The Faithful Church
Sermon Text: Revelation 2:8-11
Sermon Theme: The faithful church listens to Christ and knows she will be rewarded.
Our Lord Jesus is the First, for by him were all things made; he was before all things, with God, and is God himself. He is the Last, for he will be the Judge of all. As this First and Last, who was dead and is alive, is the believer’s Brother and Friend, he must be rich in the deepest poverty, honorable amidst the lowest abasement, and happy under the heaviest tribulation, like the church of Smyrna. Many who are rich as to this world, are poor as to the next; and some who are poor outwardly, are inwardly rich; rich in faith, in good works, rich in privileges, rich in gifts, rich in hope. Where there is spiritual plenty, outward poverty may be well borne; and when God’s people are made poor as to this life, for the sake of Christ and a good conscience, he makes all up to them in spiritual riches. Christ arms against coming troubles. Fear none of these things; not only forbid slavish fear, but subdue it, furnishing the soul with strength and courage. It should be to try them, not to destroy them. Observe, the sureness of the reward; I will give thee: they shall have the reward from Christ’s own hand. Also, how suitable it is; a crown of life: the life worn out in his service, or laid down in his cause, shall be rewarded with a much better life, which shall be eternal. The second death is unspeakably worse than the first death, both in the agonies of it, and as it is eternal death: it is indeed awful to die, and to be always dying. If a man is kept from the second death and wrath to come, he may patiently endure whatever he meets with in this world.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- Who is this sovereign One who has triumphed over pain, the cross, the devil, sin and death? This letter comes from the sovereign One (“the First and the Last”), who died and came to life again. As he was victorious over death, so we, too, can face tribulation and death knowing that faithfulness is rewarded with eternal life. He is the eternal, infinite God, who already existed when all things were created, and who will continue to exist after they are destroyed. Christ was reminding the church at Smyrna that He transcends temporal matters, and, through their union with Him, so should they. And should they face death at the hands of their persecutors, beside them is the One who conquered death (Hebrews 2:14) and who promised, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26). His resurrection completed God’s plan of redemption for mankind. His resurrection confirmed that He was who He said He was—the Son of God and Savior of the world. Furthermore, it’s His resurrection that separates Him from all other religious leaders. They’re still in their graves.
- Are we working with all we have to make our brothers and sisters spiritually rich? The power of making others rich was another source of spiritual wealth to the Smyrna Church. He is truly wealthy who can describe himself, like Paul, “as poor, yet making many rich” (2 Corinthians 6:10).
- Are we too often compromising with the world trying to avoid troubles? No situation in life, however desirable — no circumstances, however auspicious — no degree of consistency and utility of moral character, can exempt any individual from trouble and sorrow. Perfect freedom from trouble and sorrow will never be experienced on this side of the kingdom of glory. That which the devil effects in malice, with a view to their ruin, the Savior permits in mercy, with a view to their advantage. The faith and the patience of suffering saints confound Satan, encourage the Church, and glorifies Christ. The time when Christians are to be tried, and also the nature, and the degree, and the duration of their trials, are wisely and mercifully determined by the Redeemer.
- What should we say if we have compromised with the world? It’s the way the world works? I’m sorry? Repent? Many Christians in the world today face problems. These may not be the same as the problems in Smyrna. The tests may be of a different kind. Perhaps we do what everyone else does. We know that these things are wrong. But we are afraid to be different. We believe that Jesus is Lord. Our task is to live to please Him. Every person who hears these things should listen. He should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
- Are you willing to say “Let the will of God be done” in the mist of persecution? May we pray and let the will of the sovereign One persecute us to purify and purge sin from us and affirm the reality of our faithfulness. Hypocrites do not stay to face persecution, because false believers do not want to endure the pain. Trials and persecution strengthen and refine genuine saving faith, but uncover and destroy false faith. May we be full of the grace of God—such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect.
- What commands does the Lord Jesus give to His church in the impending trials (tribulations and poverty and slander)?First He instructs the church, “Do not fear the things you are about to suffer.” Consider the word of comfort recorded in Isaiah 41:10 that the Lord provides for His people when we encounter trial: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; surely, I will help you; surely, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Secondly, the Lord Jesus exhorts His church, “Be faithful unto death.” Throughout the New Testament our Lord Jesus Christ makes clear to us His demand for absolute faithfulness (note Matthew 10:37-38). In making this demand the Lord Jesus is asking nothing more than what He Himself has willingly done for us (note Matthew 26:28).
- Are we considering the present evils which we suffer in comparison to the perpetuity of the future blessedness? Should we regard these without doubt as small and as quickly transient as though of ten days duration? The apostle said: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
- What church is under attack by the devil? If a church is not under attack, check why not. We must be a threat to the enemy before we are attacked. So many churches are so infiltrated by the world that Satan is not even bothering with them. A church that is grounded on the true Word of God is a threat to Satan and is under terrible attack. What one thing that gives us courage to go on in the face of all of this is the fact that Jesus won this battle for us on the cross. We just need to hang on and receive the victory.
- Are we making our church the kind of church Jesus is coming for? Jesus knows all; He was walking, and is walking amidst His churches. These eyes of fire see everything, even in our hearts. He has nothing but good things to say about this church in Smyrna. To know them is to love them. Jesus knows how hard they have worked for the kingdom. He knows that they are rich in service to Him. They are rich in knowledge of His Word. They have diligently sought Him in His Word. They are rich in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They have been through great tribulation. Tribulation comes to make you strong. They are strong because they have been tried and they have not failed God. Throughout its history, the seemingly paradoxical truth has been that the more the church has been persecuted, the greater has been its purity and strength.
- What would be the worst thing in all the world to happen to us? Is it the first physical death? The second death (eternal judgment)? Though persecuted believers may suffer the first (physical) death, they will never experience the second death which is not annihilation but conscious, eternal damnation in hell (Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8). The persecuted, suffering, yet faithful church at Smyrna stands for all time as an example of those who “have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:15). Because they loyally confessed Him before men, Jesus will confess them before the Father (Matthew 10:32).
- Do you have fear for what lies in store for the church in the future? The Lord Jesus not only assures His church that He knows their situation. That is to say, in the near future there is going to be a government reprisal against the church: the authorities would take legal action against the Christian community. The real force behind this government oppression is the devil. But Jesus says, “do not fear the things you are about to suffer.” For He might have deprived the Church of this luxury of suffering in His stead; but it has pleased Him, in the infinite fullness of His love, to permit us to be wounded for the sake of His name. Are you a sufferer? To you Jesus says, “I know.” Is not that enough? The tear, indeed, falls downwards, but the sound of its falling flies upward to the ear of God.
- What promise does the Lord Jesus make to His church for being faithful to the end? Together with His commands, our Lord Jesus issues the promise: “I will give you the crown of life.” The crown referred to here is the victor’s wreath (not the kingly crown), the crown (reward, culmination, outcome) awarded to those who prove the genuineness of their faith by remaining faithful to the Lord until death (James 1:12). What the Lord is teaching us is that the reward for faithfulness—faithfulness that is accomplished by grace—is sharing in the eternal life of the Son of God Himself.
- What kind of character are you striving for — compromising? moral? worldly? Christ-like? In this world man’s secular condition is not always determined by his moral character. Character, and not condition, is everything to man. As compared to this, poverty is nothing. It is the man that gives worth to the condition, not the condition to the man. The gospel is for man as man, and the less artificial man is the more open is he to its influence. For when Christ left the world, He put His disciples not in possession of money, or land, or titles, or honors—these He did not bestow. But He gave them His ideas, His purposes, His character—incomparably the most precious things.
- Are you taking encouragement from the Scriptures during your afflictions (thlipsis), which means serious trouble, the burden that crushes? For when we hold tight to the Word of our Lord and Savior, we prove the reality of our faith, be strengthened and prove once again that Satan cannot destroy genuine saving faith. We can survive the worst Satan can throw at us. “But He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, we should rather boast about our weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in us. Therefore, we are well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when we are weak, then we become strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
- Is being materially rich in this world a problem or is it compromising with the world? The church in Smyrna was apparently very poor materially. However, spiritually they were “rich.”They had a true faith that was characterized by faithfulness.Thus they obtained the favor of the Lord. Being rich in this world is not a sin. God often blesses some with great wealth in order to use them for His glory. However, the wealth of this world is not something we’re to pursue. As followers of Christ, we’re to pursue Him and all the eternal blessings that are associated with our salvation. The riches of this world are temporary, while the riches of Glory are everlasting. Therefore, our priority in life is our walk with Christ. In all that we do, in all of our pursuits, it’s to be done with the purpose of glorifying Him. If God should choose to make us materially wealthy in the process, then great. But that is not to be our goal. We’re to seek His will in all things, and that includes an honorable occupation in which to serve Him — and to do it honorably for His glory, and then leave the results to Him. The honor of Christ is always to be our focus in life.
- Are Christians sometimes viewed as antisocial elitists for refusing to participate in worldly activities? Do uncompromising Christians find it sometimes difficult to make a living in a worldly environment? Scripture links persecution and spiritual strength. “Consider it all joy, my brethren,” wrote James, “when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Peter encouraged suffering Christians with the truth that “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). The purest Christian graces are those forged in the furnace of adversity.
1) CONFESSORS ARE TO BE HONORED EVEN AS MARTYRS ARE (By Cyrian): Let very willing vigilance and care be bestowed, moreover, upon the bodies of all who, although they have not been tortured, yet depart from the prison by the glorious exit of death. Neither their valor nor their honor is less that they themselves should not be among the blessed martyrs. They have endured, as far as it is in their power, whatever they were prepared and ready to endure. In the eyes of God, the one who offered himself to torments and to death suffered whatever he was willing to suffer. For he himself did not fail the torments, but the torments failed him. “He who has acknowledged me before men, I also will acknowledge him before my Father,” says the Lord (Matthew 10:32). They have acknowledged him. “He who has persevered even to the end, he will be saved,” says the Lord (Matthew 10:22). They have their virtues incorrupt and immaculate. And again it is written: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” They endured even unto death, faithful and steadfast and invincible. When to our wish and to our confession in prison and in chains is added also the end of dying, the glory of martyrdom is consummated.
(From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
2) Smyrna Historical Background: The second letter is addressed to the church in Smyrna (modern Izmir), the only one of the seven cities still in existence, although the small town of Bergama still stands on the plain below the acropolis of Pergamum… Smyrna lay about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus on the east shore of the Aegean Sea. Its excellent harbor was sufficiently narrow at the mouth that it could be closed for protection in time of war. An important road extended eastward from Smyrna over which the produce of the rich valley of the Hermus moved. In exports, Smyrna was second only to Ephesus.
Smyrna was a proud and beautiful city. Three to four hundred years after it had been destroyed by Alyattes, king of Lydia, it was rebuilt in 290 B.C. by Lysimachus and Antigonus as a model city. It boasted a famous stadium, library, and public theater (the largest in Asia). It claimed to be the birthplace of the great epic poet Homer. A famous thoroughfare called the Street of Gold curved around Mt. Pagus (which rose over 500 feet from the harbor) like a necklace on the statue of a goddess. At either end was a temple, one to a local variety of Cybele, known as Sipylene Mother (a patron divinity), and the other to Zeus. The acropolis on Mt. Pagus was called the crown or garland of Smyrna. In NT times the population may have been about 200,000. Coins describe the city as “First of Asia in beauty and size.”
Smyrna sustained a special relationship to Rome and the imperial cult. During the period when Rome was engaged in a struggle for supremacy against the Carthaginian empire (roughly 265–146 B.C.) Smyrna had placed itself squarely on the side of the Romans, and in 195 B.C. it became the first city in the ancient world to build a temple in honor of Dea Roma. Later, in 23 B.C., Smyrna won permission (over ten other Asian cities) to build a temple to the emperor Tiberius. This strong allegiance to Rome plus a large Jewish population that was actively hostile to the Christians made it exceptionally difficult to live as a Christian in Smyrna. The most famous martyrdom of the early church fathers was that of the elderly Polycarp, the “twelfth martyr in Smyrna,” who, upon his refusal to acknowledge Caesar as Lord, was placed upon a pyre to be burned.
We do not know when the church was first founded at Smyrna, but it is reasonable to suppose that it could have been during the time Paul lived in Ephesus on his third missionary journey (cf. Acts 19:26). From Ignatius’s letter to Smyrna (early second century A.D.) we learn that the church was already well organized, with a bishop (Polycarp), elders, and deacons.
(From New International Commentary – NT)
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