This teaching includes a free sermon outline to download for personal use, message preparation or Bible study discussion.
Tonight I have announced—sometimes I regret announcing because I can’t change—but I’ve announced that I want to speak about the churches of Philadelphia and Laodicea. You will probably be aware that these are two of seven churches to whom the book of Revelation was addressed. There were altogether the following churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.
There are many different ways of applying this teaching and I don’t by any means claim to know it all or to have the last word. I don’t try to make a theory of prophecy, I prefer to let the Lord speak to me as I read and meditate in His Word. But over the years, and particularly in recent years, I’ve seen certain things which I believe are timely and relevant to our present situation in these messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. My brother Ed Raitt who is here with me was sharing about chapter 1 where we see a picture of Jesus walking in the midst of the golden lampstands which are the seven churches. He had in His hands the seven stars which are the pastors or leadership of the seven churches. He told me how this has impacted him as a minister, as a pastor, that Jesus is continually walking around inspecting everything. And, He has all the pastors in His hand. And so, we’re faced with a very solemn realization of our responsibility in the ministry.
There was an evangelist in England just before World War II, a Welshman. He’d been a coal miner and became an evangelist. He was preaching in a little chapel in Wales in 1913 and there was a supernatural manifestation. He didn’t know it, as he preached behind him on a plain white wall there was a, as it were, a picture projected. It was a picture of the Lord Jesus but He was projected as a man of sorrows. His hair was prematurely flecked with grief. From time to time the picture would change to the head of a lamb. But the thing that impressed me was, and I talked to somebody who had been en eyewitness, they said all the time the preacher was preaching the eyes of the Lord or of the lamb followed every movement of the preacher. His eyes never left the preacher. And that gave me a solemn sense of responsibility. When I stand, as I do now, the eyes of the Lord are on me, He’s checking every word I say. He’s measuring it by His own standard. And one day I will have to answer to Him for what I’ve said.
I think accountability is a very solemn word. I was a philosopher before I became a preacher and I had to get involved a little bit in scientific theories of the universe and so on. And do you know what I noticed about contemporary science? Much of its motivation really is the unwillingness to acknowledge that man is accountable to God. They have to come up with a theory that leaves God out because if God were in the theory then we’re all accountable to Him. And if there’s one thing the secular intellectual hates, and this includes most of the people in the media, it’s the realization we are accountable to God. They will choose any theory that obviates that unpleasant reality but the truth of the matter is there is a God and we are accountable to Him. Every person that’s ever been created one day will have to answer personally to God.
But what impressed me as Ed was talking, there’s Jesus in the midst of the church, the great high priest with eyes like flames of fire and He’s inspecting everything continually, all the time. The pastors are in His hand. What a solemn thought, isn’t it?
Out of the seven churches there were only two to whom Jesus did not make His first requirement, repent. To five out of the seven churches the first thing He said was repent. People say do Christians need to repent? I would say the proportion is at least as high today as it was, five out of every seven need to repent. There’s a kind of teaching that you don’t need to repent once you’re a Christian, you’re all right, everything’s covered. I don’t believe that. I believe you’re more accountable as a Christian than you were as a non Christian.
There are only two churches that were not told to repent. The first was Smyrna, the second Philadelphia. Smyrna, you could say, is the martyr church. It’s the church that produced martyrs. Perhaps we should read a little bit of what Jesus said in Revelation 2:8 and following:
“And to the angel [the messenger, the pastor or the leader] of the church in Smyrna write, `These things says the First and Last, who was dead, and came to life...”
And always the particular aspect of Jesus is appropriate. So here was a church who were being asked to lay down their lives. Jesus said, “Remember, I laid may life down too, but I came back to life.” And He says:
“I know your works, tribulation and poverty (but you are rich)...”
And later on we’re going to look at the church of Laodicea which is exactly the opposite. They said, “We’re rich.” Jesus said, “But you’re poor.” So, one of the things that comes out immediately is God’s estimate is often the exact opposite of man’s estimate. I would see the church of Smyrna as not a very large congregation, despised, persecuted and in some ways apparently a failure. But Jesus had nothing to correct them for. It goes on:
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.”
Do the righteous suffer? Yes or no? The answer is yes. Here was a church of whom Jesus had no criticism but He said, “You’re going to suffer.”
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. But be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
So that’s one picture of the church.
The other church with whom the Lord had no fault was Philadelphia. We’ll come to Philadelphia a little later on but bear in mind that the name Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” And where there was brotherly love Jesus had no criticisms.
So the two aspects of conduct that earned His approval were, first of all, the willingness to suffer and lay down their lives; and secondly, a church in which brotherly loved prevailed. And His standards have not changed, they’re just the same today. The two things that earn His approval are those who are willing to sacrifice, lay down their lives, endure poverty and those amongst whom there is true Christian love. Outside of that He had something to reprove in every church.
I’m going to focus on the last four and I want to say very specifically I don’t have the last word on understanding these messages. I’ll give you my subjective reaction and you’re free to disagree with me and you may still go to heaven! We’ll read for a little while about Thyatira. Incidentally, let me point out the last four churches, that’s Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, apparently all continue to the coming of Jesus because He addresses words to them about His coming and being ready for it.
Now, to the church of Thyatira He says in Revelation 2:18:
“These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass [or bronze]...”
Bronze is a type of judgment. Every title of Jesus is appropriate. He calls Himself the Son of God because in my understanding this was a church that emphasized He was the son of Mary. It was a church that was given over to Mariolatry, the worship of Mary. And yet in it there were many good things.
Do you have a problem, forgive me if there are any Roman Catholics here, but I’m talking mainly to people like the people in Atlanta who are mainly Protestant. Do you ever have a problem believing that Catholics can go to heaven and can be real Christians? The answer is undoubtedly is there are many that are wonderful, humble, sincere, godly believers. I had the privilege of being associated with a number of Catholic Charismatics for a while and there were things in their lives that challenged me, particularly a kind of humility that isn’t found in all of them, by any means.
I remember going to an abbey once, I don’t know how I got there, it was somewhere here in Georgia. We got talking about demons and one of the funny things is, I mean, I’m a Pentecostal. When I started casting demons out the Pentecostals, by and large, turned against me. I was in a conference of leaders and two Pentecostal leaders were just about to tear me apart about deliverance and two Catholic Charismatics stood up and said, “Well, it works for us.” I didn’t have to say a word!
Later on I was in a meeting in Tampa and I was teaching on deliverance, and a Catholic priest came up and gave me a copy of what’s called The Roman Rule, The Roman Ritual. It’s being changed, unfortunately, now but in it was an elaborate ritual for driving out demons. And the moment I read it I said I know those people are speaking from experience, not from theory. The trouble with a lot of Protestants was they had a lot of theories but no experience.
And so, I am suggesting that you think about Thyatira as the churches that have been in being since the time of Constantine. It’s primarily what we call the Roman Catholic church, the Greek Orthodox and the Eastern Orthodox churches. They all give Mary a position which I consider to be unscriptural.
So, I’ll give you my little thought about this.
“To the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God...”
You understand, He emphasizes don’t think about me as just the son of Mary, don’t put Mary in the wrong place.
“...I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience [or endurance]; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.”
Ruth, who’s just behind me, had to go into hospital for her colon surgery. I talked to one or two people and they said, “Choose a Catholic hospital because they have a little compassion left.” We did and they certainly have compassion. I always tell this story, the senior nun who was the head of the religious staff was walking around visiting the patients. She came to the room where Ruth was and Ruth had had a very tiring day and she was just getting ready for surgery. I had not been able to be with her and read her Bible. So this Sister Mary came in and saw Ruth’s Bible on the nightstand and she said something about the Bible. So she said to Ruth, “Can I do anything for you?” Ruth said, “Yes, please read the Bible to me.” The nun said, “What shall I read?” Ruth said, “Philippians 2.” And the nun said, “Well, that’s the scripture that was read when I...” whatever it was that nuns are, consecrated or dedicated or whatever. So they were on the same wavelength. She shared with Ruth something that has impacted both of us ever since. After she read the Bible she began to share some things of her life and she said that she had been in a retreat or a conference which was being addressed by a Trappist monk. Now you know, the Trappists practice silence, they don’t speak at all in the monasteries. But they are allowed out from time to time to speak and share what they’ve learned in silence. This nun said this monk said this, “Pray to desire not to be esteemed, not to be in control and not to be secure.” How would you respond to that? I immediately saw there’s a man who’s learned something. You see, our big problem is our desire to be independent of God that’s born into every descendant of Adam. It’s the essence of the carnal nature. I said to myself the man who said that knew what he was talking about, he had a depth of experience that very few Protestant Charismatics have.
I want you to meditate on that. “Pray to desire not to be esteemed, not to be secure and not to be in control.” Are there things that really make security for us? I’m in control, I’m all right. You see, when you’re not in control you make room for God to be in control. Two people can’t be in control at the same time.
At any rate, that’s just a little glimpse of some of what I’ve seen in some Catholics.
Nevertheless, Jesus had got a lot of things He didn’t like about the church at Thyatira. He said:
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and beguiles my servants to commit sexual immorality and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave he time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.”
This is simply Brother Prince’s theory and nobody else may even be interested in it. See, I think the prophetess Jezebel is the teaching about Mary, which is totally unscriptural. And the Mary who is adored or worshiped among Catholics is not the one who is the mother of Jesus, it’s a satanic counterfeit. That’s my personal opinion.
And incidentally, as I understand it, Mary was no longer a virgin. She was a virgin when Jesus was born but then she had five children. See, the attitude is a woman who is a virgin is more pure than a married woman. That’s not scriptural. A married woman who walks with the Lord can be just as pure as an unmarried woman. And this idolization of virginity has caused endless problems in the Catholic church because it’s led to people going into all sorts of sexual perversion because they can’t do it the natural way.
Anyhow, the Lord says I’m going to deal with that. I’m going to cast her into a sickbed and those who commit adultery, that’s spiritual adultery which is the worship of a false god, into great tribulation. I believe that must be the greattribulation. So, this particular group is going to go through the great tribulation or into the great tribulation.
But then Jesus says:
Now to the rest of you I say, who do not have this doctrine, hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps my word until the end, to him I will give power [or authority] over the nations—
He shall rule them with a rod of iron,
as the potter’s vessels shall be broken to pieces.
As I also have received from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit [the Holy Spirit] says to the churches.”
One thing that this message makes clear is the Lord speaks to the churches. He doesn’t necessarily speak to individuals in the same way. I feel that that’s one important reason you need to be in a church, because God will say things to the church He will not say to those who are too proud or too independent or too spiritual to be identified with a body.
I’m from an Anglican background, the typical Anglican of Britain. I was part of a church but I didn’t know it was possible to be saved or born again, never in 24 years had I ever heard that. And then I got involved with Pentecostals without knowing what was happening to me. I got into this thing before I knew better! And, I’ve been in it ever since. I’m deeply grateful to the Pentecostals. Although they have their weaknesses, it’s through them that I know salvation, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, the truth of divine healing and so forth. And because I felt the Anglican church had failed me and never in all my years given me the truth, I became very critical of the Anglican church. Those of you who have heard some of my cassettes from way back may have heard me say some rather unkind things about the Anglican church—which were true, but it wasn’t my job to say them.
Since Ruth and I have been living in Jerusalem we felt a real need to be part of a church there. We prayed and we couldn’t find any—nowhere seemed to be the one where we were to be at home. Then we went to a very historic Anglican church, the first Protestant church ever built in the Middle East in 1841, an Anglican church. When we went up there Ruth and I said, “This is it, this is where we belong.” I want to say we’re very happy there, we love it. We love the people. I know enough about Anglican services when to sit down and when to kneel down and when to stand up. I don’t have any problems with that. It’s, quote, liturgical; that’s to say there’s a little liturgy. It’s all right. I mean, the words of the Anglican service are wonderful if you have the experience. The problem is for years I’ve said them without the experience. And so, I just want to say I’ve repented of the unkind things I’ve said about the Anglicans. I’m glad that it happened before I went to be with the Lord, that’s something I won’t have to account to Him for. We are happy. There’s a most beautiful spirit in the church. It’s a stone building with a high typical ceiling, and the worship is really just wonderful, you can just get lost in the worship in that building.
I don’t believe there’s any one denomination that has it all. I don’t believe there’s any one denomination that’s always right. I don’t believe God looks at denominations, He looks at hearts. And where He finds humble, believing hearts that worship Him, He’ll be happy.
So, that’s Thyatira. That’s just my picture, you understand? You could find a lot of things that you might question but that’s all right.
Now we go on to Sardis which begins in chapter 3.
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”’”
Every one of the churches, the first thing Jesus said was, “I know your works. I know what you’re doing.” So, never be lulled into the false impression that you can do things in church which Jesus doesn’t know about. Then He says:
“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come...”
Here it’s clear this church is to continue to the coming of the Lord.
“You have some names in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.”
Now again, this is controversial but for me as a logician if Jesus said, “I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life,” it’s very clear that names can be blotted out from the Book of Life. Otherwise that promise would be meaningless. So, each one of us needs to be very careful that our name is not blotted out.
And then He says again:
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Now, in my little simple interpretation, Sardis represents the reformation church, the church that got hold of the doctrine “by faith alone,” the church that’s associated with the name of Luther, Calvin and others. There is in Britain today a group that is very strongly insistent that we need to get back to our Protestant heritage. And there’s much truth in that but I have to say there’s a lot in the Bible that isn’t in the Protestant heritage and I’m not interested in going back, I’m interested in going forward. They have a name for correct doctrine, they pride themselves their doctrine is correct. Jesus said you’ve got a name but you don’t live.
In some ways the Reformation was a change of theology, which was very timely and important but in many cases it was not a change of lifestyle. It took another move, the holiness move, the Methodists and all the others that are associated with it, to get Christians to the point where they change their lifestyle.
Now, it’s true the Reformers were very godly men but basically the Reformation remain in the realm of theology and politics. And so, that’s not where I belong.
Now we come to the two churches that I want to spend a little more time with. The next one is Philadelphia. And remember, Philadelphia means brotherly love. And, names in the Bible usually are significant. So for me this is a church where love takes preeminence over doctrine. Not that doctrine is unimportant; doctrine without love is just straw. So Jesus says:
“These things says He who is holy...”
And again, there’s always a specific appropriateness in the aspect of Jesus. Here Jesus emphasizes His holiness. I think it was movements such as the Methodist and many others that really brought back to the body of Christ as a whole the demand of God for holiness. It says:
“...he who is holy, He who is true, `He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and no one opens.”
So here Jesus is portrayed as the door opener and the door closer. That I think is very important for those of us who have a vision for reaching the world. The one who opens the door is Jesus. He has the key. When I’m praying about a situation where the door seems to be closed, sometimes I say to the Lord, “Lord, you have the key of David. You open and no one shuts, you shut and no one opens. Will you open this door with your key?” I’ll go on a little further with Philadelphia because it’s very close to my heart. Jesus says:
“I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it...”
Nobody. No politician, no government, no military power can shut the door that Jesus opens. And this is being demonstrated today in countries like China where the communist authorities do everything they can to close the door and more people are getting saved in China than in any other nation on earth at the moment. They cannot close the door that Jesus opens.
I believe it’s going to apply to the Moslem world, too. I believe Jesus is beginning to open a door to the Moslem world that no one will be able to shut.
And He says:
“...for you have a little strength, have kept my word, and have not denied my name.”
See the three things that He approved of. Number one, you have a little strength. Does it seem strange that Jesus should approve of having a little strength? I read an article in a Christian publication in Britain recently about the possibility of revival in Britain. Somebody asked this minister who was an experienced man of God, they said, “Do you think that Britain is ready for revival?” He said, “No, because the church is strong.” Now, it’s not that the church of Britain is strong, it’s a very weak body by comparison. What he means was the church has got so much of its own efforts and its own programs that it just doesn’t leave room for the Holy Spirit. I believe that’s going to change but that impressed me. The problem with the church in Britain is it’s too strong. Jesus said, “Because you have a little strength I’ll do things for you. If you had all the answers and all the power, you wouldn’t need me.”
“...you have a little strength, have kept my word, and have not denied my name.”
I think I can say in the midst of all the mistakes I’ve made I have kept God’s Word. For me God’s Word is the ultimate authority and anything that’s contrary to it is wrong. I don’t have to update it, I don’t have to improve it, I don’t have to reinterpret it; I just have to believe it and do it. I think that’s preserved me.
When I was saved, I was saved in the middle of the night in an army barrack room—an unconventional place to get saved but anyhow, it worked! And, it’s lasted more than 52 years, it wasn’t just a flash of emotion. But when I was saved I was studying the Bible as a philosopher because I felt it was my philosophic duty to read the Bible. I found it very dreary, I couldn’t make head or tail of it. The only reason I went on, I said no book is going to beat me. I started at the beginning and I was going to go through to the end. I got somewhere in the middle of the book of Job and I had this encounter with Jesus in the middle of the night which totally, permanently and radically changed my life. I want to be very clear it didn’t make me perfect but it made me different. And the next day when I opened the Bible it was like a totally new book, every word in it was God speaking to me. It was like there were only two persons in the universe, God and me. The Bible was God speaking to me. And it’s been that way every since. I’ve never had any problem about the authority or the accuracy of scripture. And furthermore, because of my philosophic background I don’t feel embarrassed or intellectually inferior because I believe the Bible. As a matter of fact, when I started to read it, having studied various philosophic theories, I said to myself at least it couldn’t be any sillier than some of the things I’ve read. So that’s one thing I hold on to by the grace of God, I believe the Word of God. I have never compromised, I haven’t turned away from it, I haven’t tried to improve it; I’ve just tried to teach it and practice it. I think if there’s any source of strength in my ministry, that’s it.
You know, the Bible says “he who does the will of God abides forever.” Did you know that? So, if you identify yourself with the will of God, you are as strong and undefeatable as the will of God. The way to do that is to identify with the Word of God.
Let’s go on.
“You have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
We could interpret that probably in many ways but for me there’s two facts about the name of Jesus that are extremely relevant. First of all, there is no salvation in any other name. There’s no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. And we cannot depart from that.
Years ago in Jamaica I ended up with a strange sort of tour group and they held a meeting. The chief man of the islands, it says of Publius in Acts 28, his name was Sir Francis Kar Jarrett. He was the man that the queen stayed with whenever she visited Jamaica. He was invited to this gathering where I was to preach and there were a lot of other Jamaicans, including a little group of fisherman, I think they were illiterate. I was going to preach on something, I don’t know what it was, but I was stuck in that verse, “there is no other name given among men under heaven whereby we must be saved.” I said we must be saved. And at the end I said, “Now, how many of you want to be saved?” And three of the fishermen put their hands up and Sir Francis Kar Jarrett put his hand up—and he was nearly 80 years old at the time. He’d been a member of the Anglican church all his life. I got such a vision of the comprehensiveness of the Word of God. Here was the chief man of the island, there were these humble fishermen, and the Word of God was exactly the same for all of them, it didn’t change one bit. He went to be with the Lord as a believer a few years later. But he got saved around about the age of 80. He left it rather late but the Lord was merciful. He probably never heard before that you could be saved.
The other thing about the name of Jesus is He has been given the name which is above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. That, at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. I believe if we hold to those two truths we have kept His name, we’ve not let it be debased, we haven’t let its power be filtered away or watered down. We have kept His name.
Then Jesus goes on to say something that I confess I don’t fully understand:
“Indeed, I will make those who are 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.”
If you’ve read my book, Prophetic Destinies, there’s a possible interpretation, I’m not sure it’s right. Then He says:
“Because you have kept my command to persevere...”
But the Greek says “the word of my endurance.” Because you have held out, you haven’t grown weary, you’ve stayed true.
“...I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth.”
To me that means undoubtedly the great tribulation. So it’s interesting to the church of Thyatira He said, “If you don’t repent you’ll end up in the great tribulation.” But to the church of Philadelphia He said, “If you’re faithful to me I will keep you from the great tribulation.” It doesn’t tell us how we’ll be kept, you may have your ideas, I may have mine. But it’s a promise, people that meet that condition, we will be kept from what I believe to be the great tribulation.
A lot of people, when I preach on prophecy, they always come up and say, “Pre, mid or post?” Do you know that? Do you know what they mean? Pre tribulation, mid tribulation or post tribulation. I say I don’t know. I’m really not concerned for them. And furthermore, I think in the light of time it may prove that those questions are meaningless.
See, in Deuteronomy 29:29 Moses said:
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children that we may do them.”
God has got the secret things and that’s not our business. We’ve got to deal with the things that are revealed and obey them.
I think the exact order of events when Jesus returns is one of God’s secrets. I’ve known many dedicated, sincere Christians almost cross swords because they had different concepts. I don’t think any of them know. I don’t believe I know. I think I have one advantage, I know I don’t know. But that doesn’t worry me. My aim is to obey what is revealed. Actually, I think in a way it’s irreverent to try to pry God’s secrets from Him. In my observation about people who interpret prophecy is those who are so busy with that issue usually miss the real practical issues of prophecy.
One prophetic scripture that’s very real for me is Matthew 24:14:
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.”
Now I can understand that and I realize I have a responsibility, and so do you. No Christian is clear from the responsibility to do something to get the gospel to all the nations. And if you have nothing else to do, here’s Brother Jason Peebles, you can get lined up with him; or here’s Brother Prince, you can get lined up with me. But, do something!
You know, the people to whom the master gave five talents, two talents and one talent? The man who had five talents made five more. The man who had two talents made two more. Each of them had a hundred percent increase and each received the same words of praise. But the man who had one talent went and hid it in the earth and when the master came and checked with him he said, “Here’s your talent, just the way you gave it to me.” He said, “You wicked and lazy servant! If you couldn’t do anything with it you should have given it to the bankers, and when I came I would have had my own with interest.” It indicates that God doesn’t necessarily disapprove of interest.
Now, you see, the danger is for the one talent person. If you have five or two talents, the probability is you’re going to do something with it. But if you have one talent, you say, “It really isn’t much, I can’t do much. At least I’ll keep it safe.” The Lord will say to you, dear brother or sister, “You wicked and lazy servant.” And do you know where he ended up? In outer darkness.
So, suppose you were in that category. I don’t know who is and who isn’t. What can you do? You can give it to the bankers. You don’t have a ministry but invest in someone who does have a ministry, someone who has a clear, scriptural program and is producing results. Don’t be swept away by some emotional appeal at some banquet. “There are ten people here tonight, each of whom will give a thousand dollars. We’ll not go on until they stand up.” Sometimes it’s true but sometimes it isn’t. That’s what I call manipulation. So, don’t be manipulated and don’t give in moments of passing emotion. Invest. Ask yourself where are the ministries that are producing results and handling the finance honestly, I’m going to get involved with them. When Jesus comes you’ll be able to give him the talent with interest. Who knows how much the interest will be? But at least you won’t be dismissed as a wicked and lazy servant.
Jesus says in verse 11:
“Behold I come quickly. Hold fast what you have that no one may take your crown.”
You know the word crown, there are two words in the New Testament for crown. One is stefanoswhich means a laurel wreath, the other is diademawhich is a diadem. Now, the laurel wreath was the reward for the successful athlete in the Olympic Games; it corresponded exactly to the gold medal today. So, Jesus said don’t let anybody take your gold medal. Hang in there, finish up, don’t give up, don’t stop short. I know dear brothers and sisters, they are in great danger at the moment of losing their crown. I’m not saying it will happen, I pray for them. They got discouraged, they got hurt, they became resentful, they began to criticize the ministry and they’re not going to get the gold medal. I don’t think it necessarily means they won’t make it to heaven but they won’t get the reward.
Don’t let that happen to you. One great reason that it happens is people get disillusioned with some minister or some ministry and they say, “I’m just not going to have any more to do with that.” That’s a foolish reaction. I pray for every one of you here tonight that you will not let somebody else take your gold medal. You’ve worked for it, you’ve trained for it; don’t give up.
And then Jesus says:
“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down out of heaven from my God. And I will write on him my new name.”
You’re going to get three names written on you. None of us knows what any of them are. But to me that’s exciting.
When He says “I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God,” I think that corresponds to the function they’ve had in the body. They’re pillars. They don’t just hold themselves up, they support weight. A lot of others are supported by them. I think that’s a picture of an elder. An elder is one who is a pillar, who supports others. But you know, if a pillar crumbles, a lot of others fall with it. That’s why it’s so dangerous.
We just had a ceremony New Year’s Eve in Good News Church to appoint two new elders. I have to say it’s the most solemn ceremony of that kind that I’ve ever attended. I wasn’t responsible for it in any way but I myself got a new vision of how crucial it is to appoint the right men as elders, not to make a hasty decision, weigh all the consequences and to check on them. Those two men went through a grueling five hours when they were grilled by the leaders of the church as to every aspect of their lives. I thought to myself, that’s the way it should be. Appointing an elder is a very solemn thing. In the early church they fasted and prayed when they did it. Somebody said it’s much easier to lay hands on than to lay hands off. When you ever try to unmake an elder you’ve got a problem on your hands.
Let’s go on with the last church, Laodicea. I’ll give you an interpretation of Laodicea, it’s solely mine, you don’t have to believe it. But the two Greek words involved, Laos, which is people; dicae, which means right or judgment. So, if you want to take it, this is the church of the people’s rights. This is the democratic church. This is the church where everybody has a say and everybody has a claim. And, I think it could be the church of the claimers. You know, I claim my healing, I claim my prosperity, I claim my Cadillac.
But, I was preaching on the love of God the other day. When God called me to be a teacher in 1944 while I was still in the British Army, He said as clearly and specifically as I ever heard anything, He said, “I’ve called thee to be a teacher of the scriptures in truth, in faith and love, which are in Christ Jesus for many.” I certainly at that time could never have had any concept of how many it would be my privilege to teach. But when I think it over I see there’s a succession. Truth, faith and love. Because of my intellectual, academic background, the first thing I focused on was truth, I wanted to get real truth out of the Bible. Then I came to see that truth without faith doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do so I began to move in the realm of faith. But just recently I think God showed Ruth and me that we’re entering a new phase, a new dimension and I think it’s the dimension of love. Truth, faith, love. I have begun to see the unique importance of love, that really everything without love is wasted, it’s worthless. So I’ve begun to teach on the love of God. It suddenly came to me you can’t claim love. It’s more work than all the rest put together. Why spend all your energy in claiming things when the really valuable thing cannot be claimed? The Song of Songs says “if a man would give the whole substance of his house for love it would be utterly despised.” You cannot buy love.
I’ll share something else. Ruth and I were seeking the Lord about why we had so much sickness. We get well, especially Ruth, and then we get healed again. I said that really isn’t the divine pattern. So we prayed and asked the Lord to show us. I believe He showed us. This came through prophecy so you’re perfectly right to judge it. I believe the Lord showed the real source of healing is the love of God. “Let my love flow into you, flow over you and overflow you.” And that’s what we’re aiming at, to let the love of God flow into us, flow over us and overflow us. With my background that means a lot because I grew up in a strict, British school system, a military system, and it was totally out of order to speak about love. Nobody in my family ever said that they loved anybody. I mean, they did but you just didn’t talk about it. I’ve had years of being gradually and progressively delivered from that. So now I’m not ashamed to talk about love. I just see without love everything else—as Paul said, “If I speak with the tongues of men and angels and have not love, I’m just a clanging cymbal. If I have all faith that I can move mountains and have not love, I am nothing.” And then he says, “If I can do all these miracles and have not love, it profits me nothing.” That’s tragic, isn’t it? You can help others but you’re not helped yourself.
And you know what millions of people in America are looking for, in one word? Love, that’s right. They’ve never had it in their families, they’ve never had it in society. And if you could create an atmosphere of love in your congregation where everybody who comes in feels the love of God and feels accepted, your congregation would grow.
“To the angel of the church of the Laodiceans...”
I was speaking about claiming, that’s right. Laodicea is the church of the claimers, the people’s rights. “We deserve this, we should have that. This is part of our inheritance.” All of which may be true but it depends on attitude. Then Jesus says:
“I know your works, you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”
I was asking myself what does it mean to be lukewarm. This is just one way of looking at it. I said for a long while American Christians have idols: comfort and convenience. And to be lukewarm is to do it when it suits you. “I’ll go to church when I feel like it.” “I’ll offer if I feel like it.” “I’ll go out witnessing when I feel like it.” When it suits me. So you’re not cold but you’re certainly not hot. Jesus says in simple language, “You make me sick.” That’s exactly what He says. “If you were cold,” He said, “I would know what to do with you. If you were hot, that’s fine. But it’s the lukewarm I can’t stand. I have no solution for them. There’s nothing I can do for them.” So He says:
“I will spew you [or vomit you] out of my mouth.”
And then there’s this most remarkable verse that I’ve pondered on many, many times.
“Because you say, ‘I am rich [become wealthy] and have need of nothing,’ and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked...”
I said to myself how can it ever be that people will be wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked and not know it? How could such a thing happen that the Lord has to tell them? This is just a little part of my answer. How can people be totally blind to their own spiritual condition? I’ll offer you two possibilities. Number one, through wrong relationships. You see, in 1John 2:9–11 it says:
“He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and doesn’t know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
I think there are many in the professing church who are in darkness and they don’t know where they’re going because they hate some fellow Christian. It may be on racial grounds, you may hate people from some other race; it may be doctrinal grounds, you may hate people; it may be purely personal grounds, you just can’t stand certain people. But you don’t realize that that has blinded you and you don’t know where you’re going. And the only solution is to repent.
Then the other possibility is contained in the words of Paul in 1Corinthians 15, which have been really impressed upon me in recent months because I think it’s so true of so many American Christians. And please understand I’m talking to American Christians, that’s why I use the word. If I were in Britain I’d say British. Paul says in 1Corinthians 15:19:
“If in this life only we have hope in Christ we are all men the most pitiable.”
It’s the same word that’s used in the church of Laodicea. We’re the most to be pitied. That’s an astonishing statement, isn’t it? If our whole expectation from God and from the gospel centers on this world and time, we are the most pitiable of all men. How many Christians are there whose whole concept of what the gospel will do for them is exclusively in time? I will get healed, I will prosper, and so on. It’s wonderful to be healed and be prosperous but if you do not have a vision of eternity, if you’re living only in the light of what happens in time, you’re pitiable. You don’t realize how pitiable you are.
See, one of the things I notice about Charismatics today is we are not prepared to face death. You read any of the hymns that were written to the beginning of this century, in every one of them there’s always a verse about death. They were realists, they knew death was a major event that took place in everybody’s life. And they believed that the gospel made provision for death. But not so contemporary Christians. We’ve got everything so nice we’ve shut out the reality. We don’t talk about an undertaker, we talk about a parlor of peace. We don’t talk about a cemetery, we talk about a garden of rest. The truth of the matter is we’re running away from some ugly realities.
I went through the death of my first wife and I know something about death, it is cruel. But, it’s real.
I’ll mention a person that I can say it without giving any indication of the person. The widow of a man who had a very strong, positive confession. He was going to prosper, he was going to make millions to save millions. He was suddenly cut off with his brother in a plane crash that just took their lives in one second. His widow came to me and she said, “Brother Prince, I don’t know what to tell my children. I haven’t any answer.” She actually became an alcoholic herself.
So that whole picture of life was totally out of relationship to reality. And if you don’t build death into your philosophy, your philosophy is vain. Any religion that doesn’t deal with death is inadequate and the only religion that does deal with death is Christianity. We are no longer slaves through fear of death. But if we don’t face the reality of death we’re cowards.
Let me say something very frank. Dear Jamie Buckingham went to be with the Lord recently. Men that I know who knew him closely said some of the Charismatics were just thrown off their balance because nobody expected Jamie to die. I thank God for Jamie, for his life and what it’s meant to millions. None of us is immortal. We’re all going to die unless the Lord comes first.
Paul said, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Jesus has taken the sting out of death. You don’t need to be afraid of dying but you better lead your life in the reality that you’re going to die, because you are. That’s one thing that’s absolutely sure. Unless the Lord comes first, every one of us here is going to die. And within fifty years there’ll be very few of us here tonight that will be still alive. That doesn’t worry me, I’m not frightened. I’ve faced the reality of death. I know that Jesus died my death. I know that when I was baptized, buried with Him in baptism, I paid the last debt to death. I don’t owe anything more. Thank God.
But, brothers and sisters, especially those in the ministry, we need to bring people face to face with these unpleasant realities.
Let me try to sum up the lesson. The two churches that Jesus commended was first, the martyr church; the second, the church of brotherly love. He had faults to find in every one of the other churches. So, let’s ask ourselves, “How about my church? What is His attitude toward my church?” Are we a church of people who lay down their lives? Who sacrifice? Who give of themselves and their finance and their strength to bring the gospel to the unreached? Or, are we like the Laodicean church? “It’s all right if it doesn’t demand a sacrifice.” “If it doesn’t interfere with my comfort and convenience, I’ll be a Christian.” But don’t ask me to do more than I feel like.
Which church are you in? What kind of church are we producing? Are we producing something that’s in sync with contemporary American culture? That thinks and talks the way people of the world think and talk? If we are we’re wasting our time. We could just as well go out and get some honest job, deliver a bread van or something like that, helping people.
So, let me read two scriptures and I’ll close. Luke 16:15, just the second part of the verse, Jesus said:
“What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
So we can be the kind of church that people will say, “Well, isn’t that wonderful,” and Jesus says it’s an abomination, it stinks.
And then one of my favorite scriptures, I’m sure many of you know it. Galatians 6:14:
“But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is being crucified to me and I to the world.”
Some years ago in North Carolina I was preaching on Easter Sunday and I came to that text and I read it. I felt I had a flash of insight. I said to myself I can care less what the world thinks, I’m not impressed. Its judgments, its opinions, standards, do not apply to me. By the cross the world is crucified to me and I to the world. What a relief it was. We don’t have to please the world. We don’t have to live by its standards. Its judgments are not necessarily what concern us. The person who judges us is Jesus, let’s please Him.
It’s a very vivid picture. Paul says the world is crucified to me and I to the world. So when the world looks at me it sees a figure on a cross, and when I look at the world I see a figure on a cross. There’s just one interesting thing, God has never tried to correct the final picture that Jesus gave to the world. The last picture of Jesus is a corpse on a cross. God has never tried to correct that. After that Jesus was only revealed to people chosen beforehand by God who were to serve Him. As far as the world is concerned, that’s where it ended. God is not interested in impressing the world, so why should we be? Why should l we be the slaves of human opinions and human standards? Amen? Amen.
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