So, as I'm reading about Jesus' letters to the 7 churches (through John), I'm always asking: What can WE take from these letters today?
Apparently, quite a bit!
Look at Revelation 2:8-11 "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. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of 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. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."
Smyrna was a beautiful, rich city...very influential in the days of this writing...but the Church there was not. (Apparently, the word for "poverty" meant...pretty dire poverty!) This was not figurative at all--this church--in the midst of thier community of plenty--was in poverty!
There could be lots of reasons for that, but chances are good that it had to do with the next verses--they were being persecuted! In that day--especially that community--you could not 'lightly' follow Jesus. In fact, they had a MAJOR "Ceasar-worship" thing going on there, so that, if you refused to publicly worship Ceasar (and thus, get 'certified'), you could not buy/sell, whatever!
Thier leader was Polycarp, a bishop who was a GREAT example of leading faitfully in the midst of trouble. In fact, Polycarp was burned at the stake for refusing to publicly denounce Jesus and worship Ceasar. This was no mere 'inconvenience' for following Jesus--you paid for it! Some paid with jobs, with reputations, with physical danger. Some would go to prison. Some would be killed.
I haven't been able to find out what the "10 days" was all about (could this have been when Polycarp was burned?), but the bottom line for us is this:
This is the ONLY letter in which their is no confrontation/admonition--only encouragement. This group--which had every circumstance against them--had shown themselves to be faithful in the past. Now, as the persecution was going to be 'amped up', they were being encouraged. (Note: they weren't being promised that God would remove them from it--simply that Jesus would be there with them, and would reward them in the end).
So, what about us?
All I know is that this level of persecution has not reached the U.S. Church...yet. Unlike our brothers/sisters in other parts of the world, we do not 'pay for our faith' with imprisonment, dire poverty, beatings, or death...yet. (Check out this link for more: http://www.persecution.com)
So...we should be 'all good', right? No complaints here!
I don't know about you, but I think I'm pretty soft. It doesn't take much for me to get my eyes off of Jesus and onto myself--my circumstances, my difficulties.
I can be a whiner! And I don't want to be.
I want to be the kind of follower that laughs in the face of danger; that confidently stands for Christ in the midst of opposition; that faithfully follows Him--without compromise--no matter the cost!
How about you?
If we want to be that way 'when the chips are down', then we need to start responding in faithfulness and obedience today--right here, in our CURRENT circumstances. THIS is the 'training ground' that God has us in right now.
The church in Smyrna had NOTHING in their favor--circumstantially. Yet, they had EVERYTHING THEY NEEDED in their favor--spiritually...they had Jesus with them.They had the Holy Spirit's power within!
So do we!
So, how about it--let's quit complaining, whining, blaming our circmumstances and instead rise above them in VICTORY through the power that the Holy Spirit provides!
"Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life...He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death." (vv. 10-11)
May the Lord enable us to quit focusing on the negatives of our circumstances, and instead focus on the riches He's given us--and to rise up VICTORIOUS over them!