We will be a blessing to the world around us if instead of obsessing about people we fix our hearts on Christ. So take this as my call to you and to me and to all of us: Let’s stop the gossip. Let’s stop the gossip and instead make it our delight to speak about who our God is and about what our God has done.
I have said it before: gossip is a “respectable sin” among Reformed Christians. The Christian world, and perhaps especially the Reformed Christian world, is absolutely chockablock with gossip. From the pulpit to the pew, from the conference green room to the conference hallways, gossip is rampant. It is whispered in the name of important information and blogged in the name of discernment—both ways of dressing it up in respectable apparel. But if it isn’t true and it isn’t edifying and it isn’t necessary, it is gossip. Truly, gossip may be the besetting sin of this movement and a major contributor to her current or coming collapse.(1)
I don’t want to make it sound as if I am immune to this sin or that I’ve never participated in it. In fact, recent experiences in my life have shown how quick I am to initiate conversations that soon tip into gossip and how slow I am to redirect conversations initiated by others that also dwell on what is little better than tittle-tattle. I write to myself as much as anyone else.
If you love the Reformed faith, which is to say, if you value Reformed doctrine, then I offer this exhortation: Make it your goal to talk about Jesus, not celebrities. Make it your goal to tell about the perfections of the Savior more than the failures of the famous. Make it your goal to describe what God has done, not what Christian personalities have failed to do.
This is not to say that there are no circumstances in which it is appropriate to discuss current events and even the foibles and failures of those people who rise and fall within this corner of the Christian world. Sometimes such conversations can be good and necessary, provided they are carried out within the bounds of Christian character and that they go no further than the established facts. Paul named names when appropriate and I’m sure he sometimes gathered his protégés around himself to discuss what had gone wrong with Demas or Hymenaeus or Alexander and what they could learn from those who had first followed and then fallen away.
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By Cole Newton — 9 months ago
Even if Christ does not return for another millennia, each of us will surely see His face, in either grace or judgment, within the next century. But we certainly do long for the day when the very path to destruction itself will be destroyed.
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,but the way of wicked will perish.Psalm 1:6 ESV
After all has been said in the first five verses of Psalm 1, this sixth and final verse gives us the fitting concluding contrast between the blessed and the wicked. The blessed, here synonymously called the righteous just as the wicked and sinners are used interchangeably, are known by the LORD, while the wicked are doomed to perish. Of course, when the psalmist states that the LORD knows the way of the righteous, he does not simply mean an intellectual knowledge, for we know that the LORD knows all things. He has numbered each hair, each heartbeat, each breath, of both the righteous and the sinner. No, an experiential knowledge is being described here; He has a personal knowledge of the righteous, whereas the wicked perish by being cast out of His sight.
Yet notice that the psalmist is not really speaking of the righteous nor the wicked directly. Instead, ‘the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.’ The path of the righteous is always in the LORD’s blessed sight, as David rightly said: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand” (Psalm 37:23-24). That is the reality being conveyed here. Even when the righteous fall, they do not come to ruin, for the LORD continues to uphold them.
By Kim Riddlebarger — 6 months ago
When someone loses a loved one, do they get calls and cards of sympathy? Are meals prepared and baby-sitting provided when someone gets sick? When someone loses a job, do people in the church help them find a new one? When someone stops attending church, do they get calls from concerned members who miss them? This is the kind of thing that Jesus is talking about when he speaks about doing the things the church did at the beginning. Jesus is not asking us to make superficial demonstrations of emotion. Jesus is talking about genuine love which manifests itself in action. By doing these things, the church is able to contend against false teachers and the poisonous cloud of suspicion, judgmentalism, and acrimony will be wonderfully dissipated by acts of mercy and charity.
The Lord of His Churches Addresses the Ephesians
Jesus Christ is the Lord of his church. He walks among the seven lampstands and holds the seven stars in his hand. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. He is alive forevermore and holds in his hands the keys of death and Hades. Jesus Christ is our great high priest who has freed us from our sins through the shedding of his own blood. He has made us to be a kingdom of priests to serve his God and father. That same Jesus now comes to us with words of exhortation and rebuke found in the seven letters addressed to the churches of Asia Minor.
In the opening section of the Book of Revelation (chapters 2-3) we find seven letters which were originally addressed to the seven churches scattered throughout Asia Minor (Turkey) and to whom John is sending this circular letter we now know as the Book of Revelation. The letters to the seven churches are part of a larger vision which begins in Revelation 1:12 and which continues on to the end of chapter 3. But before we go any farther, it is important to put these letters in their proper context in order to interpret them correctly.
Context of the Seven Letters
Although a number of commentators believe these letters represent seven consecutive periods in church history–the Ephesian era being the first, the Laodician being the last–it is much better to see these churches as historical Christian congregations facing horrible persecution at the hands of the pagan Roman empire, in addition to struggling with heretical teaching arising from within. Throughout the Book of Revelation, the number seven represents completeness and perfection. The letters to the “seven” churches means these letters and situations they describe are representative of the whole of Christ’s church throughout the ages. The issues these Christians faced in the first century are the very much the same issues we face in the twenty-first.
It is important to keep in mind the unique literary style of the Book of Revelation as we work our way through John’s visions. As Dennis Johnson points out in his excellent commentary (Triumph of the Lamb), each of these visions serve as a different camera angle as the redemptive drama unfolds during the course of this present evil age. Each vision focuses upon a particular aspect of the struggle between Christ and Satan during the last days and the great tribulation, which is the entire period of time between the first advent and second coming of Jesus Christ.
Symbolism Drawn from the Old Testament
Throughout these visions, John uses apocalyptic language in which symbols serve as word pictures of the cosmic struggle between Jesus Christ and his already defeated but ever defiant foe, the devil. John uses symbols such as lampstands, stars and keys, as well as certain numbers, such as “seven,” to point us to the realities which these symbols represent. This means that the symbols used in apocalyptic literature are not to be taken literally, as can be seen by the description of Jesus Christ which opens this vision in verses 12-20 (“The Alpha and the Omega” (Letters to the Seven Churches — Part One).
In order to correctly understand the meaning of these symbols we must look to the Old Testament from where they are drawn, as well as to the first century Roman empire, which serves as the historical backdrop against which the struggles these symbols portray is played out. For example, in these letters to the seven churches, John will refer to the historical circumstances faced by the Christians of first century Asia Minor. But John will frame these historical issues in the context of a greater struggle in which apocalyptic symbols are used to point us beyond Asia Minor and the Roman Empire of the first century to the struggles we currently face in our own day and age. The Christ of the seven churches of Asia Minor is the same Christ who wins the great victory over Satan and all those allied with him. The Christ of the first century church is the Christ of the twenty-first century church. The Christ who walks among the lampstands of the seven churches in Asia Minor, is the same Christ who walks among us when his people assemble for worship wherever they may be.
Before we look at the first of these seven letters–the letter written to the church in Ephesus–there are several things which can be said about these letters in general and which we should keep in mind. To begin with, it is vital that we connect the seven letters to the Christ who is ever-present in his church. This particular vision begins with John’s vision of the resurrected Christ recounted in verses 12-16 of chapter 1.
In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
All of the images John uses are drawn directly from the Old Testament and it is pointless to try and interpret these things literally as some medieval artists attempted to do in woodcuts and paintings, or in comic style today. When Jesus is described as being like a “son of man,” John reveals to us the true meaning of Daniel 7 and the everlasting kingdom of which Daniel had been speaking. When John speaks of Jesus with a long robe and golden sash, he is telling us that Jesus is the great high priest. When we hear that his head and hair are white, we see the reflected glory of the Ancient of Days. When Jesus’ feet glow like a furnace we should think of his purifying power. His voice, being like that of rushing water, means that his word is the Word of God. When Jesus speaks all creation must listen, for his testimony is true.
Furthermore, the lampstands are symbolic of God’s Holy Spirit, present in the churches, and who, through these lampstands, reminds us of the church’s function to be light-bearers to a fallen world. In Exodus 25:31, Moses describes in great detail how a golden lampstand with seven lamps is to be constructed for use in the tabernacle and then later in the temple. Even in Israel’s days in the wilderness, God was revealing his presence with his people through his Holy Spirit, to which the gold lampstand with seven lamps symbolically pointed. And now in John’s vision the same symbol appears again, only this time we are told of its true significance. Where the lampstand is present, Jesus is present. Where Jesus is present the Holy Spirit is present. And where the Holy Spirit is present, the church brings God’s light to the world around it which lives in darkness.
The Present and the Future
In verse 19, John is commanded by the Lord to write, “the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” Some have argued that this statement is the interpretative key to the whole book, dividing things into the past (what you have seen), the present (what is now), and the future (what will take place later). But a number of commentators have pointed out that the correct division here is actually two-fold. John is commanded to write about what he has seen, things present and things future. Since John has already told us in verse 1 that the things about to be revealed concern events which are soon to take place, it makes a great deal of sense to understand that John will discuss things that now are–i.e., the issues facing the seven churches to which he is writing, and then later–beginning in Revelation 4:1,where he will address things which are yet to take place in the future course of redemptive history until Christ’s second coming.
But there is something else we must consider. Jesus addresses seven historical churches in these letters. But when he addresses them, he also addresses us, promising blessing for obedience and threatening curse for disobedience. Yes, these are real imperatives which we must heed. But like all imperatives in the New Testament, they must be seen in the light of the indicatives (promises) which precede them.
The City of Ephesus
With these things in mind, we turn to Revelation 2:1-7 and Christ’s letter to the church in Ephesus. It might be helpful to know a bit about the city of Ephesus and the church which was founded there in the early 50’s of the first century. The city of Ephesus was famous throughout the ancient world for its temple dedicated to Diana (Artemis). In Acts 19, we read of Paul’s two years spent in the city which came to an end after certain Jews tried to exorcise a demon in the name of Jesus, only to have the demon possessed-man turn on them and beat them to a pulp (Acts 19:11-20). As a result of this incident, there were so many occultists in the area who came to faith in Jesus Christ that it was not long before those making a living selling religious trinkets associated with Diana worship and the temple began to see their formerly thriving businesses dry up.
By Paul David Tripp — 10 months ago
Satisfaction of our hearts is not the purpose of the physical creation; it actually has a much higher purpose. Creation was made to point us to the one who alone has the power to satisfy our longing hearts. He is the bread that will satisfy our hunger. He is the living water that makes us thirst no longer. With every vista, on every day, with every new experience and each new look, creation has been designed to point us to God.
What has you in its hold? Don’t rush to answer. Stop and give this question some consideration.
What do you feel you can’t live without?What has the ability to make or break your day?What has the power to make you very sad?What can produce almost instant happiness?The loss of what would leave you a bit depressed?What do you tend to attach your identity to?What tends to control your wishes?What do others have that causes you to envy?If you could get just one thing, what would it be?The absence of what tempts you to question God’s goodness?What does your use of money tell you about what’s important to you?What fills your fantasies and your dreams?What would the videos of your last six weeks reveal about what has you in its hold?What physical idols tempt you most?What relational idols attract you the most?Is there a place where you’re asking the creation to do what only the Creator can?
Lent is an important tool in the inescapable battle that rages in all our hearts between worship and service of the Creator and worship and service of the creation. Lent calls us to remember once again that sin reduces us all to idolaters somehow, someway. It gives us a season to take time and reflect on things that have taken too strong a hold on us, things that we have come to crave too strongly and love too dearly. It reminds us that often things that we are holding tightly have actually taken an even tighter hold on us.
Here’s the core of the struggle: as long as sin still resides in our hearts, we will have an inclination to ask the physical creation to do for us what the Creator alone is able to do. Everyone is in search of true and lasting joy. Everyone wants peace of heart.