He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:22)
I’m often amazed at how many believers shy away from the book of Revelation. Admittedly, its panoramic and apocalyptic relevance can be daunting, but I personally believe that every Christian should, now more than ever, make the effort to study it in a genuine desire for understanding. There is, of course, a plethora of teaching available – although much of it can be contradictory and therefore confusing. Nevertheless, it remains a critical part of the Bible none of us should ignore.
Today’s verse is particularly relevant, although the wide range of commentaries and studies I’ve looked at seem to focus on churches rather than individual believers. But the verse very specifically says ‘he who has an ear let him hear.’ It’s personalised, individualised. I believe the reason for this is that, while the letters are addressed to the churches, it’s up to each believer to hear for himself. We simply cannot sit back and assume it’s for ‘denominations’ or churches as a whole.
We need to understand that a ‘church’ is merely a collective of individual believers, each with their own responsibility for their own faith and spiritual growth. It’s also our responsibility to judge ourselves – lest we be judged by God – as to where we stand and what we’re doing in the Kingdom. We cannot plead ignorance, nor blame ‘the church’ if we find ourselves not growing or in the wrong place spiritually. It’s up to ‘him’ who has ears to ‘hear.’
The letters to the churches warn of seven specific problems that all believers should be alert to in their own lives. These are the things that will trip us up. They are things even mature believers can inadvertently fall into. And they are the things, I believe, that will begin the process of ‘falling away’ that the Bible warns will be widespread in the end times.
Losing our first love – as human beings, we’re sadly creatures of habit. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of religious rituals. These may involve regular church attendance, structured services, missions, good works and generous giving. But without our first love, they become simple patterns of behaviour. It is the love that makes the difference, the living our life with Christ as the total focus of our attention and adoration. It’s living life for Him, with Him and through Him. It’s the joy of grace and the peace of salvation. It’s that inner ‘excitement’ that stirs us to obedience with a rejoicing heart. Without it, all things – even a thorough knowledge of the Word – are simply human activity.
Remaining faithful, even in the face of poverty or persecution – how many of us, when things aren’t going the way we want or expect, find ourselves questioning God? It’s easy to praise God when things are going well, yet crisis can often shake the faith we were so sure we had. Prevalent teachings like the prosperity gospel often engender wrong assumptions about life and create incorrect expectations. When this happens, we’re bound to be disappointed. God doesn’t work to our purposes but rather to His own. Our faith should be based on who He is, not what we think He should be doing for us. So many Christians become slowly disillusioned by buying into the subtle perversions of the truth of Scripture.
Tolerating spiritual witchcraft – manipulation, under the guise of ‘prophetic’ or ‘apostolic’ ministries, is rife within the church. Believers are daily seduced by Satan from within the church itself, not by the world. Counterfeit ‘moves of the Spirit’ are marked by obvious demonic manifestations, and yet Christians are swept along on the tide of ‘feel good’ emotional highs masquerading as genuine worship. These are the extremes, but deception can be less obvious – speaking ‘prophetically’ things that are from the flesh. This may seem a minor transgression, yet it falls within the realm of ‘sorcery.’ This is one of the most dangerous and most prevalent of all deceptions, yet we buy into the lie constantly and even help to promulgate it.
False teaching – how many of us really judge all we hear against a solid and thorough knowledge of Scripture? It’s alarming how many believers do not spend time in the Word outside of the Sunday teaching or house group. We should perhaps take a little time to look at the verses we know and see how many of them are simply encouragement. It’s a sad reality that the majority of believers will make the effort to memorise the ‘nice’ Scriptures but not those that warn or admonish. It’s so much better to remember that God is merciful and forget that He is first a God of judgement. We empower false teaching because it ‘sounds right’ and because we don’t know enough of the Word to judge for ourselves.
Spiritually dead – growing spiritually involves commitment. It’s not about good works, because these can be simply acts, uninspired by the Holy Spirit. Are we Christians who merely have the appearance of spirituality, or are we truly led by the Spirit? Are we bearing fruit, or do we just ‘look and sound good?’ It’s a sad truth that many believers have simply learned the part. The life of Christ isn’t manifest in them. There is no joy, no fruit, no desire to grow. They have reached a place of comfort and security – the ‘frozen chosen’ – and have neither the inclination nor the energy to move on from there. They gradually move further and further from the life in abundance that Christ offers, and have become content with a semblance of ‘life’ that has no relevance at all.
Persevere and move through the doors God opens – movement is rather like change. How many of us really like change? Most people reject it, resist it or simply allow themselves to be swept along like logs in a stream. Yet we need to constantly seek God for His purposes and His will, to persevere until what He has ordained comes to pass, to find the faith and courage in Him to step out when He opens doors and bids us to go. It’s far easier to remain where where are and to choose the easier route, even though we may know that’s not the plan. It’s one thing to want the things of God, an it’s quite another to willingly participate and step out of the comfort zone when required to do so.
Compromise or lukewarmness – none of us want to stir up controversy or seem ‘different.’ It’s a real challenge in a world that defies the things of God to stand for our faith. It’s far easier to take the line of least resistance, to be silent when we should speak, to not stand up for what we know is right or the truth. We daily compromise in the little things, when our passion for Christ should impel us to speak the truth. How often do we share the Gospel, when we are given every opportunity to do so? How often do we pray for the unsaved – even family members whom we love. Lukewarmness is neither here nor there. It’s an unstable thing, because it has no real foundation.
These are all that will affect our Christian maturity and fellowship with Christ – a fellowship intended to be a ‘oneness’ in and with Him. Jesus Himself told us that at the end there will be a great falling away, an apostasy, that is not limited to entire churches. It will start with individuals, with believers like you and I. A church may be so sold out to the wrong things that they fall as a church, or it may be that only seventy remain faithful, or perhaps only thirty or ten.
It’s up to each one of us to heed the voice of the Spirit and make the necessary adjustments, and to pray that our fellow believers would be protected. We cannot answer for them, just as they are not responsible for our personal walk, but we can pray and we can speak the truth when called to do so. Will we have the courage to check ourselves against the seven churches and make the necessary adjustments? We all have the Word and the Spirit to aid us, but will we hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches? Perhaps the real question is do we want to, or are we comfortable in our complacency?