It seems quite clear that there are many applications to be made to the “church” today in this group of letters to some of the early churches. From the letter to Ephesus we learn that we need to constantly be on guard against regarding “service” as more important than fellowship with the Lord in worship, prayer and bible study. If we invest in fellowship, our service will come naturally and will be more joyful and fruitful. We also learned that the Lord wants us to exercise discernment in judging what is right and wrong. We are to approve the things He approves of and hate the things He hates. It’s important to note that His hatred is always directed at the “deeds” of the sinner, not the person.
From the letter to Smyrna we are encouraged to look at things from God’s perspective. Those we consider to be poor from an earthly perspective may actually be rich from a heavenly perspective. It’s sad but true that often the persecution of true believers comes from others who claim be part of the church but are actually impostors from the ranks of the enemy. We need to be mindful that Satan is the “god of this world” and exerts great power and authority. His influence will continue to strengthen on the world stage until Jesus comes to take His throne. Until the Lord chooses to come and take us home, believers are subject to persecution and imprisonment from those who serve Satan by rejecting Jesus. We are not to fear, however, because we will emerge victorious in Jesus when He comes to take His throne.
The letter to Pergamos warns us that believers are sometimes called upon to suffer a martyr’s death. We are warned not to compromise with the world and become a stumbling block to others. Also, we are warned to exercise discernment regarding false teaching. Discernment is only possible when one is familiar with the scripture, which is the only acceptable standard upon which correct discernment can be made.
By paying attention to the letter to Thyatira we are again warned that works are not proof of spiritual health. It is true that faith without works is dead; but it is also true that works are meaningless unless mixed with faith. Works without faith may provide some personal satisfaction to our sense of self-pride, but they have no eternal benefit. They may provide some temporary relief to others through the provision of physical needs, but they do nothing to provide for their spiritual needs. We are warned again about exercising discernment in identifying false teachers. We need to recognize that many false teachers begin their ministries by joining the church and gaining positions of leadership or influence. They then begin mixing in the leaven of their lies with the truth. The most dangerous enemies to the true church today have emerged from within its ranks. In this letter the Lord clearly declares that He will never expect more from us than we are able to give Him. The time may come when it will be all we can do to hold fast to our faith.
The letter to Sardis goes on to emphasize the truth that works without faith are dead. In the end what others think about us is not what is important; it’s what God knows about us that impacts our eternity. We also learned that it is possible for there to be true believers in a dead church. Again, this emphasizes that God is concerned about individuals. No one will be deemed judged unworthy based on with whom they fellowship here on earth. One is counted worthy who has not defiled his garments because he is washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.
In the message to Philadelphia we are reminded that though believers may suffer trials and/or persecutions in this lifetime while many of Satan’s followers seem to prosper in the eyes of the world, the time will come that the Lord will place us in a position of honor before them. They will know that despite what they may have thought based upon our circumstances while here on this earth, we are loved by our Father in heaven. We also learned that those who have proven their faith will be kept from the time of adversity that God has appointed on His prophetic calendar to carry out His vengeance upon His enemies in the world—the earth dwellers. We pilgrims of the faith are just sojourners here; we are heaven dwellers. This letter acknowledges that believers will suffer, but their patient endurance in the faith will be rewarded.
The letter to Laodicea is again a warning against hypocrisy. Not every “so called” church is comprised of believers. There are “churches” that serve as social clubs and go through the motions of service with no heart commitment before the Lord. They have plenty of money to do according to the wisdom and will of man, but they aren’t seeking to serve according to the wisdom and will of God. Still, God’s love compels Him to stand at the door and knock seeking fellowship. He wants to see them respond to Him with repentance and faith. He wants them to see with spiritual eyes and hear with spiritual ears. This echoes the truth that permeates scripture—God is not willing that any should perish.