Category Archives: Faith

REVELATION 22:6 -21 -GROWTH GROUPS DISCUSSION NOTES

As we come to the end of the series on the Book of Revelation it is helpful to recall the historical perspective that lies behind this wonderful book. This is summed up by Paul Barnett in his commentary Revelation: Apocalypse Now and Then at page 153:

Revelation leaves us in no doubt: the great end-time battle of God does not lie in the future but in the past. By his death and resurrection Christ has conquered the twin evils of guilt and death. As a consequence, God’s kingdom is now, a present reality. These are perhaps the most important keys to the mysteries of this book.

As for the evils that the original Christians (and Christians ever since) were facing, Barnett reminds us:

The book repeatedly portrays God as not the source of evil. In his mercy he limits the extent of satanic destruction to provide rebellious humanity with the opportunity to repent of the worship of demons and idols, and their breaking of his commandments (9:2). In the face of this evil, Christians are continually called on to display patience and faithfulness to Jesus. And it is by endurance and faith that believers share in the completed conquest of the Lamb who was slain.

So what is there left for us before we become fully glorified in the presence of the Lord as depicted under the imagery of the new Jerusalem and the bride adorned for her husband?

The answer of course is the second coming of Jesus to bring this age to a close and to bring about the fulfillment of his ultimate plan for his people.

That is what chapter 22:6 is all about.

QUESTION ONE: Rev. 22:7 quotes Jesus as saying, ‘Behold, I am coming soon’. Given that 2,000 years have passed, how would you explain the meaning of the word ‘soon’?

QUESTION TWO: From your knowledge of the New Testament, what do you know about its teaching about the return of Jesus?

QUESTION THREE: How are we meant to prepare for his coming?

QUESTION FOUR: The book of the Revelation ends with a prayer, ‘… Amen, come Lord Jesus.’ It is rare for such a prayer to be heard in worship services today and it is probably rare for it to be uttered in the private prayers of most believers. Why is this so and how can we change our thinking to follow the example of this verse in beseeching Jesus to come quickly?

Revelation 2

Letters to the 7 churches- part 1 of 2

Discussion Question

What do you hope God will say to you when you see Him?

Background (Context)

Revelation began with a vision of the powerful Jesus and a messenger telling John to write down what he sees and to send it to the seven churches listed. They will be blessed if they read the words of this book and take it to heart.

Read Revelation 2

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

The structure is of one section for each of the 4 churches in this chapter. The letters have a similar structure of: Announcing the authority of the letter, I know this about you, and yet I have this against you, blessed is the one who…and a reward that follows. A group might draw a table of each letter with the above flow and fill in the squares for a good overview.

  • To Ephesus (1-7)
  • To Smyrna (8-11)
  • To Pergamum (12-17)
  • To Thyatira (18-29)

To Ephesus (1-7)

“To the angel of the church…” Remember that an angel is a messenger. This may be saying that the letter will get to the church via the messenger. The angel/messenger for each church image began in Chapter 1 and it was noted that the churches are not disconnected from the King but his messengers are present. A messenger is someone who brings a message. The churches are receiving this message as they received all revelation from God as they received the gospel.

“…the words of him who holds the seven stars…” The letter begins with the authority of the one speaking. Jesus is giving this message via the messenger. He holds the seven messengers of the seven churches (see 1:20)

“I know…” The second part of the letter is the good news about what Jesus can commend of the church.

“…you cannot tolerate wicked people…[rejected false prophets]…endured hardships…” The image of this church is of a strict “authentic bible only” mentality which is to be praised. The do not allow soft teaching from fools who claim to be of God. They are mighty bounces for the church of Christ. And they are tough enough to persevere because following Jesus and the bible is hard work. They should keep this level of determination going.

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” It seems that this church once loved the grace of God but time and effort have steered them away from this love. They still stand for truth and true religion but even their charity work smells like discipline and duty.

“If you do not repent…” A strict church like this has lost the gospel. Their warning is that they will be removed. They are the lampstand (see 1:20).

“…you have this in your favour…” They hate the Nicolaitans which God also hates. This is a good thing which seems to parallel what they were praised for in Verses 2 to 4. God is fine with the side that they are fighting on but they have forgotten what the fight is about. The Nicolaitans were a sect of the first century. They are mentioned again in Verse 15. Their flaw was trying to work out a “compromise with paganism, to enable Christians to take part without embarrassment in some of the social and religious activities of the close-knit society” (The IVP Bible Dictionary). It is possible that ‘Nicolatan’ is a Greek variation of the Hebrew, ‘Balaam’ who is brought out in later letters. Look at 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1, Rev 2:15 in their context.

“Whoever has ears to hear…I will give…” As was promised in 1:3, those who listen to these words and take them to heart will be blessed. The blessings are for access to the tree of life which was forbidden after The Fall.

To Smyrna (8-11)

“…the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” The authority of the letter is of the risen Lord Jesus. His resurrection is no small thing but defines his power in the context of human salvation.

“I know your afflictions and your poverty…I know about the slander…” Isn’t it beautiful to hear the words: I know : when they mean – I see you. And Jesus’ response to this is not to help them out of their affliction and poverty but to remind them that they are actually rich!

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…” The letter to the Smyrnetians (?) contains an exact prophecy that some will be in prison for ten days. God sees the suffering and the affliction even before it happens and he tells them not to be afraid. He also sees those who claim to be one thing but are actually a house of the devil. Appearances are only real when they are from God’s perspective. Everything else is false or temporary.

“The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The remedy for suffering is hope. Hope makes us persevere. Those who persevere and are victorious, not giving way to fear, are saved from a worse suffering to come. The first death is our mortal death and the second death is the one after judgment. See 21:8.

To Pergamum (12-17)

“…the sharp double-edged sword.” Easily the word of God.

“… not even in the days of Antipas…” Trickles of real history are in this book of Revelation. God really sees a church suffering.

“…where Satan lives…” Such evil was amidst the location of this church that it is aligned with the house of Satan.

“…yet…some among you hold to the teaching of Balaam…” This is referencing Numbers. Surely a teaching as old as that is not still current at the time of Revelation in its immediate sense. But there is a parallel to what they have fallen pray to with the story of Balaam and Barak. What we need to know is here in the paragraph before us. People of the church are enticed to do something that is ungodly. 1 Corinthians and Romans talk about food offered to idols in ways that do not outright condemn it. But when someone eats against their conscience, this is a big problem. They also have those who have succomned to the false teaching of the Nicolaitans. Again, the specifics of this are unclear but their teaching is false and people in the church have befallen pray. See earlier notes regarding Ephesus linking the Nicolaitans and the teaching of Balaam.

“Repent…or I will come with the sword of my mouth.” The word of God is powerful and right to judge and to condemn.

“…I will give some of the hidden manna.” Old Testament allusion to relief and mercy from God.

“…I will also give…a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Getting a new name means a new start. Simon is called Peter. Levi is Matthew. The idea of a secret name only known to the receiver is an intimate gift from the One who knows us. It is a personal gift. We don’t conclude that we all get knew names but so what if this ends up being factual – I won’t tell you what name I get.

To Thyatira (18-29)

“…the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” See 1:14-15. Jesus is named here as the Son of God. The description of Jesus is full in Revelation but must be pieced together. The letters have increased our knowledge of him and now we see one of his titles.

“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” What a great start! Praise God for their progress and sanctification. Notice the dance between deeds, love and faith. These things are not just ideas but action.

“You tolerate that woman Jezebel…” This is another Old Testament reference in 1 and 2 Kings. She led Israel astray to worship idols and killed off the prophets. To the Thyatirians she was killing them with her sexual immorality and enticing them away. Who are what is referred to exactly may remain unknown but the reference to Jezebel is that her schemes are directly against the people of God.

“…then all the churches will know…” The action of God against Jezebel will be a witness to more churches than just this one. In the end, wicked will be destroyed and all will know that God searches the hearts and minds and repays each according to their deeds.

“… I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” Is it that God demands more of some than of others according to their opportunity and gifts? If one church is worthy enough to hold onto grace until Christ returns and yet another will be held accountable because they did not use the gifts given to expand the kingdom…? This seems parallel to the parable of the talents.

“… I will give authority over the nations.” Paul spoke to the Corinthians about being judges in heaven. The nations here are not nations as we know them but stands for those outside the kingdom of God. The morning star is very likely a reference to Isaiah 14:12ff where Babylon, who was high like a mountain smashing all the kingdoms has now been laid low. It is called the morning star that has come down to earth below. Babylon is used in Revelation as a metaphore for all the nations who rise up against God.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The Church of God is born from the grace of God and the word of God for love and good deeds, for faith and for persevering through suffering, persecution and maintaining truth while keeping love. We live in a battle field wanting to break us and entice us away. Jesus says, if you stand firm and hold fast, then the suffering and the abstaining will be replaced with victory, reigning, riches and a new name. It is not enough to love the bible, we must love God and one another. God sees us and what we go through. He also knows that we are way richer than we think we are.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Love being right or love God. The Pharisees fell trap of turning love into a duty and it seems the church in Ephesus had done the same. Churches who are very, very vigilant against false teaching can lose sight of the beauty of scripture and the joy of knowing the community of believers. It is a wonderful thing to know that you are forgiven and saved and set free. We can learn to genuinely love and to take the words of the scriptures to heart as we read them carefully.

Topic B: Do not fear suffering. This is so easy to write and hard to live out. Hope is the antidote to suffering. As soon as we believe that the removal of suffering is the answer, then we have lost sight of eternity. God will remove the suffering but not until He returns. Let’s remember to be people of eternity. Living for this world will disappoint us or kill us.

Topic C: Avoiding Balaam and watching Jezebel. The Balaam’s and Jezebels of this world will trick us into denying Christ and giving way to quick pleasures. But they will be destroyed and their destruction will testify to the justice of God. Our goal is to stand on the right side of justice at the end. Only the One who can give us a new name, clothe us in white and lift us up to rule the nations is worth giving our lives to. What false teachings and enticing ways do you see amongst us?

1 Corinthians 16

Working with workers

Discussion Question

What does it look like to be a member of a church?

Background (Context)

We’ve arrived at the final Chapter of this letter to the Church of God in Corinth. Paul has written passionately with instruction, rebuke and grand theology that points all to Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Our faith is in Him and Him alone. Our hope is in an imperishable spiritual body like nothing we have known in this age. Our method in everything is love which flows from the love of God.

With a full letter written and delivered to the saints in Corinth, how shall he sign off? We shall see some things to be expected (Verse 13) and yet we discover that after a letter of rebuke, Paul anticipates a positive response from them.

Read 1 Corinthians 16

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)
  • Paul’s travel plans (5-9)
  • How to treat fellow workers (10-18)
    • About Timothy (10-11)
    • About Apollos (12)
      • Faith, (hope) and love (13)
    • About Stephanas (14-18)
  • Final greetings (19-24)

Partnership with Jerusalem (1-4)

“Now about the collection for the Lord’s people…” What is this collection? We see in Verse 2 that it is money and in Verse 3 that it is a gift to Jerusalem. Acts 24:17 describes Paul’s habit of bringing gifts to his people for the poor and to present offerings. In our present Verse, Paul describes the collection as to the Lord’s people – meaning the holy ones in Jerusalem. Just as Paul is writing to the Lord’s people in Corinth, he expects this church to be connected in support to the Lord’s people in Jerusalem. Paul’s theme in Chapter 16 is to elevate the fellowship of the churches throughout the world since they are all of the same faith. It ought to follow that when you are on board for Jesus then you are on board to support one another who are also on board for Jesus. Christianity has never been a solo act or a Lone Ranger faith. We are in it together. His advice on raising the collection in the following verses, despite the exact usage for the money, is a helpful one for us all today. See also 2 Corinthians 8-9 on this topic of financial support.

“…do what I told the Galatian churches to do.” The Corinthians would not know what Paul has told the Galatian churches. He is introducing his instructions as something that is not unique to this letter to Corinth but the same advice he has given elsewhere.

“…set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income…” What Paul says in Verse 2 is great financial advice for anybody trying to use money for something beyond impulse buying and he is applying it specifically to the giving portion of a salary. He is not specifying an exact amount. He is recommending that each person set aside a proportion of their salary – thoughtfully, carefully and intentionally. When Paul arrives, he does not want to see everyone reaching into their wallets to see what spare change they have! At the beginning of your pay cycle, set aside the money that you have decided to give to the work of the gospel. As intentional as we ought to be about our faith and works (and Paul will remind us later in this Chapter) we need to be intentional about our faith and money. As we listen in to Paul’s advice to this church, it would be grand for our groups to stop and consider how we are going in this area. Do we put our money where our faith is?

“…letters of introduction to the men you approve…” Paul does not intend to take the money and run away with it. He plans to write a note of introduction for some men chosen by the Corinthian church and they will send the money with them to Jerusalem. In this way, the fellowship with the churches is strengthened – they will gain mutual encouragement – and the collection and distribution of the money is above board and transparent.

Paul’s travel plans (5-9)

“After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you – for I will be going through Macedonia.” Paul will be going through Macedonia 😉

“…I hope to spend some time with you…” Paul appears unclear of what he will do after reaching Corinth but assures them that he does not wish to simply pass through as he plans to pass through Macedonia. His plans are for mission in Macedonia (including Ephesus) but to stay and be a pastor to the church in Corinth. His rebuking letter ought not to be thought of as coming from an outsider who doesn’t know them or care.

“…if the Lord permits.” A reminder to us always to consider God’s will above our own. See James 4:15; Luke 22:42; Matthew 6:10.

“…I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost…” Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks which took place fifty days after Passover (Deut 16:9-12). It is associated with the promise of divine blessing and Christians came to associate it with the day God poured out His Spirit on the church. Ephesus is in modern day Turkey, north of the Mediterranean Sea. On Paul’s 3rd missionary journey (3 journeys described in the book of Acts) he travelled up the coast from Ephesus, around the Aegean Sea before passing through the region of Macedonia (consisting of towns like Philippi and Thessalonica), this takes him to Athens and then a quick hop down to Corinth. Although he spoke in this letter of staying for quite a while, Acts 20:2-3 tells us that he was forced to keep travelling because of persecution from others (not Corinth). Paul had first visited Corinth on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:1-11) where he stayed with them for 18 months.

“…door…opened to me…many who oppose me.” So, this is Paul’s third journey that he is on and Acts 19 provides reading material for this. Acts 19:8-10 describes a period of 2 years where Paul preached the gospel and the opposition actually created more interest in it!

How to treat fellow workers (10-18)

About Timothy (10-11)

“…see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you…” The church is a refuge for believers. While the world may be hostile, indifferent, uncaring or other toward the gospel, our churches become a network of safe havens for believers alike. Paul aligns Timothy’s work with his. If you treat Timothy badly, you are doing harm to Paul. A cute parallel to the way that Jesus spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). Timothy was younger than Paul, called a son in the faith (1 Tim 1:2) and Paul advised Timothy not to let others look down on him because of his age (1 Tim 4:12).

About Apollos (12)

“Now about Apollos…” Acts 18:24 introduces us to Apollos. It was friends of Paul who found Apollos teaching from the Scriptures and educated him in the true gospel. Apollos spent time in Corinth while Paul was elsewhere. He was a capable man of God. Paul rebuked the Corinthians for dividing over who was the best leader – Paul was not feeling insecure but wanted the church to be united over the gospel. Each leader does this or that but it is the gospel of Christ that gives life and eternal hope.

“…I strongly urged him…he was quite unwilling…but he will go when he has the opportunity.” Paul has had disputes and disagreements with people with regard to mission (Acts 15:37-40). Here, Paul shares a disagreement between himself and Apollos about when Apollos should go to Corinth. We mustn’t conclude, however, that this was a sharp dispute. It is an example of two people looking to please the Lord. Apollos’ missionary work was not Paul’s mission but the Lord’s. Our work with one another for the gospel does not boil down to setting up a leader and doing whatever they tell us to. It is about unity, peace, discussion and prayerfully moving forward. Paul’s next words may seem out of context but it could very well be an insight into how Paul has responded himself to this disagreement with Apollos…

Faith, (hope) and love (13)

“…Do everything in love.” Verse 13 helps us frame all of our relationships in the church and with regard to fulfilling the commission of the Lord:

  1. Be on your guard. Other texts remind us to be watchful. We are not to be found snoozing, idle, or misdirected in this life. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us to be alert and sober minded because our enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. When Paul and Apollos spoke about their differences, this would have been a great moment for the devil to take a bite! Be careful with every conversation – you never know which will lead to a moment of destruction rather than encouragement.
  2. Stand firm in the faith. The gospel is our firm foundation to stand on. Everything we do must be built up on top of that sturdy ground (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). See also 1 Cor 10:11-13; 15:1; 15:58. The warning to stand firm is given so that those who love the Lord will listen and take heed. Those who do not love the Lord will not take heed of such warnings. Paul is wise to consider what rock he stands on. If this gospel is built upon his logic or strategy, then it is not the gospel. He is wise to seek God’s kingdom and not his own. If Apollos is being pulled in a different direction, then trust God with that decision. Time will reveal if it was the will of God or not.
  3. Be courageous; be strong. Not just a good Colin Buchannan song, this is a charge given to the Lord’s people across the ages (Joshua 1:9). The reason we can be strong is because the Lord is with us. Paul has not been writing to a water-polo club – but to the church of God in Corinth. As God’s people, do not let any forces of nature or man overwhelm you. With Apollos delaying his travel to Corinth and Paul also remaining away for a while longer, the church in Corinth are called to be strong and courageous because God is with them. The absence of a leader does not mean the absence of the Lord.
  4. Do everything in love. He has spoken of this in Chapter 13. Without love, Paul may have shown impatience and no kindness toward Apollos. He desires the church in Corinth to respond in love also.

About Stephanas (14-18)

“…the house of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia…” Paul remembers Stephanas in passing back in 1Corinthians 1:16 when he was recalling the few people that he had actually baptised. Achaia was the province or region where Corinth and Athens were/are located. See Acts 18:2. Stephanas was part of Paul’s first visit to Corinth.

“…I urge you…to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labours at it.” We are getting the theme of this Chapter emerge by bits as we join up the little elements together. Churches everywhere who call on the name of Christ, such as the church in Jerusalem, are all part of the same mission. Giving financially, helping workers feel safe, allowing differences to exist without being divided, and getting behind those who are working hard for the Lord. This is not secret men’s business. It is open and transparent communication of the Lord’s business. It is not a closed ‘inner circle’ faith. All are welcome to hear the gospel, respond and then get on board the mission. With Paul’s direction in Verse 13 we shall be robust to work together and get behind one another.

“…they have supplied what was lacking from you.” The context implies that what was lacking was any refreshment for the spirit. Paul’s letter to Corinth is shaped by Paul’s disappointment with how they are living out their faith. If all he had to work with were the bad reports, perhaps he could dismiss that church as having abandoned the faith. But he has the refreshing visit from Stephanas and co. These men are worth getting behind! They deserve recognition. Not just from Paul but from the church that they have come from. There is a distinction between praising and fan-club-following like Paul was rebuking in Chapter 1 and when someone deserves to be recognised for their work in the faith.

Final greetings (19-24)

“…the province of Asia…” Not to be confused with what we call Asia, this is marked on historic maps as the western side of modern Turkey. Ephesus was the capital.

“Aquila and Priscilla…” They took Paul in as he worked with them as a tent-maker when he had first visited Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). This is a husband and wife team who worked for the Lord (Romans 16:3).

“…in my own hand…” The content may have been dictated but Paul always signed his letters with his own hand (2 Thes 3:17).

“If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!” Paul is not expressing anger toward anybody. Rather, stating the point that anyone found on judgement day without love for the Lord will be cursed. This is the harsh side of the gospel. It’s how salvation works and it’s how church fellowship works. There are those like Stephanas who ought to be recognised because they love the Lord, and then anyone who wants to take the words of this letter with hate can reconsider where they stand with the Lord.

“My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s letter of rebuke ends with a message of love. How people respond to this letter will depend on their love of the Lord! Paul hopes that they will respond with the advice of Verse 13 just as the relationship between Apollos and Paul is preserved on the basis of watchfulness, faith, hope and love. (I have aligned hope with courage and strength because it is based on how hope in the Lord for deliverance).

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Fellowship in the Lord’s work is made possible when the church loves the Lord. Giving financially, being flexible with plans, caring for the weak and respecting the strong and working through different perspectives can all be made possible when we love the Lord. Our faith is not dependant on the church but the church exists and thrives on the energy of faith. We are not alone. We are the church of God. Anybody who does not pursue love for the Lord can consider themselves not part of the church.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Planning to invest in the work of the Lord. When you are part of the church of God, our whole lives are given to the work of the Lord. Romans 6 says that we have died and now live for Christ. Jesus said that we cannot serve both God and money. So, what shall we do? Consider everything as though it belongs to God and make life decisions about how you use your money! With your salary, some of it shall be used for daily living, some of it to save for something, and some of it for giving! The rule is to be generous in all things (1 Tim 6:18; 2 Corinthians 9:10-15). Paul equates the gift of the gospel with riches given to us by God – not a prosperity gospel but that we now have everything we need in Christ (2 Corinthians 8:9). Paul had to write the Corinthians so that they would begin to save for the time that Paul came to collect their gift. Saving and giving are both conscious decisions. Spending is a piece of cake! But giving is a spiritual discipline which flows from our response to God’s great gift to us! Without sharing details of income and giving, take time to reflect on what approach people have to getting behind the work of God financially. Note that the church you are a part of is not the only place that you can give money too but it is an important place to give – because we are working on mission together.

Topic B: Dealing with differences without division. The church is filled with people who think differently, have different perspectives and different aims and goals. But when each member shares the same core truth of serving the Lord in all that we do, then these differences will not be about gospel issues but about which is best next. When people have a different view on something (as Apollos and Paul did) it is important to discuss it – otherwise we break fellowship and perhaps assume why the other person is acting in a different way. We need to share points of view, to listen and understand before differences flame into feuds. Then, we ought to go back to the basics of Who is LORD, Who’s kingdom are we serving, be on our guard against the devil taking advantage of us, stand for the faith, trust in God who delivers and then proceed with love.

Topic C: Inside the church or outside the faith. People say that you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Of course there is a slither of truth to this since going to church does not make everybody Christian. But when we individually turn to Christ then Christ directs us to community. Paul expects that those who love the Lord will even take a stern rebuke and still remain friends. He expects that the church be filled with Christ-centred souls who love one another on the basis that Christ has loved them. Paul send his love to all of you in Christ Jesus. It wasn’t just to those people he liked but his fellowship is immediately handed out to those who call on the name of the LORD to be saved. Being part of our church is more than just being present when you can. We encourage all to 

  1. know God through Jesus Christ, 
  2. to be a regular member of a church service to encourage the people of God, 
  3. Be connected to a Growth Group. This is not always easy. But these are designed to help the people of God to grow in their faith together and to nurture one another in faith and life.
  4. Be serving at church in a ministry. This may be operating the screens in church, serving in a kid’s program, visiting members at home, praying and many other ministry.
  5. Be active in mission. Praying for at least one other person is where we begin. As a church, we also support local, national and overseas missionaries. But we also encourage one another to be missionaries where we are at.

Being on board at church looks like this. What do you think?