It is easy to be critical of the church and to sometimes want to stop attending and being involved – but never give up on church for it is much loved by the Lord Jesus.
In Christian parlance we often hear the church of our age referred to as ‘laodicean’. Those who use this term usually mean that they perceive the church in general to be apathetic and materialistic. This idea is reinforced by dispensationalist scholars who take the seven churches of Revelation as representing seven different church ages; Ephesus representing the early church, and Laodicea standing for the end-time church. There is a lot wrong with this way of thinking because, among other things, it makes much of Revelation inaccessible and irrelevant to the church both now and in years gone by. A better way of understanding is to see the churches as representing different aspects of the church in all ages. We can therefore be both admonished and encouraged by what Jesus wrote to all seven churches.
It is easy to see the negative aspects in the letter to the church of Laodicea. It is lukewarm and therefore nauseating; deluded and complacent; spiritually blind… and so on. However, I want to focus on the positive message to the church that shines through the dark smoke of divine displeasure evidenced in this letter.
In verse 19 Jesus writes, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline”. If He didn’t care then He wouldn’t bother to correct us. The author of the letter to the Hebrews expresses this more fully when he writes:
‘Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it’. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Yes, apathy and consumerism infect the body of the church, especially in an age of affluence, but Jesus still loves His church. If He had given up on us He would simply write something like “… so I have decided to close you down”. But, instead of this He writes, “so be earnest, and repent”.
After these words come probably the most misquoted text in all of scripture – “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me’”(Revelation 3:20). This phrase is so often trotted out as part of an alter call or some other attempt to encourage people to “just say yes to Jesus” – ‘Jesus is standing at the door of your heart knocking but the handle is on the inside so all you need do is open your heart to him and he will come into your life’. Not only is this a pathetic understatement of the Gospel message, but it is also taken totally out of context. Jesus is writing to the church, the local community of believers, not to individual unbelievers!
When applied out of context it becomes an excuse for a form of spiritual inoculation that often inures the recipient to the true Gospel. But, taken in context it is a great encouragement to the church. In effect, the Lord Jesus is saying, “even if just some of you in this church open it to me then I will come in and fellowship with you”.
So, never give up on the church…. Jesus hasn’t. Yes, you may find hypocrisy, apathy, greed, and pride in the church, but you will also find love, spiritual passion, wisdom, and healing. And bear in mind, dear fellow Christian, you and I are part of the church; part of its problems and part of its glory.
I believe in the church. I have faith in the head of the church, Jesus Christ, and I love the church because I cannot love Him without loving his Body.
Paul instructed husbands to ‘love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25-26), and then a few verses later he wrote, ‘but I am talking about Christ and the church’. When he was on his final journey to Rome he said to the Elders of the church of Ephesus that they should be ‘shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood’ (Acts 20:28). This is a powerful declaration of just how much Jesus values and loves His church!
The leaders or members of the church may sometimes offend you or even hurt your feelings but they, and you, are members together of the Body of Christ and He loves his church. Never give up on it because you are a part of it and Jesus will never give up on you.