Christ Calls to Act
By Thomas Cosmades
The faith of Christ is a sanctified commitment from beginning to end. There is no room for apathy or complacency in it. The Old Testament admonishes the believer to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10). Also, “in quietness and confidence shall your strength be” (Isaiah 30:15). Nevertheless, there is action beyond this which must be looked at as a springboard for Christian effectiveness. Rest in His all-sufficient power; act on His unchanging command.
In a compendium article, we took the subject of The Churches in Christ’s Eyes. In sequence to this, a striking observation comes to light: The letters to the Seven Churches are loaded with serious imperatives from him, related to his solemn pronouncements. These are dispersed between the lines of the epistles, constantly reminding the reader about the urgency of decision and action.
There are ten imperatives addressing the churches, each one a direct command to every individual within each fellowship:
1. Repent and redo 2:5, 16, 21, 22, 3:3, 19
2. Remember 2:5, 3:3
3. Awake (Start Praying) 3:2
4. Hold Fast 2:25, 3:11
5. Use Your Ears 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22
6. Be a Conqueror 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21
7. Open the Door 3:20
8. Buy from Me 3:18
9. Do Not Fear 2:10a
10. Be Faithful unto Death 2:10b
Everyone encounters a series of imperatives in his or her daily dealings. He/she says ‘yes’ to some; ‘no’ to others. We generally bear in mind our personal interest when we say the ‘yes’ or ‘no’. How shameful and pathetic when we say ‘yes’ where ‘no’ is necessary, or ‘no’ when the proper reply should be ‘yes’. We ought to consider the scriptural admonition in our use of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. “For all the promises of God find their yes in Him. That is why we utter the Amen through Him, to the glory of God” (II Corinthians 1:20). May this be the response of every person identified with Christ’s Church. No serious person can afford to say ‘no’ to his imperatives. Negative response results in grief, casting the person into endless agonies. The sovereign Ruler has the power to negate all whimsical deliberations.
1. REPENT AND REDO. Five of the seven churches under consideration here receive this solemn admonition from the Head in heaven. One is called twice to repent, but absolutely refuses to comply. Jezebel was control of the church in Thyatira, so under her sway they were not about to consider the command. Did the other four churches reflect on the call to repent? Christ reiterates his command to the Ephesian church with a warning: “If you don’t repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (cf. 2:5). While the call to repent is irrevocable, man’s sinful will is the deciding factor to revoke it! We see examples of it again in Revelation (cf. 9:20; 16:9, 11). What about your church and you personally?
Metanoeo means coming to perception. It is the categorical call throughout the Old, shuv (complete return) and emphatically in the New Testament. The way of entrance into God’s family is through repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 11:18, 17:30, 18:28; 20:21, 26:20).
Some argue against the believer’s or church’s necessity to repent. The scriptural admonition puts weight on the affirmative (cf. II Corinthians 12:21). True repentance leads to doing again the works a person did at first. Salvation is by grace through faith. The ‘doing’ is laying aside every weight and sin which clings so closely (Hebrews 12:1). And of course in the open call to the five churches under Christ’s scrutinizing eye, repentance is clearly verified. General William Booth said one of the chief dangers of the twentieth century would be ‘forgiveness without repentance’. Lamentably, this is the condition which engulfs us in this century, as well. But when there is refusal to acknowledge sin and turn from it, grace is denigrated in the churches. It becomes ‘cheap grace’ in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words. Then Christ’s warning is carried out in full, with no pity or mercy. “If not…I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5b).
2. REMEMBER. The Lord’s appeal is directed to the behavior resulting from human judging and deciding. Christianity is the faith of the heart and the mind. It is not a way of life starting from the cradle. Conversely, it is a clearheaded commitment through the activation of the mind and stimulation of the heart. Someone remarked that Christianity is the faith of the educated mind. This faith ought to be kept alive through the exercise of correct judgment (cf. Philippians 4:8, 9; Isaiah 26:3).
The Ephesian church is called to remember the height from which she has fallen, and repent. The Sardian church is to remember the teaching she received and believed, but from which she apparently lapsed. Attrition within the community of believers is a sad occurrence. The church or individual who relapses from his/her commitment violates sound judgment, disregarding Christ, the One whom God has made to be our wisdom (cf. I Corinthians 1:30). The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews admonishes lapsing Christians who once made a rational heart commitment, to ‘recall’ (10:32). How many deeds and practices dispensed with are crying to be recalled in order to bring repentance and enjoyment of restoration! The supremacy of Jesus Christ, love for his work and his word, for prayer, for fellowship and many enriching experiences have been thrown overboard and alas, sometimes jettisoned forever. REMEMBER!
3. AWAKE (START PRAYING). The logical sequence of remembering the basics on which there has been slackness and dereliction is the pressing urgency to awake. Is there any weightier exigency for the Church of Jesus Christ than to awake? This experience alone will strengthen what remains and is at the point of death (3:2). Here is the call of the living Head to his : to long for and seek revival. The Church of Christ has had low ebbs and surging flows throughout her long history. Without doubt, the worst decline is spiritual inertia and the highest peak, spiritual awakening. The brightest spots in the progress of the church are those of mighty awakenings induced by the Holy Spirit. And can there be any doubt or question that awakening in the church is always stirred by the Holy Spirit through the intercession and expectation of believers? This imperative of our Lord can be taken as a solemn call to prayer. The striking invitation in II Chronicles 7:14 brings to mind the effect of prayer in spiritual awakening and other effectual fulfilments from God’s loving hand.
In the Old Testament the bright events are seasons of revival under the kings Hezekiah and Josiah. In the book of Acts the Jerusalem, Samarian and Ephesian awakenings (chapters 2, 8, l9) uplift the heart of the downcast Christian. The Wesleyan revival, the Welsh revival, the Great Awakening in North America and several others affected not only the life of the church, but of the whole society. Thank God, there have been many awakenings—well known, little known and unknown. The Holy Spirit is ever-present to introduce God’s awakening, provided the necessary conditions are met by the church. The dying Sardian church was called by Christ to awake, which meant to start praying for their condition. The struggling contemporary church again is appealed to by the Living Head to awake and pray at a time when solutions are anticipated from scientific technology.
Our highly mechanized, technologically-oriented church seems to have forgotten what revival is. How many Christians in a given church are praying for a Holy Spirit awakening? How many Christians desire or anticipate a mighty moving of the Holy Spirit? How many preachers expound the pressing subject of revival? How many of us are willing to pay the price of revival? “Where are all His wonderful deeds which our fathers recounted to us?” (Judges 6:13).
4. HOLD FAST WHAT YOU HAVE. And the Lord attaches to this admonition his anticipated advent (2:25; 3:11). A relevant commentary to this is our Lord’s oft-repeated reminder: “Lo, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is he who is awake, keeping his garments that he may not go naked and be seen exposed!” (Revelation 16:15). Among the many necessary possessions to which we cling, clothes are probably foremost. What a pathetic exposure will be ours if we don’t hold on to our garments! People who undress at some beach to swim, constantly check the spot where they placed their clothes. If stolen, they run the risk of being left naked. The garments to which the Lord refers are obviously those of spiritual nature. Physical nakedness in the Old Testament is associated with deliberate lewdness (cf. Ezekiel 23:10, 18).
Laodicea was renowned for the manufacture of the most expensive garment of the time. Everyone sought this seamless, single-piece tunic. It is likely that our Lord wore such an outer garment supplied by a well-to-do follower of his (cf. John 19:23b, 24). These were produced only in Laodicea, which trade added to the affluent reputation of the city. The church in this place went along with the materialistic way of life which was censured by the glorified Savior. “You are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked,” he says, and admonishes the church to obtain from him “white garments to clothe herself and to keep the shame of her nakedness from being seen” (3:17, 18).
Woe to the church or person that will be seen naked at the manifestation of the great Judge: Naked of total commitment to Christ, naked regarding the teaching and the faith once delivered to the saints, naked of high ethical principles, naked of proper social graces and probably of innumerable other worthy distinctions. Let everyone named by his name examine his/her whole deportment, be merciless on him/herself, asking the Holy Spirit to make known the values which he/she has let slip. Ask the Lord to supply all those ingredients that make the person complete and yearn for His majestic return. Accept them gladly, holding fast to what you have so that your garment of righteousness may be kept spotless.
5. USE YOUR EAR. This admonition coming to each of the Seven Churches is a term copiously used in the Old and New Testaments. It will serve the reader well to read a passage from Isaiah who speaks on YAHWEH’s behalf. He spurs his readers on with this plea: “Give ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech” (28:23). This inducement is also employed in King Hezekiah’s prayer who is pleading with YAHWEH (cf. II Kings 19:16). Isaiah even calls the heavens and the earth to hear, in order to convey YAHWEH’s grievance against his people (cf. Isaiah 1:2). There are many other instances where those who have ears are called to use them. It is sad that one of the most valuable organs of the body is often carelessly used. Much cacophony is to the liking of many. Decibel explains the signal power equal to ten times the common logarithm. Our ears are daily tormented with destructive and detrimental noises to which we finally become habituated Wide experience shows that whatever doesn’t suit an individual often goes in one ear and out the other. Be mindful to train your ears for the reception of the sublime voice.
Lois Lowe (R.N.) of Inter-Varsity offers us this remarkable piece of information in the publication ‘On Call’: “It is significant that the sense of balance and direction is found in the inner ear. Spiritually, too, a healthy ‘inner ear’ will be tuned to the voice of God; that, alone, can give balance in spiritual living. The listener will also find God’s direction for living day by day. A disturbance of the fluid in the inner ear may cause dizziness. Some of us are so caught up in the whirl of busy living that we aren’t able to hear God’s voice in our inner ear.”
In human experience how much useful, constructive communication evaporates into thin air, such as it was never heard! Conversely, what an ugly collection of vain, stinging, stinking material streams into the ear, finding its way into the mind and heart! Do you have ears? Are you capable of hearing? First, thank the Creator for his granting you proper hearing, then intercede for those who are physically deaf. Pray that your ears may be recipient to those virtues that will add advantage upon advantage to your inner world (cf. II Peter 1:4-8). Use your ears to receive those qualities of excellent esteem, ejecting all that runs contrary to the norm prescribed by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit who sanctifies the heart can certainly do the same with our ears, to condition them for the noblest discernment (cf. Philippians 4:8, 9).
This biblical term has become antiquated in our time. It would serve us well to revive it. Certain divine usages should never become obsolete. This is one of those. The depravity of the human race forced on us by our foreparents has affected our whole physical makeup, the ear not excluded. The fall has brought down every healthy and sound faculty. The prober of hearts and minds to whom every secret is known stresses it throughout his word. Let the churches of good standing, so to speak, and those deserving censure—hear what the Spirit says. Direct your ears such as Mary did when she sat at the Lord’s feet and listened intently to his teaching (cf. Luke 10:39). Listen as little Samuel did who said, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears” (I Samuel 3:9). Listen as John did in Patmos (Revelation 1:10) and was honored to hear and see the most amazing events that were to come.
6. BE A CONQUEROR. In the course of history, aspirations have centered on conquest, primarily military conquest, which in Islam constitutes a rigid dogma (cf. Quran, 33:25). Conquest of new continents and of known mountain peaks, mastery of unknown frontiers of science and knowledge, triumph in the arena of sports and desire for domination in other areas are all challenges for transcendence. Since the overpowering by Satan of Adam and Eve, who talks about spiritual conquest? In life where people experience one defeat after another, who thinks about spiritual triumph? Jesus Christ, the mighty conqueror over the world, sin, Satan, hell and death extends his victory to everyone who believes in his infinite power. It is he alone who says, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). About his victories, read: Revelation 5:5; 6:2; 17:14. The victories of his believers are described in. Revelation 12:11; 15:2; 21:7. The prayers of his saints, saturated in faith, brought majestic triumph to them. As noticed in Christ’s admonition ‘to awake’, likewise in this reminder the effect of prayer is strongly implied. In fact, the earnest person will detect Christ’s summon to prayer in every command.
Those who crucified the eternal Christ were jeering and celebrating. But when they were informed about his resurrection they resorted to fabrications in order to cover up their apparent defeat. Christ is the absolute victor. No power on earth, in heaven or hell can ever overcome him. He is calling his follower to be a victor, drawing the full supply of strength from him (I John 5:4, 5). Let no one even entertain the notion of victory apart from being identified with the power of Christ’s resurrection (Philippians 3:10).
The germ of defeat had already crept into the life of the churches addressed by Christ. The prime affliction of the Church throughout the centuries has been spiritual and moral defeat. Forces which overwhelm are sin, allegiance to other masters, doctrinal deviation, inner conflicts and other forms of subversion. The picture of a defeated church which Christ has destined for continuous victory is one of the saddest sights. It reminds us of the lamentable portrayal of Samson. Christ is pleading with his follower to embrace his victory, making it his/her own. Let the reader search the scriptures to discover the rich resources he will bestow on the victor. The ever-triumphant Lord is inviting us to participate in his victory. Can there be any excuse for defeat with such a master?
7. OPEN THE DOOR. Ancient Laodicea was a wealthy banking and commercial city in the prosperous Lycus Valley of Asia Minor. Every amenity was hers. There was ample money to erect the most sophisticated fortifications to defend their sprawling metropolis. The Herculean gates imbedded into the walls would be closed and opened arbitrarily by those within. In the old world, enjoying the protection of strong walls with well-placed gates was an undeniable advantage. How distressing is the picture of a church which guards herself against non-existent perils, all the while carrying out self-motivated programs. Alas, the very Head of the Church is left out while the church enjoys her cozy enjoyment. The world is copious with all sorts of churches in which Jesus Christ is neither the Head nor the indisputable Ruler. Consider the state of your own church. Is there any area where the Lord who gave his life for the Church and loves the Church has been pushed aside, and been replaced by human norms and impulses?
When there was no king in ancient Israel, every person did what was right in his own eyes (cf. Judges 21:25). The state of the church in our critical times is sadly reminiscent of that bygone disorderliness. As long as Christ is not honored on his rightful throne in all areas of the church, and extended the freedom to drive out from his temple human intrusions and avocations, nothing can be remedied or perfected. The innumerable quandaries in the church can be alleviated with a single stroke: Open wide the closed door of the church and the ear of its communicants. Allow the overall sovereign Head to step in and rule. Recognize in full his long-ignored authority; acknowledge him as the loving, caring host at the banquet table. He who fed the thousands with a supernatural provision is ready to feed everyone with abundant endowments.
Conversely, a blatant feast was carried on, which the Lord rebuked: “...Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20b). This church had opened the door and fallen under the spell of a self-imposing hostess and presumed prophetess. She was serving all sorts of obnoxious, vulgar meat and drink to which she lured undiscerning participants to eat at her table, and then engage in orgies. Her manipulation had dreadful consequences. How many have crept, and are creeping, into the assembly known as ‘church’! Like Jezebel of old they have no difficulty to worm their way in, and then create havoc around their pretended banquet table. It was probably Jeremiah who said, “Let their own table before them become a snare; let their sacrificial feasts be a trap” (Psalm 69:22; Romans 11:9, 10).
If you are listening to the voice of the risen Christ, turn your back on all distasteful tables where glossed dainties are being served: Man-invented dogmas and practices, modern day freelance practices, materialistic-hedonistic life-style, haemorrhaging and eroding standards, dignifying self-absorbed leaders and teachers, mingling personal interests with those of Christ’s to whom all glory belongs. Other features are: Pharisaic exclusiveness focusing on trivialities, or theological inclusiveness majoring on vagueness, with a host of more stale foods sacrificed who knows to whom! (Jude 4). Open the door to Christ and sit at his banquet table. His presence and plenitude will bless you beyond all imagination.
8. BUY FROM ME. Buying and selling is an important transaction in which we are all involved. We always pay some exchange when we purchase any commodity. Our Lord used two parables regarding individuals who found items of much worth. The first was a treasure hidden in a field and the other a pearl of great value. They both ran, sold all they had and bought respectively the field and the pearl. There are a number of interpretations of these and other kingdom parables recorded in Matthew 13. We may be allowed to add our own interpretation: What could that be, when first discovered, is immediately held in high regard and finally purchased, but the Christ himself? There is nothing in heaven or on earth more valuable than Jesus Christ. Any person arriving at a clear realization of his supreme worth will be prepared to exchange all earthly values for him (cf. Philippians 3:8). Apprehending the One who is eternal justifies fully the relinquishing of the temporal.
Let there be no mistake. Justification is by faith alone. No sinner can purchase or contribute to his or her salvation. He can only bow before God in thankfulness for his grace. The New Testament however teaches abundantly the principle of the exchanged life. You turn over your sin and death-bound, faltering life in return for the victorious life of the risen Savior (cf. Romans 5:10; 8:10; 6:3-6; Galatians 2:20). “Buy from me” is the divine principle. None of your earthly values or efforts can justify you. Salvation is an act of grace. Christ would say, “To arrive at the life of victory, exchange your inept life for my conquering life.” Laodicea was a city renowned for its buying and selling. None of its transactions however gave the church fulfilment. They had to forfeit earthly dealings–primarily this-worldly, prosaic lifestyle–in exchange for the highest value, the life of the risen Christ.
9. DO NOT FEAR. The opposite of faith is not ‘unfaith’, but fear. Therefore, one of the most profound admonitions in the Scriptures is ‘do not fear’. Both the Old and New Testaments abound with this divine sustainer. Fear is the instinct which sways our emotions to make radical decisions, with repercussions leading to indescribable mishaps. Abram, who ventured into the unknown frontier of faith, thus receiving its outcome of justification (cf. Genesis 15:6), wavered with the fear of being the first and last Hebrew. To overcome this possibility he obeyed Sarah’s prodding (cf. Genesis 16:3) and acquired Ishmael from their slave Hagar. King Josiah, a hero of reform, under whom one of the great awakenings in the Old Testament occurred, was overcome by phobia about the rising power of Babylon. Eager to appease Babylon by way of stopping Pharaoh Neco in his military expedition against this empire, he meddled into a conflict not his own. The Pharaoh reassured him that he had no issues to settle with him. Nevertheless, Josiah fought and lost his life at Megiddo (II Kings 23:28-30; II Chronicles 35:20-24). Ultimately the Pharaoh was defeated in Carchemish, Nebuchadrezzar’s hand was strengthened, Judah’s doom sealed.
Peter, the fearless confessor who said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16), and trusted Christ by stepping onto the water, was overcome by fear and sank into the sea. He feared a little maiden and denied his beloved Christ (Matthew 14:30; 26:69-75). These are a few incidents when fear overruled faith’s apparent triumph, resulting in defeat.
Fear is never used affirmatively. ‘Fear not’ is one of the paramount reassurances from God to man. “Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). “God did not give us a spirit of timidity...” (II Timothy 1:7). The Smyrnean Christians had perfect love for God and Christ. Neither their poverty nor the persecution they were enduring could move them. Christ’s reaffirmation of his faithfulness brought them fresh vigor and uplift. Poverty and persecution have always been the lot of the church. Conversely, a church not tried by poverty or persecution is deprived of the fortitude to resist onslaughts which test her faith and fidelity. Churches in affluent societies with no poverty or apparent hostility do not experience fear along these lines. Nevertheless, they are tortured by other fears. They are not in a position to appreciate the magnitude of Christ’s supportive words ‘fear not’. Fear not is Christ’s message in lands where conditions are unfavorable to his little flocks. Consider Eritrea, Northern Nigeria, Uzbekistan, and Indonesia, to name a few. If fear is not oppressing you, remember those Christians who are being tried by fear, and pray for them.
10. BE FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH. Genuine faithfulness defies the alarming onslaught of the loss of one’s life. It faces death with absolute resolve, ultimately scoring the promised triumph over it. No faithfulness becomes real without the determination to pass through the fires of death. Christ’s faithfulness to his followers was marked by his readiness to die (Hebrews 2:17;3:2, 6; 10:23; Revelation 1:5). Don’t hypothesize on faithfulness to God and Christ without having the fortitude to face death. The church in Smyrna was already faithful, but the display of her faithfulness had to endure the agony of physical death. This was Polycarp's experience.
In our day we have seen devotees who carry their conviction to the very end, readily offering their lives for some brand of political ideology. We have seen self-immolating upholders of a cause. We daily witness the horror of human bombs. When it comes to people giving their lives for some cause, there is no limit to the extremity they go. The risen Savior’s call to his own is ‘be faithful unto death’. Beyond any doubt, the mark of faithfulness is fidelity and adaptability to His mandate, i.e. missionising, evangelising, boldly witnessing.
Christian history is replete with those who have heeded Christ’s command. There is no regret in this crucial commitment. Eternity is teeming with brilliant stars that followed the mighty Redeemer in faithfulness unto death (Revelation 12:11), now wearing the crown of life. Eternity will reveal the faithfulness unto death both of individuals and fellowships that perished under the sword of Islam or other merciless opponents. On the other hand, how sad is the scene of those who for the sake of their mortal lives displayed unfaithfulness to ‘the faithful witness’, Christ. What about the millions who yielded to Islam’s intimidation and turned to this religion instead of not loving their lives and relinquishing them for Christ’s glory? To join the ranks of those who counted their lives not dear, the believer needs to exercise Paul’s principle: “I die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31; cf. II Corinthians 4:10, 11; Galatians 6:17). The ultimate recognition of this person will be, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).
Thomas Cosmades – 2008