In this issue:
The second and third chapters of the book of Revelation are letters to seven churches of Asia that were located in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. These were real churches in real places, and constitute a representative look at Christ’s relationship with congregations of Christians. He walks in their midst and knows who they are, what they are doing and what others are doing to them. Thus, He says to each church, “I know your works.” Christ is seen as having fellowship with each church as He is in the midst of the lampstands (churches, Rev. 1:13, 20). Each church (local congregation) bore a responsibility to remain faithful to Him or their fellowship with Christ would be extinguished (2:5).
Which brings us to the point of this article. In trying to defend denominationalism some say these seven churches of Asia are really seven different denominations. Is that what the Bible is teaching? One will have to do more than make the assertion: where is the Scriptural proof that these churches were really denominations? Where does the Bible ever speak of the Ephesian denomination; the Smyrna denomination; etc.?
If so, we kindly ask for the passage that so defines these churches? In the New Testament we read of the entire body of the saved regardless of time and place, i.e., the universal church or “general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Matt. 16:18; Heb. 12:23). We also read of local churches (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:2). But we never find a denominational usage of “church” which identifies a group of people larger than a local church yet smaller than the universal church. It is not speaking as the oracles of God (1 Pet. 4:11).
If the seven churches of Asia were really denominations then we must conclude that Christ had at least seven bodies in the first century, not one. (And, since there are now hundreds of denominations, to uphold denominationalism one must conclude that today Christ has hundreds of bodies in existence.) However, the Bible says there is one head over the church (Christ) and that there one body, not seven (or seven hundred) (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4).
To view the seven churches of Asia as denominations one must conclude that Christ blesses division among His people. Can one honestly envision Christ walking among (having fellowship with) churches that teach opposite doctrines and practice contradictions between themselves? (Rev. 1:13, 20) Division is the essence of denominationalism; it is defined by separation and perpetuated by differences. Yet, Christ prayed for unity among disciples (Jno. 17:20-21). His apostles pleaded for unity among Christians (1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:3). His gospel advocates unity (Eph. 4:4-6). Then, Christ turns around and endorses denominational division in Rev. 2-3? No!
Christ is not a hypocrite. He does not condone denominational division. The churches of Asia in Revelation 2-3 were local churches, not denominations. Denominationalism is from man, not Christ.
It hurts when people wrong us. That is especially true when one whom we least suspect would injure us wrongs us. Jesus experienced this sort of unfair treatment time and again. One of His apostles betrayed Him, another denied knowing Him, and all of them scattered from Him when He was arrested. The religious leaders of the Jews, who should have rejoiced in His coming, condemned Him to death. Indeed, Jesus was “a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” “who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten” (Isa. 53:3; 1 Pet. 2:23). What restraint! What love!
Jesus is our example of how to respond when we are wronged and mistreated by others: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Sure, Jesus was hurt when others mistreated Him. David prophetically said, “For it was not an enemy that reproached me; Then I could have borne it: Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me: Then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, My companion, and my familiar friend” (Psa. 55:12-13; cf. 41:9). Jesus suffered many wrongs at the hands of friends (and enemies). How He reacted is our pattern to follow. It will take all the faith we have in us to follow in His footsteps.
And yet, Jesus has not given us an impossible task. This business of turning the other cheek is the essence of loving your enemies (Matt. 5:38-39, 44; Lk. 6:27-30). It is the embodiment of the golden rule: “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise” (Lk. 6:31). Christians must not wrong the wrongdoer. We must not render evil for evil even when we are tempted to feel justified in doing so (Rom. 12:17). Such conduct is from the devil and not from God.
How can victims of evil possibly return good for evil? Jesus teaches us how in Matthew 5:38-48 and Luke 6:27-36.
1. Unselfishness (Matt. 5:38-42). Unselfishness is the essential quality of turning the other cheek. We must devalue ourselves in our own estimation in order to ever be able to value the evildoer…especially when he carries out his evil against us!
2. Love (Matt. 5:43-48). Loving our enemies may be one of the most difficult things we are called upon to do. Yet, to do so is to be “sons of (our) Father who is in heaven.” Remember, love does not keep a scorecard of wrongs committed against it. Love “keeps no accounts of evil” (footnote, NKJV) (1 Cor. 13:5).
3. Prayer (Lk. 6:28). Jesus said to “pray for those who spitefully use you.” Those who treat us abusively need our prayers. And, we are following Christ’s example when we pray for our enemies (and mean it): “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do.” (Lk. 23:34) The sinner needs our prayers, not our animosity and contempt.
4. Do good (Lk. 6:27). It is good to pray for the person who has wronged us and to not keep a record so that we can “get even.” It is also good to take the initiative and respond to him (or her) with kind actions. Jesus went about doing good to all (Acts 10:38); the Father’s sunshine and rain blesses the evil and the good (Matt. 5:45). We are to be doers of good to those who hate us. What a challenge to be like Christ!
5. Be merciful (Lk. 6:36). We all need the mercy of God because we are all sinners. But, that fact tends to be obscured by our pain when someone sins against us. We lash out rather than extend mercy. We must never forget that we, too, will only reach heaven by the mercy of God. We should give other sinners that which we require (Matt. 5:7).
Instead of rendering evil for evil the next time you are wronged, try taking Jesus’ approach. You need not despair in doing so (Lk. 6:35). Jesus’ way is best, whether the sinner appreciates it or whether he continues to take advantage of you. By following Jesus’ way you will be “sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Lk. 6:35).
Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:17-21)
You can find the complete outline of this sermon at BIBLE ANSWERS
Bible Question Box Nov. 2003
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 29:13-21
1. When God’s people
were not afraid to offer Him man-made worship & service, God punished them
for their sinful hypocrisy. (Isa. 29:13-14)
#1: Is it considered gossip to hear “second-hand” information concerning an individual’s conduct? What about a church’s? Can you confront that person or church without eye witnessing it yourself? (Paul seems to do this in 1 Cor. 1:11, addressing the church on the word of Chloe’s household.)
1. Gossip is idle talk or rumors about
others; it is sin (2 Ths. 3:11).
#2: How should a Christian view “Christian Rock” bands? What about “Gospel genre” singers?
1. If it is worship, it is vain, Mt.
15:7-9; Col. 3:16.
#3: Some might say that using a piano in church aids the brethren in worship. Where does it say that using instruments in worship is wrong? Where is God’s authority for excluding such things?
1. True worship is in spirit & truth – Jno. 4:23-24.
You can find the complete outline of this sermon at BIBLE ANSWERS
Journeys of the Apostle Paul - #5
Scripture Reading: Galatians 2:1-10
Acts 14:28 – Paul & Barnabas stayed at Antioch a long time after trip; Traveled to Jerusalem (Gal. 2).
I. CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH IN ANTIOCH.
A. Certain Men Came From Jerusalem Teaching a New Message – 15:1 (cf. Gal.
1:6-9); Gal. 2:4.
II. CONSULTATION AT JERUSALEM – Acts 15:2-21.
A. The Decision to Go to Jerusalem was Made in Agreement with Divine
Revelation–15:2; Gal. 2:1.
III. CORRESPONDENCE WITH THE SAINTS – Acts 15:22-35.
A. Letter Read & Delivered – 15:30-35; 16:4-5.
IV. LESSONS INCLUDE:
1. Jerusalem meeting cannot be duplicated today.
Ready, Set, Shop!
“It was ‘survival of the fittest’ Friday as millions of consumers everywhere kicked off the holiday buying season. And some die-hard shoppers were willing to do just about anything to take advantage of the hordes of the bargains retailers offered to inaugurate the season, including waking up before sunrise in frigid temperatures to grab early bird specials.” (Fox News Channel Update, 11/28/03)
Yes, the shopping season is upon us. You can rest assured that where there is money to be saved, many people will take advantage of the opportunity.
Sadly, the same cannot be said about the soul. Most of these same people take neither the time nor put forth the effort to save their own soul. Perhaps it is because they do not know how valuable their soul is (Matt. 16:26); other things are made more important than spiritual considerations (Lk. 8:7, 14). There is no time for God…we have too many other things we want to do first! (Matt. 6:33)
So, while shopping this holiday season, remember to “buy the truth and sell it not” (Prov. 23:23). Finding a good shopping deal is nice…finding the “one pearl of great price” (the kingdom of heaven) is eternally more important! (Matt. 13:45-46)
Created by Chuck Sibbing. 11/29/2003
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA