The Faithful Church

Jesus had nothing but commendation and encouragement for the church at Philadelphia.  The city that was known for its aggressive efforts to Hellenize the known world spawned a church that was committed to evangelize that same world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Jesus told that church that even though their strength (numbers and power) was small, they had kept his word, they refused to deny his name, and they had remained faithful, loyal, constant, and steadfast.

As a result of their faithfulness, Jesus promised the church at Philadelphia they would have an open door or opportunity to spread the gospel that no one could shut, they would see the hearts of their enemies turn toward them, they would be kept from the tribulation to come, they would receive a crown, they would be made stable and permanent, they would have security, they would enjoy heavenly citizenship, and they would ultimately receive and share in the authority and power of his name.

We too can be like the highly regarded church at Philadelphia but we must be mindful of the threats to our faithfulness looming in our world today.  The spirit of carnality seeks to ensnare the believer through the lusts of the flesh, indulgence, amusement, sloth, and entertainment.  The spirit of deception seeks to trick the believer through lying spirits, bad company, and subtle misdirection.  The spirit of offense is a liar and thief that seeks to engender strife so that believers will be separated from their faith community, spiritual leaders, and their destiny. The spirit of weariness seeks to wear the believer down with the cares and responsibilities of life until they faint and give up.  The spirit of oppression seeks to assert cultural, religious, academic, and institutional pressure until the believer craters under the weight of it all.

Every believer can remain faithful in these crazy times by applying the wisdom from Hebrews chapter 12.  First, we can remain faithful by considering the cloud of witnesses that have already made it and are no doubt cheering for us to make it as well. Second, we can remain faithful by considering the weights and sins in our lives and making the conscience decision to remove them.  Third, we can remain faithful by considering and committing to our part of the race or open door of opportunity to spread the gospel.  Finally, we can remain faithful by considering how Jesus made it despite all the spiritual assaults and attacks he experienced.  He made it by looking past the challenges and circumstances to the joy that is to come.  The Scripture says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2).  We can be faithful because he was and is faithful.

Overcoming Persecution

Smyrna in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) was considered to be “the flower of Asia” for its strategic planning, culture, education, science, and medicine.  It was also a place of great persecution for the believer.  Jesus warned the church at Smyrna they would experience persecution, arrest, and even death for the sake of Christ at the hands of people who claimed to be the people of God, but were in reality a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:8-11).

The persecutors accused the Christians of cannibalism (ignorance of the Lord’s Supper), sexual perversion (mistaking the Christian fellowship meal for an orgy), political rebellion (because they would not declare Caesar as Lord and would not petition Rome for permits to meet), atheism (due to the absence of pagan idols in their homes), and destroying Jewish homes (as they converted to Christianity). The persecution of the believer always involves some type of spurious and injurious accusation, for that is the nature of the devil, the accuser of the brethren. We should not think that we are immune to persecution because anyone desiring to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

To persecute means to pursue, follow after, aggressively seek after as a hunter searches to apprehend, capture, or kill an animal.  To be persecuted is to be viciously and relentlessly hunted because of the gospel.  Although there are a variety of types of persecution, including spiritual (oppression), life (martyrdom), financial (denying employment, advancement or benefit), mental (condemnation or accusation), emotional (fear, anxiety, and despair), relational (rejection and marginalization), and physical (affliction and infirmity) the purpose of the persecution is the same – to press the believers to compromise, to denounce their faith, and to give up.

The keys to overcoming any kind of persecution are revealed also in the Book of Revelation.  Jesus said, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11, KJV).  The first key is to know and understand the covenant that is the basis of your salvation.  The Christian is blood bought and blood washed, and ultimately and eternally safeguarded by the resurrected Jesus.  The sacred and irrevocable covenant means that no matter how bad the persecution or pressure, the Lord will eventually turn things around.

Second, we must continue to speak faith-filled words of our personal testimony and the truths of God’s word no matter how difficult things are in life.  By sticking to the word, we are harnessing the power of life and death that is in the tongue of the believer (Proverbs 18:21), and not in the persecution of the evil one. By sticking to the word, we demonstrate that the most prominent influence in our heart is the truth, rather than the persecution we are facing, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

Finally, we must live as though we were dead, meaning dead to self, dead to self-interests, and dead to our propensity to want to direct our own lives while claiming that Jesus is Lord.  We may or may not face a literal life threat that so many of our brothers and sisters face daily around the world for their faith in Jesus, but we will be tempted to live our lives forgetting the sacrifice of Jesus and the example of service at the expense of self.  Given the condition of the world and the spiritual trajectory of our own nation, it’s never been more important for believers to overcome the persecution, live out their natural lives, and live them out for the purpose and glory of God.

Unfazed

“But understand this, that in the last days will come (set in) perilous times of great distress and trouble [hard to deal with and hard to bear] (2 Timothy 3:1, AMP). “But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed…There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation” (2 Timothy 3:14, MES).

It’s no secret that challenging times are upon us socially, politically, economically, and spiritually. During seasons like these it’s tempting to try to discover some new secret for getting through tough times. But the Apostle Paul warned his spiritual son Timothy that the key to overcoming the distress that would come in the last days is what he had already received from the Lord. He told him to continue in the things that he had learned. That was good advice then and it’s good advice now.

Jesus shared this powerful and life changing truth with some unsuspecting Jews (John 8). As a result of his preaching and teaching, the Bible says that “many put their faith in him” (v. 30). But Jesus made it clear very quickly that believing was not enough to experience the freedom that is available in the Lord. He taught them that they needed to go beyond belief to actually holding to or continuing in his teachings. This would be the key to being a disciple and the disciple is the one given revelation of the Word and that revelation is the key to our freedom. “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (v. 32). They quite naturally bristled at the assertion that descendants of Abraham were ever in bondage to anyone (even though one could probably hear the Roman occupation forces not too far away). Jesus told them that sin made them slaves but, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (v. 36). Jesus was and is offering the opportunity for those that believe, continue in the Word, walk as a disciple, receive revelation and act on it to be just as free as he is free!

The key, therefore, to not being fazed in this tumultuous day is to continue in the things we have learned. 2 Timothy 3:1 from the Message says, “But don’t let it faze you. Stick with what you learned and believed.” Just like the world, many believers will be unnecessarily fazed meaning “to cause to be disturbed or disconcerted,” not because the times are impossible to bear, but because they allow the circumstances and challenges to push them off the valuable Word they have learned, known, and walked in before the storm came. 2 Timothy 3:1 from the Amplified says that the times are “hard to deal with and hard to bear” but not impossible to deal with or bear.

In the midst of the hard times we can choose to be fazed or we can choose to continue in the things we have learned and that which has brought us this far. Jerry Savelle, one of the most balanced and clearest communicators of the lifestyle of faith I know, shared several principles for continuing unfazed in the midst of tough times. I hope they encourage your heart today.

  1. Stay focused on what God says. During challenging times its easy to start paying more attention to the problem and the many voices of compromise. The difference between success and failure at a time like this is what you pay attention to the most. This is a time to zero in on the Word of God like never before.
  2. Stay in faith. We need to continue actively applying our faith to the situation. Often and sometimes with little notice, we tend to back off from an active and aggressive stand on the Word as it pertains to our situation. We become passive believers and kind of just sit back to see what happens. Keep your faith fresh and your believing active by expecting God’s promise to manifest today.
  3. Stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is willing to guide us even in the small details of our lives if we will listen. During tough times it becomes even more important that we are not pushed around by our emotions are pushed off the Word of God because of fear, disappointment, or frustration, but directed by the calming voice of the Spirit of God.
  4. Stay aggressive in your sowing. We need to remember that the blessing is on the tither and the key to our harvest in our life is our giving. One of the first things to go when we are under the gun emotionally or financially is our giving, but we need to remember that when we stop giving we cut ourselves off from God’s supernatural power (Malachi 3) at a time when we need that power the most.
  5. Stay consistent in your confession. There’s just something in all of us that compels us to just want to tell others how bad  things are going. We need to keep our mouths on the Word of God especially in adversity. We do well for a while and then another wave of setbacks or hardship comes our way and we stop talking the Word and start speaking the problem. Consistency is the key to victory in every spiritual battle. Make up your mind that you are going to speak the Word over your situation no matter what you feel, see, or hear.


What If…

time-pic“Live wisely among those who are not Christians, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and effective so that you will have the right answer for everyone” (Colossians 4:5, NLT).

Ephesians 4:15-16 reminds us to “redeem the time because the days are evil.” The Amplified Bible says, “buying up each opportunity.” If the days are evil (and they are) then we need to definitely give some thought about how we are using our time. To “redeem” means to buy back, pay off, recover, discharge, make up for, make amends for, offset, or to obtain restoration. The goal of all believers should be to make the most of their lives or time. Consider three questions to help you evaluate your life and begin to truly make the most of every opportunity.

First, what if Jesus came back today? Romans 13:11-12 says, “Besides this you know what [a critical] hour this is, how it is high time now for you to wake up out of your sleep (rouse to reality). For salvation (final deliverance) is nearer to us now than when we first believed (adhered to, trusted in, and relied on Christ, the Messiah). The night is far gone and the day is almost here. Let us then drop (fling away) the works and deeds of darkness and put on the [full] armor of light” (AMP). If Jesus came back today (yes, think about it…if he truly came back today), would you be ready? Would you have completed your assignment on the earth  and done everything you were to do? Would you have gotten around to telling your family about Jesus, asked forgiveness for your failures, and made it a practice of forgiving those that have hurt you? The first key to making the most of your life is to discern the time. We must come to realize that we are in the last of the last days and as Jesus taught, since we can discern the natural seasons and the weather patterns, we must discern the time we are in and make the proper adjustments.

Second, what if you found out you were terminal? When people find out that they have a terminal disease they tend to rearrange their priorities and chart a different course for their remaining days. Some turn to carnal and natural pleasures and pursuits while others ponder and reflect on the eternal impact their lives have had. The truth is we all have a terminal disease and that disease is called sin. Unless we are on the earth when the rapture occurs, we will all go by way of the grave. Even though we believe and should strive to live and strong (see Psalm 91:16), we will still die at some point: “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then it vanishes” (James 4:14, NIV). What are you trading your precous time for and do these  time transactions impact eternity or only the here and now? The second key to making the most of our lives is to treasure the time because we can’t truly redeem the time or make the most of it if we do not know the true value of time. Unlike material things and even money itself, time cannot be borrowed from others, bought in a store, or manufactured in some factory.

Third, what if every person in the church was like you? Ouch! We are exhorted in 1 Timothy 4:15 (ESV) to “practice” and “immerse” ourselves in the things of God like the setting a good example, devotion to the Word of God, exhortation and teaching, and the proper stewardship of our spiritual gifts. What would the church look like and how would it function if each member of the church was just like you? What if they were as faithful as you and attended church like you? What if they served at your level, invited people to church like you, gave of their resources like you, worshipped like you, prayed like you, shared their faith like you? Honestly, how healthy (or unhealthy) would the local church be if the average believer was like you? The reality is that the Church is built one believer at a time and the quality of the believer affects the quality of the whole. The third key to making the most of our lives is to invest the time because we cannot redeem the time if we do not learn to give it away as an investment in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s make a decision from this day forward to truly redeem the time and make the most of our lives by discerning the time we are living in, by treasuring the time we have because it is limited, and by investing our time into furthering the gospel of Jesus Christ through the mission and ministry of our local churches. Let’s make the most of every opportunity and buy up opportunities to make a real difference for Jesus. What if we all learned to discern, treasure, and invest our time?