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The older I get and I'm sure it's true with you if you think about it, the older I get, the more I realize that the world has fallen. The older I get, I guess the more I realize that basically things are not going to get any better. They continue to get worse. Everything in the world has been touched or tainted, has been marred or scarred by the pervasive power and the presence of sin. And that our entire world and our entire universe and our very culture itself is winding down becomes imminently obvious to anyone who looks. No matter how good, no matter how successful, no matter how prosperous, no matter how happy people might be in any given moment, they're always on the brink of disaster, always on the brink of destitution, always on the brink of evil, sorrow, failure and such is the nature of life in a fallen world. And God, of course, knows that that should give us some great motivation for a better world and a better life, which he grants to us in Christ.

And even when it comes to the church, though the church was purchased with the precious blood of Christ, though the church is built by his own power, though the church has promised ultimate and final victory that even the gates of hell cannot prevent, in spite of all of this, the church is always in danger, the church always faces the reality of spiritual defection, spiritual disaster, spiritual destruction, the path to victory, the path to triumph, the path to glory for the church is a battlefield, no question about it. And all along the sides of that battlefield is the carnage of churches that were destroyed. The world system and the flesh, Satan, demons, all set themselves for the failure of the church. If you start a business, I guess the statistics are that 1 in 4 succeeds. Starting a business is not easy. There are all kinds of difficulties, you have to come up with the right product, you have to make it, you have to develop the market, you have to have the capital, you have to have the sales force, you have to build the relationships, you have to have the kind workers that are going to produce at an economical level. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and there are odds to building a business. So, if you want to succeed in a career and an enterprise, there are sacrifices that you have to make to get there. If you want to become educated in a certain field, you must do what it takes, you must make the necessary effort, you must engage yourself in the necessary conflict to achieve your goals. I mean, life is like that. Things don't come easily to everyone. Not everybody wins the lottery and those who do, I understand, sometimes wish they hadn't.

Life is like that. There are battles on every front, but I personally do not believe that anyone can experience anything as intense, as demanding, as difficult or as crucial as the battle for the purity and the power of the church. Not only are you fighting against normal human problems, but you now have engaged war with Satan and demons and sin itself. So, that the battle for the building of the church, the preserving of the church, the purity of the church and the power of the church is the greatest warfare of all, the greatest battle. Any man who goes into the ministry must understand that there will be no career in which he could engage which will come close to the demanding effort that this one calls for. It takes everything we are all the time, constant vigilance, constant study, constant teaching, constant leading, discipling, training, warning, to keep the church on track. It does not just happen and it doesn't come easy.

As we enter this New Year, I, for one, I'm sure you as well, are thankful for all that the Lord has done in our church in the past. I thank God regularly that He has allowed me to be a part of this unique Ministry of Grace Community Church and were I given the opportunity to go back and do my life again, I wouldn't do it any differently because this has been so absolutely fulfilling. And I am thankful to God for all that He's done, but we've been through some troubled times in the past. There's no question about that. We've had several seasons in my 23 years here at Grace Church that have been difficult times. We have battled it seems all the way through to protect ourselves from any disorder or any disaster or any dysfunctioning of the church, any defection. And I really believe that we now stand on the threshold of the greatest year of our history. I haven't been able to say that for a few years, but I really believe it's true now. I believe that we are in a position to see God move for His glory and by His power in greater ways than we've ever seen Him move. And as we stand on the threshold of the future, if in fact God is ready to do his greatest work among us, then we can be certain of one thing that is that sin and enemy are going to amass all the power to make sure the work doesn't get done. We then while standing perhaps on the threshold of the greatest year of our church life, also stand perhaps at the very beginning of the greatest battle we've ever experienced. Such is the nature of the preservation of the church.

Now, as we look at 1992, understanding that its potential is unlimited and yet understanding the warfare that we're going to engage in, it is important for us to know where the attacks come. And so I draw you to Revelation 2 and 3 turn there in your Bible. And as we look at Revelation 2 and 3, we're going to see those kinds of things that debilitate a church, those things that destroy it, take its power, zap its strength, destroy its ministry. Now, in Revelation 2 and 3, there are actually seven letters directed to seven churches. The seven churches were in seven towns in Asia Minor, which would be modern-day Turkey. These seven letters were to seven actual churches. But they also give us seven illustrations of different kinds of churches. Each of the churches here, though a church in itself unique, historical, real, is a picture of the kinds of churches that exist throughout all the history of the church. There are Ephesian churches, there are churches like Smyrna, churches like Pergamus, churches like Thyatira, churches like Sardis, churches like Philadelphia and churches like the one in Laodicea today, as there have always been.

So, you have here seven kinds of churches that existed all periods of the church's history, even today. These churches are dominated by specific kinds of characteristics that give them their unique kind of character. We have churches like them today and the problems that existed in these churches, still exist and are the same things that debilitate and destroy the work of God in His church today as they did in time past.

Now, out of these seven letters, five of them are warnings. Two of the churches receive no warning, Smyrna and Philadelphia. There is condemnation, there is no mention of any sin, there is no pronouncement of any judgment on those two and I'll explain why and how that relates at the conclusion of our message. But five of these churches received very direct and very specific warnings. And they are for those churches, they were for those churches. They are also for all churches of all time who stand in danger or who are experiencing the very same problems. God Grace Church, no one would question, but that we have been blessed with many spiritual blessings. We have grown numerically, we have grown spiritually. We are experiencing the salvation of souls every week. We are touching the world without mission's vision. We stand uncompromisingly for the authenticity of Scripture, its inspiration, its inherency. We believe in the Trinity, the duty of Christ, blood atonement and substitutionary fashion on the cross. We believe in the bodily resurrection and the visible return of Christ. We've taken our stand on holiness, on the Lordship of Christ, on biblical sanctification and many other issues. We preached salvation by grace through faith, plus or minus nothing. We believe in the principles of discipleship, teaching the saints to become mature, do the work of the ministry, be built up as the body of Christ. In other words, we're very biblical. Our doctrine is clear, without question we probably have the most extensive and lengthy and detailed doctrinal statement that any church could have. We know what we believe and we preach it and we uphold it. And we are faithful, you are faithful in the carrying out of ministry to the honor of Christ. And all of those things are well and good and that's why I say we are poised on the threshold of a great, great year potentially. We are experiencing joy, we are experiencing love, there is a gladness in our church, there is a buoyancy in the hearts of our people, there is an encouraging attitude in our church and all of that bodes well for our future.

But in spite of all of that, we are ever and always on the brink of a disaster and we need to be warned less this great potential be lost in some tragic defection. To warn us then, we need to hear what the Lord says to the churches in these two chapters. Let's begin with the church at Ephesus and I'm not going to go into detail in these. You will notice the church at Ephesus is the first church mentioned here in Chapter 2 running down from Verses 1 through 7. "The Lord says to them," the Lord being described in Verse 1 as the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven golden lamp stands, which by the way, according to Verse 20, represents the ministers and the churches themselves. So, here is the Lord of the church, who moves among His church, who holds its leaders in his hand and "He says to them, 'I must commend you, I know your deeds, your toil, your perseverance.'" In other words, you make good effort in ministry, you're very involved and I know that. "I know you work hard, I know you persevere through difficulty, your service is unquestioned. I also know you cannot endure evil men, you suppress evil, you do not tolerate sin, you do not allow those who go on in inequity to find a comfortable place in your church. You're concerned about purity and holiness. And furthermore, you are sound in doctrine so much so that you put to the test those who call themselves Apostles and they are not and you found them to be false. You put them to the test, your testing was valid because you knew the truth, you were exposing those who teach error. Here is a church involved in service, here is a church that is suppressing evil, here is a church engaged in the application of sound doctrine to teachers and by that confirming who is true and who is not." Verse 3, "You have perseverance, you have endured for my namesake. You're doing for my glory the hard thing, enduring persecution, enduring some suffering and in your efforts, you have not grown weary." Verse 4, "But all of that well and good, I have this against you that you have left your first love."

Now, this letter is addressed obviously to a spiritually strong church founded and taught by the Apostles. This church was begun by Paul, pastored by Timothy, ministered to by Aquila and Priscilla, preached to by the great Old Testament Preacher Apollas. This church had the best preachers the world new. Strong in doctrine, earnest, zealous, active, but he says I have something against you. You've left your first love. By the time the Lord wrote this letter, at the end of the first hundred years of the church about 96 A.D., the second generation had taken over the church in Ephesus. And the second generation had lost the zeal of the first generation. They still had the doctrine, they still had the activity, they still carried on the ministry, but the motive was changing. Something of the fire had gone out. They were becoming apathetic. They had a thrilling beginning if you go back into Chapter 19 of the Book of Acts and read in Chapter 19 and 20, you'll find that Paul went into Ephesus. Ephesus was a pagan city. The key to understanding Ephesus is probably to understand the God called Diana of the Ephesians or its male name Artimus and the duties of the ancient world were sometimes male, sometimes female that was part of satanic confusion over the role of the sexes, which Satan continues to play out in the scenes of the world today.

We think perhaps of the Goddess Diana as some beautiful, ravishing creature. The fact of the matter is the God itself, or Goddess itself, was a great big, ugly, gross, black thing that looked like hybrid between a cow and a buffalo with ugly paps hanging down from it, which suckled the Pagans in the milk of idolatry. The worship of Diana was frankly beyond description, scores of eunuchs and people who joined the priesthood became eunuchs by being castrated. Thousands of priestesses who were prostitutes, unnumbered herald singers, flutists and dancers and they were all whipped into a kind of hysterical frenzy where the people worked themselves into shameless sexual orgies of mutilation. Heraclitus said that the morals of animals couldn't come close for the worship of Diana.

Huddled in the middle of this city was a little tiny church that had been born in a riot. Paul came to town and preached, people believed and the men who sold idols started losing their business and what happened was when the Pagans got hit in the wallet, they took issue with it and they started a riot. The church really turned of Ephesus inside out and upside down. And in a very sort of understated way, Luke writes in the Book of Acts in Chapter 19 that there was no small commotion, which means there was a big riot. The preaching of Paul had so impacted the worship of Diana that idol sales immediately fell off and this created the chaos in the city. They were really born in an unbelievable way, a tremendous working of the power of God to break the hold of idolatry.

And out of that came this church and it was a serving church. It was a church that was steadfast, patient, enduring, persevering. They suppressed evil, they were intolerant of sin, they were strong doctrinally and yet, with all of that, and even doing what they did for the sake of the Lord as Verse 3 says, and not growing weary in it, they had left their first love. This, by the way, when was read to them, must've hit them between the eyes like a bolt out of the sky. Because certainly you would assume they wouldn't have believed that.

This is one of the best churches. This church literally founded the other six churches as daughter churches around Asia Minor. This church was remarkable and yet the penetrating eye of the Lord sees through the one fatal flaw and that flaw is you no longer have a love for Jesus Christ that drives you. You've become apathetic, you've become indifferent, you have turned in your passion for cold orthodoxy. You have turned in the fire of your heart for the service of performance. You don't love Christ the way you used to love him. The worst fears of every woman who marries a man, the worst fear of every man who marries a woman is that the fire of love and passion would become cold and apathetic indifference. So it is in the Christian life.

I don't fear that this church all of a sudden is going to deviate doctrinally, I don't fear that. If unsound doctrine comes, we can deal with that. And I don't fear sin in the sense that sin is going to run rampant through our church. I don't fear that because we deal with sin, we preach concerning sin, we discipline as the Scripture says and we pursue the matter of holiness. I'm not concerned about that. I can see sin sooner or later. I can hear and comprehend false doctrine. What I fear most is apathy, spiritual indifference. Where everybody believes the same and does the same thing, but the heart is cold. Because that begins the downward slide, the honeymoon ended in Ephesus. It's ended in a lot of churches not just Ephesus. You'd have to ask yourself have you fallen in your love for Christ away from those early days. If enough of you have, then this will come an Ephesian church.

The great scandal in Ephesus was not immorality, the great scandal in Ephesus was not somebody absconding with the church monies, the great scandal in Ephesus was not some autocratic dictator dominating people's lives, the great scandal there was not some people rising to leadership with impure motives, the great scandal there was the inner springs of love had begun to run dry. And when that happens, cold, loveless, orthodoxy takes over and that's Step 1 that eventually ends up in the Laodicean church where there's a progression here. The cooling of love is the forerunner of spiritual apathy and spiritual apathy beloved literally erased the Ephesian church from off the face of the earth. It's the beginning of the end when love cools.

That's why I said for so many years that the church needs to be continually infused with new Christians, it needs to be a maternity ward where the constant cry of newborn babes in Christ because they come in with their fiery hearts and like hot coals, they keep the rest of us warm. Look at your life, if your love toward Christ is cold, if you love anything more than Him, if you love your theology more than Christ, if you love your service more than Christ, you've left your first love. I see that in churches across this country. When I wrote my book, Our Sufficiency in Christ, in part it was a call back to Christ. It was calling the church back to Christ, to loving Christ, the focusing on Christ, defining their all and all in Christ. Recently, a theological journal says that book is out of balance. When is the Christian out of balance, when he is totally devoted to Christ, when he has found all sufficiency in Christ, that is out of balance? Where's the balance? They say MacArthur's out of balance because he won't allow for the balancing of psychology. We would do well to call all of our churches back to singular devotion to Christ. Their in is balance. In Verse 5, "He says, 'You better remember, first of all, you need to go back and remember where you came from. Remember how it was and then you need to repent and then you need to repeat. Do the deeds you did at first. Remember what they were, repent that you haven't been doing them and go back to them, back to eagerness for worship, back to intensity and Bible study, back to fellowship, back to prayer, back to serving with a humble heart, back to praise. And if you don't, I'll remove your lamp stand.'" And they didn't and he did.

I don't think our church is in danger of destruction by false doctrine. I don't think it's in danger of destruction by sin. I don't think it's in danger of becoming a shell where we offer programs without heart. I don't think we're in danger of becoming apostate, but I do think we stand on the brink of apathy. That's always the first step.

And it leads to the second step, look at the next church for our discussion down in Verse 12 of Chapter 2, the church of Pergamus. This particular church had some commendable characteristics. He says in Verse 13, "The Lord speaks, the Lord who is the one with the sharp two-edged sword," as he is described in Chapter 1 in the Vision there. "I know where you dwell, you dwell where Satan's throne is." The point is they were right in the heart of Satan worship. "You're right in the middle of Satan's domain and yet you're holding fast my name, you did not deny my faith." In other words, your belief in Christ is unwavering, your belief in the Gospel is unwavering. "Even in the days of Antipas, my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you where Satan dwells" and he repeats that they're right in the middle of where Satan lives, were the hotbed of Satanic enterprises in Pergamus. "And He says, 'Even though they've killed one of your number Antipas, you haven't deviated from the true faith and you haven't left me commendable, very commendable.'" But He says that inevitable and shocking word in Verse 14, "But" again. "I have a few things against you." That is a frightening statement to even conceive that Jesus has something against the church, but he does. "I have a few things against you." And He goes onto name the two major issues. "You have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balaac to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols and commit acts of immorality.

"He says, 'You're not all like this, but you have there some who hold the doctrine of Balaam, the teaching of Balaam.'" What was it? Compromise, bottom line. He was used to get the children of Israel to eat things offered to idols and commit immorality. Oh, it's all right if you do that, and he was really used to cause them to inter-marry with unbelievers that's what Balaam did. The Doctrine of Balaam was that you could inter-marry with heathen. It's all right, not a problem. Christ absolutely condemns such enterprise. Go back and read numbers 22 to 25, it tells the story of Balaam. There's no fellowship between light and darkness, Christ and Belial. 2 Corinthians 6 says, "But when a church," and listen carefully, "When a church loses its love for Christ, it will reattach its affections to the system, to the world. It'll be enamored with psychology, it'll be enamored with philosophy, it'll be enamored with techniques that come out of the world's system, it'll want to tolerate the world's activities, it'll bring entertainment into the church. When the church loses the passion for the sufficiency of Christ for fullness and wholeness in Christ, it will reattach its affections somewhere else, inevitably, in the world's system. And it will begin to do the thing it's forbidden to do, it'll love the world and the things that are in the world. It'll become enamored with philosophies of the world, it'll want to do things the worldly way, it'll lose its distinctiveness, it will commit adultery with the world, that is it will unite itself with worldly things and lose its pure identity. It'll become commercial, it'll become entertainment-oriented, it'll become materialistic, it'll become psychological, philosophical, buying the world's wisdom. It'll suck in the world's music, it'll just draw it all in, reattaching its affections to what is forbidden and becoming unequally yoked."

And then He adds in Verse 15, "You have also some who in the same way hold the teaching the Nicolaitans." Now, the Nicolaitans suffice it to say for you this morning, had departed from holy living and were indulging in the sins of the world. In both cases, the issue is the same, the church in Pergamus or Pergamum became enamored with the world, it became the compromising church. Evangelical? Yes. It says it, they hadn't deviated from the faith. Affirming Christ? Yes. Still holding to Christ, to his name. Enduring some hostility? Yes. Here was the Evangelical Church, Orthodox in its faith, committed to Christ, but compromising with the world, enamored with the world, sucked into inter-marriage with the fallen system. Flirting? Yes. And even marrying the world.

Verse 16 says, "Repent therefore else I'm coming to you quickly. I'll make war against them with the sword of my mouth." Jesus is saying to borrow a contemporary expression, you better change or some heads are going to roll. That's what He's saying. He wants His church in love with Christ, He wants church separate from the world, couldn't be more clear. He wants his church in love with Christ separate from the world. And when the church loses its love for Christ and becomes apathetic, indifferent, when the church becomes self-centered and it loves self more than Christ, then it will compromise with the world.

Thirdly, we look at the church at Thyatira down in Verse 18. The church at Thyatira, this follows very closely on the thought of the church at Pergamus. You noticed we skip the church in Smyrna, Verse 8, because there was no condemnation of that church whatsoever, no warning given to them and I'll explain that later. But here we come to Thyatira. This church goes a step further. First you lose your first love, then you compromise with the world, here's the church that tolerated sin. Now, you just - it's not only a mild compromise and a flirtation and a marriage, but now the church that married the world in Pergamum, is celebrating anniversaries in Thyatira. And the same Son of God in the Vision of Chapter 1 described as having eyes like a flame of fire, his eyes can penetrate, having feet like burnished bronze, means the trampling out of judgment. The penetrating eyes, the judging feet, the Son of God says, "I know your deeds. You're still functioning. I know your love, your faith. You're still there, you still believe in God, you still believe in me, you still serve, you still persevere and you're even doing some things greater than you used to do." So, you'd still say well, this church is sort of in the - it's still in the Evangelical camp here and it's still functioning, the love is there, the faith is there, the service is there, the perseverance is there, but I have this against you. You tolerate the woman, Jezebel. You say, who is this? Well, I don't think it's an actual woman named Jezebel because no mother in her right mind would name her daughter Jezebel. And no daughter in her right mind would keep the name. So, this is just symbolic of some woman in the church. What woman? A woman who calls herself a prophetess. They had allowed a woman to ascend into a leadership role. Note would you please, this is a unique mark of defection when churches begin to elevate a woman to a role the Bible limits to men. And here the church has compromised to this degree. And when doing that, you are saying in effect, we do not accept everything in the Bible. Because the Bible forbids this so you have now become selective in how you handle the Scripture and that's deadly. Because in so doing, you're going to wind up tolerating sin.

She teaches in the church. She leads my bondservants, that is true believers astray. So, they commit acts of immorality, they eat things sacrificed to idols, this is unbelievable. Here is a woman, who has risen to leadership, who is given prophecies in the church, who is allowed to teach and lead people astray into immorality and idolatry. And the Lord says, look, I gave this woman time to repent, she doesn't want to repent of her immorality. She wants to go to bed, Verse 22, "I'll put her in bed, only it'll be a bed of sickness. And those who commit adultery, I'm going to put into great tribulation unless they repented their deeds and then I'm going to kill her children with pestilence and all the churches will know I am He who searches the minds and hearts and I'll give to each one of you according to your deeds." God's basically saying through Christ's letter to this church, I'll kill you. I'm going to kill you. You can't miss it.

Verse 24, "He says, 'I know the rest in Thyatira who don't hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan as they call them, I place no other burden on you.'" Here we've got a shift. In Pergamus, the majority of the church was okay, but some of them were in compromise with the world. Here, the majority of the church is tolerating sin, tolerating this woman in morality and idolatry and a few of them are true. You can see the change, can't you? This is the progression. It starts with apathy, spiritual indifference, leaving first love. It moves to a group of people who begin to compromise with the world and ultimately it moves to the majority of the church living in sin and doing nothing about it and a small group remaining faithful. The evils of idolatry have penetrated deeply through this prophetess called Jezebel, who advocated openly immorality, which by the way, is exactly what the Old Testament Jezebel did and that's why this woman takes her name. The church tolerated that sin, the church didn't do anything about it. They allowed it to go on, they elevated the woman, made her able to teach. And so, Christ comes with bronzed, burning feet like brass coming out of a furnace to trample judgment. Christ will not tolerate a church that tolerates sin. In spite of all the good things, he was coming in judgment.

There's a fourth church that you need to note. At the beginning of Chapter 3 and the progression to its next logical step in this text, this is the church at Sardis. Again, the Lord is writing, the Lord is the one who holds the seven spirits of God, the sevenfold spirit, the seven stars being the seven pastors or leaders of the church. "He says, 'I know your deeds. You have a name that you are alive, you are dead.'" What he's saying is your called church, but you aren't one. That's what he's saying. You're called church, but you aren't one. You move and you talk, but you're not alive. This is the next logical step, Step 4. This is the church that is a shell of programs with no life. "You have deeds, you have a name, something's going on, you've got your motion, your programs, your activities, but you're dead." Seven hundred years before this letter, Sardis was one of the great cities of the world. It had a very famous king. Its most famous king had a name Croesus. Do you remember that little phrase, "As rich as Croesus," who at the time was the richest man in the world. His name became synonymous with wealth. He died, the church died, Sardis died, all three are corpses. There was nothing here to commend really. "He says, 'I know your deeds, but they're dead.'" The church is characterized by dry rot. It's a club, activities, politics, welfare, social gospel. It's like Coleridge's famous, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, corpses man the ship, dead men pull the oars, dead men steer the vessel, such was Sardis. And such is the case today in many, many churches, dead men in the pulpit, dead men in the pew. What that does that mean? They're not alive spiritually. They're dead. They have forms, rituals, ceremonies, liturgy, no life, no life. There's no persecution by the way of this church. It's the first one that hasn't had to persevere, it's the first one that hasn't had to endure, it's the first one that hasn't had to hold on. Why, no perseverance? Because no persecution. Who persecutes a dead church? Satan isn't going to waste his time. It's not a threat. Probably a socially distinguished church, but it was a spiritual graveyard. Ichabod had been written on it. It was like Sampson, same name, but no power. And this tragic death of a church occurs when the church gives itself the programs, denominations, ecumenicity, social issues, politics and doesn't deal with spiritual reality. In Verse 2, "He says, 'Wake up, strengthen the things that remain.'" This indicates that down somewhere deep in the bottom of the barrel of this church something remained, something was left. He says there are some things that remain, which are about to die. Now you can see the progression. You start out on Ephesus, the church is alive, everybody believes, it's holy, it's pure, it's on doctrinally, but apathetic. Then you go to Pergamus and all of a sudden you've got a group of people who are compromising with the world. They're not the majority, but they're a large group. Then the next one Thyatira, the largest amount of people are tolerating sin and there're just a few left, just a small group left that are faithful and now you get to Sardis and you've got to go clear to the bottom of the barrel and maybe you'll find something that isn't quite dead yet, you see the progression.

And finally, the last church for us to note is Laodicea, Chapter 3:14. This is the church that isn't a church at all. There's nothing alive here, no one left. He says, Verse 15, "I know your deeds. You're not cold and you're not hot. I would that you were cold or hot so because you're lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I'll spit you out of my mouth." What does it mean to be cold? Well, the Gospel leaves them totally unmoved, totally indifferent. They're not hypocrites, they don't make any pretense, they're unsaved, unmoved. What is hot believers, save people. He says you are in the middle, you are professing Christians playing religious games and you nauseate me and I spit you out of my mouth. Better to be cold than to fake being a Christian. No one really is further from the truth than the one who makes an idol profession without real faith. This is the humanness church. This is the church without God. This is the materialistic church, the philosophical church, the social church, the liberal churches of today, apostate without a true Gospel, without a true Christ, without a true God, without a true Bible. They meet in their stone quarries and they do book reviews or talk about politics. The church that is no church and the Lord spits them out of his mouth.

This is the progression from Ephesus to Laodicea. These are the steps. First apathy, then the affection that is not toward Christ is redirected toward the world and compromise comes, and wherever there is compromise, believe me, wherever there is compromise with the world, sin is tolerated and then you move to the church that tolerates sin and sin eventually kills the church, you get the Sardis church that is dead and ultimately even the little bit that remains dies and then you have Laodicea, the church that is no church that Christ spits out of his mouth and the progression begins with spiritual indifference and apathy. We're not going to turn instantaneously into Laodicea, we're not instantaneously going to become Sardis, we're not going to be overnight Thyatira or in the next week or two, Pergamus. My fear is that we will start the progression with spiritual apathy.

Now, two churches weren't mentioned, two churches. Church 1 was Smyrna, Chapter 2:8. What was special about this church? He says in Verse 9, "I know your tribulation, your poverty, but you are rich. I know the blasphemy by those who say they're Jews and are not, but are Synagogue of Satan. Don't fear what you're about to suffer. Behold the Devil's about to cast some of you into prison that you may be tested. You'll have tribulation ten days, be faithful to death and I'll give you the crown of life." What's he saying? You're a pure church because you're a persecuted church. Persecution is the external preservative. Would you please note that the five churches that were warned, were all warned about things that would come from the inside. Hostility from the outside purifies the church, it purges the church, it keeps it pure. All over the world where I have traveled and seen the persecuted church, I've seen the pure church. We should be grateful to God to take a firm, strong, clear stand on spiritual truth and get the persecution the world will give because that's a purifying agency.

The second church that received no condemnation is in Chapter 3:7, the church in Philadelphia. And He says to them, again, the Lord writing as he is described in the terms that are consistent with the Vision of Chapter 1:8, "I know your deeds. I have put before you an open door, which no one can shut because you have a little power and have kept My word and have not denied My name." In other words, He says, I gave you an open door for evangelism. I opened the door for you to reach out and nobody can shut it and you went through it and he commends them." Verse 10, "You have kept the word of My perseverance and I'll keep you from the hour of testing." What is the characteristic of this wonderful church evangelism? They were preserved from the lost of first love, compromise, tolerance of sin, deadness, apostasy because they maintained an aggressive, evangelistic emphasis.

These are the two lessons that I want you to remember as we think about what insulates us from the dangers to come as illustrated by the five churches. And the things that insulate us, one, persecution from the outside and our church has received it and will continue to receive it because we take such strong stands on truth. You probably will continue to read about Grace Community Church in the newspapers and we will continue to feel the hostility of the culture around us both secular and Christian from time to time, quote on quote "Christian". We can't orchestrate that, we can't persecute ourselves, and we don't necessarily have a martyr complex, but we understand that it comes as a purifying agency. The second thing that we must do and this we can do from the inside is maintain evangelistic zeal, the passion to win people to Christ. When a church becomes preoccupied with itself or content with its own self or all wrapped up in its theology or its identity or its programs or whatever it might be and loses the passion for the lost, it's on the road to Laodicea.

And so, we want to be like Philadelphia, we want to just keep reaching people for Christ, just keep evangelizing and evangelizing and aggressively preaching the Gospel. When people came to the concert, the four nights we had the concert, no one went away here without understanding what the Gospel was, no one. And I'm sure some people were struck by that message and perhaps some were offended by it. But such offense is necessary for redemption, is it not? We must never equivocate that, we must be aggressive not only from the pulpit, but in every avenue of ministry in this church to reach lost people, that's how the fire stays hot in the heart and the life of the church stays pure.

So, I say as I said at the beginning, we stand on the brink of the greatest year in our church life. That doesn't mean we're in a safe position, it simply means we're in a very dangerous position because the enemy would do all to thwart what God wants to do and yet we understand, we are warned what to avoid and we must be faithful. Let's bow in prayer. Father, thank you for reminding us again that we must start by cultivating love for you, love for Christ, increase our love, give us a greater passion for the Savior, give us a greater devotion to His sufficiency, to His fullness. May we again be reminded that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him and in Him we're made complete. May we, like Paul, long to know Him more, know Him better, to be conformed to His very image, give us a passion for Christ. Lord, give us a desire to see others come to Him. Keep us eager for evangelism, to reach the lost around us and bring whatever trouble and suffering needs to come and purify, to prune that we might bear much fruit. May this church be a clear testimony to Jesus Christ until He comes in His dear name, Amen.

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Unleashing God’s Truth, One Verse at a Time
Since 1969


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