Written by Garner Fritts
I have had the privilege for several years now to manage people and critique their performance. We use Quality Assurance forms in my office, or QA’s, to accomplish this. I go through the patterns of making notes about things being done correctly to encourage the one being examined. At the same time, I look for things they are not doing well in order to raise their level of performance. When I administer these to the workers, their reactions vary. Some are grateful for the appraisal, citing that they want to know where they stand in order to improve and make more money. Others react defensively as if they are being personally attacked, despite the fact each QA is prefaced with the idea of it being “constructive criticism” to help them. Still others have no reaction and quietly accept the evaluation, yet it doesn’t always translate into improved performance for one reason or another. Either way, the QA has become a tool which eventually leads to greater production or punitive measures for the betterment of the employee and the health of the company.
Christ did something similar, albeit with more serious overtones, with His admonitions to four churches mentioned in the second chapter of Revelation. Each church had their successes and failures. The Lord generally spoke to them as a group. The only person singled out in this apocalyptic letter is the “angel” presiding over each church. (v.1, 8, 12, 18) Most scholars agree that this “angel” likely represents the pastor-elder who shepherded their respective flocks.
The Chief Shepherd had some praiseworthy things to say about these assemblies. The church of Ephesus was commended for not tolerating false apostles and for opposing the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (v.2, 3, 6). The so-called apostles may have been the same type of individuals Paul had dealt with at Corinth (2 Corinthians 11). Some scholars believe the Nicolaitans were a group that turned God’s grace into licensure for sin. Clement of Alexandria stated that they abandoned themselves to pleasure like goats. Smyrna was recognized for their stance against those claiming to be Jews but were of the “synagogue of Satan” (v.9). This group may have been Judaizers who were mixing law with grace (Acts 15:1; Galatians 2:4; 5:3-4). The Lord acknowledged Pergamum for their steadfast faithfulness in facing persecution (v.13). It is believed this persecution came from the Roman governor of that city who was antagonistic toward Christians. Jesus praised Thyatira for their faith, good works and fruit they were manifesting before all (v.19).
Christ also had some hard things to address with His people. The Ephesian church was rebuked for losing the passionate first love they had for Him (v.4). The Master warned Smyrna of impending suffering at the hands of the devil (v.10). The Lord reprimanded Pergamum for holding to the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans (v.14, 15). Balaam had seduced the Israelites into idolatry and sexual deviance (Numbers 31:16). Christ rebuked Thyatira for following the ways of Jezebel (v20, 21). This wicked woman manipulated others to impose her will and was an intense advocate of Baal worship and all of its fertility rites (see 1 Kings 18-21).
The labels and the characters change over time, but the same problems exist in the churches of our generation. There are still the self-indulgent who have a form of godliness but deny the power (1 Timothy 3:1-5). They try to embrace both Christ and a sinful lifestyle. The sins of idolatry, pride, promiscuity and a host of others have infected congregations at an alarming level. While such evils are happening in their midst, church leaders have become accomplices by tolerating it. Silence on the subject has given a green light to things that ought not to be. It is spiritually neutralizing for believers and damaging to the testimony of Jesus.
The Master is calling us to receive our spiritual QA. Those who have ears to hear must listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches (v.7, 11, 17, 29). This isn’t merely an admonition for specific congregations, but a clarion call for all of God’s people through all of history. He has given us the biblical patterns for properly dealing with sin in the church (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 6:1). These things must be done in love to restore and cannot be ignored or overlooked. If we do not deal with it, God will take unpleasant actions to preserve His glory among His chosen (v.5, 16, 22-23). God will not only give us a perfect assessment, He will empower us to do what is needed if we will only cooperate with His Spirit. Once we do that, we will reap the benefits of inner growth and eternal rewards (v.7, 10, 17, v.26-28).