By Charles Stanley
Before reaching an unwanted destination, let’s be sure we’re going in the right direction.
Since drifting is such a slow process, we may unknowingly become lax in our walk with Christ and veer from His path. Instead of immediately recognizing that we’ve gone astray, we become accustomed to the new path and consider it normal. The further we go on the detour, the duller our spiritual ears become. At this point, we can’t hear God calling out, “You’re going the wrong way! Come back to Me!” That’s why He sometimes has to send an “earthquake” to grab our attention.
Certain churches, which were recipients of unexpected messages from the Lord, probably felt their world was being rocked. Jesus had appeared to the aged disciple John and instructed him to write Revelation. Included in this book were letters addressed to seven churches. For five of them, Christ’s message was like a megaphone from heaven calling, “Repent!”
Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from this passage. Then read the section, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?
Tucked inside these letters are guideposts to keep us on God’s path, warning signs to alert us when we stray, and Christ’s road map to help us find our way back to Him.
The churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia were commended for doing what’s right. By following their example, we’ll be able to stay on course with Jesus.
• Smyrna was facing tremendous persecution, and Jesus told believers there not to fear suffering but to be faithful until death (Revelation 2:8-11). When life gets hard, the Smyrna guidepost says, “Look up.” With an eternal focus, we can remain faithful no matter what we encounter, because this life is a mere breath compared to eternity.
• Philadelphia was commended for obeying Christ and for not denying His name (Revelation 3:7-13). Their guidepost reads, “Keep My Word.” Knowing and obeying the Scriptures help us align our lives with God’s will so we don’t go astray.
We think we’re doing fine until God shakes us awake with a situation so big it makes us stop and wonder what’s happening.
The remaining five churches each received reproofs, which serve as warning signs to us. The believers in …
• Ephesus left their first love (Revelation 2:1-7).
• Pergamum had begun to listen to false teaching (Revelation 2:12-17).
• Thyatira tolerated a false teacher who led them astray (Revelation 2:18-29).
• Sardis didn’t know they were spiritually dead (Revelation 3:1-6).
• Laodicea were complacent and unaware of their condition (Revelation 3:14-22).
We should recognize the downward spiral in these warnings, as we have potential to fall into the same pattern as these churches. Even while we’re faithfully serving Christ and holding to truth, our love for Him can cease to be a priority. That’s dangerous: Once love for God wanes, so does love of His Word—and a well-maintained scriptural foundation is what protects against sin (Ps. 119:11). Knowing that misplaced spiritual priorities cause damage, God urges us to seek Him first (Matt. 6:33). Otherwise, we can become self-deceived so gradually that we’re eventually unable to recognize our own spiritual stagnation.
Christ tells these straying churches to repent—a word that conveys a change of mind and direction. He wants us to:
• Remember the heights from which we have fallen.
• Recognize and reject any teaching that contradicts Scripture.
• Keep what you have received and heard—God’s Word.
• Wake up; strengthen what remains.
• Admit your spiritual poverty, and invite Jesus to rule over your life.
Write your thoughts in a journal.
• The problem with drifting is, we’re unaware of it. How do we know if we’ve left our first love for Christ or been deceived by false teaching?
• According to John 14:15 and 1 John 4:21, what two actions confirm that we love Christ? What effect does love for Him have on our life (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)? When love for Jesus is our top priority, what behaviors and attitudes characterize us (Rom. 12:9-18)? Cite specific examples from your experience.
• When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, what did he say characterizes those who walk in love and truth (Eph. 5:1-17)? What were they to pursue? What were they to avoid?
The churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia were commended for doing what’s right. By following their example, we can stay on course.
• Self-examination can be challenging since it often calls us to change in some way. Do you recognize yourself in any of the seven churches of Revelation 2-3? If so, which one(s)?
• Which guideposts or warning signs have you failed to heed? What changes is God calling you to make?
• Sometimes when God convicts us of a needed correction, we feel remorse yet fail to follow through with true repentance. Despite an initial effort to change, familiar ruts lure us back to the same old path.
Repentance can’t be achieved by good intentions and self-effort alone. God does expect us to put forth energy toward obeying Him—to make choices in keeping with His calling on our lives. But primarily, repentance is the result of God’s divine work, as He progressively sanctifies us into Christ’s likeness. While following through in obedience, memorize Philippians 1:6. Then pray the verse to God, asking Him to grant you genuine repentance.
Encouragement in Difficult Times