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The Death of a Church

How does a church die? The church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6) is pronounced dead. We are not really told why. Was this a result of following one or more of the errors of the churches round about? Had they accepted false teaching, like Pergamum and Thyatira (Revelation 2:12-29)? Had they lost their first love, like Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)? Had they become lukewarm, like Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)? We are not explicitly told. Perhaps we are not told to prevent us from jumping to the conclusion that if we just avoid this one particular thing, we are safe. How then do we avoid going down that road?

 

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Tolerating False Teaching

There are often two sides to a problem. And it is easy to avoid one danger, only to fall into the other. C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, explains one of Satan’s strategies as getting people to run as fast as possible from the error they are least likely to commit. The church at Ephesus had their act together externally, but they were just going through the motions and lacked real love for God and others (Revelation 2:1-7). The church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) was strong in love and service and good deeds. But they were tolerating false teaching and its attendant moral corruption. They had fallen hard into the opposite error.

 

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The Danger of Spiritual Compromise

The desire to conform is a powerful motivator. There is a story told about the Nicolaitans (Revelation 2:15; 2:6). It is probably not true, but it tells us about the atmosphere of the group. The story is told that the Nicolas it was named after was one of the original seven deacons (Acts 6:5). It was claimed that he had a very beautiful wife and, in a fit of very unchristian humility, offered to share her with the other deacons. This illustrates a particular approach to sin. Sexual impropriety engaged in, not as a result of a grand passion or out of control desires, but in order to please other people.

 

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The Christian and Suffering

There exists a kind of evangelistic malpractice that Christians are in danger of committing. We can give the impression that if a person comes to Christ, their problems will vanish and they will have lives of largely unbroken happiness. I am not just talking about the health-and-wealth gospel, though it is the extreme case. But even more moderate evangelistic approaches can end up leaving this impression. But the problem with this is, it sets people up for a fall. People come to Christ for the wrong reasons and end up dumping it again, claiming they tried Christianity and it did not work. Or people genuinely come to Christ but end up struggling in their Christian lives because it does not work out the way they thought it would. How do we avoid this problem?

 

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Losing One's First Love

We human beings are very good at kidding ourselves. We can fake things, even when we do not mean them, and carry on through some vague sense of duty, even when we have lost all real desire or passion for what we are doing. And the problem is that there are circumstances where this does have some value to it. We need to face it, there are times when we may not feel like doing what is right. There are times when we may need to nerve ourselves to do something even if we do not feel like it. And if we allow ourselves to do what is right only when we happen to feel like it, no commitment and no relationship will ever be safe. For feeling is something that comes and goes like the wind, often deserting us at the moment we most need it. But if doing what is right becomes and stays nothing but a mere duty which does nothing but wear us down, there is a problem here too. How do we deal with this situation?

 

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Christ in Glory

Who is Jesus Christ? More than that, who is God? Scripture says that Jesus shows us who God is (John 1:18; 14:9; Hebrews 1:3). So a distorted idea of Jesus and a distorted idea of God are connected. Now some people can see God as a harsh taskmaster, and the love and compassion of Jesus can work to counteract that (Luke 7:36-50; John 11:33-36; Matthew 19:13-15). But one can go from that to the opposite extreme of seeing God as merely indulgent, a grandfather in the sky who pats us on the head and would not dream of criticizing us whatever we do. And there are those who get this picture from their picture of Jesus. How do we avoid this extreme?

 

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