8–14 December 2019.
The early chapters of the Book of Revelation share seven letters by the risen Christ written to seven different churches. In chapter 2:1–17 we find three of these letters.
In the seminary I often teach our future pastors that the church has two “hands” or two core tasks. The first task is to be a truth-seeking community: to learn more about God, to discover the truth about God’s will and our world. But the second task is to be a justice-seeking community. We don’t just want to understand God because we’re curious. We seek to understand God’s will so that we can act on it – by loving others, seeking a fairer and more just society, and changing our world for the better. With one hand we seek understanding, and with one hand we seek justice and to do the work of God’s kingdom.
In the letter to the church in Ephesus (vv. 1–7), Christ praises the believers there because they have a passion for the first task. They have a passion for wisdom and learning, for wanting to know what is right. They are eager to know the difference between false teachings and true teachings. They are a great truth-seeking community. The only problem is that they are missing that second hand. In vv. 4–5 Christ complains that they are missing their works of love. And they can’t be a true church without that (v. 5).
The church in Pergamum is the exact opposite (vv. 12–17). They are great doers, they act on their faith and even stay loyal to Christ in the face of persecution. But sadly they have problems with their knowledge of the faith. As a result they accept a lot of wrong, non-Christian teachings. A healthy church can’t survive like that either.
In contrast, Christ has a letter full of praise for the church in Smyrna (vv. 8–11). They are a humble and poor church. But in Christ’s eyes they are incredibly rich because they overflow with real faith: a faith that knows what God wants and also acts on it, holding onto God even in times of suffering and death.
These reminders to the churches are good lessons for our own faith lives too. In our walk with God we too need wisdom to guide us as well as the courage to act on that wisdom in works of love. We need these two hands: to search for truth and to seek to know God’s will for our lives and our world as well as the bravery to follow through on that knowledge and to act on it, even when it’s not easy. Only by uniting wisdom and action together in love can we succeed in growing in our faith, and succeed in truly seeking God’s kingdom in this world.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis