Grace Changes Everything

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Church at Thyatira

In his commentary on the book of Revelation, James Hamilton quotes an account told by Joseph Ellis in Founding Brothers. He writes:

“In 1780 Maj. John André was captured while attempting to serve as a British spy in league with Benedict Arnold to produce a major strategic debacle on the Hudson River at West Point. By all accounts, André was a model British officer with impeccable manners, who had the misfortune to be caught doing his duty. Several members of Washington’s staff, including Hamilton, pleaded that André’s life be spared because of his exceptional character. Washington dismissed the requests as sentimental, pointing out that if André had succeeded in his mission, it might very well have turned the tide of the war. The staff then supported André’s gallant request that he be shot like an officer rather than hanged as a spy. Washington also rejected this request, explaining that André, regardless of his personal attractiveness, was no more and no less than a spy. He was hanged the next day.”

In this historical example, we see that George Washington was a man who understood what was at stake in the conflict, had a clear vision of right and wrong, and acted in accord with what he knew to be right. The rightness or wrongness of the hanging of Major John André had nothing to do with his appearance, his polite manner, or any affection his character might generate. He deserved to be hanged, so Washington had him hanged.

There is a great need in our time for men and women like George Washington – people who are gripped by the truth of God’s Word such that the arbiter of right and wrong is what God has spoken. We need people who understand what God calls the church to do and who do that with no favoritism shown for those who, from the world’s perspective, are wealthy, influential, or significant. This is the message to the church today, no less than it was the message to the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29.

‘The longest letter is addressed to the least important of the Seven Cities’. The city of Thyratira was situated about half-way between Pergamum and Sardis on the great circular road of the province of Asia. The postman entrusted with delivering these letters, having begun his round at Ephesus, and having traveled due north from there to Smyrna and further north to Pergamum, will have had then to turn southeast and journey forty miles in order to reach Thyatira.

At this time Thyratira was a prosperous trading center boasting numerous trade guilds (business associations). It was from Thyratira that Lydia, one of Philippi’s most notable converts, had come. She traded in materials treated with Thyratira’s purple dye and is described as ‘a dealer in purple cloth’ (Acts 16:14). Perhaps it was Lydia, newborn in Christ, who returned to her home in Thyratira and was the means of planting the Christian church there. We do not know. Certainly by the time the Revelation was written, this prosperous city had a prosperous church.

Jesus Christ speaks of this church in words of warmest commendation. Indeed, as Stott notes, Thyratira’s church was like ‘a beautiful garden in which the fairest Christian graces blossomed’. Here there was a practical love resulting in service, together with a virile faith and hope tending to endurance. The church also understood that ‘the Christian life is a life of growth, of progress, of development,’ adds Stott. Ephesus was backsliding; Thyratira was moving forward.

And yet…as we read further we discover that the church was tainted with moral compromise. Again, Stott notes, ‘In that fair field a poisonous weed was being allowed to luxuriate. In that healthy body a malignant cancer had begun to form. An enemy was being harbored in the midst of the fellowship.’ The church at Thyratira displayed love and faith, service and endurance, but holiness is not included among its qualities. Thyatira tolerated an evil, self-styled prophetess.

Holiness of life and character is another indispensable mark of the real Christian and of the true church. It is the purpose of the Father’s election: ‘He chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless’ (Eph. 1:4). It is the purpose of the Son’s death: ‘Jesus Christ…gave himself for us to redeem us…and to purify us for himself a people…’ (Titus 2:13, 14). And it is the purpose of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling: ‘God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life… who gives you his Holy Spirit’ (1 Thess. 4:7, 8). The goal of our conversion is our sanctification, or holiness.

But if it is God’s purpose to make us holy, Satan is resolved to frustrate it. And if the devil cannot destroy the church by persecution or heresy, he will try to corrupt it with evil. Such at least was the dragon’s strategy in Thyratira.

Join us this week as we look at Revelation 2:18-29 and discover the necessity of holiness. I remember you always in prayer with joy thanking the Lord for the privilege of serving you in Christ. May our Lord grant us reformation. Remember to pray for our service this week; and as you pray, invite someone to come along with you.

For His Glory,