Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: A study of the Risen Saviour's message to the Church in Smyrna. A study of the cost of following Him as Master.

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’” [1]

Tribulation? Poverty? Slander? This was the life of one church to whom the Lord of Glory addressed one of the letters that John wrote. This congregation received no condemnation in the Letters to the Seven Churches. Nevertheless, the Risen Saviour said, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer.” Now, that is a confidence builder if we ever heard one! You will experience every negative assault this world can throw at you, but don’t be afraid.

The Risen Saviour spoke to the Church of the Risen Saviour in Smyrna, promising them great trials. He comforted them by urging them to be fearless in the face of what was assuredly coming upon them. Jesus might well have been speaking to any number of churches in this day, though few of them would be located in North America. It is doubtful that many congregations in Canada have ever experienced tribulation. Some may speak of poverty, but poverty is a relative term, especially when compared with churches in many parts of our world. Perhaps more Canadian churches could speak of slander; but again, slander is a relative term.

Because we have not experienced tribulation of biblical proportions, or because we are not really familiar with grinding poverty, or because we have not been slandered does not mean that we shall never experience such attacks. I make no claim to be a prophet, but I know that I am on solid biblical ground when I say that our current condition of relative peace for the Faith of Christ the Lord is an aberration as demonstrated by even a casual examination of church history. Anyone who stays abreast of current events will realise that were it not for divine intervention, the Faith would have been extirpated in many regions of this dark world.

Almost twenty years ago, the words of a Catholic Bishop were captured on a cell phone belonging to a participant in a symposium at which the bishop was speaking. I was struck by what was said at that time; those unguarded words may well prove prophetic. Bishop George said, “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” [2]

I am certain that dark days do lie ahead for the faithful, for the churches of our Lord, days that are made darker still by the stark choice before us as Christians. As the future unfolds, either we will serve the Risen Son of God, or we will be true to our culture and to our class. Either we will exalt Christ over culture, or we will succumb to the siren call of this dying world to find ease by avoiding obedience to the Living God.

In order to explore what does lie ahead, it will be beneficial for us to look carefully at the Church of Smyrna. There are some initial truths that should be noted before we actually explore the message that the One who conquered death delivered to these saints. First, this congregation received no condemnation. It is fair to say that they could not have been a perfect church; however, God took note of the trials they continually experienced, commending them for standing firm in the face of real pressure. Unlike some congregations in this day who complain because they are no longer fêted, adulated or commended by the world about them, this congregation suffered. The Church of Smyrna had much in common with sister congregations located in Syria, in Iraq, in Indonesia or even in barrios of the Philippines. Tragically, this congregation may have much in common with what faces us in coming days.

AN IMPOVERISHED CONGREGATION — “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” [REVELATION 2:9]. The New Beginnings Baptist Church of Smyrna would never attract the attention of the rich and famous in this day; they had not done so in that ancient day. The congregation would never be a destination for the “church prowl” that characterises the search for a church as practised by many in this day. In fact, it is unlikely that the assembly of Smyrna would be sought out by most people looking for a church. Brides would not be fighting for the opportunity to have their wedding conducted by the pastor of the Church of Smyrna, and those who wished to give their loved ones a “Christian” burial would never consider the little church on 118th Street in Smyrna. We want something fancier for a wedding and something more ostentatious for the funeral of our loved ones. The assembly wouldn’t be able to afford to televise their services, and if they were able to do so, few people would be willing to watch.

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