Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: When unrepentant sin infects the church, we’re all responsible to do something. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: It’s not just a matter of, “You are sinning,” but in some cases He says, “Your sin is that you are tolerating unrepentant sinners in your church, and they’re not being disciplined.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place, for Monday, August 7, 2017.

The church isn’t perfect. We know that, but are you free to leave? Nancy began addressing that Friday as part of the series on the letters Jesus wrote to His churches. We read those letters in the first chapters of Revelation, and we are exploring them throughout the fall on Revive Our Hearts. Let's listen. 

Nancy: Some of you are probably familiar with the name John Stott, who has been a British theologian, author, and pastor for many years. He wrote a book on the portion of Revelation that we’re studying, the first three chapters. He entitled that book, What Christ Thinks of the Church. I like that title. I have a number of books on this passage, but that one is probably my favorite title—What Christ Thinks of the Church.

What Christ thinks of the church should be a matter of interest and concern to every believer.

There are a lot of books that have been written in recent years about what other people think about the church, and you may have your opinion about the church, and the culture has its opinions about the church, but the one whose opinion matters more than any one else’s is Christ. What Christ thinks of the church.

We need to know what Christ thinks of the church. We need to know what His concerns are. We need to know how He sees us, not our public relations firms tell us we are doing, not how surveys tell us how we are doing. But Christ, whose eyes are like a flame of fire—what He sees and what He knows. We need to know what matters to Him, and what He thinks about the true condition of the church, what His diagnosis is, and His prognosis, and His prescription for the church.

As we continue in Revelation chapter 1, let me pick up at verse 9, just to give us, for those who may be just joining us in this series, some background with the paragraph that begins in verse 9.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, "Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea” (Rev. 1:9–11).

This whole book, it’s one book and one letter, one message to be distributed to the seven churches of Asia Minor. The word in the Greek for scroll or book is the same word. It would have been taken over across the water by a messenger to probably Ephesus first, and then there was this postal route one city after another. This is the order in which you would come to them if you followed the road that connected the cities, and this letter, this message, the whole book of Revelation would have been taken to these churches to be read.

Within that big book of Revelation. I don't know if it would have fit in one scroll, but it is one entire message that God gave to His servant, John. Within that big book is an individual message to each of those seven churches, and those individual messages we find in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. We often call them “The Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation.”

They’re letters; they’re epistles; they’re messages that are tailored for those particular churches, but keep in mind every church would have been reading all these letters. This was one of those circular letters, so to speak, where one person reads them and then passes it on to the next person so that all the churches could read it.

In verse 19 of chapter 1, this voice says to John: “Write therefore the things that you have seen.” Then there are two categories of the things that you have seen: “. . . those that are [as in those that are now] and those that are to take place after this [that is, at some point in the future].”

So He says, "Write down the things that you have seen. Of the things that you see in this vision that I am going to give you, there are things that are current, that are currently taking place, and then there are things that are about events that will happen down the road."

Revelation, the whole book, deals with present events and circumstances. It also deals with future things.

When you get to chapter 4, from chapter 4 through the end of the book, most of what you read is about the things that will be after this. It’s about things yet to come, things that have not happened yet.

That’s not true of everything in those chapters, but by and large everything from chapter 4 to the end of the book is about things that are yet to come.

Some day, Lord willing, I hope to do an overview of those chapters, of the whole book, but that’s not the focus of this series. The messages to the churches that we find in chapters 2 and 3 deal with, not things that are to be later, but things that are now, the things that are here and now.

You say, “Why such an emphasis on that?”

Well, what is now is an important starting place. You can’t really deal effectively with things that are yet to come if you don’t yet have God’s perspective on the things that are now.

When I was growing up, and I don’t know if this is true in the churches where you grew up, but when I was a little girl, prophecy conferences were a big thing. You've probably heard the term eschatology. That's a theological term that means "the study of final things." It has to do with things that are down the road—the millenium, pre-mill, post-mill, a-mill, pre-tribulation rapture, mid-tribulation rapture, post-tribulation rapture.

There were teachers, there still are some but not nearly as many as there were thirty or forty years ago, who have charts and diagrams and pictures. They can take chapters 4 through the end of Revelation and chart it all out for you with very great detail, almost to the point of being overwhelming, and they don't agree with each other.

A lot of those prophecy conferences tend to be pre-mill, pre-trib. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, that's okay. We'll get to that in the next section of Revelation. But they would debate with each other. They would say, "This is why I believe this is the order these things will happen, this is the sequence." Some of them sounded very sure of themselve, until you would read the next person who took a different position and who sounded equally sure himself. And it was enough to make you not want to study the book of Revelation.

A lot of people, especially in those days, and still some today, love to talk about future things, prophecy, what’s going to happen, and when it’s going to happen. Like, "What do the seven horns mean? And what do the trumpets mean?" I'm studying right now in Revelation chapter 11, and there are forty-two months and 1260 days, and what does all that mean? When will all that happen? You can get really caught up in all that stuff, and, parenthetically, probably still land not sure what it all means.

A lot of people who love to talk about prophecy, about final things, about things that will be down the road, have a hard time living in the here and now, dealing with issues as they are. Sometimes, and I’m not saying this is true of all people who love prophecy, but I’m saying sometimes people who want to spend all their time in prophecy may be trying to escape or avoid living in the nasty “now and now.”

The point of the prophecies was not so that we could figure it all out. It was to help us know how to live in a state of readiness and preparation now so that when those things do happen, in whatever sequence, whatever they would look like, then we would be ready.

It’s a lot easier to argue about when the rapture is going to take place or, depending on your system, if the rapture is going to place, then it is sometimes to deal with very practical issues of obedience, controlling our tongues, pride, confessing sin, forgiving people who offend us, loving your mate, making financially wise decisions, dealing with pressures, with problems.

That’s the stuff of life that God has given us His Word and His grace to deal with, and the letters to the churches help us deal with the here and now. Not that the other does not have application, the things that are to come can give us insights about the here and now, but the letters to the churches, they were written to churches like us, people who dealt with situations and issues like we do.

As I’ve been studying and memorizing and meditating on these letters to the churches, I have found my heart encouraged and blessed. You will find your heart not only encouraged and blessed as we go through the series, but also challenged and, at times, there will be rebuke that will come from the mouth of Christ to our own hearts and to our churches because we’re so like these churches in Revelation in different ways.

You’ll find yourself instructed, as I have been.

  • These letters give us hope.
  • They tell us how to find grace and peace in the midst of trouble.
  • They give us perspective.
  • They help us to live purified lives in an impure world.
  • They help us to endure through hard times.
  • They call us to repentance.
  • They warn us of dangers to watch out for.
  • They help us persevere.
  • They inform us.
  • These letters to the churches are written to us, and they inform how we are to live life here and now and how to prepare for life then and there.

In our ministry, we do periodic employee performance reviews. This simply means the supervisors sit down with the different ones who report to them and discuss the performance of the employee.

In these reviews they talk about things that are going well, and hopefully there are some things going well, and there’s commendation given, “You’re doing a good job at this.” Then we talk about areas that need improvement, areas of concern, critique that’s given so you’ll know how to do your job better. Then the supervisor, if he’s a good one, will give input and counsel for how to do better, what things could be changed.

As we look at these seven letters, and I want today to look at them in an overview fashion and then we’ll start into the letters themselves, I want to show you the pattern of these letters. There are several component ingredients in these letters that are similar, and similar to this performance review that an employer might give.

So as you read the letters, and I hope that you are reading these chapters, Revelation 1, 2, and 3 as we’re continuing through this series, the first thing in each of the letters is to identify the recipient of the letter. Each letter starts out: “To the angel of the church in—in Ephesus—in Smyrna—in Pergamum, etc.” It identifies, “To the angel of the church in [whatever the location is] write . . .”

So it identifies a specific local church. These individual messages, they’re not real long, but they are very pointed and very practical and very penetrating. They are tailored to the specific issues, the specific situation, and the specific needs of each of the individual churches, though all of the churches would have read all the letters.

Keep in mind these are written to the churches. They’re not written to the pagan culture in which those churches existed. Jesus’ concern in Revelation is to speak to those who are supposed to shine the light into the culture. If the light does its job, then the darkness of the culture will be exposed, and people will be pointed to Christ.

We could spend a lot of time today addressing cursing the darkness, but Jesus’ focus is that we look at the lampstands, the churches, and see whether we are being who we’re supposed to be in this world.

So you have the recipient identified in each of the letters, and then you have a title or a description of Christ who is the one sending the message. He’s the one speaking. So in each of the letters it says, “To the angel of the church in [wherever] the words of him who”—and then it gives an identifying characteristic of Christ.

For example, in Ephesus, it says, “The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.”

When you get to Smyrna, it’s “The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.”

Pergamum: “The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.”

And so on. In each of the letters, it identifies some trait or some characteristic of Christ that relates in some way to what He is going to say to that church.

Remember that it is Jesus speaking to the churches. He is the established authority, and He has the right to diagnose and to give direction to the churches and to our lives today.

Then after the recipient and the sender are identified, each of the letters assesses the condition of the church, just as you would do if you were sitting down talking with your supervisor about your performance on the job. He assesses the condition of the church.

In each of the letters He starts out by saying, “I know.” Five of them He says, “I know your works.” In one of them He says, “I know where you live.” Yet another one He says, “I know your tribulation.” He assesses the condition. “I know your works. I know the situation you’re in. I know what’s going on in your church. I know what you’re experiencing. I know your circumstances.”

Remember, He’s the one who has eyes like a flame of fire. He knows. He sees what is going on in the churches, and He also sees what is not going on in the churches that should be. So He says, “I know.” He knows not just what our church websites say about our churches, but He knows things as they really are in our churches.

  • He knows what’s going on behind the scenes. 
  • He also knows the condition of each believer within the church.
  • He searches. He penetrates our hearts.
  • He knows the particular issues and circumstances that each church has to contend with.
  • He knows the particular challenges and opposition it faces in its particular community.
  • He knows the strengths and the weaknesses of each church.
  • He knows the trials and the suffering of each church and of each individual believer within those churches.
  • He knows the quiet obedience and the faithful acts of service that are going on within those churches or in your life that no one else sees or knows or applauds.

Moms, let me encourage you to say, “He knows.” He knows what you do. He knows those four children and your care for them, the ways you love and serve and bless them, and that those kids are not yet rising up and calling you ‘blessed’—they will one day. He knows.

He knows, single women, your faithfulness in the place where God has put you. He knows your faithfulness in staying morally pure when no one else around you is. He knows.

He also knows the issues that need to be changed, the things that need to be dealt with. He knows the hypocrisy. He knows the sin issues. He knows the shortcomings.

We all have a reputation, but He doesn’t just deal with the reputation. He deals with what is going on within those churches and the lives of those within the churches. We can impress and fool others, but nothing gets past Him. He knows.

So He gives an assessment, and I, for one, want to know what Christ sees about my life, about the churches today. I say, “Lord, show me.” As we get into this series, I hope that you’ll be praying, “Lord, show me. Show me what’s going on in my heart. Show me what’s going on in my life. Show me what the needs are. Do an assessment of my true spiritual condition.”

As part of that assessment, in five of the seven churches He gives a commendation. This is words of encouragement and praise. There are two churches where He gives no commendation, but in five of the churches He gives words of encouragement and affirmation.

In all the churches except two, He also gives words of criticism, words of rebuke, words of concern. “I’m concerned about this.” Two churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, He has no word of criticism, but to all the other churches He said, “These are the good things, but these are the things I’m concerned about.”

In all the churches He gives words of counsel and exhortation—what they are supposed to do about His observations. He doesn’t just make the observation, He tells them, “This is what you need to do.”

Five of the seven, the counsel is to repent. There’s other counsel, but that is the most frequently stated word of counsel. There’s a call to repentance. That stands out to me because the culture in which these churches existed, the culture around them was godless, it was immoral, but the call to repent was not given to the world. It was given to the church.

I’ve heard it said before, “The church is waiting for the world to get right with God, but the world is waiting for the church to repent.” I believe we can never be the light that God intended us to be in our world until we as the church, the people of God, follow Jesus’ instruction and repent.

He’s going to be very specific. There are different things that need to be repented of in these different letters, and we will find ourselves and our churches represented in different ones of these letters.

Throughout the seven letters there are four primary issues that recur, that keep surfacing throughout these letters. Let me state those for you, and then we’ll see them in more detail as we get into the letters.

First, in a number of the churches there was persecution going on. He says, “I know what you’re suffering. I know what you’re going through. I know what you’re going to go through.” In one church He said, “I know you’ve had a man martyred right there in your church. He’s been killed because of his faith.” Jesus knows that, and He gives words of encouragement to persevere. He said, “Hold fast, persevere, endure, be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.” He deals with issues of persecution.

Then in a number of the churches there were doctrinal issues that needed to be addressed. There was error. There was false teaching going on in some of the churches. Jesus knows, and He cares.

Today we don’t give a whole lot of attention to doctrine, and not many people really care about doctrinal purity, but Jesus does. He cared then; He cares now. He’s going to address some of our churches and some of our lives in saying, “You are being deceived. You are buying into things that are not biblically sound.” So He deals with doctrinal issues.

Then there are lifestyle or sin issues. These are believers that are being talked to—at least professing believers, and many of them true believers. There is, for example, in one church, widespread immorality that’s being justified. People are just winking at sin. They’re just overlooking it.

Does that sound like anything we might hear Jesus say to the church today?

There are other churches where they are turning God’s grace into a license to sin. “We can do that because we’re not under law, we’re under grace.”

Does that sound like anything you might hear in the twenty-first century church?

Jesus deals with these issues. He points them out. He’s very specific and pointed, and He says, “You must repent of these sin issues.” It’s not just a matter of, “You are sinning,” but in some cases he says, “Your sin is that you are tolerating unrepentant sinners in your church, and they’re not being disciplined.”

So we can’t just sit here and say, “Well, I’m not being immoral.” Jesus said, “But you’re tolerating immorality in your church.”

We’ll see what He thinks about all that as we get to those individual letters.

Then He deals with heart issues, issues that aren’t so specific as behavior or doctrine, but His eyes penetrate beneath the surface to the heart. He sees hypocrisy, professing one thing but really living another. He sees lukewarmness. He knows the things that we can’t look at each other and tell, but Jesus looks at us. He looks at our churches, and He knows. So He deals with those issues as well.

The book of Revelation and these letters within:

  • It is a call to those who are being persecuted to persevere.
  • It’s a call to be faithful to the truth, to not be doctrinal tolerant, but to be intolerant of anything that is not consistent with the Word of God.
  • It’s a call to be pure and obedient, not to allow sin issues to go unaddressed within the church.
  • It’s a call as it relates to our heart issues to have a white-hot, fiery love for Christ.

So Jesus is not only pointing out the issues, but He’s saying, “Here’s what you need to do about them.”

After the assessment, the commendation, the criticism, and the counsel, in each of the letters there is a warning. “If you don’t repent, here’s what will happen. These are the consequences.”

And then there’s a promise to those who overcome. There is a reward in each of these letters.

And there’s this sentence in each of the letters: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

I think that means: “Listen up. This message is for the churches, of course, but it’s also for you.”

It’s easy for us to kind of broad brush this and say, “Yes, the churches are in really bad shape in our country. They need revival.” But He says, “Let him—the one who has an ear—let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” He’s saying, “This is not just for the corporate church. This is for you personally.”

There’s a corporate application of these letters, but there’s also a very private and personal application.

An old-time writer, Henry Ward Beecher said, "The churches of the land are sprinkled all over with bald-headed, old sinners whose hair has been worn off by the constant friction of countless sermons that have been aimed at them and glanced off and hit the man in the pew behind."

Isn't that often how we listen to sermons? Nudge your husband, hope that your teenaged kids in the youth are listening. Jesus is saying, "No. You listen. This is for you."

As we look at these seven letters, some believe that they represent different stages of church history, starting with the Apostolic Era in the first century—that would have been the letter to the Ephesus—continuing to the present-day, the church of Laodicea. That approach may be accurate, but I do believe that any given time in history all these different types of churches and issues are represented.

These specific letters were written to these specific local churches. They deal with their specific situations and issues, but they have application to all churches in all eras, in all seasons of church history—the same with Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, to the church in Corinth. We read that, and we say, “That was inspired by the Spirit for us today.”

“He who has an ear, let him hear with the Spirit says to the churches.”

As I’ve been studying these letters over the last months, the impression I keep getting is, “Wow. This is incredibly relevant. This message is for today. This is for me. This is for us. This is for my church. This is for our churches. These could have been written today. This is the message that the Church of Jesus Christ needs to hear today, and it’s the message that you need to hear, and I need to hear today.”

So, Lord, as we delve into these letters, I pray that You would open our ears. Give us ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has begun exploring the letters to the churches in Revelation. We’ll continue this study in several series the rest of this year. Today’s program is part of the series called, "Letters to the Churches in Revelation, Part 1: A Vision of the Glorified Christ."

It’s one of many series we’ll air this year on the messages Jesus gave the church in Revelation. I hope you’ll study these letters in your quiet time while we listen together on Revive Our Hearts. To help you get more out of that study, we’d like to send you a booklet called Ears to Hear: Learning from the Churches in Revelation. It will give you some intriguing things to think about and study. It will show you how these churches and these letters apply to you as a church member in 2017.

We’ll send a copy when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Your gift will help us bring you the program each weekday and send it around the world to women who need to hear it. Just call us at 1–800–569–5959, ask for the booklet Ears to Hear, or donate at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Do you love Jesus with the same intensity that you did when you first came to know Him? Nancy will explore that question tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you develop a fervent love for Christ. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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