For Part 1 in Anne’s series working through Revelation, click here.
I thought it would be helpful to pull together the instructions that Christ gave the churches:
Do not forget your first love. Repent and do the things you did at first.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Be faithful, even to the point of death.
Repent of worldliness, of sin, of idolatry and sexual immorality.
Hold on to what you have until Christ comes.
Wake up! Remember what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.Endure patiently. Hold on to what you have.
Buy from Christ gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Be earnest, and repent. Open the door to Christ.
What struck me about all of this is that Christ wasn’t calling any of the churches to do anything new. He wasn’t giving new information, or special insights, or vast worldview-shattering new ideas. Instead, he told the churches to repent of what they already knew they were doing wrong and to hold fast to what they had already been given. They were to remember and go back to their first love, and once there hold on with endurance. We have already been given all we need for the Christian life. We don’t fail to be saints because we don’t know how. We fail to be saints because we don’t try.
I’m reminded of GK Chesterton’s saying: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” How true this is in my own life! It’s always easier to look around for some other way to live that doesn’t take quite so much out of me–some way of loving my neighbor that doesn’t involve the sacrifice of my time, some way of getting closer to God without prayer, some way of becoming more Christ-like without pain. Surely, I think to myself, there must be some better way of doing things, some new insight that would make things easy.
But this isn’t what is suggested by this passage of Revelation. Instead, we are called to endure and hold on faithfully. This isn’t to say that we’re done learning about how we ought to live, or that we can ignore fresh insight from the Holy Spirit; there will always be new depths of understanding. However, it is important to stay away from the continual lure of novelty. The Christian life is often difficult, not because we haven’t found the key to making it painless, but because there is no painless way—yet. In the letters to the churches, Christ tells the new Christians that they will need to endure, but he also promises great things to those who overcome. To the church in Philadelphia he says, “Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.” (3:10). This is the promise that we are to hold on to.