I love God's plan of the Sabbath Year and particularly the Year of Jubilee. What a tremendous display of God's mercy, compassion, and generosity - which means it's also hugely convicting for us to display those same characteristics in our lives as believers.
Unfortunately, there's not much evidence that the Jews every actually carried out the Year of Jubilee. People's natural reaction when others are down is often to take advantage of them for their own gain, instead of helping them out with generosity, expecting nothing in return. What a challenge for us. Are we willing to help others when they are in need, or do we look for a way to gain from their loss? Are we willing to give without expecting anything in return, or are we more concerned about our bottom line?
Truthfully, there should be no poor among us - not because God guarantees everyone riches, but because the church should rally around those who fall on hard times, despite their best efforts. We shouldn't enable those who are lazy to continue in their irresponsibility, but we also shouldn't be looking for a loophole in order to get out of helping each other.
Do we have a spirit of mercy, compassion, and generosity? And do we live out what we say we believe?
In our Revelation passage we are again confronted with several spiritual challenges.
Though the church in Sardis has a small remnant of faithful believers, the majority of them were nominal if not non-existent believers. They looked good on the outside, but were spiritually dead inside. They didn't seem to have any glaring faults - no false teachers, no obvious compromise with the world, no overturning of the gospel. They looked like a Christian church - but they were apathetic, and on the verge of spiritual death - and come under the greatest condemnation of the seven churches.
The natural tendency of our souls is spiritual entropy. In order to prevent spiritual decay we cannot coast or become complacent or think we've arrived. We have to work at our faith in order for it to continue to grow. Sometimes we need to get back to the basics and rebuild from there.
But, thankfully, there is a different between mostly dead and all dead. The church of Sardis heeded God's warnings, and their faith was awakened! We know from history that a man named Melito was bishop of Sardis and the church he pastored fifty or sixty years after John wrote the book of Revelation was a faithful Christian congregation full of life.
The church of Philadephia was reminded that there is a limited opportunity for evangelism. At some point, God will close the door on the opportunity for salvation and judgment is certain. Often we lack confidence to talk to people about the gospel because Christians are a minority, lacking size and influence in our culture. If almost everyone was a genuine believer, it would be much easier to talk about it.
That being said, we need to remember that it is not us that does the work, the Holy Spirit does. He will draw people to Himself, but we can choose whether or not to be blessed by playing a part in how God moves when we obey the call to speak the truth. We need to be purposeful and proactive in spreading the gospel when we sense God calling us to speak.
The believers in Philadelphia are also reminded that God will always walk with them through trials, tribulation, or persecution. He is faithful and He will keep us strong in hard times.
The church in Laodicea was condemned for being lukewarm. They were neither hot (like the hot water of Hierapolis thought to have healing qualities and used for baths) nor refreshingly cold. They were lukewarm - useless. They weren't doing anything to advance the kingdom, they were ineffective and unproductive witnesses of the gospel.
Wealth can lead to complacency and a lack of dependence on God. True value is not in material possessions, but in a right relationship with God and our everlasting future in His kingdom.
God's purpose in discipline is always to draw us back to Him and to strengthen our faith.
The last thing that jumped out at me was how many times it says "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches". We can hear unproductively, like the saying "it goes in one ear and out the other". Biblical knowledge is important, yes. But we need to take that biblical knowledge and apply it to our lives in order to have truly heard what the Spirit is saying.
Are you listening?
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Leviticus 26-27; Revelation 4