1. The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth,
2. because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever:
3. Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.
4. I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.
5. And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another.
6. This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. [obedience]
7. For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. [disobedience]
8. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.
9. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.
10. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him;
11. for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
12. Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.
13. The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.
Truth has a manifestation that is intrinsically bound to it – this being love. Now John uses the word love 26 times in the first epistle and 4 times in the second 3 times in the third. It is an attribute seems to that belong to John – indeed in his gospel account he refers to himself as the one the Lord loved. Of importance is the fact that the underlying foundation of this love is always truth. Now, truth is reality - if it is not real it cannot be truth.
I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of (or comes from NIV) the truth.1 John 2:21 (NKJV)
The reality is that we are all sinners
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8 (NKJV)
This letter we are looking at today is in some ways expounding on what John wrote elsewhere.
My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18 (KJV)
However, with truth there is always obedience. These three; truth, love and obedience always go hand in hand. Remove one and the entire collapses – like a three legged stool – the most stable structure even on uneven surfaces, but if you remove one leg the stool falls.
John writes here, referring to himself as the elder to a lady and her children (verse 1). It was common to be referred to or refer one as "the elder" or even "the ancient" – not as a position in the church – i.e. the word is not bishop, but an older person. John here is quite old, one of the few remaining who had seen the Lord. Of course the younger in the church would have revered him – hence the title known by all "the elder" is used. Some have tried to link this letter to an individual lady and her children, and it may be that the original did in fact go to a lady, but the application is clear: it is to a local church (always female, as in the bride of Christ) and her children a noun John has used before to describe young in the faith; that is Christians. The letter is one of warning – love without truth and obedience is not love.
Note that here we speak of the local church in the form that was originally developed outside of Jerusalem and I believe is the most efficacious; that is the house church. The development of buildings, large and magnificent, even the monstrosity being built up the street here was an early development that takes after the Tower of Babel. Scripture offers not one skerrick of support for such edifices. Most argue it is to attract people so they may hear the word of God. Some blaspheme and even suggest that it is to save people – of course only the Holy Spirit saves.
8But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach), that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:8,9 (NKJV)
14How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written:
"How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,
Who bring glad tidings of good things!" Romans 10:14,15 (NKJV)
If church buildings actually saves people or even leads people to the Lord, one cannot possibly surmise the reason that all of Europe is not saved. Europe has most beautiful structures of earth, called churches, but NOT even the largest, the most expensive, the most extravagant or the most magnificent church buildings on earth can lead people to salvation. Millions of people visit these every year, but I suggest to you that few if any are saved by this experience. That buildings aid salvation is a lie; Babel led only to confusion and destruction.
John in this epistle speaks of the truth that saves. The truth that saves is obedience in the doctrine of Christ (verse 9). Indeed the epistle we have set before us is a warning to churches that deceivers who are antichrists will come and try and enter - even the small closely guarded houses churches and attempt to destroy them – and history attests to the truth of this. This is not the first time in Scripture that such a warning has gone out – Paul and Peter also warn that churches will be destroyed if the love, on which they are based, is not met with truth and obedience. Love without truth is not the love of the Lord, and without obedience you have neither love nor truth. Salvation is linked to love of the truth.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 2 Thessalonians 2:9,10 (NIV).
Therefore, in summary John writes to commend a church on their love and obedience and exhort them to remain in the truth, because, deceivers will attempt to come in and destroy the assembly. The method which these deceive is that they themselves do not confess Jesus Christ (v7). In essence there is a commandment of God, which demands love and truth. Without love and truth, one cannot obey God, and without obedience one cannot please God.
Therefore, when He came into the world, He said:
"Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
But a body You have prepared for Me.
In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin
You had no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come—
In the volume of the book it is written of Me—
To do Your will, O God.’" Hebrews 10:5-7 (NKJV)
What I want to do is explore how one goes about testing whether a church has been deceived. You need to go away and examine whether you have been deceived, and the elders of this congregation need to go away and ask the question – have we been deceived by antichrists and have we a disjunction between love, truth and obedience? Note that deception may not be by men physically coming into the congregation and preaching. Indeed in this church, there is rightly a tight reign on who teaches; what is lacking is a tight reign on what the teachers have been taught. Many have written on this – AW Tozer has been justifiably scathing of the modern evangelical churches, just like ours – who have been deceived right up to the highest order of officer, not by men physically coming in but by other ways. Satan uses every trick up his sleave in order to seduce Christians to abandon the faith. If he cannot win over those who are saved, he ensures that these become ineffective in preaching the truth.
Scripture offers seven templates for churches that are measured against seven criteria for which every church that has ever existed can be measured against. As Solomon has stated there is nothing new under the sun! What I want to do is encourage you to use Scripture to test whether this church has been deceived. Using feelings or some other evidence will lead to nothing.
John in The Revelation sets before us seven churches, not chosen at random – there were many hundreds of churches to choose from, but specific churches whose history and conduct is illustrative of you as a person, of this congregation, of this church and of this age. Hence when reading both chapter two and three of Revelation we see the text applies at least at four levels, (1) self, (2) church, (3) age or history and (4) the actual church in question. When speaking of this in Brethren circles, there is a tendency to immediately assume they are the Philadelphian church – you know the one – the one without condemnation – then they turn off. Let me tell you this, this church we sit today is not Philadelphian, the age in which we live is not Philadelphian and the ancestry of this church is not Philadelphian, although on the latter the first brethren, so called, where not doubt Philadelphian, extracting themselves from the second most evil church written to – the protestant Sardis church.
Now for those I have lost, John writes letters to seven churches that are scattered around Asia on behalf of the Holy Spirit. Actually, it is more truthful to say the Holy Spirit dictated seven letters to John who penned and sent the seven letters. The structure of the seven letters is nearly identical based on a seven fold template. The name of the church itself has meaning, which I will not go into today. Also will not I examine the New Testament exhortations to each of these churches – there are seven books in the NT that matches these churches along with seven parables of Matthew. Clearly Ephesians corresponds to the Church of Ephesus and parable of the Hidden Treasure belongs to Sardis. I will leave it up to you to examine the others for you to come to your own conclusions.
Lets start with modern emphasis on the positive – note that in post modernism it is positive or negative not truth or false. The Bible is quite clear in terms of truth – it is either present of absent – there is no grey. The post modernists forget that God based the world on quantum mechanics – there is no continuum just presence or absence! Of the seven churches only five had commendations. The church at Ephesus did what John commands the Lady of his second epistle to do; that is, to test those that came and taught.
"I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; Revelation 2:2 (NKJV)
Everyone needs to be tested who preaches. You need to go home and test what I have said. The elders need to especially make sure what is spoken from the pulpit is true. This does not just apply to those of us who preach. Every single person who teaches in this church needs to be challenged – mothers who teach their children, fathers who lead their families, bible study leaders who teach (and they should all be able to teach) and women group leaders all need to be tested. And there others I have not mentioned. Unfortunately this church lacks the framework to do this adequately. This church is open to the teachings of Balaam and Balack (verse 14 of chapter 2) – it needs to be dealt with. The framework which this church is based is set out in the church constitution, which is typically post modern. The letters to the seven church show that only four churches had a focus which God desired (Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Philadelphia – one other had some semblance of this – Thyatira, which represents the Roman Catholic Church) – these were all evangelical and missionary focused. They were based on the purpose of each and every child in Christ – being an ambassador for Christ.
Note those churches that were commended well, and in particular the Philadelphian church: their focus is outward, missionary and evangelical. CCC church has preached on the great commission but has left its principle elements out of the constitution and her "Doctrinal Statement". Indeed this churches mission is "sensing God’s purpose" which is neither commendable nor scriptural - there is no bible verse to support it. This is found in the ‘Guide to Membership". Indeed the Mission of this church leaves each and every believer as an infant drinking milk. The purpose of every church should be evangelical. Now I know that many in this room had no idea that the mission of the church was "sensing God’s purpose" and are going about their business as Scripture employs, but it indicates the post modern thinking that sits in the committee halls. I have some hope that this false mission is not exactly what the church believes, in that the church notice indicates a desire to "reach a lost world".
So how does a modern church ensure sound teaching as John exhorts? In any church, the statement of faith spells out the basis for the doctrines it teaches and adheres to. This must be placed in the constitution so it has legal binding – and in this church it is article 12. Of importance is that the constitution must state the basis on which all teaching flows – i.e. that the Bible, being recognised as truth and the inerrant word of God, being God breathed, can only be interpretation, not as a private affair, but by Scripture only, enlightened by the Holy Spirit only. Next the Constitution needs to be supported by various documents. The "Doctrinal Statement" is a beginning, provided the mission is scriptural! However, every church needs a statement of philosophy to spell out the doctrinal basis of the church and explain the intent of statement of faith. The problem with the Church at Smyrna was that it fell into the trap of following false doctrine – essentially a marriage with the philosophy of the world. This must be thwarted at every step. Sound teaching is the basis for doing this and sound teaching needs to come from a framework of documentation that clearly spells out the churches doctrine or theology, especially one where a multitude of people teach publicly. Everyone needs to learn to divide the word rightly!
So what should our purpose be – three times John states that we must walk according to God’s commandments. The Church at Philadelphia is commended on seven attributes:
(1) "I know your works. (2) See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; (3) for you have a little strength, (4) have kept My word, and (5) have not denied My name. (6) Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. (7) Because you have kept My command to persevere.
This church uses a very post modernists approach – the reason you are here is to "sense God’s purpose". This is based on the theory that each needs to find oneself. But let me tell you the truth. Once you have been saved you have been found – there is no need to continue looking. A saved person is saved – no need to continue worrying about what you are going to do. Further, you salvation is a purchase, in that you have been purchased, or redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Anyone who is saved – that is, has the Holy Spirit dwelling in them that guarantees them of this fact – IS SAVED.
that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:12-14 (NKJV)
The best illustration of redemption into a pre-purposed life is found in the book of Ruth. Ruth required redemption that could only be transacted by a kinsman-redeemer – we see this in Revelation chapter five – the only person, and it had to be a man, related to all people, that could open the scroll was the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. In the case of Ruth, Boaz only could redeemed the land of Ruth, and essentially purchase Ruth or at least her land. Note that Ruth had to go to Boaz – Jesus knocks on the door, but we must open it – we go to Christ for our redemption. However, of importance here to better understand our purpose is that once Ruth had been redeemed sure had a purpose. She did not need to wonder what to do next – she became the wife of Boaz and therefore had her purpose set out before her – we read she bore a son.
Every purchased (redeemed) person has a purpose. There is absolutely no need to go on "sensing it". This is the truth – John points out to the Lady that she is not on the earth going about finding herself, or sensing God’s purpose – she is here to obey.
This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it. 2 John 1:6 (NKJV)
To obey, one must first get rid of SELF. We need to pray "Your will be done" (Matthew 26:42) and mean it. The trouble with modern man is that unless God’s purpose is his purpose he wants nothing of it. Our purpose cannot be, to be successful, or at least in the view of the world. Thoughts about myself places obstacles in the way for God to achieve His purpose. Incidentally we are not workers of for God by choice – being saved made us a worker for God. No need to sense the purpose – we know it! Spurgeon writes:
His purpose is to make a person exactly like Himself, and the Son of God is characterized by self-expenditure. (M&E 2nd Sept).
Spurgeon goes on, elsewhere to write:
God is not concerned about our plans; He doesn’t ask, "Do you want to go through this loss of a loved one, this difficulty, or this defeat?" No, He allows these things for His own purpose. The moment you are willing for God to change your nature, His recreating forces will begin to work. And the moment you realize that God’s purpose is to get you into the right relationship with Himself and then with others, He will reach to the very limits of the universe to help you take the right road. Decide to do it right now, saying, "Yes, Lord, I will write that letter," or, "I will be reconciled to that person now." (M&E 1st July).
Jesus Christ knocks on the door – God’s purpose is inherit with opening of this door. The problem with most is that although God gives us our purpose, aim and mission in life, and indeed all the resources to do it, but we don’t want it. Spurgeon wrote:
It is one thing to follow God’s way of service if you are regarded as a hero, but quite another thing if the road marked out for you by God requires becoming a "doormat" under other people’s feet. God’s purpose may be to teach you to say, "I know how to be abased"' (Philippians 4:12). Are you ready to be sacrificed like that? (Morning and Evening, Devotions 5th Feb).
John highlights to the Lady that deceivers will come in and take what she had. In Ephesus, their first love was taken away – the true and fervent love for the Lord. Pergamum courted the doctrine of Balaam – which happens even today – churches court the ways of the world as Balaam loved this present world. They also followed false doctrine. The worse false doctrine is subtle silent but catastrophic.
An example: What many true Christians have been saying for a long time is that Satan has curtailed our language – prevented and removed subtlety the utterance of certain words. The simplest is "salvation". The modern church does not talk about being saved, yet it is the most fundamental aspect of Christianity – it speaks only of "inviting Jesus into our hearts". This is not salvation.
Read the constitution of this church and you have a sense that the writers have been seduced – I find that the statement of faith misses the most important step in salvation – that of repentance. Now I am not alone in this observation of modern churches.
A.W. Tozer writes:
I think there is little doubt that the teaching of salvation without repentance has lowered the moral standards of the Church and produced a multitude of deceived religious professors who erroneously believe themselves to be saved when in fact they are still in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. And to see such persons actually seeking the deeper life is a grim and disillusioning sight. Yet our altars are sometimes filled with seekers who are crying with Simon, "Give me this power," when the moral groundwork has simply not been laid for it. The whole thing must be acknowledged as a clear victory for the devil, a victory he could never have enjoyed if unwise teachers had not made it possible by preaching the evil doctrine of regeneration apart from reformation.
So how is one saved: A.W. Tozer again: "... the whole biblical revelation is addressed to the intellect and through the intellect reaches the will,.. if the will responds in repentance and obedience, the Holy Spirit illuminates the penitent heart and reveals Christ, the Image of God to it..."
Salvation without repentance is not salvation, it is deception.
Missing is also is the word "blood". This church limits this word in its hymns and songs, although it is clearly a focus for a few minutes around the Lord’s table. Find me a Hillsong song that speaks of the blood of Jesus Christ being shed. The Laodicean church, for which nothing good was said, accepts that there are some words what may turn off un-saved who come through the door, or even the saved (numbers is everything to the Laodicean church). Blood is a dirty word these days, so we leave it out. Subtle but catastrophic, because without accepting the saving blood of Jesus Christ one cannot be saved! Indeed in the next service, observe for the words blood and redemption and you should not be surprised that the modern songs are so devoid of content that they at best amuse the singer and at worse deceive the congregation. Both ways they are the antithesis to worship.
But you say we are here to worship – this is the purpose of the church. And I say no it’s not. We certainly gather together to worship, but the purpose of the church is far greater than this. Indeed worship is merely an element of the larger – all living creatures including men and women have one purpose – that is to glorify God:
Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. Leviticus 10:3 (KJV)
It is interesting to note that this statement does not say "I must be glorified", but "I will be glorified" – it is emphatic language, God will be glorified, even if he needs to raise up the stones on the road to Jerusalem to do so! It is Paul that reveals the PURPOSE of the Church to all in the New Testament, which lay hidden in the Old Testament.
His [God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:9, 11 (NIV)
So what is our purpose – to reveal the manifold wisdom of God. And what is this wisdom – that we labour not in vain,
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58 (KJV)
As to worship you say – clearly written into this churches constitution which is admirable, yet none of the seven churches of Revelation were commended for worshiping God. The reason is simple – man is commended on obedience and John highlights this. If we love God, sure, we want to worship Him, but this is unacceptable if you are not obedient to God.
Worship has three elements – position, posture and attitude. If you want to understand these three – position, posture and attitude – you need to turn to Revelation. There is unfortunately been more rubbish written about worship than about any thing else in terms of church activities. The reason is sin. Worship in truth cannot possible take place while you think there is some good in you. In deed the book of Romans spends 11 chapters trouncing self and sin before it can speak of service.
Firstly worship is outward looking only – it is one way, outward. This churches mission is inward looking – the antithesis to worship. To go about sensing requires self awareness and self actuation. In true worship these both are lost. In Revelation 5:10-11 we see the perfect picture of worship, that is, showing worth to the one who sat upon the heavenly throne, described earlier in this chapter.
What I mean by position is knowing the basis on which you are able to worship in truth. The question is; is your position of worship based on the saving blood of Jesus Christ? Those that do not acknowledge God cannot worship him. Your position must be at the feet of Jesus. Note that these elders fell down before God – worship must begin at this point. Worship is not Christ looking at how good you are or how successful you have been – it is Christ looking down at you at his feet. True worship is corporate worship – the very reason the Church exists – and it is the Church that will worship God, as the twenty four elders here represent. Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst. Sure, you can worship in your own quiet spirit, but this cannot compare with the majesty of corporate worship.
The posture is an outward expression of the heart. Note that these elders were on their knees and their crowns were off their heads. Also note that the crowns here are not a diadem – a crown that indicates position such as a prince may wear, but a "stephanos" – a wreath that a victor was given after winning a race. This marks the genuine believer in Christ – we see the crown of life in James, the crown of righteousness in 2 Timothy, the crown of glory in Peter etcetera, but before God we have nothing – we take these off and bow the head. The problem with modern worship is that people have no know knowledge of posture. Our modern churches are set up to glorify the band and the scantily clad women who stork the platform. The posture needs be such that we see the feet of our Lord – pieced for our sake.
The essence of true worship is the attitude of the heart. In the end everyone will have to bow the knee but even this is not true worship. The true worshipper, so debases himself and he desires nothing less than the one being worshipped being magnified, that all else is made of no significance. In all essence it is submission – as John points out to the Lady – obedience is the tenet of life. Self becomes nothing and God becomes everything. Note the words of the 24 elders – there is absolutely nothing in the words that points to, or even links to, the worshipers – there is no "I" in it – no pride at all. AW Tozer wrote
The proud and lofty man or woman cannot worship God any more acceptably than the proud devil himself. There must be humility in the heart of the person who would worship God in spirit and in truth.
If in the next meeting you sing words to the effect "I am worshipping you" as one of the songs go, you are in fact in no way worshipping God, only yourself. This is the problem with contemporary songs; most if not all have a large if not major element of self in them. Therefore, after every song you need to ask – what was the author trying to say, and how does it compare with the most beautiful worship song of all:
"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!"
And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:
"Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!" (Revelation 5)
It is delightful to worship God, but it is also a humbling thing; and the man who has not been humbled in the presence of God will never be a worshiper of God at all. He may be church member who keeps the rules and obeys the discipline, and who tithes and goes to conference, but he’ll never be a worshiper unless he is deeply humbling.
I will not suggest that this church is fornicating with Jezebel as the Roman Catholic Church is accused off. The Church of Sardis that represents the protestant church fails on all fronts - is evil, but not as evil as the Laodicean church. The latter is indeed so evil that God cannot speak to it as a whole. Have you noticed today the rapid fragmentation of the protestant church? This is evidence of the Laodicean church. At least to Sardis, who failed to return to the true doctrine of Christ, had some whose names who were not defiled. In the Laodicean Church – that is our modern church in which we sit today, the warning is to each and every individual, not the church as a whole – note verse 20 and 21 of chapter 3 of Revelation. This says something of the decline of Christianity. To the other churches Christ speaks to the whole, but to the Laodicean, who is so self scented, so wrapped up with finding itself, He needs to speak to the individual:
Behold, I [Jesus Christ] stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. Revelation 3:20,21 (KJV)
This is the desire of Christ – that we live in Truth which is in Love and Obedience.