Challenge of Faithfulness
When we talk about faithfulness we are saying, “Dependable in light of our current circumstances.” When you tell someone, “You can count on me,” that means, if you are faithful the person, they can count of you regardless of what comes about. I believe we all want to be faithful. As a husband or wife, we want to be faithful to our spouse. As a parent, we want to be faithful in providing for our children. The truth of the matter is, if we are going to be faithful it is usually going to cost us something. Provision requires work and effort; things come at a cost. The same is true for the Christian as we live out our life in a fallen world.
Christianity is the only world religion where salvation is a free gift. Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) … For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Every other world religion requires its followers to “do” something in order to receive salvation. Although the Christian does not “pay” for “do” anything to receive salvation, to live the life Jesus wants us to live does come at a price. The price is tribulation. The Bibles describes in several verses how the believer will face struggle and hatred solely for claiming the name of Jesus. The funny thing is we are supposed to pray for and bless those who persecute us. This is the type of follower Jesus is looking for and he describes this in our text: Revelation 2:8-11
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’”
The Apostle John addresses the church of Smyrna by saying “God, meaning Jesus, has something to say to you.” The phrase “first and the last” found in verse 8, is seen multiple times in the book of Isaiah and describes God. Add this to, “was dead and has come to life,” depicts it’s Jesus doing the talking. In his deity, Jesus came to earth; and in his human flesh, was put to death. Yet, he displayed his power by rising from the grave and is alive today. Amen! The first thing Jesus says to the believers in Smyrna is “I know your tribulation and your poverty.” Jesus knows everything! If you feel you are going through a struggle, having a difficult time, rest assured, Jesus knows. Nothing takes him by surprise. As a matter of fact, Satan cannot do anything to harm you unless he first gets permission from God himself. So, why was the church in Smyrna facing tribulation and poverty?
Smyrna was located in present day Turkey so it was a seaport controlled by the Roman empire. There was vibrant trade and commerce in Smyrna and it was not difficult to earn a good wage and live a comfortable life. That is unless you were a Christian. The Roman empire was ruled by a Caesar. A Caesar is a title, much like a king, emperor, or president. The Roman practice was to worship Caesar like God. This was no problem for the people in Smyrna until they became a Christian. When you are a Christian you are to “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOURMIND’” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). You see, the Smyrna believers could not worship Caesar as god because they worshiped Jesus. In light of their decision, the Roman government seized their property and made it difficult for them to earn a living. You might be facing some of similar struggles in your life as a Christian today. We know there are followers of Jesus Christ all around the world who face every struggle known to man just because of their faith. However, Jesus knows the struggle. He knows the pain. So, why does Jesus allow struggle and pain in our lives?
There are several reasons the Christian may face struggles in this life, and we see it in the Bible. One way God allows trials is to keep us humble. Look at the life of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. In this passages Paul describes “a thorn in his flesh” and how he asked God three times to remove it. God did not remove it, but he answered him back, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” In order to keep the greatest missionary to ever live and writer of 2/3 of the New Testament humble, God kept Paul under a constant trial. Yet, Paul remained faithful. Sometimes we must endure struggles because God wants us to be able to help others through our experience. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 explains how when we find comfort in our affliction, can comfort those who are experiencing the same thing. Sometimes people do not understand another person’s struggle and have a hard time ministering to them. But when you have “walked in another person’s shoes” you can understand what they are feeling and comfort them accordingly. Jesus’ brother, James, teaches us the various trials we face produces endurance and when endurance has its way we are made complete (James 1:2-3). So, sometimes God uses struggles in life to grow us. The trick is to find the purpose in the pain. I think we all will agree, when we face times of struggle we tend to get closer to Jesus. Philippians 3:10 teaches us we “may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” Suffering leads us to pray more, read scripture more, be more devoted to Jesus.
As if facing trials in life isn’t bad enough, sometimes you must deal with fake people in the church. Apparently, the church was full of people who weren’t what they said they were. Jesus calls them the “synagogue of Satan” in verse 9. Just because someone goes to church doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Just because someone prays or reads the Bible, does not make them a Christian. You can even believe in Jesus just like the demons do (James 2:9) and not be a Christian. Sadly, some estimates say 8 out of 10 people in the United States who claim to be a Christian have no clue what it takes and are living a lie. So, before we end this message, let’s be clear on what the Bible says it takes to be a Christian. First, you have to admit and confess with your mouth you are a sinner and are in need of a savior. The Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23). Then you must believe Jesus is the Son of God, born of a virgin, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Then you must choose Jesus and make him Lord of your life (Romans 10:13, John 3:18). If this describes you, Great!
It is good to have comfort in Jesus because there will come a day when things are going to worse than what they are right now. Jesus tells the believers in Smyrna, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (v. 10). Wait a minute, wasn’t the church in Smyrna already suffering? Yes, but it was about to get worse. History teaches the Christians in the Roman empire faced great persecution. Starting with Nero in 64 AD, the Roman government treated Christians harshly. This continued for many years in which the all the apostles, except for John, would be put to death. John was exiled to the island of Patmos and wrote the book of Revelation around 94 AD. Historians describe the persecution of the Christian church lasted till 313 AD, when Constantine became Emperor. We do not know what the Christians in Smyrna faced, but it must have been bad because Jesus challenged them to be faithful unto death. If they remained faithful they would receive “the crown of life” (v. 10). The crown of life is not salvation, but a reward for standing true. Think about the Olympic Games and how when someone finishes first they are given a gold medal. The crown of life is like that. The Bible teaches when the Christian goes to Heaven they will lay their crown down at the feet of Jesus (Revelation 4:10-11). However, only the faithful will receive a crown. What will you have to lay at the feet of Jesus?