June 2015

The lesson of lost love

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The Lord Jesus’ letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) are also for all of the church throughout the ages – which means they are for us today as well. So, I am going to go through each letter picking up on some important practical issues for us and the churches to which we belong.

The most piercing criticism of the otherwise faithful church in the city of Ephesus was: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” (Rev 2:4-5) What is the first love of any Christian and any Christian church group? Surely it is our love for Jesus. We love the Bible, we love each other, we love the lost… but love for Jesus must trump all of these for He is the head of the church body, the author and perfecter of our faith, and our Saviour and Lord. We all experience great love and devotion for Jesus when we are first ‘saved’ but, sadly, our passion for him and the things of God tends to diminish over time. So many ‘mature’ Christians appear to be cynical and passionless adherents rather than zealous disciples, because they have fallen out of a loving relationship with Jesus into a form of religious observance. This is of such importance to the Lord Jesus that He says; “If you do not repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place.” The lampstands symbolically represent churches (Rev 1:20) and so this warning applies to church bodies and not to individual Christians. It states a terrible truth: a church that does not place love for Jesus above all else is no church at all! And we must remember that a church is simply an organised and continuing group of Christians; so it can only lose its first love if WE, who make up the church, lose our first love.

Revelation 2:5 gives the remedy for this deathly condition:  Remember => Repent => Do!

Do you remember what it was like in those first months and years after you were spiritually regenerated, born again of the Spirit? I remember those days so well. I had an insatiable hunger for the Bible: I loved to go to church to worship, and learn, and minister: I prayed fervently on every occasion: I expected the miraculous; I loved to talk to people about Jesus – saved and unsaved alike. If this is no longer the case then I need to repent, (acknowledge my condition, apologise to God, and turn away from an apathetic and cynical mind-set), and do again the things I did when I was first saved – Study the Bible, pray, worship, testify… all with expectancy and faith. Remember? That’s how it was! Do ‘the things you did at first’, and the feelings will surely follow.

The Lord Jesus didn’t just criticise the Ephesian Christians, He also commended the church for her deeds, hard work, and perseverance. In addition He noted with favour their rejection of false apostles and the Nicolaitans. History has nothing to say about the mysterious Nicolaitans, but their name gives a possible clue to their nature. It is possible that the name is a composite of two Greek words meaning ‘rule over or by’ and ‘the people’. There is a strong possibility that this group were introducing their own ‘false’ apostles into the church.

Today there are many false apostles promoting themselves on television, on the international speaking circuit, and through books and other media. With them come wave after wave of deceptive counterfeit signs and wonders. Most of these ‘miracles’ are just cheap tricks, like the preposterous leg-stretching sleight of hand so many of them perform (talk about having your leg pulled!). These false apostles, evangelists and teachers prey upon the great need for the genuinely miraculous, the good faith of Christians, and the incredible gullibility of so many immature believers. But they are not that hard to spot – here are three dead giveaways:

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• They promote themselves shamelessly pretending all the while to be pointing to Jesus when in reality the centre of attention is what they are claiming and doing.
• They distort the Bible, taking texts right out of their biblical context and using them to support their own ‘teachings’.
• They ask for money, lots of money, and sometimes spend more time promoting the offering than they do actually preaching.

On the other hand, there are those who feel that they have a discernment ministry and a mandate to expose these false apostles, evangelists and teachers but in the process many of them throw the baby out with the bathwater and exclude the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit from the life of the church. In addition they become hard and fanatically committed to their cause, often labelling anyone they believe is in error and attacking their characters as well as their credibility. The Internet-based heresy hunters are a good example of this but I have seen it in books and videos presenting doctrinal differences among well-educated and senior leaders. The Calvinist/Arminian debate is a case in point where I have observed character assassination and the loveless presentation of ‘truth’ at its most obnoxious.

I appreciate that there are times when church leaders need to take a public stand against error and deception, but I am convinced that it is usually better to focus on Jesus and His truth than to focus on combating what a particular leader or group perceives as ‘error’. A focus on an intimate relationship with Jesus yields zeal for God and his Kingdom, whilst a focus on erroneous doctrine and practice invariably produces a cold and critical heart.

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These are some of the lessons we can learn from the Letter to the church in Ephasus in Revelation chapter two – in my next post I will continue to pick up on these and other practically important matters.

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The letters to the seven churches – background and historical insights

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In my last post I wrote about the significance of the names of the cities that hosted the seven churches to which Jesus wrote. In this post I will give you a little historical and geographic information to help you better appreciate and understand these letters.

Revelation 2:13 reads, concerning the church in Pergamum, “I know where you live — where Satan has his throne”. Now what could Jesus have meant by that? Well, Pergamum stood at the base of a large conical hill. About halfway up the slope of this hill was a massive altar to Zeus. From a distance, it looked like a giant throne belching smoke from the sacrifices made on it. The city also housed the temple of Æscalapius, the serpentine god of healing. Pergamum appears to have been the seat of Satan worship after the cult of Æscalapius moved there from Babylon.

Thyatira was a city controlled by guilds (trade unions). It also housed the famous fortune-telling shrine of Cybele, the queen of heaven. Here, castrated priests worshipped by self-flagellation and fire-walking. Is it any wonder that Jesus referred to himself in his letter to them as ‘the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze’? The most notorious priestess of Cybele in Israel’s history was Queen Jezebel, and so it is no surprise to find this church’s false prophetess referred to by that infamous name. In Pergamum, the threat was infiltration from without, but here in Thyatira, the threat was corruption from within. Queen Jezebel came from Sidon and married King Ahab as part of a political settlement. She introduced Baal worship into Israel, and here in Thyatira her namesake seems to have been doing the same thing. By all accounts, it was not Baal who was worshipped, but his consort Ashtoreth, alias Cybele, queen of heaven, mother goddess. Incense was a prime ingredient in pagan worship, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the name of the city means … ‘incense’.

truth-is-the-word-revelations-email-12-body-picUNFINISHEDSardis was a hugely wealthy city and had been the home of the legendary king Croesus. The city was on top of a cliff, and so its inhabitants thought that it was impenetrable. On more than one occasion in their history they had become complacent and the enemy had been able to breach their impressive security. Jesus had nothing good to say to this church. He told her to “Wake up!”, and accused them of having a reputation of being alive, while they were in fact dead. They were complacent and deceived. They needed to remember what they had received and heard, and to repent and obey!

The history of the city of Philadelphia is particularly appropriate to the calling God placed upon his church there. The Greeks founded it as a missionary city to spread their language and culture into that part of the world. Despite its being in an earthquake belt, and often subject to tremors, it succeeded brilliantly. In his letter to the church there the Lord Jesus tells them that he has opened a door which no one can shut; a door of missionary outreach into the world.

Laodicea is the last church addressed in these seven letters. Once again, the history and situation of the city provides the basis for the Lord’s analysis of the church’s condition. It was a very wealthy city with a well-developed banking sector. It also had a vigorous clothing manufacturing industry, and a renowned medical facility which specialised in eye ointment. Another feature which characterized the city was its system of aqueducts, which transported water in from the hot springs just outside town. However, by the time the water reached the city, it was no longer hot, but tepid and nauseating. Jesus wishes that this church were either cold or hot, but not tepid. Laodicea had a second source of water from a nearby town. Its main water source was from hot springs, but its secondary source was cold. Jesus is saying, “If you were spiritually like cold water, you would be refreshing. If you were like hot water, you would be a source of healing. Yet you are like tepid water, nauseating and good only to induce vomiting!” Jesus called the people of this church poor, blind, and naked. He urgently advised them to obtain from him real gold, white clothing, and spiritual salve for their blindness. They had material wealth, fine clothing and world-renowned eye salve, but their spiritual condition was the opposite.

I suggest that you reread Revelation chapters two and three armed with this insight into the location, geography and history of the cities. I am sure that the letters will come more alive to you. In my next few posts we will travel from city to city and try to apply the main lessons of each letter to the church of our day.

This is where ‘the rubber hits the road’.

 

 

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New Sermon

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Click here to access my latest sermon, the title is Jehovaha Shamma which means ‘God is there’. The message is about the importance and dynamics of a gathered meeting of the church.

Alternatively you can listen to it by simply clicking the play button below

 

 

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What’s in a name?

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There are seven letters written to seven actual churches in the area we now call Turkey, but these churches also represent the whole church throughout the ages.

When we consider these churches we need to identify in them the traits we see in the church of our day

The posts that follow this will be devoted to the study of each of these letters. However, in this and the next post I want to give something of the background to each letter so that you can better appreciate the wonderful way that the Lord Jesus communicates to His people.

The first thing to note concerning the letters is that the names of the cities tie in with the character and condition of the churches. How can this be? Yes, it is wonderful, but consider the following:

 

Ephesus: Desirable One

Ephesus means ‘desirable one’ and the city was famous because it housed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the great temple of the pagan goddess Diana. It was also a major banking centre and its inhabitants loved money almost as much as they loved Diana. In His letter to the church in that city Jesus focused on the fact that they had forsaken their first love, their love for him.

 

Smyrna: Burial Herb

The city housing the second church address by Jesus was Smyrna. This is a word derived from Myrrh, the spice used in preparing bodies for burial (John 19:39). Smyrna was the first centre of emperor worship and many Christians were burned at the stake for refusing to say “Caesar is Lord”. The most well-known of these martyrs was Bishop Polycarp who was put to death by fire in AD 155.

 

Pergamum: Marital Consumation

The name of the third city, Pergamum, is given in most reference books as meaning ‘fortress’ but it is more likely, that the name derives from the Greek word ‘gamos’, married, and more specifically, sexual consummation. The city housed the temple of the serpentine god Æscalapius and the three major features of the worship of Æscalapius were drunkenness, sexual licence, and occult healing. In his letter to the church there Jesus writes: ‘You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality’ (Revelation 2:14).

 

Thyatira: Incense

The meaning of the name Thyatira is very obscure. Some say it simply means ‘Castle of Thya’. Some believe that it comes from the Greek words, thea, ‘a female deity’ and tyrannos, ‘a tyrant’, and there are others who say the name comes from thuo, ‘to sacrifice’, and by derivation ‘incense’. Another view is that the name was based on the ancient city of Tyre, the birth place of the infamous queen Jezebel who Jesus references in the letter.

 

Sardis: Precious Remnant

The meaning of the word Sardis is, as far as I can determine, ‘precious remnant’ and this would certainly fit with Jesus’ commendation which starts with the words: “Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me dressed in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4).

 

Philadelpia: Brotherly Love

The name of the 6th city was Philadelphia which most believe means ‘brotherly love’ which finds its echo in the words of Jesus to the church there that He would make their enemies fall at their feet and “acknowledge that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9)

 

Laodicea: Rule of People

The name of the last church was Laodicea which is most likely a composite of ‘Laos’, meaning ‘people’ and ‘dike’ meaning ‘justice or rule’. So, the word Laodicea could mean either ‘rule of the people’ or ‘rule over the people’. The relevance of this to the letter will have to await a subsequent post but think for a moment of the problems that occur when a church is ruled solely by democratic will of its members or by the decisions of just one ‘Pastor’.

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In my next post I will outline some of the history and situation of each city and this will give a greater appreciation of just how wonderfully each letter is constructed and phrased.

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Jesus’ letter to His church

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 “If only Jesus had written a book of the Bible! Paul wrote letters, Peter wrote letters, and John wrote letters. Why didn’t Jesus write us a letter or two?”
Well, he did! He dictated seven letters to churches in the vicinity of Patmos, John faithfully wrote them down and they are recorded for us in Revelation chapters Two and Three.

The seven churches were located on a trade route that ran from Ephesus up to Pergamum and then down to Laodicea. However, these were not the only churches in the immediate vicinity. There were churches at Colossae, Antioch, and several other places. It is most likely, therefore, that the Holy Spirit chose these particular seven churches to represent the whole of the church through the whole of the church age. So these letters are for us as well.

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In my next post I am going to give you some of the background to each of these seven churches which will help you to understand the letters more fully. However, for now, I want to give you a summary of what they contain. It is easier this way to grasp the full import of what Jesus is saying to His church in general, both then, throughout history, and now.

We can categorise the bulk of what Jesus has to say to his church under two headings – Commendation and promise, and Condemnation and warning.

Condemnation and warning – what Jesus does not approve of and cautions us against

• Don’t lose your first love. Doctrinal orthodoxy is no replacement for zealous passion for Jesus.
• Do not allow the world to infiltrate the church or your life
• Do not allow so called ‘Christian’ false apostles and their teaching to corrupt the church, or you.
• Complacency is sin.
• Don’t be self-deluded and confuse material blessing for spiritual life.
• Repent and do the things you did at first, or you will lose what you have… and what you did when you first became of disciple was to love Jesus.
• Repent of your sinful practices, or else you will find yourself fighting against God’s Holy Spirit.
• Unless you repent of your wicked ways, you will suffer the consequences of your own thoughts and actions.
• Wake up and do the best with what you have.
• Remember what you have received, and obey it.
• Repent of your apathy and complacency, and seek Jesus for true riches.

 

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Commendation and Promise – what Jesus approves of and His assurances to us.

• For the good things you do, for your hard work and perseverance.
• For not tolerating wicked men, and testing those who claim to be apostles.
• For enduring hardship and not growing weary.
• There is the promise of life to those who endure to the end.
• There awaits the crown of life for those who endure persecution, poverty, and hardship for their faith.
• Well done, for living right where Satan has his throne yet remaining true to Jesus’ name.
• That you are doing more now in faith, love, deed, and service than you did at first.
• Those who persevere to the end will have true authority and blessing.
• Those who live lives separated from sin will enjoy eternal life with God.
• For keeping the Word of God, even though you have little strength, Jesus will honour you before your detractors.
• Jesus will protect through the hour of trial those who keep his word.

The Lord has some tough things to say to his church, but he always overlays these admonitions with words of affirmation and promise. Even to the pathetic Laodiceans he designed his rebukes to bring them, and us, to repentance and life. “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.”

Thank you, Lord!

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.