For the past several weeks, the Buford Church of Christ has been studying the second and third chapters of Revelation, which record letters that were authored by Jesus and addressed to seven different churches in first century Asia Minor. Since Revelation is apocalyptic literature, it will frequently utilize numbers, colors, and creatures figuratively. The number seven is associated with perfection in apocalyptic literature, and, therefore, some scholars view these seven congregations as representative of all Christian churches throughout time and space. Regardless of whether or not such was the intended case, Jesus’ letters to these seven congregations reveals that He is not oblivious to what is going on in each of the congregations of His church.
You will notice that in each of these letters Jesus said, “I know your works” (2:2; 2:9; 2:13; 2:19; 3:1; 3:8; 3:15), which indicates His intimate knowledge of and deep concern for what was happening in all of His churches. It is this awareness that led Jesus to praise the work, attitudes, beliefs, characteristics, and practices of some congregations; however, it is also this awareness that led Jesus to criticize the work, attitudes, beliefs, characteristics, and practices of other congregations. In addition to praise and criticism, Jesus also offered a challenge to each congregation. Those churches that received praise also received encouragement—a challenge to persist. Those churches that received criticism also received a warning—a challenge to change. Jesus, in effect, identified what was right and/or wrong in each congregation then, based on that information, He challenged each congregation to either continue on the same path of faithfulness or change their course in order to prevent judgment.
While studying these letters, I started to wonder what Jesus would write “To the angel of the church at Buford,” if I can be so bold as to use the language of these divinely inspired letters.
Would Jesus praise us for the soundness of our teaching like He did the church in Ephesus when He said, “I know…how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false” (Revelation 2:2)? Or would He express disappointment over the fact that we have tolerated false teaching that is soft on moral issues like He did the church in Thyatira when He accused them of “tolerat[ing] that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20)?
Would Jesus commend us for not conforming to the world despite the influence of Satan over our culture like He did the church in Pergamon when He commended them for “hold[ing] fast [His] name” and “not deny[ing the] faith” even though they lived “where Satan dwells” (Revelation 2:13)? Or would He condemn us for “committing adultery” against Him like some of the members of the church in Thyatira who compromised their moral purity in order to make life easier in their guild driven town (Revelation 2:22)?
Would Jesus be so impressed with how our congregation stewards the resources and/or opportunities afforded to it that He chooses to “set before [us] an open door,” like He did the church in Philadelphia (Revelation 3:8)? Or would Jesus be so disappointed in our congregation’s attitude of self-sufficiency that He criticizes us for being “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” like He did the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:17)?
Would Jesus praise us for our ever growing involvement in the community, both benevolently and evangelistically, and commend us, like He did to the church in Thyatira, because our “latter works exceed the first” (Revelation 2:19)? Or would He criticize us for our diminishing activity, like He did the church in Ephesus, because we “abandoned the love [we] had at first” (Revelation 2:4)? Or, even worse, would He be so disappointed at our lack of activity in the community that He accuses us of being “dead” and instructs us to “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die” like He did the church in Sardis (Revelation 3:2)?
Would Jesus recognize our “patient endurance” (Revelation 2:2, 19; 3:10) and discover among us a willingness to endure “tribulation,” “poverty,” imprisonment (Revelation 2:10), and even death (Revelation 2:13) because we are so devoted to Him? Or would Jesus only see “lukewarm” faith that lacks zeal and makes Him want to vomit (Revelation 3:16, 19)?
Would Jesus be so proud of our faithfulness that His challenge for us would be to remain “faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10) or “hold fast what you have until I come” (Revelation 2:25; 3:11)? Or would Jesus be so disappointed in us because we have accommodated our faith in order to make it more culturally acceptable, and, as a result, feel it necessary to instruct us to “repent” (Revelation 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19)?
What would Jesus say if He were writing a letter “to the church at Buford” today? More importantly, what would Jesus say if He were writing a letter to YOU today? We should not and cannot limit this self-examination just to the local congregation. We must also apply it to ourselves as individuals. Paul instructed the Christians in Corinth to “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5). So, I encourage you to ask yourself what Jesus would say if He were writing a letter to YOU today? Would He offer YOU commendation or condemnation? Would He praise YOU for what YOU have been doing or would He confront YOU with something that requires repentance? If Jesus were writing a letter to YOU, would it reveal His pride in YOU or would it reveal His displeasure with YOU?
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)