A Provocative Church: Holding Fast To Hope
The book of Revelation contains seven letters written to seven churches in seven cities in Asia Minor, what we know today as Turkey. I find it interesting to note that the longest of the seven letters was written to the church in the smallest and least important of those seven cities, the city of Thyatira. Thyatira did not possess the wealthy prominence of Ephesus or the commercial importance of Smyrna or the strategic location of Pergamum. It was just an ordinary little place.
However, that does not make it any less important because there was an issue in Thyatira that aroused the response of Jesus Himself. Let me try to explain. Thyatira was a textile community, and consequently, the city was dominated by the trade guilds or unions which were closely associated to the worship of pagan gods. Well you can see the bind in which that placed the Christians in Thyatira. If they were involved in the wool or cloth-dying industry, and virtually everyone in Thyatira was, then being a member of the trade guild was necessary for business advancement and material prosperity. But if the Christians refused to engage in the pagan worship practices required by the trade guilds, then it meant commercial suicide and financial bankruptcy. The choice was clear. So the problem in the church at Thyatira was that some of the leaders of that church, one woman in particular, were encouraging the Christians to achieve success by ignoring their Sunday faith during the other days of the week.
That’s still a problem for Christians, isn’t it? I mean, how do you let your faith show during the course of your regular activities each week? For example, if you are dealing in real estate where big, fast dollars are made, can Christ be seen in you as you make those deals? He could if you let Him. You who are physicians, can your patients see something of the Great Physician in you? If they cannot see Him in you, they may never see Him anywhere. You who are bankers, do your customers sense in you something of the inspiration Christ has brought to your life? Or do they see only interest rates and payment schedules? If they don’t see Christ, why not? You who are teachers engaged in shaping young lives—are those young lives being shaped in such a way that those hearts, minds and souls become a fertile ground for the seeds of faith to grow into full bloom? If your students do not see the Spirit of Christ in you, then where else will they see it?
Do you get the point? You and I of the church are employed in banks, businesses, offices, schools, homes, all over the city. If Christianity is going to make an impact in this city, then it’s got to happen in the places where you do your work and spend your time. If it doesn’t happen there, then it is not going to happen. That is why Christ said to the church in Thyatira, and now says to our church: “Hold fast to what you have until I come again.”
I know that’s not easy to do because the issues and the needs and the difficulties of life mount up around us and we are tempted to give out, to give in, to give up, to quit. That’s why I think the Word of Christ for us today is: Hold fast to your faith.
Let me try to explain what I mean.
We need to hold fast to enthusiasm.
Friedrich Nietzsche, the atheist once said: “I would believe in the Christian’s salvation if they looked and acted a little more like people who had been saved.” Sinclair Lewis began his best-selling novel with a stinging little sentence: “It was twelve noon by the clock on the courthouse tower, and the Presbyterian church began to give up its dead.” Oh my! There are many people today who jokingly refer to the Presbyterian Church as “God’s frozen chosen.” My friends, we are in possession of the greatest truth the world has ever known—the truth of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. We have to celebrate that truth and let it show in our faces, in our joy, in our eagerness, in our enthusiasm. Yes, Nietzsche said: “I would believe in the Christians salvation if they looked and acted a little more like people who have been saved.”
That’s what the church needs—a sense of eagerness and joy, a burning passion for the cause of Jesus Christ. I want us to rejoice in what God has done in the stirring history of this church. I want us to rejoice in what God is doing in us and through us now. I want us to look forward with a song on our lips to what God will do with us in the future. When I see the crying needs of the people in this city and how this church could meet those needs I can barely contain myself. That’s what Christ is saying to us now: Don’t give out. Hold fast to your eagerness and enthusiasm for doing the work of Jesus Christ in this city and in this world.
And we need to hold fast to courage.
The Christians in Thyatira faced economic disaster. Courage was what they needed more than anything else. Courage is an essential ingredient for Christian witness in any age, in any city. Understand me please, courageous people are not people who have no fear. Rather, they are people who know that anything worthy of attainment can be achieved regardless of the risks or the dangers if they are committed to it. They have fear, but they refuse to be mastered by the fear. Just look at the life of Jesus. He did not relish the prospect of pain and death upon the cross. He prayed: “Father, let this cup pass from me.” But He was committed to fulfilling God’s purpose for His life, regardless of the danger, and so He then prayed courageously, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done.” Look at the life of Martin Luther. He worked hard to avoid a painful confrontation with the religious establishment of His day, but when it could not be avoided and the moment of truth came, and the threat against his life was real, his courage prevailed, and he cried out: “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.”
What I am trying to say to you is this: In this city of ours where some dreams are turning to nightmares, and where some ambitions and aspirations are becoming agonies, we as a church must have the courage to make choices, and decisions, and commitments which contribute to the protection of human life, and the alleviation of human need, and the transformation of human beings, and the redemption of human souls. We need the courage of our convictions. We must resist the temptation to give in, to compromise, to water down the tenets of our faith. It is that margin of steadfastness that is often the measure of victory. When the Duke of Wellington was asked about his victory over the French at Waterloo, he said: “It is not that the English soldiers were braver than the French soldiers, it is that they were brave five minutes longer.” Christ says to us now: “Don’t give in. Don’t yield to compromise. Stand firm in your faith. Hold fast in your courage.”
And then we do need to hold fast to hope.
“I’m stuck like a dope with a thing called hope” sang Mary Martin in the play “South Pacific”, but the fact is you’re not a dope to be filled with hope. No civilization can long endure without hope. Martin Luther believed that everything worthwhile in life is accomplished by hope. John Calvin may have said it best of all. “What would become of us if we did not move through the darkness of this world on the pathway which is illumined by hope?” He is, of course, speaking of the hope of Jesus Christ and His way and His promise of eternity.
I believe Christ is saying to us: Hold fast to your hope. Don’t give up. No matter how overwhelming the difficulties and the challenges of this life may seem, keep on believing. Why? Because this is still our Father’s world, and we can rest ourselves in the thought that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. He will have the last word. He is our hope. Christ in us—the hope of glory.
I have long been helped in my own hope by remembering a man whose wife died, leaving him with a small son. Back home from the cemetery, they went to bed early because there was nothing else he could bear to do. As he lay there in the darkness, heart-broken and grief-stricken, he was jolted by a question from the little boy stretched out beside him: “Daddy”, the little boy said: “When is Mommy coming back?” The father tried to answer out of his own agony, but the boy still seemed disturbed. Finally the little boy said: “Daddy, if your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep now.” The father turned his face to the little boy and in a little while the little boy dropped off to sleep. The father lay there in the darkness and then he lifted up his own needy heart to His Father in heaven and he prayed: “Oh, God, the way is dark, and I confess that right now I do not see my way through, but if Your face is toward me, I think I can make it.”
That’s it. No matter what happens in this life, my friends, the Good News of our faith is that God’s face is toward us. God is with us. In Jesus Christ we cannot lose.