Monday, April 27, 2009

Among the Lampstands: Revelation 2:1-29 (part 2)

You know the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words;" or, as Ivan S. Turgenev wrote in his 1862 novel Fathers and Sons, "The drawing shows me at one glance what might be spread over ten pages in a book." Pictures communicate. Back in the old days (young 'uns, listen up) we used to take pictures and put them in large books called "photo albums." From time to time, especially at family gatherings, we would pull out these tomes and as we flipped pages we would point and laugh and enjoy remembering the days gone by together. Most photos captured the joyous moments (birthdays, weddings, parties) and from time to time would contain a few momentoes of other occasions (postcards, newspaper clippings of announcements or special articles). Photos help us remember.

The Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains a photo album of sorts. God is reminiscing with Israel: "remember that time . . ." I passed by and saw you there wallowing in your own blood early in life. Remember when you grew up naked and bare and I cleaned you up, covered you, lavished great treasures on you and took you for my own bride? Remember when you ate and were satisfied and became exceedingly beautiful? Remember when your love for your beauty became your downfall and you played the harlot and wasted all the treasures I gave you? Remember when you slaughtered your children to idols? (Ezekiel 16:6-43) But of all things to be remembered, God says that He will remember His covenant and will establish an everlasting covenant. When this happens, the nation will remember her past. Why? So that they will know that He is the LORD and receive forgiveness through their humility (16:60-63).

This early chapter of Revelation describes the most scrutinous Lord walking among groups of people are call themselves by His name. To Ephesus Jesus says, "remember from where you have fallen" and "repent" (2:5); to Smyrna He says, beware immorality and "be faithful unto death" (2:10); to Pergamum He says, "to him who overcomes I will give" (2:17); to Thyatira He says to those who commit adultery with Jezebel to repent (2:22). God's people have a problem of returning to sin and God extends forgiveness through repentance.

Someone once observed that the most neglected portion of scripture is Matthew 18:15-17. Many times in scripture man is warned to turn from sin and if one who is made righteous by faith sees another in sin pattern behavior, he is to step and and turn his attention to righteousness. The church must address sin, but not just sin outside the church--there is sin inside the church. The One who walks among the lampstands has given direction on how this is to be done:

1) "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother." We've only looked at three churches and the Lord has addressed the danger of compromise. Sin and immorality must not be found in the church! One thing we lose here is that the sin of the brother is a sin against the church and the God. On the groud level, this is where true Christianity is tested--false professors will make themselves known by how they respond to someone pointing out their sin. If two have the same Father, then there is not only the family tie, but reconciliation made possible by His work in Christ Jesus!

2) "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witneses every fact may be confirmed." If one does not listen to godly instruction, he is challenging spiritual authority, not the person bringing sin to attention. This is why there must the surity of authority in leadership, demonstrating the seriousness of the sin and the urgency of repentance. It may be helpful that those who make this visitation be people who the individual will listen to, people they admire or esteem.

3) "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile [heathen] and a tax collector." Whether it be a representative body of the church or the local church itself is unclear; nevertheless, at least the representative body must be aware of the situation and be able to provide prayerful counsel. If still there is no repentance, the person has revealed himself to be a notorious sinner and must be ejected from the fellowship.

The church does not exist for everyone but is a body of born again believers who are walking after their Master and Lord without compromise. The church is to be in the world, not of it and so must address sin when made evident.

Let us not miss this: the purpose of dealing with sin in the church is to glorify God in Christ Jesus. He is the lampstand walker, the star holder. The world knows the church is to be different and observes the constant dealing with sin--sadly, sin is not dealt with in the biblical fashion and the world instead sees the church making compromises. The world relishes watching the hypocrisy of those who say they walk after Christ and continue to do so without dealing with sin. The Lord does not want this pattern to continue. Watch and listen to the Puritan William Prynne address Cromwell's England in 1650 on the subject of the Christian and worldly dancing:

"Dancing is for the most part attended with many amorous smiles, wanton compliments, unchaste kisses, scurrilous songs and sonnets, effeminate music, lust-provoking attire, ridiculous love-pranks, all which savour only of sensuality, of raging fleshly lust. Therefore it is wholly to be abandoned of all good Christians. Dancing serves no necessary use - no profitable, laudable or pious end at all. It issues only from the inbred depravity, vanity, wantonness, incontinency, pride, profaneness or madness of men's depraved natures. Therefore it must needs be unlawful unto Christians. The way to Heaven is too steep, too narrow, for men to dance in .... No way is large or smooth enough for capering roisters or for skipping, jumping, dancing dames but that broad, beaten, pleasant road that leads to Hell! The gate of Heaven is too narrow for whole rounds, whole troops of dancers to march in together."

In the days of old the preaching was strong against dancing, card playing, pool playing and other vices. Now, those seeker-sensitive and market-driven churches is so user-friendly, they set themselves up for trouble. I know of one particular church that thrives on youth outreach, but there are nearly no limits: students are smoking, even doing drugs in the parking lot; cursing up a storm; coming and going throughout the service times; giving no respect to authority; committing lewd and immoral acts in the church or in the parking lot; and the list goes on. Can you guess what the number one complaint from the church toward the youth is? Vandalism. Leaders in the church get together and compare tattoos, show rated R movies to the kids, promote music that is downright frightening, even teaching the youth through various functions how to evade police! John MacArthur says it plainly, "Worldliness is any preoccupation with or interest in the temporal system of life that places anything perishable before that which is eternal.”

Like the candle-inspector, we should pay attention to churches like Pergamum. The Lord knows the people and the Lord knows where Satan has set up his throne. The Lord knows who holds onto His name, who the faithful are. The Lord also knows those who hold onto the world and who the unfaithful are. There must be repentance.

What can we do when love for the world grows and love for the Lord wanes? Remember from where we have fallen. Repent and do the good deeds we did at first. The root problem for a waning love is the loss of joy of God's salvation. David prayed that God would restore this to him and that God would give him a willing spirit that will sustain him. This should be our prayer.

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