Covenant Reformed News
December 2015 • Volume XV, Issue 20
Since many people have a hard time keeping straight the seven churches of Revelation 2-3, I will start with four simple facts about the congregation in Thyatira (2:18-29). First, Thyatira was the smallest town or city amongst those mentioned in Revelation 2-3. Second, though this congregation was in the smallest of the seven cities, Christ’s letter to it is the longest in Revelation 2-3. While Ephesus gets 7 verses (2:1-7), Smyrna gets 4 verses (8-11), Pergamos gets 6 verses (12-17), Sardis gets 6 verses (3:1-6), Philadelphia gets 7 verses (7-13) and Laodicea gets 9 verses (14-22), Thyatira receives a whopping 12 verses. Third, Thyatira was the city of Lydia, “a seller of purple,” “whose heart the Lord opened,” whose household was baptized and who hosted Paul and his companions (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Fourth, Thyatira was the church of “that woman Jezebel” (Rev. 2:20).
Thyatira: A Church of Love, Service and Faithfulness
So there you have it: the church in Thyatira was in (a) the smallest city yet it received (b) the longest letter; it was a congregation famous for two women: (c) Lydia, her actual name, mentioned in Acts 16, and (d) Jezebel, her “spiritual” name, mentioned in Revelation 2.
The first strength of the church of Thyatira that is highlighted by the Lord Jesus Christ is love: “I know thy ... charity” (19). Whereas the standout, positive feature of Ephesus was labour, persevering labour even in disciplining false apostles (1-3, 6), the main virtue of the congregation in Thyatira was love.
Theirs was a love for the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They loved Jesus Christ, who loved them and bought them with His own precious blood. They loved one another, as brothers and sisters in the Lord; they loved their neighbours; they even loved their enemies, desiring their salvation, praying for them and doing good to them.
What a high and beautiful commendation uttered by the Son of God Himself: “I know your love!” Would He say this about our churches? Is the first of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit evident in our congregations (Gal. 5:22-23)? Do our churches exemplify the love of I Corinthians 13?
The second virtue of the Thyatiran congregation is its service: “I know thy ... charity, and service” (Rev. 2:19). The saints ministered to each other, as Christ’s willing slaves who serve the Lord.
In today’s terms, this would include the members of the church gladly giving others lifts to public worship, serving tea at meetings or bringing meals to the sick, visiting the afflicted, eagerly helping in the various ministries of the congregation, assisting the young mothers or elderly, etc. Their attitude was not: “Do I have to! Surely somebody else could do it!” In the church of Thyatira, the members believed in helping one another and this was their practice too, their holy service as a kingdom of priests, working together in Christ name as a harmonious body.
The source of their service was their love: “I know thy … charity, and service” (19). Because of their Christian love, they were willing volunteers in the service of the Triune God and one another. Because of their love, they wanted others to join them in the worship of the Lord, and so they evangelized and sought to bring others under the preaching of God’s Word, that they too may believe in Jesus Christ crucified.
What about us? “I know their love and their service? Because they love Me, they are a serving congregation.” Is this what Jesus Christ in heaven says about our churches? And what about each of us individually? What service of your fellow saints do you do? How do you assist and aid them out of Christian love?
The third gracious characteristic of the congregation in Thyatira is its faithfulness: “I know thy … charity, and service, and faith” (19). That the idea of the word here rendered “faith” is that of faithfulness is seen from the development of the verse. Out of their “charity” or love sprang “service” which was characterized by faithfulness. In other words, they were faithful in their service because of their love for the living God and their neighbour.
The office-bearers and members of the church in Thyatira were faithful in their loving service in little things, as well as big things. They showed faithfulness towards all the saints, not only the more comely parts of the body but the less comely parts too. The excellent motto of the congregation in Thyatira was “Faithful, loving service!”
What do you think of this church? Would you want to be a member of a church like Thyatira? Perhaps you think that you could do with being served and helped, and maybe you really could do with such assistance. The implied exhortation is that we need to serve others, especially our fellow saints in Jesus Christ, who taught us, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:27-28).
This is a high calling of service, the imitation of our Saviour, but it is the calling of every Christian and every member of a true church. The godly Christian life and the life of faithful church membership are not easy but they lead to perfect joy in heaven with the Lord, and great peace and blessedness here below! Rev. Stewart
“The Seven Churches in Asia,” 12 sermons on Revelation 2-3 in an attractive box set (CD or DVD), is available from the CPRC Bookstore for £12/set (inc. P&P). Free video and audio of these sermons can be found on the CPRC website
and YouTube site
Our Old Man and New Man (2)
I shall have to summarize the questions asked in this issue of the News, for the questioner sent in more material than we have room for in this article. The issue involves the New Testament concepts of our “old man” and our “new man.” The questions ask for these terms to be identified and the concepts explained.
The questioner especially refers to two texts: Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 3:9-11. The texts seem to convey the idea that in the life of the Christian this work of God is completed (Col. 3:9-10) and yet the believer is admonished to put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:22-24).
The questioner further says, “This leads to a wider question concerning the nature and extent of the change that has taken place in the believer. What is the believer’s relationship to the old man and the old nature?” He then points out that II Corinthians 5:17 speaks of the believer as a “new creature.” He reminds us that Ephesians 2:3 teaches that we “were by nature children of wrath.” Are we to infer from this that when we were quickened we were given a new nature? If so, where do the struggles of Romans 7 come from?
The questioner ends with saying, “I recognize these are fundamental questions but the answers sometimes given are anything but clear.” To this, I will definitely add a loud “Amen.”
In the last issue of the News, I defined some key terms. I can now go ahead and answer the questions submitted.
In a certain spiritual sense, the regenerated Christian is a schizophrenic person: that is, he has a split personality, as it were. Paul writes of this in Romans 7, a passage appealed to by the questioner, that, although he wants to do the good, he does not do it: “For the good that I would I do not” (v. 19). He also writes that the evil that he does not want to do, he does: “but the evil which I would not, that I do” (v. 19). As any Christian knows from his own experience, both of Paul’s statements are true. Paul does both: he hates sin, but does it; he wants to do the good, but does not do it. And both can and often do happen at the same time. A regenerated Christian finds himself hating sin but doing it, in spite of his desire not to do it; and he finds himself striving to do good, but he sins nonetheless.
I have found that a good way to explain this aspect of the life of the child of God is to use the analogy of the nation of Israel. The nation of Israel was composed of two elements: the elect and the reprobate. The elect were those who served God and the reprobate were the carnal element in the nation who turned the people again and again to idols. Both lived side by side. This situation in the nation is analogous to the regenerated Christian who has a new heart which cannot sin but also a totally depraved nature. Between these two is constant warfare, both tugging the child of God in opposite directions.
Paul describes this bitter and awful conflict in Galatians 5:17, where by the word “flesh” Scripture refers to our depraved natures: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” Before our spiritual renewal, we were “children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3). Moreover, our old natures remain totally depraved even after our regeneration.
In the nation’s history, the reprobate element were many times in control of the nation and the nation as a whole sinned by doing all the evils that the wicked nations outside of Israel did. The elect were still present, for God told Elijah that he had reserved unto himself seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (I Kings 19:18). But even the elect remnant did not always remain holy in their lives; they too fell into idolatry. This situation is analogous to the elect Christian who sometimes falls into many sins. His totally depraved nature is dominant in his life. He engages in many sins and seems to be a wicked man. The life of regeneration is hidden by the sins of his evil nature.
But at other times, the new man in Christ has control of his life. He lives in fellowship with God, prays fervently, enjoys His favour and walks in good works. This is analogous to Israel when the elect were in control of the nation and the nation served God, worshipped in the temple, brought sacrifices for the forgiveness of sin and were clearly a nation dedicated to God. Such was the situation in the nation during the reigns of David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah. Yet the wicked were still present in the nation.
This is the battle that goes on in the Christian all his life. It begins at the new birth and continues till he dies.
One more point in the analogy. When the nation of Israel as a nation lived faithfully in the service of God, their service was never perfect. Even at the peaks of Israel’s life of obedience to God, there was much that was sinful. And when the wicked had control of the nation and the nation as a whole walked in all the ways of the heathen, the nation was never totally like the heathen, for the elect were always present.
And so it is with the Christian. Even when the child of God lives a worldly life so that one seeing him would think him an ungodly man, the Spirit does not depart from him, but continues his work of grace so that the elect, sinning child of God, repents, turns to the cross of Christ for forgiveness and enjoys God’s favour again.
But when the Christian lives in obedience to God, because of his evil nature, he still is far from perfect. The authors of our Heidelberg Catechism were profound in their understanding of human nature and remind us of two things: even our best works are corrupted and polluted with sin, and we have only a small beginning of the new obedience (Q. & A. 62, 114).
We cannot conclude with our emphasizing that, in spite of the hardships, the regenerated in Christ is always victorious. It is not as if the outcome of the battle is ever in doubt. Nor is it ever true that the Christian attains perfection in this life, as some claim. But I reserve this word of great comfort to the next issue of the News. Prof. Hanko
A box set of 12 CDs or DVDs of the 2014 BRF Conference entitled “Be Ye Holy: The Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification” is available for £12 (inc. P&P) from the CPRC Bookstore. You can also listen or watch these lectures free on-line.
|Ballymena Lecture God’s Beautiful Covenant of Grace
God’s covenant with His beloved people in Jesus Christ runs through the whole of sacred Scripture, yet it is often overlooked or misunderstood. So what is God’s covenant? What is its beauty? And how does it comfort and encourage us as the children of God?
Speaker: Rev. Nathan Decker, USA Wednesday, 13 January 7:30PM at the CPRC
This lecture will be streamed live
on the CPRC website ___________
S. Wales Lecture
"Our Identity in Christ"
In our Western world, there is a crisis regarding human identity, involving personhood, sexuality and gender, etc., with some reckoning they are merely evolved animals. But what does God’s Word say about the identity of His children in Jesus Christ?
Speaker: Rev. Angus Stewart Thursday, 28 January
7:15 PM at The Round Chapel
(274 Margam Rd., Port Talbot, SA13 2DB) www.cprf.co.uk/swales.htm