We Shall Overcome!

We Shall Overcome

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Satan is constantly on the attack. His ultimate goal is division. He wants to divide us from our deepest relationships so that we feel lonely and then divide us from God. Satan knows the scriptures are true when they say “what man desires is unfailing love”. (Proverbs 19:22) Only God can give us that unfailing love. So, Satan’s deepest desire is to separate all men from God eternally! And he will do whatever he has to in order to see that happen. Peter writes that the “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Needless to say that sometimes that “someone” is you and your family. James prepares us for his attacks with the reassurance that if you “resist the devil… he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) The question then arises: “Where does he go?” The answer is simply: “To someone else!”

The book of Revelation captivates its readers with strong prophecy and intense imagery. However, in the second and third chapters you will find a different more direct piece of writing specifically meant to inspire the repentance of God’s churches in Asia. Being the very words of Jesus this discipling can be applied not just to them but to “he who has an ear” in all churches for all time! Split up by the New International Version into seven short sections we can learn from the seven churches’ situations the importance of Jesus knowing our deeds and the hope that comes with overcoming individual challenges!

1. The church in Ephesus forsook their first love. From the time of Acts 2 (the church beginnings) and here, at least one generation of Christians has passed away and the 30 years from Roman Emperor Nero to Domitian has elapsed. Now, sadly, the church has forgotten God. They have forsook him in their daily life. The principle found is that as time passes, in our spiritual frailty, we can tend to replace our love for God with traditions of ourselves. Jesus simply calls those whom backslide to: “Repent and do the things [they] did at first.”

Challenge: If there are any traditions in your life that have superseded the word of God, then get open about them and get help. Repentance won’t be easy because habits are hard to break. When it gets tough, remember the words of Jesus: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)

2. There was intense persecution happening in Smyrna. In fact, people were afraid for their lives! Eventually, Polycarp (who served as the church’s bishop and historically was the apostle John’s disciple) would be martyred here being burned alive. The apostle John (human author of Revelation) is writing this about his closest brethren! How painful that must have been! Smyrna ranked as one of Asia’s most beautiful cities. But, within it lay disgustingly gross sin. People claimed to be Jews but weren’t. Much like how some may claim to be Christians yet are not. They will be tested by their conduct toward the Lord’s church. God’s church will be tested in the fire of persecution! Jesus encourages all enduring disciples with the words, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Challenge: Persecution is promised for those who follow Christ (2 Timothy 3:12) at all intensities. We must expect it in our future and embrace it when it comes. Thousands, like Polycarp, died for their faith. Nowadays our lives are not often threatened in the face of persecution. Lets be inspired by these martyrs, especially Jesus! Keep in mind: “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” (Revelation 2:11)

3. Pergamum was home to a cluster of temples infamous for idolatry in a beautiful grove called Nicephorium. In fact, unashamedly this area was the pride of Pergamum! It was probably what Jesus referred to when he mentioned the throne of Satan. To become a Christian here meant you had to repent of any idol worship including its traditions. Unfortunately, the leadership of the church eventually lost conviction on idol worship and it began to creep into the fellowship. Christians soon had put their “freedom in Christ” above the moral law. They compromised the truth to go back to their old lives of idolatry. Jesus threatens those who hold to any false teaching to repent, otherwise he would come and “fight against them with the sword of [his] mouth.”

Challenge: False doctrine is rampant in this modern era! Sadly, people don’t have the heart of the Bereans to “eagerly examine the Scriptures everyday” to find the truth! (Acts 17:10-11) It is much easier to “Google” something or just ask a religious relative. So study out in your own Bible what you believe. Let the Bible interpret itself. Ask for help when you need it, but don’t take any shortcuts! Encouragingly Jesus says, “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17)

4. The toleration of sin is wicked in the eyes of God. Jesus speaks of “Jezebel” (Revelation 2:20) in the church of Thyatira. Most likely, many scholars agree, Jezebel was the personification of a false doctrine. A symbolical name of reproach. The church of Thyatira not only had false prophets, but they tolerated it! They continued to allow people to be led astray without taking action against it. The reason for toleration is not important. Allowing people to walk away from God and neglecting the responsibility to uphold righteousness calls for immediate repentance. Jesus reminds them of the “bed of suffering” for those who do not repent. There is no room in God’s church for sentimentality.

Challenge: Gain a conviction that to love those around you is to help them repent! Jesus was a great example of one who was always “speaking the truth in love”. (Ephesians 4:15) Do not tolerate sin. But with great love and lots of wisdom take action against it. Jesus said that, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations.” (Revelation 2:26)

5. Hypocrisy is perhaps the quickest way to turn people off to the Gospel. The church in Sardis carried the reputation of Christianity, however, there was no Christianity in it. Without life. A corpse. Thankfully not all hope was lost because a few disciples remained. Jesus commands repentance by strengthening those disciples and in time the life would reenter the church. The church was extremely weak but Jesus was hopeful. He says, “They will walk with me” as proof of their repentance. Walking with Jesus is necessary as the most effective way to strengthen what remains.

Challenge: What remains in you? No one is perfect because no one is Jesus. But we all have strengths. Rather then focusing on the negative things, become an expert at your strong points! Satan wants us to give up altogether and believe that we cannot change. If you are dead then repent and remember Jesus’ words: “He who overcomes will… be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” (Revelation 3:5)

6. Unlike the other churches, Philadelphia and Smyrna receive no blame from Jesus. Philadelphia was in a beautiful location between the Hermus valley and the Maeander valley which made habitation never a problem. It was a prosperous city. The church there had become weak and yet even in weakness had not renounced Jesus! Jesus says, “I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Satan had attacked the church, no doubt. In spite of the many struggles they are commended for keeping the faith and “enduring patiently”.

Challenge: Struggling is good. “Giving in” is not. We must fight for our salvation because Satan is constantly tugging at us attempting to make us fall away. So no matter how weak you are or one day will be, gain the conviction now that you are never going to give up! Because of your patient endurance Jesus will commend you saying: “Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God… and I will also write on him my new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

7. Laodicia was a very wealthy city. Like us in America they lived lives of luxury and convenience. They struggled to stay focused on the Lord’s work being extremely independent. Earthquakes often visited Asia Minor and, unlike other cities, Laodicia didn’t need extraneous assistance to have a full recovery. They boasted: “I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” (Revelation 3:17) This pride led to them being neither “cold nor hot” and it sickened Jesus! He literally was about to “vomit” them out of his mouth! The general accusation here for the church is that they were not totally committed to God and blinded of their actual spiritual state!

Challenge: Independence is a form of pride that will absolutely lead to lukewarmness. God created us to be dependent creatures. We need to be made into disciples and then taught to obey everything! Clearly, God expects us to be in a “hot” relationship with him for all our lives. So the question is: “Are you lukewarm?” Jesus calls them to repent and encourages them with: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)

No matter what struggles you are going through, there is always hope. Thanks be to Jesus for always providing a way out and giving us a promising future for when we overcome!

My daily prayer is that every disciple will have a heart to overcome. No one is in this alone! The song goes “We shall overcome” and truly it is “We”! Here in the Syracuse International Christian Church “We” can relate to these seven churches in some way. “We” must faithfully press on by giving God our lives like never before! And truly “We” will overcome all obstacles and receive the great promises of God! And to God be the glory!

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Joel Parlour