Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Poor Rich Church

This past week I had spent some time contemplating suffering and its purpose. While the Scripture discusses at length why believers suffer and also speaks of suffering as part of God’s will, I found myself drawn to the Book of Revelation chapter two and the little church of Smyrna. If you not familiar with this church, you may recall that the second and third chapters of Revelation include the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor. Smyrna is the second church that is mentioned and the following passage is all we know of this church and its relationship to the Lord:

“And to the angel, or the messenger, from the church in Smyrna write: the First and the Last who was dead and has come to life says this: I know your tribulation and your poverty but you are rich and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan, do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison that you may be tested and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches, he who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”

Only four sentences, but yet so deep in spiritual truth and application. It is important to remember that Smyrna, like the other six churches, is a literal place and these letters were given by the Lord Jesus Christ through the pen of the Apostle John on the isle of Patmos about 96 A.D. We can gather that life for this little church was dangerous for a number of reasons, not the least of which was if you failed to acknowledge Caesar as Lord, you could lose your life. They were also surrounded by pagan worship of many different kinds. But their main source of suffering came from the Jews who were persecuting them for their faith. Jesus actually calls these Jews, “the synagogue of Satan.” Pretty powerful statement. These Jews were persecuting the Christians much the same way the Apostle Paul was before his conversion on the Damascus road.

According to John MacArthur, the Jews had many reasons to inflict punishment on the Christians, “they slandered them for cannibalism, saying they eat flesh and drink blood. They slandered them for lust and immorality because they greeted one another with a holy kiss and held love feasts. They slandered them for home wrecking because one member of a home became a Christian and it brought a sword into the household. They slandered them for atheism because they rejected the worship of emperors and the deities of Rome. They slandered them for rebellion and political disloyalty because they said this is tantamount to mutiny. And the Jews wanting to destroy Christian faith went to the Romans to report the Christians, that they might lose their lives.”

So here you have this picture of a church that is being attacked from all sides by the government and the religious groups around them but the Lord has such precious words for them, doesn’t He? He tells them that He knows them. He knows them! And he sees their tribulation and although they are poor and have been ravaged by these Jewish persecutors, he calls them rich. Why? Because they are so rich spiritually. They have not lost their first love like the church at Ephesus; they are not lukewarm like the Laodiceans. They are the poor rich church because they have what is most important – a right relationship to Christ in the midst of such intense suffering. They had holiness, they had love, they had unity, they had peace and most of all they had a sympathetic Savior telling them that He has seen their suffering and their response and He is ready to reward them with the crown of life.

So what does he tell them after all this? They will suffer more. My first reaction after reading this is why? Haven’t they suffered enough? But Satan is always trying to destroy saving faith. And God is always proving to him and to us that saving faith cannot be destroyed. For whatever reason as a race of people, we seem to listen best and trust the most when we are suffering. I think God often says you will suffer so you can see the power of the One that you have trusted in.

This begs the question, are we overcomers? What is our response to suffering? What is our true relationship to our Lord and Savior? The answers to these questions have eternal consequences.

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