Jesus called them out, but for what reasons?
1. She grew apathetic toward Him (Revelation 2:4).
Jesus says to His bride, “You have left your first love.” Over time, she grew less and less enamored with her bridegroom. The honeymoon was over. The newness had worn off. Oh, they still “did church,” but Jesus was no longer the main attraction. Other loves and lovers, including self, now occupied her mind, energy, and attention. At first glance, she may not have looked unfaithful, but her heart revealed another story.
What about your church? Or mine? When we gather, is Jesus the focus? Or is the service itself emphasized more? Are we more impressed with the music, the venue, and the teaching or with the Lord Himself ? Do we leave each week equipped, challenged, and inspired to fall more passionately in love with our Savior? If not, then either we have fallen out of love with Jesus or our church has. Yes, still betrothed to Him. Still singing about Him. Still using Christian lingo. Still believing the right things about Him. Still planning meetings and running ministries. Still programming activities in His name. Still doing church. But no longer head over heels in love with Him. In other words, asleep.
2. She tolerated false teaching (Revelation 2:14-20).
The early church dealt with a variety of false teaching and false teachers. Most of Paul’s epistles were written to confront and correct these errors. Today, with the emergence of feel-good preachers and an obsession with being relevant to culture, we’ve seen a decline in biblical teaching among many churches. This isn’t to say we’ve tossed out the Bible. It’s just that Scripture is viewed more as a self-help book and how-to manual for life rather than as a revelation from God.
I fear we’ve lost a sense of reverence for the Word (and thus the God of the Word). Many pastors cherry-pick passages solely for addressing felt needs. And while we should certainly teach believers how Scripture relates to everyday life, other weighty or less obviously relevant portions of the Bible are neglected. But according to Paul, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable.” 1 Pastors and teachers are still tasked with equipping the saints with “the whole purpose of God.” 2
Read Paul’s final passionate plea to young pastor Timothy just before the veteran apostle left this world for heaven:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 3
It’s clear from Paul that explaining the Word is a high priority not to be taken lightly. He even invokes the judgment seat of Christ as motivation, exhorting Timothy to be faithful in preaching, even when it’s “out of season”—even when it’s unpopular or considered archaic or passé to do so. In an effort to reach others and make the Bible interesting, we may set aside teaching the Word for a presentation that’s a little more stimulating. Movie clips, elaborate stage sets, props, drama, and media-driven manipulation of people’s emotions are too often a pastor’s “go to,” replacing diligent study of the Scripture, spiritual giftedness, and a desperate dependence on the power and illumination of the Spirit.
Of course we can and should be creative. I love creative presentations of Scripture. This isn’t a legalism issue but a spiritual integrity issue. Story and creativity are wonderful as long as they anchor and bond the bride to the Scriptures.
God’s Word is our only offensive weapon in spiritual battle. 4 We really don’t have to make the Bible relevant. It already is because it was written by the creator of language who perfectly understands us and our needs. However, many Christians fail to immerse themselves in their Bible because they don’t feel equipped to understand it for themselves. But by being exposed to great teaching and with some personal effort, any believer can understand the Bible.
Today’s lack of biblical understanding is one reason why many Christians feel so spiritually powerless, ineffective, and disconnected from God. And this makes them susceptible to false teaching. Paul predicted the time would come when feeling good would trump sound teaching. To combat this theological error, Paul urged Timothy to be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.” 5
Sound teaching is very important to Jesus because God is very concerned that our thoughts and beliefs accurately represent Him and His truth. But in the absence of solid Bible teaching, we become misguided and confused, and may end up unknowingly worshipping a false image of God. Our understanding of Jesus, truth, and the Christian life can become distorted as we invent our own ideas about God and life based on our feelings or personal thoughts.
One way to remedy this is to place yourself under the ministry of a solid Bible teacher. Doing this, says Paul, builds you up in your faith, allowing you to grow into maturity. It also saves you from being “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.”6 Because we live in a world where many speak and write about the Bible, being equipped in sound teaching is how you learn to discern God’s truth from satanic deception and human error.
3. She acted like she was awake and alive, but in reality she was asleep and dead (Revelation 3:1-2).
She had movement, just not life! We can also fall into that trap today. Churches can easily slip into busyness that soon makes them more of a business than a body. More ministries. More services. More campuses. More mission trips. More committee meetings. More special events. More concerts. The church is doing stuff all the time, but more is not always better. Sometimes less is more. Lots of activity may give the impression that the church is alive and well, and to be fair, it actually may be. But the life Jesus seeks in His bride is less about deeds and more about devotion.
We see this in microcosm through Jesus’s encounter with Mary and Martha.7 During His visit, Martha kept herself busy serving Christ and others, while Mary was content to mostly sit at Jesus’s feet, to be with Him and to soak up truth from Him. But Jesus rebuked Martha for her misplaced priorities and what, in reality, were nothing more than needless distractions.
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Martha equated faith with service and activity. But Jesus showed her something better than being busy for Him. Christ desires a bride who can declutter, focusing on what’s really important. Though it may require an “act of congress,” simplifying the church would greatly reduce the stress level for most pastors and their congregations, while at the same time enhancing their ability to zero in on being with Jesus, hearing from Him, and falling more in love with Him. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing!
4. She was lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16).
By the close of the first century, the church was flat, room temperature, no different from the world. A Christian or church with no visible passion or desperation for Jesus is ineffective in His eyes. He has no use for such lukewarmness. It’s salt that has become tasteless. 8 More about this in a bit.
5. She thought she was something when she was nothing (Revelation 3:17).
Self-sufficiency is poison, both personally as well as for a church. It’s a deceptive spirit, unconsciously birthing the belief that God is no longer an indispensable requirement for church. Christians today rail against society and government for removing God from schools and the public square. But have we been guilty of the same crime? Have we effectively pushed Christ to the margins of His own church? Have we gradually reduced our need for God while incrementally increasing our dependence on ourselves and our own resources?
How radically different this is compared to John the Baptist’s life refrain, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”9 That attitude was more than a pithy slogan for John to use when trying to impress his disciples. No, this statement came from the same man who made sure his potential admirers knew he was not the Christ nor Elijah nor the Prophet. “I’m just a voice,” he said. “In fact, I am so not the Christ that I consider myself unworthy to even untie His shoelace.” 10 Then he backed up those words by spending the rest of his life promoting the only One who deserved peoples’ attention. And that’s one reason Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women” (and that pretty much covers everybody) “there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” 11 And yet He goes on to add that John, merely a “friend of the bridegroom,” is not greater than the least among His humble bride. 12 Our privileges as the bride are greater than John’s as the groomsman.
Prestige, power, possessions, and pride are words used by many skeptics and unbelievers to describe the American church today. There’s no shortage of celebrity pastors with egos as big and deep as the debt on the buildings they persuaded their congregations to buy into. I’ve met so many arrogant Christian celebrities over the years that when I meet a genuinely humble Christian leader, I am almost shocked. And this cocky attitude is often leaked to the congregation as a whole. Members begin, consciously or subconsciously, to think their church is the coolest, richest, biggest, hippest, and best. They look down their noses with pity on other congregations that are not like them. That’s the pathway to pharisaism.
Years ago, my wife reminded me that how I treat the college intern who picks me up at the airport for a speaking engagement says more about me than anything I later say from a stage. And for humility to be real, it must be embraced. Paul encouraged every believer “not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment.” 13 That doesn’t mean we act like we’re a worm. And it doesn’t mean we deny accomplishments, abilities, successes, or wins. It just means we know at the end of the day we’re just a voice pointing to Someone far more important than we are.
I wonder what would happen if Jesus’s bride spent less time admiring herself in the mirror and more time being a mirror that reflects Jesus to a world in desperate need of Him.
Surveying the church at the close of the first millennium, we see the bride drifting without anchor in many areas. This leads her into an encounter with an upset Christ who, due to His great love and jealousy for His bride, calls her back to Himself. It’s easy to see many of these parallels in the church today. And for that reason alone, Revelation is a deeply relevant book for the last days’ church.
Excerpted from Jeff Kinley, Wake the Bride, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2015, 184-190)
1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
2. Acts 20:27.
3. 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
4. Ephesians 6:17.
5. 1 Timothy 4:6.
6. Ephesians 4:11-16.
7. Luke 10:38-42.
8. Luke 14:34-35.
9. John 3:30.
10. John 1:19-27.
11. Matthew 11:11.
12. John 3:29; Matthew 11:11.
13. Romans 12:3.