I have begun a series of messages at Walnut Hill Church from the Seven Letters to the Churches in Revelation. This past Sunday we looked at the Church at Smyrna, from Revelation 2.8-11.
The Church at Smyrna is most intriguing for a couple reasons.
First, the name Smyrna litterally means “City of Myrh”. If myrh sounds familiar it is probably because it is one of the three gifts the Magi brought to Jesus, the new-born king. We sing about it at Christmas-time. Myrh is an herb that when crushed emits a fragrant aroma. This was an appropriate gift for the young Jesus, who was born to become a martyred prophet. It is also an appropriate name for this church since it endured incessant crushing and persecution.
Second, the Church at Smyrna is one of only two of these churches that received no correction, only commendation. That alone ought to make us take note of them. They received only encouragement from Jesus, who commended them for faithfully enduring seasons of suffering and persecution.
As I considered the Church at Smyrna, and the message Jesus had for them, I could not help but contrast them from the television ministries today that proclaim, what they call, Prosperity Gospel.
The Propserity Gospel, in a nutshell, proclaims that God wants all his people to be Healthy, Wealthy, and Happy. There are differnt versions of this. The Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn disciples embrace this clear message. The Robert Schuller, Norman Vincent Peale disciples embrace a tamer Positive Thinking version. And Joel Osteen has created a hybrid version, proclaiming you can have the best life now (as opposed to what the Bible says – that the BEST life is yet to come).
In my message Sunday I pointed out the erroneousness of this teaching. I was pretty blunt pointing out that this message is unbiblical. But there are words I did not use that now, in retrospect, I wish I had; I think I should have: Heresy, Lies, Dangerous. That’s what this whole memvement is – no matter the sincerity of those behind it.
See, here the issue: they proclaim that the faithful will not experience hardship on this earth. Jesus proclaims to a church that is in the midst of persecution (not prosperity) that they are being faithful by enduring hardship. Clearly there would be no room for Jesus in the Prosperity Gospel movement.
Further, Hebrews 2.10 says:
In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
In some sense, Jesus was made perfect through suffering. So, the logic of the message of the Prosperity Gospel is:
Be more faithful, be LESS like Jesus.
For those who might counter that the suffering Jesus experienced was the price he took upon himself to free us from the penalty of our sin, I would ask you to consider…
- When Paul was called to be an Apostle, Jesus said to a skeptical Ananias:
“I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9.16)
- Paul experienced trials and suffering his entire ministry. (Acts 14.19-20; Acts 16.22-24)
- Paul explains his own attitude about suffering… and it does not reflect the thinking of the Prosperity Gospel. (See Philippians 1.12, 1.29-30, 3.10-11; Romans 8.18)
2. Stephen – What do you make of him being stoned for faithfulness? (Acts 7)
3. James, who wrote:
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1.2-4)
4. Peter, who wrote:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1.3-9)
5. Paul, to the Romans:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5.1-5)
I find it somewhat disturbing to think that a church, based on its system of theology, would not embrace Paul, or Peter, or James, or Stephen because of what they experienced and taught. But all these men are clearly at odds with the Prosperity/Self Help Gospel – which, is really no gospel at all.
While it is true that sometimes our suffering is a consequnce of our own sin and foolishness, it is not always this way. Sometimes we suffer simply because we live in a fallen world. But know this: Those who endure suffering are not second class Christians, but beloved Saints. And anyone who says differently is telling you lies – and we know where lies come from…
So, as much as I don’t like it, suffering is part of this life. And like it or not, there is pupose behind our sufferings: Sanctification & Holiness -and God’s Glory.