you recognize the jazz musician in this photo (on projection
screen), don't say anything! It's a sad story.
The picture is of Billy Tipton, who was a part of the Tipton
trio. Billy played piano and saxophone in the big band
era of the 1930s. Time magazine reported some
peculiarities of Billy: he never gave anybody his social
security number; he never swam with his three adopted sons;
he never visited a doctor, even when seriously ill.
Tipton died at the age of 74 in 1989, and it was here that
the family discovered why Tipton had some strange ways.
You see, the funeral director told one of the Tipton boys
that Billy was really a woman! Tipton began living as
a male in order to play in the big band because back in
those days, a woman was allowed to sing with a band but was
rarely allowed to play with one. There are least three
lessons from this episode. First of all, it's sad to
see the discrimination against women musicians that led
Tipton to live a lie. Next, when the truth was
revealed, it must have been shocking, confusing, and painful
to her sons and other relatives. Next, it created an
unrealistic view; Tipton led a double life and presented a
falsehood to all those around her. It's a sad story.
Let's focus on our congregation for just a minute, and
here's some questions for your consideration: “Are we
looking carefully at our congregation or do we even take
time to look at all? Is it living a double life that
will eventually bring pain to others? Is it fostering
an unrealistic view or an authentic one?” The theme of
our lesson today is: “Look carefully!” And we're going
to see several ways that we can do that after seeing how
Jesus looked carefully at some congregations.
The book of Revelation in chapters 2-3 introduces us to
seven congregations in Asia Minor. All these
congregations, at the close of the first century, are facing
difficult times. The Romans viewed the Christians as
an illegal cult group, and often had local persecutions
annual for those who would not worship the emperor.
Let's quickly notice what Jesus tells these congregations.
It is interesting that John uses a certain pattern or format
in each of his messages to them: a description of Jesus
comes first, then compliments from Jesus are presented, then
sins which Jesus explains are given, then instructions from
Jesus for each congregation are listed, then promises of a
better future conclude each message. To this pattern,
a summary description of each congregation will be added.
Now let's notice quickly these messages. Christ is
called “He who holds the seven stars” in the first message
to the church in Ephesus. Jesus compliments this group
because it has resisted evil and false teachers, has
persevered, and has shown patience. Its major sin is
that its love for Christ has diminished. Jesus
instructs this congregation to remember where they were, to
repent, and to do the first works. This congregation
could be described as a loveless church. If these
Christians will obey, they will be able to eat of the tree
of life! The next congregation is located in Smyrna.
Jesus is described as the First and the Last and the
resurrected One. Jesus compliments this congregation
for enduring hardships. Amazingly, there are no sins
given by Jesus for this group. Jesus instructs them
not to fear and to be faithful unto death despite ten days
of tribulation where some will be imprisoned. This
congregation could be described as a persecuted church.
If they will be faithful, they will wear the eternal crown
of life! The next church is located in Pergamos.
Jesus is described as One who has a two-edged sword.
Jesus compliments this group for being loyal during testing.
But this congregation also is guilty of several sins:
idolatry, immorality, and accepting evil and wicked false
teachers. Jesus tells them simply to repent.
This congregation could be called a compromising
congregation. If this group would live righteously,
they would be given hidden manna and a white stone.
Are you seeing the pattern that was explained earlier?
The next church is located in Thyatira. Christ is
described as the Son of God who has eyes of fire and feet of
brass. Jesus compliments this group for its works,
love, service, faith, and patience. But this group
also has several sins: they tolerate a wicked prophetess,
practice immorality, and eat foods sacrificed to idols.
Jesus tells them to repent and hold fast. This
congregation could be described as a corrupted church.
If these members will obey, they will be given power over
the nations as well as the morning star. The fifth
church is located in Sardis. Jesus is called “the One
who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.”
Jesus compliments them that they have a few members who are
remaining faithful. There sin is presented in very
blunt terms: they are dead and have had imperfect works.
Jesus instructs them to remember their blessings, to hold
fast, to repent, and to be watchful. This congregation
could be described as a lifeless church. If this
church will change their ways, the members will be clothed
in white and their names will be confessed in heaven.
The next church is located in Philadelphia.
Christ is described here as Holy and True and as having the
key of David. Jesus compliments this church by saying
its members have kept the Word and have not denied the
faith. He also tells them about an open door they will
soon have. This is the second congregation where no
sins are given. This congregation could be
described as a faithful church. If they remain
faithful, these members will be made pillars and will
display God's name. The next church is located in
Laodicea. Jesus is called the Amen, the faithful and
true Witness. This is the only congregation where no
compliments are given. They were lukewarm and also had
a very unrealistic view of themselves. Jesus instructs
them to buy from Him (especially eye salve to see clearly),
to be zealous, and to repent. This congregation could
be called an indifferent church. If they will get back
on track, the promise is made that they can sit with Jesus.
Jesus looked very carefully at each of these congregations,
didn't He? He saw their strengths and their sins.
He told about threats and opportunities. He motivated
all of them by pointing them towards heaven's blessings.
Now let's make an application. What do you think Jesus
would say if He were to write a letter to our congregation
in 2011? Of course, all the descriptions about Jesus
would still apply; He hasn't changed. How would He
compliment us? Would He give us no compliment like the
congregation in Laodicea? Would He give us any of the
compliments that He gave those congregations in Asia Minor?
Or would He end up complimenting us for something else not
found in these chapters? In a similar way, would He
say that we have no sin like the congregations in Smyrna and
Philadelphia? Or would He list some of sins found in
these chapters or would He reveal something altogether
different? What would be His instructions to us?
Would they be similar to those in these chapters or would He
instruct us to put other actions into practice? Think
carefully on this next one! What one or two words
could be used to describe our congregation? It would
be interesting if you wrote down your answer and then we all
compared notes. Would your answer be more negative or
positive? Of course, all the promises still apply
since none of them have been implemented yet, and we are
still waiting for Jesus to return and for heaven to become a
Now let's think about five ways that we can look at our
congregation carefully. First of all, we need to
evaluate by looking backward. If Jesus gave each of
these congregations evaluations, don't you think it would
wise for us to evaluate ourselves. Both compliments
and sins were presented. You see, in all those
churches, Jesus looked backward and talked about their past
actions or past character traits. Maybe we need to
look backward over the past few years. Maybe we need
to evaluate if our past actions (or the lack of them) and
our past character traits would favor us or condemn us in
Jesus' eyes. After all, He is the true Evaluator who
still walks among the congregations. Look carefully!
Next, we see the need to confront by looking inwardly and
outwardly. Kevin Fitzgerald said when they left Dallas
to come here, there was a messy accident which had just
happened. It was not a pretty sight. Police
officers often have to confront brutal realities.
Jesus' words brought about a confrontation for these
congregations. They could no longer hide or be
doubtful about their situation. Jesus had exposed them
for what they really were with both the bad and the good.
He showed them their strengths and their weaknesses.
To see our strengths and our weaknesses, we must reflect
inwardly about who we really are. What is golden about
our congregation and what is rusty about it? What do
we do well and what do we do poorly? In what are we
skilled and in what do we need training? Jesus also
revealed to some of these churches both opportunities and
threats. To understand our opportunities and threats
as a congregation we must look outwardly. What blue
skies are in our environment and what red alerts are there
as well? What “open doors” has God given us and what
obstacles could ruin us? What trends could help us and
what conditions could hurt us? Are we willing to
reflect on these questions and confront the brutal realities
that they might expose? Look carefully!
Next, we see the need to improve by looking forward.
Notice how Jesus instructions are almost always looking
forward to overcoming the barriers and the sins and to
making advancement and doing better. What was the
constant lament of the Jews when they were living as a free
people in the desert? “Oh that we were back in Egypt!”
What were they doing here? They were looking backward.
Where did God want to be looking? To be looking
forward to the Promised Land. All seven churches were
given instructions that looked forward. In fact, all
were given promises that looked to an eternal future.
Only two of the seven congregations were without sin; the
majority needed to repent and to improve. Brethren, we
need to be putting the apostle Paul's advice in Philippians
3:13-15 into practice: “Brethren, I do not count myself to
have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those
things which are behind and reaching forward to those things
which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of
the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let
us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in
anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to
you.” If we can't confront the brutal realities,
then how will improvements be made, how will new actions be
practiced, and how will new habits be formed? Consider
these questions carefully: Where is our congregational boat?
In what direction is it going? What is the purpose
that is driving it? Listen to this interesting
observation: “'Don't rock the boat!' is the unofficial motto
of many [churches] that have long since lost both their
compass and rudder and are gradually sinking in a sea of
complacent tranquility” (Wiersbe). Compare that
statement with this remark by a brother in the Lord: “I am
more excited about the future of our fellowship than I have
ever been in my life” (Anderson). He went on to
explain that we have good church leaders, we have people
that are working hard to plant new churches, and we serve a
God who always will be full of surprises (Ibid.). Look
forward! Look carefully!
Next, we need to follow by looking upward. Just as
these seven churches, when we look upward, we see Jesus.
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,
who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross,
despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of
the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Looking upward unto
Jesus. Jesus must always be our ideal, and He must be
the standard for which we strive. “Oh to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, this is my constant longing and prayer.
Gladly I'll forfeit all of earth's treasures, Jesus, Thy
perfect likeness to wear” (Chisholm)! Jesus told all
of these seven churches: “I know your works!” In some
ways, that might sound frightening, but Jesus just looks
realistically doesn't He? But reassuringly, did you
notice that Jesus didn't send fire from heaven on any of
these congregations. He told five of them pointedly to
repent and then He gave them to the time to obey His
instructions. How gracious and patient is the Lamb of
God! “Thus we would go on missions of mercy, following
Christ from day unto day: cheering the faint, and raising
the fallen, pointing the lost to Jesus, the Way” (Ogden)!
Are we looking upward unto Jesus? Are we praying that
He will help us to look carefully so that we too can see
ourselves as realistically as He does?
Remember that wonderful story in 2 Kings 6 where a Syrian
king sends a whole army to surround the city of Dothan in
Israel? Why did he do that? Because there was a
prophet there named Elisha who was telling the Jews ever
move on the battlefield that Syrian king was about to make.
The king wanted him captured, so he sends his army by night
and surrounds Dothan. Now notice what the text says in
verse 15ff: “And when the servant of the man of God rose
early and went out, there was an army surrounding the city
with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him,
'Alas, my master! What shall we do?' So Elisha
answered, 'Do not fear, for those who are with us are more
than those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed, and
said, 'Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.'
Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw.
And behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of
fire all around Elisha.” So often, when we find
ourselves in difficult, and it looks like there is no way of
escape, how often do we ask like that young man: “What shall
we do?” Elisha wants us to change that question.
Isn't not “What shall we do?”, but the question we should be
asking is: “What shall we do with the help of God's army and
with Christ leading us into the battle?”
Look carefully! Look backward to evaluate, look inward
to discover strengthens and weaknesses, look outward to see
opportunities and threats, look forward to improve, look
upward to Christ! Look carefully!
Let's pray: “God, we thank you again for your powerful Word!
The judgments of Jesus gives us much to think about.
Help us to look carefully at ourselves and to improve. In
Jesus' name, Amen.”
“Pursue peace with all people and holiness, without which no
one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall
short of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness
springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled”
(Hebrews 12:14-15). Here we see that looking carefully for
us is not an option. Have you taken time to evaluate
your life? Have you confronted your own sins,
weaknesses, and bad habits? Are you willing to
improve? Why not look upward unto Jesus? Don't
live a double life! You can't serve two masters.
Don't be an unrealistic member! Help our congregation
to be an authentic one! “Lord, open each person's
eyes!” Trust in Christ!