Revelation 2-3 contains seven letters written to seven different churches in Turkey, all within about a hundred-mile radius from one another. As I wrote in my last Bible blog, each letter begins with a particular description of Jesus and ends with a promise to those who overcome. Each of the seven churches to whom Jesus addresses a letter have different things to overcome.
The church in Ephesus was hard working and persevering. They hated evil and ferreted out false teachers and false doctrine. Yet they had lost their passion for Christ Himself. They lacked the joy of love for their Savior. They had to overcome a heart that had grown cold and distant.
The church in Smyrna had suffered much for Christ. And they were about to suffer more. They had to overcome fear and the discouragement that comes with poverty, imprisonment, and trials of many kinds—all the results of persecution.
The church in Pergamos had seen some of their own martyred, and they lived in a strongly antagonistic culture, yet they had held fast to Christ and their faith in Him. But they had mixed their faith in Christ with idolatry. With them it was OK to have Christ and to hold onto their other cultural religions at the same time. Their moral conduct had also not been affected by their faith in Christ. You could have Jesus and your idols, Jesus and your sexual sins. They had to overcome a divided heart and false notions of Christianity.
The church in Thyatira was busy serving and doing good works. They had love for others and faith and perseverance. But they tolerated evil and the false teaching that leads to the acceptance of sin. They needed to overcome a lackadaisical, tolerant attitude toward sin and the evil of their surrounding culture.
The church in Sardis was spiritually dead. They had an appearance of life—perhaps they had lots of programs going and seemed excited—but the reality was they were inwardly dead toward God. They were defiled. Confession with no substance. No heart change. No resulting transformation of life. Maybe they thought, like many who call themselves Christians today, that the Gospel offered a ticket to heaven rather than the gift of righteousness. They had to overcome outward appearances and hypocrisy, a desire for heaven without a desire for righteousness, and the camaraderie of belonging to a social club rather than begin grafted into the life flow of Christ.
The church in Philadelphia had "a little strength." They kept God's Word and didn't deny the name of Christ. They persevered. Jesus has no words of rebuke for them, but says that He places before them an open door. Yet Jesus still tells them they must overcome. Even though they were walking firmly with Christ, they were told to "hold fast." They had to overcome the draining away of strength that comes from open-door opportunities, the constant temptation to let down their guard or to become apathetic or weary toward the opportunities God was placing before them. They had to overcome the easier path, the temptation to walk away from rather than through the open doors God was placing before them.
The church in Laodicea was complacent. They thought they had so much. They were well off; things were going well for them—materially. Their material comfort zone blinded them to the reality of their spiritual poverty. They needed to overcome the ease of wealth and the apathy of needing nothing. They also needed to overcome their own self-deception.
These seven churches are no different than we are today. Do you see yourself in any of those churches? Take some time to reflect on the different things they were called to overcome. Ask Christ the show you the state of your heart. Jesus calls us all to overcome things in our lives—even when we're strong in our faith. What is it He is calling you to overcome?