The Poor Church That Is Rich


In Revelation Jesus delivered messages to the angels of seven first century churches. He generally began by confronting them regarding some problem area. But there was one church that didn’t receive any “here’s what you’re doing wrong” counsel: the church in Smyrna, known today as Izmir, Turkey.

Jesus first lets them know that He’s aware of what they’re up against. He starts by telling them He knew of their trouble and their poverty. Instead of stopping there, though, He precedes to reverse the statement:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) (Rev. 2:9a).

They’re poor—Jesus didn’t say this was untrue. But they are rich.

This could possibly be a comparative statement similar to what we experience in the US: in comparison to Warren Buffett or Bill Gates we would say we are poor, but in comparison to the majority of the people in the world, we are rich.

More likely, I think, the statement shows the spiritual condition of the church versus the physical. The believers in Smyrna were in fact poor, but because of their relationship with Christ they were simultaneously rich.

God’s riches do not negate the conditions of this world. Our brothers and sisters who are in Haiti or Indonesia or Sudan don’t have a lot of the world’s goods.

And yet they are still rich. They are heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to those who love Him. They have the Holy Spirit who lives in them, guides them, seals them, intercedes in prayer for them.

They have Christ whose work at the cross provides them with forgiveness of sins, redemption, the cancellation of their debt, who clothes them with righteousness, bears their burdens if they cast them on Him. In every spiritual way conceivable, they are rich.

The second thing Jesus said about the church in Smyrna was that He knew “the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev. 2:9b). Apparently pretenders were among them. So like our experience today.

Jesus then moved to a prophetic message introduced by a command: Do not fear. They were about to suffer, Jesus said, and “the devil” was about to cast them in prison, they were about to face tribulation, though it would be for a specific, limited time.

He concluded with a command too: Be faithful until death.

Wow!

I’m not sure this message inspires me to not fear, and I’m not the target audience of this message. Or am I? I’d have to say, of course I am, as are all Christians who make up the body of Christ.

The details vary in our circumstances, but we are all rich regardless of our outward conditions. And we all have to cope with pretenders. We all are up against Satan’s attempt to imprison us in sin and guilt and the law.

Clearly, God does not promise us a Better Life Now here on this earth. He simply does not do so. This passage, written to the church in Smyrna, is still written, like all other Scripture, for all believers, for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

So, like Smyrna, we are to face what’s coming our way, unafraid and faithful until death.

The cool thing is, we, like Smyrna, have two promises for that faithfulness: 1) the crown of life; and 2) if we overcome, the escape from the “second death.”

Do I know what the second death is? No. But I figure it’s more important that I know how to overcome so that I won’t have to worry about being hurt by it.

But now I wonder if Christ isn’t the One who has already overcome. We know He has. And we know that we who are in Christ will be like Him. So, are not believers in the redemptive work of Christ, already those who have overcome? Again, I think that’s the most logical understanding of the admonition.

In short, despite the way the world might look, the believer in Christ can laugh because we understand Jesus Christ has won and is winning and will claim His victory one day soon.

It’s not really complicated. We aren’t to fear, and we are to remain faithful for as long as God gives us breath.

This article is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in July, 2014.

Published in: on July 27, 2018 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , ,

The Riches Of Christ


In thinking about the urban poor and the ministry of World Impact, I couldn’t help but think that “poor” is so much greater than not having a lot of money. We can talk about how the plight of the urban poor impoverishes them intellectually — their education choices are limited. Even if they can make it through a public high school with grades that would qualify them for college, the schools they attend could well be limited because they would be dependent on scholarships and grants.

And what about the poverty of opportunity? How many family vacations do the urban poor take? Are they camping once a year? Taking off to Hawaii? And how about exposure to other cultures? Where they live, “other cultures” are likely in a rival gang. What about opportunities to learn about America’s heritage? How many urban poor are visiting Washington D. C. (besides the urban poor who live there)? Or Williamsburg? Or how many here in LA make it to the Reagan Library? How many make it to any library? Or museum?

Beyond this is moral poverty — where drugs and prostitution, gangs and adultery, abuse and prison are a part of normal life. Instead of breaking the cycles, however, our society that has turned the care of the urban poor over to the government knows little other than punishment and accommodation. Former U. S. Ambassador and Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes used to say that the most important issue before the government was the preservation of the family because that is the social structure that passes on values. He made a lot of good points.

The greater issue, however, is spiritual poverty. All other problems pale in comparison even as they stem from the heart of this one. In conjunction with what Jesus said in the beatitudes about the poor in spirit (“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matt. 5:3), other Scripture calls our attention to the riches we have in Christ or to the fact that His riches are incomparable, worth whatever suffering might come our way.

Eph. 3:8 – To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ

Phil. 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Heb. 11:26 – [Speaking of Moses] considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. (Emphases here and in the following verses are mine)

I especially like the passages in Colossians starting with the end of chapter one and continuing into the early verses of chapter two that identify riches, wealth, and treasure in association with Christ.

Col. 1:27 – to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Col. 2:2-3 – that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself,in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

In Peter’s first letter, he equates faith with gold, calling it “more precious” — that would be “faith that comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

Christ Himself is all the treasure we could want, but in Him are more treasures. When we have Christ, we are rich, but when we have Him and nothing else, we are abundantly rich.

If it were not for God’s grace declared in the preaching of the Word of God, I or anyone else would be spiritually poor. Rather, I and all who are in the family of God enjoy the riches of Christ.

How shameful, then, if we squat on this treasure that is never diminished no matter how many times we give it away. How important it is that we do not overlook those in our inner cities who desperately need to hear of the One Who is the image of the invisible God — He Who is treasure, who has treasure, and who gives treasure, Himself.

Published in: on February 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: