April 21, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Revelation 2.17b)
TODAY’S REFLECTION ON GOD’S WORD:
Let’s review the first two “connections”:
“Put on the belt of truth and keeping it in place” with the charge of Christ to the Ephesian faith community which said “return to your first love.”
“Put the breastplate of righteousness in place” with the call of Christ to the Smyrna faith community which we could reference with Psalm 119.11, “The word of God I will hide in my heart that I might not sin against Him.”
Without question, John and Jesus knew of the trials and accusations which were before the believers in Jesus as the Christ. Jesus alerted His disciples to this particular expectation before He stood trial before man and God. Man judged Him a rebel, an insurrectionist and a blasphemer worthy of death. God judged Him as faithful, true and a perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world worthy of eternal life. The call to such faithfulness then was not out of character nor was it a “high ideal.” It is a call worthy of our attention and desire because, in this case, the end justifies the means. What the enemy desires the most is betrayal…OURS! Not a betrayal of the enemy but of the truth- the only truth, which sets us truly free to live in peace and joy for all eternity. And to the Smyrna community of faith, the promise was spoken that the trial would not be endless but for a time, for a season, and then be done. There are only two “forever” realities and they are not death and taxes. Those realities are “the eternal presence of God” and “the eternal absence of God.” Where God is there is the promise of life eternal and abundant freed from pain, suffering, sorrow, death, dying, crying, hungering, thirsting and a search for meaning and purpose. Where God is absent there is the promise of turmoil, dying, angst, isolation, desolation and a burning desire for escape from the unquenchable thirst which can never be sated.
That brings us to the “word” given to the Pergamum faith community. While it may seem confusing that Jesus addresses them as “the One who wields the double-edged sword” (Revelation 2.12) and I am connecting them with “…feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6.15) and not with “…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17), be “at peace.” We can never be “at peace” when there is controversy and adversarial emnity within us and around us. When we are immersed in the “gospel which brings peace,” then we can be at peace regardless of the circumstance in which our lives exist. That gospel of peace “cuts straight to the heart of the matter.” And what was the matter in Smyrna? They were a community of faith without authentic peace. They were consumed by the disruption of righteousness fostered in two camps of thinking against one. We know the “one” camp would be that which is the unadulterated gospel of Jesus as the Christ. It was just the facts as presented by the witness and testimony of the apostles who themselves were disciples of Christ. While Pergamum was under the spiritual leadership of John the Presbyter, the beloved disciple, during the writing of Revelation it was founded by the Apostle Paul during his second missionary journey thirty years previous. It was not easy living as a Christ follower in Pergamum. It was a gateway city through which the world of “Rome” flowed from east to west. Religions of all kinds were found there. They were all tolerated as long as tribute to Rome was made. Rome didn’t care how destitute their ideologies, philosophies and life practices were as long as they got the biggest slice of the pie, financially speaking. Of course, this should have been a problem for the Christ followers in Pergamum who owed allegiance to Christ alone in their service to God alone. And it was a problem. We know this because they allowed the current culture and climate of the day to exist as acceptable within the fellowship of faith. They compromised their beliefs and therefore their spiritual integrity with the hope of “staying alive” and avoiding the judgment of Rome. As one writer described it, “While Ephesus spoke of loving the sinner but hating the sin, Pergamum spoke of loving the sinner and the sin.” In today’s terminology, we might identify it as entitlement, even within the Church. The catch phrase bandied about is, and would have been for those in Pergamum “everyone is entitled to their opinion and their practice.” We are living in a current culture and climate where that concept has become exponential in its perversion of “the way, the truth and the life” promoted and bequeathed by Christ to all believers. Without getting into the issue deeply, there were two heresies allowed to be taught and practiced within the fellowship of faith in Pergamum: the teaching of Balaam and the teaching of the Nicolaitans. We can summarize it simply with two words: adultery and idolatry. They have two cousins: fornication and heresy. How could the community of faith in Pergamum experience true peace if they tolerated and subdued their consciousness of righteousness to accept as equally true false teachings alongside the gospel. Such adoption of a worldly mentality would negate the impact and effectiveness of the gospel. I remember seeing and hearing the phrase “No God- No Peace. Know God- Know Peace.” But, what was happening in Pergamum was a rootedness of false worship and licentious living so involved that it was choking out the hearing of the gospel. Jesus spoke of such things when He taught about “the enemy who came to sow weeds among the wheat.” In that parable, the owner of the field believed in the strength of the wheat to withstand the crowding of the weeds. He ordered the weeds to be left in place lest the wheat be uprooted and never bear fruit. When the harvest came both plants were pulled up. The wheat was sifted and put into storehouses. The weeds were gathered together and burned to a crisp. (Matthew 13.24ff) In Revelation, the “sifting” was to be done with a double-edged sword. This was not the same sword as mentioned in Ephesians 6.17 “the sword of the Spirit- that is, the Word of God.” That sword was for building up and strengthening. But, the double-edged sword was for cutting down and laying open wide what was seemingly invincible and hidden. It exposed the weakness of humanity and their plan.
So, how does “feet fitted with the gospel of peace” connect? I would suggest a reference back to an earlier chapter (Ephesians 4) in which Paul declared “Speak the truth in love.” In that chapter, Paul addresses the issue of false teaching and false doctrines. Paul did not tiptoe around the issues which would tear down and destroy the community of faith. He stepped right in the middle of things and called them for what they were. He also clearly identified who the perpetrators of such alienation were and what should be done with them. Sometimes, we get a false picture of God’s justice when we promote a “warm and fuzzy” God who just “loves everyone.” God’s love is just and is true justice. It is affirming and kind and good. It is also direct and to the point. And the point is “love what God loves and hate what God hates.” God loves His people but He hates their sin. If He didn’t hate it, then why would He have sent His own Son to die on the cross for us. Why would He care if we lived in sin and died in sin if He loved sin? So, in presenting and speaking the “truth in love” which is the gospel of peace that sets the record straight without further ado, the call to salvation is issued and made real. Isn’t it good to know the truth? Isn’t that what Jesus intended when He said, “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free“? (John 8.32)
Mighty ones of God in Christ Jesus, we must be careful where and how we walk. But, we must remember that when we walk, we walk as Christ walked, walks and will walk again on earth one day. His very presence in righteousness and truth created the dividing reality between good and evil, right and wrong. There was no inbetween that would be tolerated. He is the one who said, “You cannot serve two masters lest you love the one and hate the other.” We must walk fitted for the peace, “not as the world gives us peace” (via compromise, entitlement and tolerance) “but as Christ gives us peace” (which is the surety of promise, covenant, faith and love.)
A PRAYER FOR TODAY:
Thank You, Father, for loving us in the Son of Man and God. Thank You for showing us so great a love as that so we, too, might walk in its light of truth and find our lives bounded as with a belt of truth, protected by the breastplate of righteousness and fitted for our walk to be peacemakers. We go now into our spheres of influence girded with truth and fitted for service to bring the word to others and glory to You in Jesus’ name. AMEN.