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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Heart and Mind


“Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Revelation 2:23

I’m concerned that when we come to the bible and particularly when we come to a book like Revelation, that we are so conditioned to find rationalistic explanations for everything, that we might be tempted to strip the scriptures of their supernatural qualities and so reduce it down to a history at best, and a myth at worst.

But the bible is God’s word to us, it is powerful even to dividing soul and spirit. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God’s word has the power to make us holy; all of it is useful in some way for rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Without the truth of God’s word there is no freedom. The truth of God’s word sets us free.

So, if we succumb to the temptation to bring the bible into line with rational thinking, then we are likely to miss spectacular truths, designed to preserve our faith to the very end.

God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts, so don’t try to shoehorn his word into the rational age that we live in. Let his word speak for itself. Let the word interpret itself.

That’s what I want to happen this morning as we start to unpack these seven letters to these seven churches which were referenced back in chapter one.

Jesus the Letter Writer

Last time we marvelled at the fact that Jesus, in all his majestic glory; with his steadfastness; his penetrating vision; his royal authority; his priestly worthiness; his voice of decree; his right hand of control; and his divine might; walks in the midst of the lampstands – the churches.

Now in chapter 2, we find that each of the letters to each of the churches is penned by none other than Jesus himself. Each letter is designated the ‘words of…’ followed by a part of the description of Jesus we encountered in chapter 1. In the case of Ephesus, ‘these are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks amongst the seven golden lampstands’ (v.1). That applies to all seven churches. Jesus is the author of the letters.

The recipients of the letters are angels. Each church has an angel and the letter is addressed to the ‘angel of the church in…’. Often interpreters have taken angel to mean minister or preacher here. And there are at least a few reasons for this interpretation. Firstly, angels are spiritual beings, and it’s hard to understand how a spiritual being could receive a physical letter. Secondly, the word angel means messenger and the role of a minister or preacher is to be a messenger of sorts to his church. And thirdly, in some way the angel represents the church to whom the letter is being written. And since angels are perfect holy spiritual beings according to Luke 9:26, and here they seem to represent churches that have very sinful failings, it seems unlikely that holy angels are view. But if angel means minster on the other hand, then angel is referring to a fallen human being, susceptible to sin and failings, even in his capacity as a representative of the church, and so that makes more sense.

I’ll just say that I’m not sure whether the letters are being addressed to guardian-type angels responsible for each church or to the ministers of those churches. But I’m open to the notion that this could be a literary device that means both angels and ministers simultaneously. As a messenger or minister to you this morning, with responsibilities to guide you and teach you and lead you, I feel the weight of the contents of these letters as addressed in some way to me.

Riverside Belongs to the Seven

Just a word about these seven churches. What is immediately obvious is that there are letters here to churches in places that get no other mention in the new testament – Sardis and Thyatira for example. And, there are very prominent churches in the new testament that don’t receive a letter here – Philippi, Corinth and Thessalonica to mention just a few. The fact that there are seven churches addressed is much more significant than the fact that some are included and some are excluded. The number seven is prominent in Revelation – that’s an understatement. We’ve got seven lampstands, seven stars, seven spirits, seven seals, seven horns, seven eyes, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven thousand people killed in an earthquake, seven crowns, seven plagues, seven golden bowls and so on. That’s a lot of sevens. Seven appears a lot because it’s the number of completion.

In the creation account, by the seventh day God had finished (completed) the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. What that means is that these seven churches stand for all churches in all generations. These seven letters apply as much to us as they apply to the seven churches we have here in Revelation 2 & 3.

So, let us have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The Goal is Victory

One overarching observation that applies to all seven letters: Jesus is very keen that all the churches and their constituent members overcome and are finally victorious. That’s the goal of the letters. And I say that Jesus is intent on this outcome for both church and church member, because the letters are addressed to the whole church body, but in some of the letters he singles out groups who have done better than other groups, and at the end of each letter he gets down to individual remarks, ‘to the one who is victorious’.

What that means for us is that we are responsible for each other to ensure that the whole body is as healthy as it can be. And that really matters because Jesus removes lampstands that are undermining his gospel by their behaviour. Verse 5, ‘I will come to you and remove your lampstand’. So, just as we saw in 1 Corinthians 12, the individual members of the body collectively make up the body, and here their collective conduct has really significant implications.

Notice in verse 2, it’s a repeated phrase in the letters, Jesus’ opening declaration is: ‘I know your deeds’. With that penetrating vision we saw in chapter 1, he is watching the churches and specifically he’s looking at their deeds. He’s inspecting the fruit of the vine like a gardener. Are the deeds of the church good or bad? Are they gospel upholding or gospel undermining? The warnings he issues, and the action points he gives them, are based on their deeds. And the consequences for each church will depend on their deeds (v.23).


I’ve decided to pair up the church in Ephesus with the one in Thyatira this morning because I think they’ve got some commonalities which will be helpful to see.

What seems really apparent is that Ephesus is excelling in the head department, but is critically lacking in the heart department. And, what is also apparent, is that Thyatira has the opposite problem. They are full of heart but their doctrine is lacking. And Jesus is not happy about these imbalances. Jesus is the one who ‘searches hearts and minds’ and who ‘repays each according their deeds’ (v.23).

If Riverside is a church that excels in love but makes no effort to weed out falsehood then Jesus is not happy with that imbalance. And if Riverside has all the doctrinal I’s dotted and T’s crossed, but has no love then Jesus is not happy.

Specifically, Ephesus is really good at spotting wickedness in its midst and having a zero-tolerance approach to it. They have committed themselves to word of God so immersively that they have a kind of sixth sense for detecting wickedness (v.2). That means that when their doctrinal radar blips to tell them that there is wickedness amongst their company, they put those people to the test of the scriptures to see if their radar was right or not. And if it’s proved to be right then they find them false (v.2) and they don’t tolerate them. They confront them. They tackle them with the word of God in hand and they take the necessary steps to keep the church free from wickedness.

That means that a church can be so kind – and it should be; so loving – and it should be, that it just fails to keep wickedness on the radar; it can fail to test all things and it can fail to deal with error. Ephesus wasn’t like that. Ephesus got to grips with the error in their midst. I think the church used the mechanism the Lord Jesus laid down in Matthew 18 to deal with unrepentant sinners by putting them out of the fellowship. That the kind of valiance for truth and righteousness is highly prized by Jesus and they were getting it right.

By contrast Thyatira is much more tolerant of wickedness. Verse 20, ‘You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols’.

Jezebel was Ahab’s wife and she led Israel into terrible sin. She stands as the archetypal female figure of wickedness. Look at how Jesus is going to deal with these kind of Jezebel characters, verse 22 ‘I will cast her on a bed of suffering’. And those who follow her lead will ‘suffer intensely’ and ultimately, he will ‘strike them dead’ (v.23); which is very sobering.

In the region where these churches were situated, at that time, there appears to have been a group called the Nicolaitans (v.6) who promoted sexual immorality and idol worship – and Jesus hated them (v.6). In Pergamum there appears to have been a prominent advocate of the Nicolaitans signified by Balaam the archetypal male figure of wickedness and also a prophet. Here in Thyatira, we have the female representative of the Nicolaitans – Jezebel. Thyatira, in their all-embracing love have, in all likelihood, blindly accepted everybody including this Jezebel character; tolerating her wickedness. They have failed to spot, test and weed out wickedness to their shame.

The warning to those in Thyatira who follow Jezebel’s lead is, repent of her ways or I will strike you dead!

In the church there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality or idolatry. And I suggest that the church needs to know itself well enough – that means care enough about each other to know if there is idolatry or sexual immorality going on each other’s lives. That’s really risky business, because when you start delving like that, people get really cagey. But sexual immorality lurks in the darkest; most hidden corners of churches not in the wide open. And idolatry, wears the acceptable clothing of liberty and leisure and therefore it easily parades in plain sight.

The message of Jesus via Ephesus and Thyatira is that we need to be on high alert for wickedness and not allow tolerance to blindside us.

Jesus knows that there are some at Thyatira who don’t follow Jezebel (v.24) – that’s to their credit. His word to them is ‘stand firm’. So even if you see the rest of the church failing to spot wickedness and falling in with it, don’t follow them. Stand firm - even if it costs you – Jesus is coming with his reward.

So that’s the doctrinal aspect of these two churches. Ephesus have got their heads screwed on and that’s good. Thyatira have taken leave of their senses and Jesus demands repentance for that. Jesus is searching his church for mindfulness governed by his word and he expects to find it.


What about the heart?

Ephesus has forsaken the love they had at first (v.4). The apostle Paul’s last word in his letter to the Ephesians goes like this: ‘Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love’. Well, the Ephesians love for Jesus had died. They had forsaken their love for Jesus. When the Ephesian believers woke up in the morning their first thoughts were not for Jesus, their first thoughts were for their jobs, or their homes, or their families. They weren’t red hot for Jesus. Their hearts weren’t drawn to him in their idle moments, they were drawn to all manner of other things.

The kind of obsession that accompanies deep seated, heart-throbbing love had disappeared from their lives. That part of their souls that longs to feast itself on something meaningful had found it satisfaction in something other than Jesus. The Ephesians were cold Christians.

My hunch is there’s more of this kind of cold Christianity about than we realise. In 1 Thessalonians 1 the Apostle Paul commends the Thessalonians for their labour prompted by love. In other words, their love for Jesus came to fruition in labours or works for Jesus’ sake. The deeds they undertook were motivated by their love for Jesus and the goal of their work was the proclamation of the worth of Jesus and the bringing in of his kingdom.

I get that from Jesus himself. In Matthew 9:35, ‘Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing ever disease and sickness…then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’.

Jesus’ word to the Ephesians, is first of all to reflect (v.5). They need to reflect on the love they had for Jesus at the beginning and they need to compare that with their love for him now. I wonder what that would look like for this church. How can we put in place seasons of reflection on our love for Jesus? I think we will need to do that. What are we going to do as church to prevent a subtle slide into cold Christianity? How are we going to ensure that we all wake up each morning with our first thought a thought for Jesus.

Last time I said we need to encounter more and more of Jesus and that means going to the place that speaks of Jesus – the bible. So, perhaps the question becomes, how will we keep each other saturated in the pages that talk of Jesus?

The second thing Jesus exhorts the Ephesians to do is to repent, literally turn around, and start to do the things they did at first. When you were first saved I bet you couldn’t get enough of Jesus; the things you listened to were about Jesus; the things you read were about Jesus; the free time you spent with people, you spent with people who loved Jesus. You sang about Jesus; you attended every meeting you could because they were about Jesus. Are you still like that?

If Ephesus doesn’t repent, then Jesus will remove their lampstand. What does that mean? It means that he will extinguish the flame of the light of the gospel in that place. The church will be removed. We didn’t come to Horbury Bridge to be removed. We came to be established. I’m concerned for us. I’m concerned that if our chief reason for settling here is to have comfy meetings week on week, but not to have our hearts on fire for the kingdom of Jesus, then I think the deeds of love, Jesus is looking for, are going to be thin on the ground. When we started here in Horbury Bridge we wrote and adopted a vision statement for this church. That vision statement will only be accomplished by people who love Jesus with an undying love. If we have not love that comes to fruition, then this lampstand will not remain.

Thyatira on the other hand is marked by its love for Jesus. The love they had for him at the beginning is not only present, it’s been fanned into flame. Verse 19: ‘you are now doing more than you did at first’. This church is a growing church, not a shrivelling church.

This is what we need to strive for. If we are passive about love for Jesus then we’ll be shrivelling up. We’re either growing or shrinking, but growth never happens without intentionality. And there’s nothing intentional about passivity. We have to be intentional as a church about love for Jesus. We have to be intentional as individuals about love for Jesus. Don’t let the world get in the way of your view of Jesus. Don’t relax in the easy chair after a day in the world, but fan into flame your love for Jesus every day.

Both churches are commended for their hard work and their perseverance. I’ve touched on hard work, so perseverance is worthy of a few minutes – especially because these are the only two churches commended for it. Perseverance here means patient endurance in the face of trials. Verse 3, ‘You have persevered and endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary’.

We should expect hardships and persecutions to come our way for the name of Jesus and when they do, Jesus is not looking for us to sidestep them, he’s expecting that we will remain faithful to him; trusting in his abiding promises to endure through them. Both these churches were in Jesus’ good books for doing just that.

And that leads nicely on to the unblushing promises of reward. To the one who does endure through the hardships, who does Jesus will to the end (v.26). To the one strives to put right the things that wrong, and to the one who strives to continue in those things Jesus is pleased with, Jesus will call that one ‘victorious’.

At the moment we cross the finish line of this earthly race Jesus will give us the right to eat from the tree of life in the new Eden of God (v.7) and he will give us authority over nations; to rule them with an iron sceptre; to dash them to pieces like pottery. Revelation 19:15 has Jesus striking down the nations and ruling them with his iron sceptre - all the same imagery. And who is coming with Jesus in Revelation 19? None other than the armies of heaven dressed in fine linen which Revelation 6 tells us are the righteous deeds of the God’s people. They will share in his authority granted to him by the Father. And they will receive the bright morning star who is Jesus himself, for ever and ever.

These are rewards designed to stimulate us to action here and now. They are designed to spur us on to love and good deeds which will one day be our fine white linen. So, don’t grow weary in love and don’t grow weary in light. Excel in heart and excel in mind, not one or the other. Let’s not be prone to imbalance. Jesus is looking for the fruit of both in our church and in our lives.


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