Advent Theme: Faith
What’s a Nicolaitan? You ask good questions. From the text, we can reasonably assume that the Nicolaitans were teaching some version of the gospel or giving instruction in the faith that was contrary to 1) what John believed to be true or appropriate and 2) may also have been contrary to what the larger Christian community received and perceived to be true and appropriate.
How can one tell a false teacher or prophet? A false teacher tries to become the center of worship,instead of focusing on God. A false prophet seeks his own gain, instead of working for the sake of community and the kingdom. The profit motive and inappropriate focus may not be clear at first, but the truth will always out.
The church in Ephesus is struggling to continue in faithful discipleship. They remain stalwart in testing false teachers, meaning they are oriented toward correct doctrine. BUT! It is not enough. In their focus on truthful teaching, they have fallen away from demonstrations of care and compassion. In short, they’ve started to be only hearers of the Word and neglected to be doers of the same. This is of great concern to John, who uses the metaphor of Christ walking among the lampstands to remind the church at Ephesus that Jesus is there with them.
The church in Smyrna is struggling with the forces that oppose God. These forces are recognizable by how they put up roadblocks to discipleship and faithful witness. The presence of suffering itself is not a signifier of these forces; however, persecution because of one’s good work in caring for others and God’s creation is a clear sign of potentially both the spiritual forces that oppose God and the powers and principalities of this world that can do the same. Smyrna is urged, as are we, to renounce these forces and to continue on with the work of care and compassion in community and of worshiping God in all times and places.
Potential take-away: In the season of Advent, many of the dichotomies of our present life are brought into sharp focus. We are surrounded by a “gimme” culture, which encouraged indebtedness and plays on insecurities around having the “right stuff”. At the same time, we are encouraged to give charitably, more than any other time of the year, even though need knows no season. What would it look like to step back from both of these things- to simplify both our giving and our getting? Would it feel like returning to “our first love”, God’s own love- which our Creator gives to us before we were even born?
Holy God, help me to pace myself in this season. More than anything, I ask for the gift of hearing Your voice and feeling Your presence. This may come through service, through worship, or in a still, small place where You reveal Yourself to me. Open my heart to perceive the Spirit of faith in this season. In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.