Seven Churches: Spit Out

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 3:14-22

If you’ve heard a pastor stand in the pulpit and really preach one of these letters, I’m guessing it was the letter to Laodicea. This one seems particularly applicable to American churches, although I’m convinced all seven letters have important messages for today.

“You are neither hot nor cold,” Jesus said. “I wish that you were one or the other!” Make a choice, the risen Savior was saying. Make a choice, the risen Savior is saying!

Again, a city’s geography played into the message to its local church in a clever way. Nearby cities were known for their relaxing hot springs or refreshing cold springs. The water welling up in Laodicea was smelly and tepid.

Jesus was saying the Laodicean church was equally lukewarm—basically, worth a gag-induced spit—largely because its people had enough wealth that they figured they could take care of themselves.

When Christians are materially prosperous, they have to take great care to keep their priorities straight. Having plenty is a comfortable feeling, right up to the day when you realize none of it can help you any more.

And we all must face that day. Even if Elon Musk, with all his wealth, manages to transfer his brain into a computer, he will eventually find himself in a place where the universe’s resources won’t sustain him.

It’s a straightforward choice, like up or down, left or right, true or false. Godliness or worldliness—which will it be? Sure, we make mistakes, sliding into worldliness, but if we’re Christians, we’re going to rectify the problem as soon as we notice it.

We all have to decide whether we believe Jesus when he says:

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.

Revelation 3:20-21

Before we depart these letters, there are a couple of broad points about them I hope you will note. First, there is this matter of the “angels” of the churches. There are different theories on what this word means, but I tend to lean toward the supernatural one, the idea that every congregation has its guardian in heaven.

I am mindful that through the church, heaven and earth are linked. I’m thinking of Hebrews 12:1; be aware, you have to read Hebrews 11 to get the context for the great “cloud of witnesses.”

I also hope you’ll go back through the letters and note how each one ends. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

I read that as anyone in any place or time, including here and now.

Lord, help us to search ourselves and examine our churches. If we hear what is said and find ourselves less like Smyrna or Philadelphia and more like the others, then show us the path to renewal. Amen.

Seven Churches: Death and Life

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Revelation 3:1-13

As bad as it was to hear the warnings for Pergamum and Thyatira, I find Christ’s pronouncement regarding the Christians at Sardis more chilling. “You are dead” has a tone of finality to it.

The city of Sardis was commercially and militarily important, and was famous for its elaborate nearby necropolis, a “city of the dead” cemetery built on hills within view of Sardis proper. No doubt the image of the necropolis floated in the church members’ minds as they heard their letter read aloud.

As I was meditating on this letter, I thought of Jesus’ pronouncement against the Jewish leaders of his day:

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 23:27-28

What a terrible thing for a church or an individual: to have the appearance of religion—perhaps even a great history of ministry—but for it all to collapse into spiritual death. As a modern analogy, I think of beautiful buildings I have seen, stained glass and spires intact, but no Spirit-driven Christians left inside to do the work of the kingdom.

Of course, Jesus remains at the heart of these events. With Jesus, death does not have to be an end, and he indicated as much as he spoke to the church at Sardis. There was a tiny remnant clinging to the faith, and they had the potential to trigger new life in the church.

Now my mind goes to Mark 5:41. To the lifeless little girl, Jesus said, “Talitha koum.” Little girl, get up!

Church, wake up! Church, rise up!

And as we arise, as we awaken, being like the church at Philadelphia becomes our goal. Nothing could rattle their faith. Literally. The place was so earthquake prone that people after A.D. 17 preferred to live in the rural spaces around the city, away from where walls might collapse.

The Philadelphia Christians had little in the way of worldly strength, but they remained faithful, so much so that Christ promised their door to eternal life would always be open. Like the church at Smyrna, the difficult circumstances of their world translated into a rich life with Christ, a relationship destined for eternity.

Lord, renew our lives as children of God; renew our churches as places filled with your Holy Spirit. Amen.