Lord looks where? At the heart. There was a heart problem here in Ephesus. And what does it relate to? Activity for God had replaced intimacy with God; doing had replaced being. And that situation in the Lord’s eyes was serious enough where He shut the whole church down. So let’s be very careful about what we mean by success. We think about success completely in external terms; the Lord, who knows everything, as the proper doctor and physician and surgeon gets right to the heart of the matter. So we’ll continue studying the church at Ephesus next week.
You could be here today and you may not know Christ personally; these teachings may be somewhat strange to you and the reason they’re strange is you don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of you who is your ultimate interpreter of God’s Word. Before I became a Christian I tried reading the Bible; it was like reading an Encyclopedia Britannica, it made no sense to me, it was dry. But isn’t it interesting that when the Spirit of God quickens you because He’s inside of you suddenly the pages of God’s Word start making sense and that’s because someone greater than yourself has taken residence inside of you. That’s what we need. We don’t need another religious self-help course, we don’t need to be told to try harder. What we need is the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit. What we need is the new birth. And you can receive that new birth right now by trusting in Christ and Christ alone for salvation.
You say well, there’s got to be more to it than that. That’s all there is! Sola fide, faith by itself, you come under the conviction of the Spirit, you hear the gospel and you trust in what Christ did for you and in a nanosecond you’re born spiritually. Now the Holy Spirit is inside of you. I can’t think of a more important decision to make than that one because that one is heaven or hell. That one is a relationship with God or no relationship with God. And so if the Spirit is at work and you’re listening even online or by computer you can trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation here at Sugar Land Bible Church, you can do that right where you’re seated, you don’t have to raise a hand, join the church, give money, sign a card. It’s a matter of privacy between you and the Lord where you understand the gospel and you trust in it and you receive that new life in Christ. If it’s something that you need more explanation on I’m available after the service to talk.
Shall we pray. Father, we are grateful for what You have disclosed here in terms of these seven letters to these seven churches, particularly as we’re beginning to look at the first letter to Ephesus. I pray, Father, that we would not just be going through the Book of Revelation here at Sugar Land Bible Church but the Book of Revelation will be going through us. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, and God’s people said… Amen!