Stories and News
Bible Studies For Life
July 4, 2021
VIGILANT AGAINST COMPLACENCY
Sardis was a fabled and fabulous city, renowned in the ancient world for its wealth. In fact, many historians believe the very first coins minted were minted from the gold of Sardis. As well, the city lay at the western end of a highway leading east into Persia. Thus, it was a trade route for all kinds of merchandize traveling in and out of Persia. Interestingly, the city was built on the side of a cliff making them incredibly secure…or so they thought. Twice the city was invaded and sacked, before an earthquake shook it loose around 17 AD.
Sardis was also known for its hot mineral springs which were said to have the power to reverse pending death. It’s a shame the church could not take advantage of those hot springs…they sure needed them, because Jesus said the church at Sardis was dead!
A dead church (v. 1). I remember the time lightning struck an oak tree in the yard where I grew up. When a forestry man came by to examine it, he said, “Even though the branches and leaves may continue for a few more years, the tree is dead. It just doesn’t know it yet.” And so it was with the church at Sardis.
Other than the sad account given in these 6 verses, we know nothing more about the church. There is no mention of strife, persecution, heresy, or hypocrisy. But something went terribly wrong in Sardis. Although they gave everyone the impression they were alive and well, like that oak tree in my yard growing up, they were dead. They just didn’t know it yet! For reflection: Through the years, I have heard many believers complain that their church is dead. What do we normally mean when we say that? Why do you think so many churches today lack vitality?
A doomed church (vv. 2-3). Interestingly, while the church as a whole was dead, there were some believers there who still stood pure before God (v. 4). And what’s even more surprising, is that God wasn’t done yet with the church! Their works were not “complete before God.” But unless they corrected their course—and did so quickly—they were doomed. God’s solution had three steps. First, they needed to remember what they received and heard. The verb tense indicates that the value of the gospel they received initially was still continuing among them and still accessible to them. Second, they were warned to keep it. The idea is to grasp it and hold on to it. Third, they were commanded (as always), to repent. In their case, it was not so much what they did that zapped their spiritual vitality, but rather what they didn’t do. The warning in verse 3 is dramatic. Unless they were vigilant in their spiritual duties, the Lord would visit them…but not in a good way! For reflection: Where else does the “thief in the night” motif appear in Scripture? What connotations are associated with that simile? Is it a good thing…or a bad thing?
A divided church (vv. 4-6). Like every congregation, the church at Sardis had some dedicated believers; those who had not stained their clothing. Like Thyatira, Sardis had a booming garment industry. In fact, they were the first to dye wool for garments, so they would have understood the analogy of being stained very well. Because they kept their earthly garments clean, they would be given a garment of pure white by Christ and would walk securely with Him. For reflection: What does Christ’s promise to the clean mean for us today? Is it possible to live a life committed to Christ personally, and still be a part of a dead church? What can the pure members do to help bring the vitality back?
July 11, 2021
FAITHFUL IN ALL THINGS
About thirty miles southeast of Sardis, was Philadelphia. Philadelphia was the newest of the seven churches, founded around 189 BC. At 800 feet up the valley’s hillside, the city was not meant to be a military fortress, but rather a center for Greek art and culture. Like its sister city Sardis, Philadelphia was rocked by a sizeable earthquake in 17 AD and was rebuilt by Rome. It too, had a monument dedicated to the Roman emperor who rebuilt the city. The remarks aimed at the church there are commendable, but with the subtle warning to “hold on to what you have.”
The Christ (v. 7). The description of Christ as the speaker is dramatic. His attributes are listed first: He is Holy. The central idea of holiness is separateness. Christ is the one and only and there is none like Him. And He is True. That means that He is the essence of truth. Next, His authority is described. He has the “key of David” (see Is. 22:22). Keys always represent access. As King David ruled, he had the absolute authority to allow people into his kingdom or to shut them out. So it is with Christ and the Kingdom of God. For reflection: How did Christ provide access to His kingdom for sinners like us? How does this principle relate to what Jesus told Peter in Matt. 16:18-20?
The church (vv. 8). Unlike some of the other seven churches, we know very little about this one. It was likely started by Paul during his three years at Ephesus. But the description given here is quite laudable. Three characteristics are mentioned. First, they were strong for their size. This is the general idea of “limited strength” (literally, “a little power”) in verse 8. Second, the church kept His word. This phrase not only refers to obeying it, but also means they set a guard over it. Clearly the church valued the word of God. Third, the congregation never denied His name. This may have been a general statement meaning the church stayed true to the faith. But it is just as likely to apply to those saints who, under direct persecution, refused to renounce Christ even under the threat of torture or even death. For reflection: The Bible teaches that difficult times will increase for God’s people as His coming approaches. Do you see evidence of the world’s attacks increasing? Do you believe your church is prepared to face such attacks? How could we better prepare our people?
The consequences (vv. 8-10). Because of their faithfulness, the church was rewarded with opportunity, honor, and security. In terms of opportunity, there was afforded to them an open-door for service. When the apostle Paul spoke of an open door, it especially involved opportunities to share the gospel of Christ (see 1 Cor. 16:8-9; 2 Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:2-3). In terms of honor, they would actually be exalted by their persecutors. Like the church in Smyrna, the church at Philadelphia was under attack by unbelieving Jews who had forsaken their own faith, much less Christianity. The picture here is not one of worship, but respect. To fall at one’s feet is to be in total submission, indicating total defeat. In terms of security, the church would be kept from the hour of testing (v. 10). While this can be protection from tribulation in general, it can also refer specifically to the Great Tribulation (see Dan. 9 and Matt. 24), those seven years of wrath from which Christ’s church will be either supernaturally protected (as some believe) or removed entirely through the Rapture (see 1 Thess. 4:13-18). For reflection: Do you believe the church will go through the Great Tribulation or be taken away before? What is your pastor’s view? What Scriptures can be used to support both sides of this debate?
July 18, 2021
SUFFICIENT IN CHRIST ALONE
Water is made up of three molecules: two hydrogen molecules combined with one oxygen molecule makes a water molecule. You can find it in the air; you can find it in all living things. It is necessary for life. The animals need it, the lawn needs it, the garden needs it and people need it. You can drink it from a spring or from a stream; from a fountain or from the tap; from a well or from a glacier. You can pay a fortune for the fancy bottled stuff or drink it free from a garden hose! But it’s still water: two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen.
As near as I can tell, the only issues that affect water (when it comes to drinking it) are the container in which it is stored, and the temperature at which it is served. As we shall see, the Lord Jesus was careful in selecting His words to describe the church at Laodicea.
The context. Laodicea was located due east of Ephesus, making it the southeasternmost city in the cycle of seven cities. The city of Colossae was a close neighbor. The city was made up largely of Syrians but had nearly 10,000 Jewish men living there. Historical records say the Jews of the city were lax in their religion and lazy in their lifestyle. As a center for commerce and banking, the city was wealthy. An earthquake in 60 AD destroyed part of the city, but they were wealthy enough to rebuild it with their own money. So they gained the reputation of being rich…and arrogant about it. The city was known for its high-quality black wool used in fabric as well as rugs. They also had a renowned medical community and developed and marketed an eye ointment. In terms of the church, we know nothing apart from this graphic description. For reflection: It’s important to understand the circumstances of this city. Otherwise, the counsel Jesus offered makes little sense!
The condemnation (vv. 15-16). Apparently, the laxity of the Laodicean lifestyle had been swept right into the church. These folks were content in their own lack of commitment (v. 17). The wording here is very direct. As far as Christ was concerned, these people were sickening! If only they were hot…like the hot springs of Hierapolis, a city of spas just 6 miles to the north. There, the hot springs brought soothing relief, strength, and restoration. If they were hot in their commitment and fervent in their faith, then Christ would know what to do with them. Or if they were only cold, like the fresh running streams of Colossae just 10 miles to the east. There people drank the water to be refreshed and invigorated. If only the church at Laodicea was cold and refreshing like that of Colossae, He would know what to do. But the water in Laodicea was not like either of its sister cities. It had no wells of its own, so the water was piped into the city along several miles of underground aqueducts. Along the way the water picked up a foul taste from the ancient trough that flowed into the city. And along the way, the water became tepid. The final product was water that was foul tasting, odorous, and almost undrinkable. In essence, the Lord told the church, “You are just like your water…you are tepid and foul. You aren’t hot and relaxing. You aren’t cold and refreshing.” The other churches made the Lord angry. Laodicea made the Lord sick! For reflection: In what ways do you think today’s church has become lukewarm? What do you think it would take to make them vibrant again?
The counsel (vv. 18-22). Here, the context of the city (mentioned above) comes into play. The Lord advised them to invest in real gold; the treasures found only in Him. Second, He suggested white garments of purity, in contrast to the dark wool they were known for. Third, He offered His own eye salve, as opposed to theirs, to restore their spiritual sight. Finally, He offered them an open invitation to a genuine intimacy with Him (v. 21). For reflection: Verse 21 has been used for years as an evangelistic tool. But the context is Jesus knocking on the door of the church (not one’s heart). What do you think the idea of the church dining with Christ entails?
July 25, 2021
SERVE WITH COURAGE
1 Kings 16:29-33; 17:1-6
The history of Israel is colorful, to say the least. By the time of Samuel, God’s prophet and judge, the people of Israel were clamoring for a king (see 1 Sam. 8). Samuel warned them that kings required such things as servitude, and armies, and taxes. But the people persisted, and God relented. Only three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon) reigned over a unified kingdom, before civil war broke out and Israel was divided into two nations: Israel (to the north) and Judah (to the south). As near as I can decipher, both nations had 19 kings. While some in the southern kingdom of Judah were good and godly,none of the kings of Israel were good. In fact, the six kings leading up to Ahab left a legacy of violence, bloodshed, assassinations, murder, idolatry, immorality, conspiracy, deception, duplicity, drunkenness, suicide, and outright paganism! That was the mess that Elijah faced.
A wretched ruler (16:29-33). Back in verse 25, the Bible says that King Omri “did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did worse than all who were before him.” Just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do! Because all of the evil that Omri did was not only matched, but surpassed by his son, Ahab (v. 30). In introducing him, the text lists three specific sins that Ahab committed. First, was his godless marriage. The wicked woman that Ahab took as his queen came from a line of corrupt and murderous kings every bit as evil as the kings of Israel. Jezebel was so considered a filthy and evil woman that she is the namesake of the evil seductress mentioned in Revelation 2. What’s more, King Ahab was a sniveling, spineless, weak man. As a result, the kingdom was Jezebel’s to rule. Second, was Ahab’s sponsorship of idolatry (vv. 31-33). To please his wife, Ahab erected various temples and high places for the worship of Baal. Third, in violation of the curse given by Joshua (see Josh. 6:26), Ahab allowed the rebuilding of the wasted city of Jericho. The sad result? “Ahab did more to provoke the Lord God of Israel than all the kings of Israel who were before him” (v. 33). For reflection: Why do you think God allows evil leaders to rule over His people?
A courageous confrontation (17:1). Then along came Elijah. His name means, “My God is the Lord.” He is from the land of Tishbeh, a virtually unknown town near Gilead. Since Gilead was a rugged and barren land east of the Jordan, historians surmise that Elijah would have been a rugged, outdoorsy man, used to the wind and the wild. Later in the Bible he is described as cloaked with a mantle of rough hair and a leather belt (2 kings 1:8). This fits nicely with his New Testament counterpart, John the Baptist, who wore camel hair and a leather belt (see Matt. 3:4). The man of God approached the wicked king ruling the people of God and without so much as a bow and a greeting, declared: “As the Lord God of Israel lives, I stand before Him, and there will be no dew or rain during these years except by my command!” Everything Elijah said and did would have been offensive to King Ahab: his name (“My God is the Lord”); his authority (“As the Lord God of Israel lives”); his posture (he remained standing before the king); and his prophecy(who did this crazy man think he was?). For reflection: What do think was Ahab’s initial reaction to Elijah? How long do you think it was before Elijah became a “wanted” man?
A providential presence (17:2-6). God’s plan for Elijah included four specific instructions. First, “Get away from hereand turn east,” away from the King. Next, hide in and drink from the small stream called Cherith. Eventually Ahab would come looking for him. And eventually, Elijah would need the water! And finally, let the ravens serve you. For reflection: Elijah was a rugged man from a barren land. He certainly could have found his own food and drink. Why do you think God told him to rest and refresh, and let the birds feed him.
During her 30 years as Florida Baptists’ director of communications, Barbara ventured across the state — and to Cuba and Haiti — to report on Baptist witness and, amid natural disaster, Baptist compassion.
Barbara and her husband, Dick, are currently enjoying spending time with their first grandchild, Finley, along with Finley’s parents Ashford and Chantal and Barbara and Dick’s daughter, Addie.
Keila earned a B.S. in Communications from Florida International University in Miami. She writes news and stories about Florida Baptist churches, creates and posts social content to the FBC’s social media channels, and is a Baptist Press contributor.
When she’s not working, Keila enjoys bike rides and spending time with her family.
Barbara, a member at Eau Gallie First BC, Melbourne, and a graduate of Florida State University, B.S., Speech Pathology/Audiology, taught Pre-K/VPK for many years. While living and serving in Maine, she wrote articles for the NEW ENGLAND BAPTIST, and currently writes for the Brevard Baptist Association’s newsletter, THE BRIDGE. She loves serving alongside her husband Mike (Associational Mission Strategist, Brevard Baptist Association), spending time with their three grandchildren, sewing and reading.
David Moore has been writing and editing for newspapers and magazines in Florida for more than 20 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. A proud member of First Baptist Church of Ocala, David serves in the worship, deacon and NextGen ministries. He and his wife Beth have three children.
Jessica received her B.S. in Biblical Studies from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. She contributes to Florida Baptist Conv, Biblical Woman, Baptist Press, The Devotional for Women, and Daily Devotional Bible for Women. Her greatest joy is serving beside her husband who is the Senior Pastor of Fellowship Church.
Brandi is a writer and editor for N2 Publishing, a community magazine that honors God. She and her family attend Fishhawk Fellowship Church and are a Host Family for Safe Families for Children, Bethany Christian Services. Her background is in Healthcare Management, Policies & Procedures.