Summary: Church of Smyrna
NO PAIN, NO GAIN (REVELATION 2:8-11)
A farmer said to God, "For 50 years I have not stopped praying..." The Lord replied, "5o years you have been praying, what did you actually pray for?" The farmer said, "I always pray that the winds and rains be smooth, pray that there would be no rain or wind this year, no snow, no earthquake, no drought, no hail, no pests, but no matter how I pray, nothing turns out according to my requests."
The Lord replied, "I created the earth, the winds and the rains, the droughts, the pests and the birds. What I created is not to man’s wish." The farmer knelt and kissed the feet of God, "Almighty Lord. Can You grant my wish concerning next year? Just for one year, no wind no rain, no hot sun and disaster. Other people’s land I don’t care. Can you give me just one year?" The Lord replied, "OK, just as you wish for next year."
The next year, the fields of the man in fact produced lots of stalks due to the absence of any strong wind and rain, hot sun and disaster. The grain doubled its usual; the farmer was beside himself. By harvest time, an unusual thing happened. The stalks did not produce even a grain. The farmer sought God and asked, "Merciful God, how can this be, are you mistaken in this matter?" God said, "I did not make nay mistake. Once a plant avoid all the tests, the grains are powerless. To a grain, persistent struggling is unavoidable. Wind and rain are necessary, hot sun is necessary, pests are necessary, they awaken the inner spirit of the grain. A man’s spirit and a grain’s spirit are alike; without tests, man is but a husk."
Notable in the passage is the fact that there is no rebuke whatever for the faithful, suffering Christians of Smyrna. This is in striking contrast with Christ’s evaluations of five of the other six churches, which He rebuked. Smyrna’s sufferings, though extremely difficult, had helped keep them pure in faith and persistent in life. The irony of the Smyrna church’s poverty is that it was a large and wealthy city, a seaport 35 miles north of Ephesus. Smyrna is still a large seaport with a present population of about 200,000.
Be Trustworthy in Character
8 "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9 I know your afflictions and your poverty -- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Rev 2:8-9)
Carly Fiorina, otherwise known as the first woman CEO and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, was once asked who her favorite composer was. Without hesitation she replied, "Beethoven," remembering her preference for Beethoven’s music whenever she was troubled.
The follow-up question was "Why not Mozart?" Fiorina wrote in her book "Tough Choices": "I had to think. It was a good question. Mozart’s music was angelic and otherworldly in its beauty. I could imagine divine inspiration, but I couldn’t hear human struggle. I could hear angst and fear in Beethoven. His music was sublime, and ultimately triumphant in its suffering and humanity." (Carly Fiorina, Tough Choices, 5-6)
A church without suffering is a church without substance and strength. The church in Smyrna faced three tests of character: afflictions, poverty and slander.
First of all, let me clarify that, grammatically, "afflictions" (v 9) is actually singular in Greek, not plural. Traditionally, KJV, RSV and NASB translate it as "tribulation." I am not playing down Smyrna’s suffering but God promised them the strength to overcome their present affliction/tribulation, but not the oncoming "great tribulation" (Rev 7:14), which nobody can withstand, so God will spare us of that in the future. Tribulation (singular) is bearable, but the great tribulation is unbearable, more than anyone can handle. The great tribulation, which is recorded four times in the Bible, is mentioned twice in Revelation (Rev 2:22, 7:14), once in Jesus’ prophesy and once in Acts. Jesus foretold its fury: "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be." (Matt 24:21). The closest thing to the great tribulation is recorded in Acts, when great affliction came in the form of a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan (Acts 7:11) -- not merely a recession -- which is finance-related, but a famine that is food-related.
Also, while affliction is trying, this singular noun form in verse 9 is nothing like the plural noun describing Christ’s "afflictions" for us (Col 1:24), Joseph’s "troubles" in Egypt (Acts 7:10), and Paul’s "hardships" (Acts 20:23) -- all plural usage of the same singular Greek noun "tribulation." God, in His wisdom, has given us strength to suffer and but also to survive and surpass some form of opposition, obstruction and offense.