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Has the Church Lost Her Way? part 5a

“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”

Revelation 3:17 KJV

At one time in my practice as a physical therapist, we did quite a bit of wound care. Often times we treated people with diabetes that no longer had any sensation in the bottom of their feet.

One such case involved a man who had essentially parboiled his feet in his shoes. This happened when he was doing yard work on a hot summer day while he was burning some debris. 

As it happened, some burning embers from the fire had spread outside of the burn area so he reacted by stomping them out with his feet in sweat drenched socks and shoes.

He continued on with his work, fully unaware of the damage that was done to his feet until he pulled off his bloodied socks to discover second and third degree burns.

This seems to be the thought behind the phrase wretched and miserable in Revelation 3:17. This was a church oblivious to her pitiable (miserable) condition and the injury that she is afflicted with.

In one sense, it could be said that it is impossible for the church to lose her way due to the preserving work of the Holy Spirit that dwells in the church as a whole.  After all, when The Lord first declared that He would build His church, didn’t He prophesy that the gates of Hell itself could not prevail against her? (Matthew 16:18,19)

On the other hand, it is clear from John’s vision of the Lord walking in the midst of the churches (chapters 1-3 of Revelation) that the local testimony can be severely corrupted and not even be aware of it. Indeed, even a cursory review of church history reveals just such a cycle of corruption and revival.

What I notice from what the Lord Jesus first disclosed about His church is that it was intended her to be like an attacking army against the spiritual defenses of wickedness in this world. Those evil forces would not be able to withstand her Spirit filled witness of God’s Chuch.

As we have taken note of already, when the church adopts a ‘come and see’ mindset, it is taking on a defensive position rather than going on the offense with a ‘go and tell’ mindset. This allows the enemy to enlarge its foothold in the world and effectively minimizes the testimony of the local churches.

Knocking on the Door of His Church.

“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; … Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

Revelation 3:14, 20 KJV

A man by the last name of Chapman did his doctoral dissertation on the major themes of the New Testament. What he revealed in his research was that a close second to the major theme of the NT scriptures is the apostasy of the church. Apostasy means a defection or forsaking of the truth.

In John’s revelation of Jesus Christ, we first see Christ revealed among His churches. He first reveals Himself to the church as a whole and then to individual, local churches. 

In the last of these local churches, the church at Laodicea, He shows Himself knocking for admission to His own church that has locked Him out. A church that has barred the door to the truth, is a picture of a church in apostasy.

Before he addressed each of these local churches, He reveals Himself in the following way: To the church as a whole He is the one who is (alive from the dead), He was (from eternity) and He is to come (as King of kings). Furthermore, as an example to His church, He is the faithful witness. 

In addition, His invincibility as the first begotten from the dead is seen and tellingly, He is called the prince of the kings of the earth rather than the king of the kings of the earth. 

This thought of Him as prince corresponds to Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks for the nation of Israel. These 70 weeks of years were shown to Daniel as a total of 490 non-consecutive years to go through until the Kingdom appears. This prophecy saw Him marking the end of the first 69 of these 70 weeks with appearing of ‘Messiah the Prince’ . (Daniel 9:25).

This agrees with the reality that Jesus presented Himself to Israel as the prophesied Messiah and heir to David’s throne. The rejection that He endured from the rulers of Israel means that He still remains a prince during the church age. Jesus Christ has not yet occupied His own throne as King of Israel where He will function as King of kings and Lord of lords. 

He is currently functioning as the great High Priest and  Sovereign Prince from His Father’s throne of grace at this time. (Hebrews 4:16; Revelation 3:21)

We recognize this revelation of Him because in grace He has loved us undeservingly, in mercy He has washed us unreservedly and in truth He has designated us irrevocably to be kings and priests before God, even His Father.

In Revelation 1:7,8 we see that the essence of what the Church is to bear witness of is that Jesus is eternally God; He alone can save us from our sin and He is coming again to reign on the earth.

With that as background, Christ is next seen as the inspector and corrector of individual, local churches. The Spirit of God identifies seven churches to use as examples of the problems and solutions that will confront local churches throughout her existence.

What I want to conclude this study with is by focusing only on the problems identified and the solutions offered to the last of these seven churches – the church at Laodicea. (Revelation 3:14-19)

What we see described there is a self satisfied local church who has effectively shut out the Lord who bought her. This is truly a local church that has lost her way. 

The first thing that we see about her is that she is wealthy and focused on acquiring material things. Since her material needs are met, she forgets the reality of her dependence upon the Lord.

This causes her to be ignorant of her real condition. The Lord describes it as wretched and miserable. This word wretched carries with it the thought of a calloused condition that makes one unaware of their injured state. 

Her true condition is described as blind, naked and destitute. Her physical wealth and stature left her ignorant of her spiritual poverty. She was blind to the expectation of Her Lord’s return, she was naked in her absence of practical righteousness, she was destitute in the knowledge of eternal truth.

Sadly, this is a local church that cannot be saved from herself because the door is fastened against the truth entering. The only remedy that the Lord offers is for the individual to open a door to personal communion with Him.

It may be that the reader of this article finds themselves in a local church that has lost its way. It does not teach the Word of God in a systematic way. As some describe it, you hear a verse of scripture, and are given three points and a poem to help you with your daily problems but you remain hungry for the knowledge of God.

This feeds those with an attitude of ‘what’s in it for me’ but does little to instruct as to the big picture of who God is and what He is doing in the world. Without this knowledge, you and I, as members of His Church will remain ignorant of where we fit in to God’s plan and purpose. Sadly, church history also shows that this ignorance leads to an attitude of anti-semitism.

In the end, the local church becomes little more than the local Rotary Club or Moose lodge social club focused on influence networking and fund raisers for social causes. 

On the other hand, you might belong to biblically sound and vibrant local church but you find that you have lost your way. You are no longer walking with the Lord as you once did. Perhaps life has become so demanding of you that you have neglected your personal fellowship with the Lord through prayer and study of the scriptures.

Called to be different

In any case, we learn from this letter to Laodicea that the Lord calls each believer to do is take personal responsibility for spiritual growth. It is true that we are called to ‘come out from among them and be ye separate’. However, even if it is not possible to leave that gathering, the first point of separation must be to establish personal communion with the Lord.

The Holy Spirit uses these three elements of Laodicean culture to illustrate how to open that door of fellowship. These rather poetic phrases relate to things that the city of Laodicea was known for, namely their wealth, their garment trade and their medical expertise.

Although our salvation is secure in what the Lord Jesus has done for us, the power to live victoriously with the Lord Jesus depends upon our willingness to invest time and energy into that relationship. 

Anytime that we make an investment, we are making an exchange for perceived value. Money is just a medium of that exchange. Our daily labor is an exchange of our time and talent for money. That money can then becomes a representation of the value of our time and talent. We can use that money in turn for an exchange of things of value. 

We often will sacrifice a great deal of time, energy and money in the short term in order to receive value back sometime in the future. It may be that we dedicate a few years of intense education in order to receive a lifetime of income opportunities. Mothers invest a tremendous amount of time, energy and emotion into the raising of her children in order for them to have greater opportunities to for future success.

Personal relationships such as the marriage of a man and a woman also requires a huge investment of time and emotion in order to enjoy a lifetime together. So we can understand a lot about what a person values, based on his or her investments.

Of course we all know the frustration when the things that we purchase or invest in, break down quickly and lose their value to us. So we learn that if want things to keep their value, we have to be committed to pay more to acquire things that have lasting quality. The world has nothing of lasting value to offer. God calls us to be different and choose things of eternal value.

Called to know the difference

What the Lord is showing us here is a quality investment in the eternal Trinity. In many respects God will always be a mystery to us. He is infinite and we are finite. He is Holy, Holy, Holy – we are conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity. The Lord our God is one God yet He has clearly revealed Himself in three distinct persons. Each of these persons reveals to us the nature of God. 

First, He is the Holy God. As Father, He is different from our earthly fathers. His nature is a great desire to provide, mentor and prepare His children to receive all that He is and has. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2) and He cannot fail to be there for us.(Matthew 5:48; 6:8; 7:11) Even the best of earthly fathers fail to provide for all of his children in this regard. Many whose earthly fathers were absent or cruel, know the huge disadvantage such a lack brings. 

Secondly, He is the humble God. As Son, He displays all of the attributes of the Father (Colossians 2:9) but also the willingness to submit Himself to the form of a servant in order to fight victoriously against all of God’s enemies. (Colossians 2:15; Acts 5:31; Hebrews 5:9)

Thirdly, He is the Happy God. The Holy Spirit’s great desire is to fill the human heart with joy and peace in believing (Romans 15:13). He is the great revealer of all that God has in store for those who trust in Him (John 16:13; 1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit sets the seal of God upon the believer (Ephesians 1:13) and declares that soul to be child and an heir of God, joint heir with Christ Jesus (Romans 8:17).  

This revelation of God in three persons teach us the commitment of God to the welfare of human souls. By this revelation of the one true God we can know the enormous difference in value between the cheap goods that the gods of this world entice us with and the inestimable value of knowing God.

This display of His character leave us in no doubt as to His goodness. It is His Glory that we, as His redeemed creatures, are called upon to display.

Called to make a difference

Consequently, there are three investments we are counseled to make in order to make a difference for God in the world. These investments are essential for us to enjoy fellowship with God. Without this fellowship, we can do nothing (John 15:5)

King David of Israel wrote Psalm 51 after he became convicted of his terrible sin of murder and adultery. He relates his painful experience of being out of fellowship with God. He knew that until that fellowship was restored, God could not be glorified in him:

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me [with thy] free spirit. [Then] will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

Psalm 51:12-13 KJV

Fellowship is restored for each believer when we confess our sin to God, claiming His promise of forgiveness (1 John 1:9,10). The enjoyment of that restored fellowship involves a three fold personal commitment to God: We are to buy from the Lord gold tried in fire, white raiment that we may be clothed and eye salve that we can see clearly. 

We will look at each of these in our next post…

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