This chapter contains the prophetic message John is given for the first four of seven churches. As I read this, I struggled against not only a knee-jerk fear that this is the book of Revelation—an inscrutable book of prophecy that mere mortal me cannot possibly understand—but also the temptation to dismiss the content as being a message for others, for the named churches who have nothing to do with me.
Yet I see this repeated four times in the chapter: “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches” (7, 11, 17, 29). John says this after each message to each church.
Yikes. I definitely want to be among those with ears to hear. So I’ve gotta listen and understand. The good news is that I am to listen to the Spirit to understand what he is saying. I don’t have to approach this in my own knowledge and understanding. Yay.
I reread. I start with the understanding that though these letters are to churches, the churches aren’t buildings, they are the people who make up each church community. So I read this as a believer first, as a member of the Church of the Chimes second, and finally as part of the greater church, the body of Christ.
One thing is immediately clear—the Spirit sees all we do. And not just our actions, but our very hearts. And it’s not enough to be keeping things together for the most part, with a little falling behind on the side. Three out of four of the churches are praised for the ways they please the Lord but chastised for where they fall short.
The one that speaks me is the word for the church at Ephesus. The church seems to be pretty much doing everything right—they’re obedient and vigilant about truth. But Jesus can see through to their hearts—they may be doing all the right things, but what is their motivation? Where is the love for Jesus and the truth that they once had?
This is an acutely convicting concept. Why do I do the “good things” that I do? What am I grounded upon? Duty? The Law? I want my relationships with God and with others to be based in love. I don’t want to lose sight of that.
I want the same thing for my church and for the body of Christ. Jesus came to serve, to save, to be the physical representation of God’s love for his people. How can we possibly claim to represent him without being grounded in that love?
So, Lord, as I am, as we are, vigilant in our focus on the truth, zealous in watching for false teaching and immorality, please pour out your love on and through us. Help us to cling to that love and never lose sight of it.