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The Suffering Church
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The church of Smyrna was one of the seven churches of Asia Minor that received the Apostle John’s letters. Everything we know about the situation of the Christians in this little seaport city is found in the briefest of the seven letters (Revelation 2:8-11).

The church of Smyrna has been referred to as “the martyr church” or “the suffering church.” Even the meaning of the name Smyrna calls attention to the idea of suffering. It is translated “myrrh” and is derived from the root of a Hebrew word meaning “bitter.” Although the nature of their bitterness is not clearly stated, there are strong hints that it was the result of severe imperial persecution. Many believe that Smyrna, under the Emperor Domitian, was made the seat of emperor worship. The Roman government would persecute any Christian who refused to burn incense at the shrine of Caesar. Clearly, the church of Smyrna could be described in the words of the Apostle Peter as “those that suffer according to the will of God” (I Peter 4:19).

By a careful reading of the Holy Spirit’s letter to the suffering Church, we can see that they needed tender corrections in their attitude toward suffering. As praiseworthy as they were in the main, there were two areas that needed to be addressed. Suffering in the will of God was not the problem; responding to that suffering in the will of God was their problem.

The first indication of a spiritual problem is latent in the words of Revelation 2:10. “Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer.” Greek scholars tell us that the force in the original language is “stop being afraid.” It is strongly implied that the suffering Christians were not only afraid of their present suffering, but of the suffering they might be called on to endure in the future. There was much cause for the Christians at Smyrna to fear — words like tribulation, Satan, suffering, poverty, prison and death described their situation. The suffering Christians of Smyrna were told to stop fearing their circumstances.

A second indication of a spiritual problem is suggested by four parenthetical words in Revelation 2:9, “But thou art rich.” Understandably, the Christians at Smyrna didn’t feel very rich, especially after receiving this letter. They were told that the tribulation, blasphemy and suffering would not come to an end in this life. They were warned that they would be reduced to extreme poverty and destitution, cast into prison and they were encouraged to be faithful unto death. In spite of their circumstances, they were reminded of their wealth in union with the Lord.

Why did they have to be told to stop fearing? Because they were afraid! Why did they need to be told that they were rich? Because they didn’t consider themselves wealthy! If we dare take our eyes off Jesus and begin to look at our circumstances — failures, the burdens associated with aging, failing health, fi nancial needs, our sinful past, the pressures and uncertainties of the present — fear will fi ll our hearts and we will feel like the poorest Christians in God’s family. No circumstance should ever rob the Christian of peace or the wealth of their position in Christ.

Revelation 2:9 informed the suffering Christians that the Lord is well acquainted with the origin of their circumstances. Revelation 2:9,10 informed them that the Lord is well aware of the form that trouble would take. Revelation 2:10 also reminded them that the Lord is sovereign as to the duration of their suffering. Clearly, from the same verse, the Lord also knew exactly how it would end. There are no surprises or emergencies in heaven. The ground of the Christian’s peace and joy is not whether God rescues, delivers, heals, thwarts the enemy’s plans, removes the sufferings or gives the needed grace. The resting place of faith is that the Lord is on His throne. He knows and controls the origin, the form, the duration and the results of the suffering.

May God enable those who suffer in the will of God to allow Him to have the first and last word in all we are called to suffer.

Fear not! You are rich!