Imagine reading through Christ’s instructions to the seven churches of Revelation, only to get to the end of chapter three and discover an eighth message to an eighth congregation.
What if it was there, plain as day, and you’d just never noticed it before? Revelation 3:23—”And to the angel of the church in [your congregation here], write…”
I wonder what my first reaction would be to reading that verse. Come to think of it, I wonder what the first reactions were of these church members as they read the verses addressed to them. How did the Thyatirans feel when they realized Christ had dictated a message specifically to them?
How would you feel?
More important question: What do you think those verses would say?
With few exceptions, each of those passages follows a specific structure. For each congregation, Christ…
- reveals some aspect of Himself (e.g. “He who has the sharp two-edged sword” [Revelation 2:12] or “the Faithful and True Witness” [Revelation 3:14])
- commends them for what they’re doing well
- rebukes them for what they’re failing to do
- urges them to repent or face dire consequences
- promises blessings to those who overcome
Take that structure and apply it to your congregation. A message to the angel of the church in whatever city you meet in. What words would Jesus use if He was writing your congregation a letter?
Some of those things we can only guess at. What divine facet of His nature would He highlight? What blessing would He promise those among you who overcome? It’s really impossible to say.
Something that takes a little less conjecture, though, are the second and third bullet points. Those are blanks we can fill in without a lot of guesswork. If Christ sent a message to your congregation today, what actions and attitudes do you think He’d take the time to commend?
And what would He rebuke?
Oh. That’s hitting a little close to home. That’s getting a little personal.
Good. That’s what the Bible does. It gets personal; it makes us look in places we’ve avoided looking for too long. But it’s not enough to answer those two questions. Our human nature has a built-in defense mechanism, and that’s to excuse ourselves from the equation. I bet a lot of Laodiceans looked at their set of verses and said, “Oh, I know who that’s for.” I bet there were people in Sardis, Pergamos, and Smyrna who did the same thing.
So we can’t stop with asking what our congregation does well and what it’s lacking. We have to take those two answers and ask ourselves two even tougher questions:
“How am I contributing to that equation and how can I make it better?”
Pointing fingers is easy. Assigning blame is easy. You might even be right in your assessment. But so what? I think the question Christ has for us, the one He really wants us to answer, isn’t “Whose fault is this?” but “What have you been doing to make things better?”
An eighth message to an eighth congregation isn’t going to just show up in the pages of Revelation. We know that. But I think we also know that the seven messages already there aren’t just for the benefit of Church members who lived and died two thousand years ago.
Those messages are there for us. Today.
We can be the church in Laodicea sometimes. We can be the church in Pergamos and Ephesus, too. Every warning, every promise, every critique Christ gave those congregations is valid and important for you and me. We can make the same mistakes those congregations made, fall into the same traps—and we can also benefit from the same encouragement, the same promises, and the same refocusing of our vision.
You are a part of your congregation.
Correction: You are an important part of your congregation. The things you do (and don’t do) are going to have an impact on the brethren you attend with and on the Church as a whole. And while Jesus might never personally write your congregation a letter, we have seven other such letters preserved for us in the pages of Scripture. We can find our congregations (and ourselves) there.
And then… we can do something about it.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Until next time,