“WORK WITH THE END IN MIND”
Eric, a first year college student, moved into the dormitory. Once he had arranged his things inside his room, he cut a large golden letter “V” out of paper and posted it on his door. Others often would ask what the “V” meant, but Eric never would say. When his friends went out to party, he instead spent long hours in the library. He made friends for sure, but he kept his priorities straight. The four years passed quickly, and graduation day came. The Vice Chancellor of the school introduced him as the valedictorian. Eric came to the podium, then opened up his folder. Carefully, he took out what was inside. With a huge smile on his face, he held it up a large golden “V” as his classmates burst into applause.
Eric is a good example of what Steven Covey, the leadership guru, identified as one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Here it is: WORK WITH THE END IN MIND. And that’s exactly how our passage today is structured. Revelation 2:26-29 is a description of the golden letter “V,” a picture of the conqueror, the overcomer, the victor. God desires a wonderful outcome for each of us and in Jesus’ words to the church in Thyatira we find solid advice on how best to work with the end (or the goal) in mind. Allow me to paraphrase that advice as follows:
- Celebrate and keep doing what is working well.
- Avoid pitfalls.
II. CELEBRATE AND KEEP DOING WHAT IS WORKING WELL
In Rev. 2:18, the Son of God, Christ himself – whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet like burnished bronze – congratulates the church in Thyatira.
That’s a lesson in and of itself. It seems like if you steal something or shoot somebody, you get mentioned in the news. How often, though, do we as a church celebrate the achievements of our own people? Maybe one of our children won a dance contest. Celebrate it! Or perhaps one of our brothers got a promotion at work. Can we celebrate that? There are dozens of good things, wholesome achievements that fly under the radar. Maybe we don’t know about them, or maybe we do, but do we praise God for what he is allowing us to achieve both as a church and as individuals in the church?
Jesus says in verse 19: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” Those are high words of praise! Who at the end of their life when the believers gather for the funeral would not want that kind of praise?
“Sister so-and-so was loving and faithful.”
“Brother so-and-so served us well and didn’t quit.”
In the same way, take inventory of your life. What are you doing well? Are you a good provider, showing up at work on-time and giving your best to your employer? Then you need to tell your spouse: “Good job! Keep up the good work.” Maybe your children used to leave their toys lying around the house, to the point where they were a hazard. But now, they’re doing better. Or maybe last term they had a “D” on their report card but this time they raised it to be “B.” That’s worth celebrating. Perhaps someone at school said a very hurtful thing to your daughter, but instead of getting bitter, she prayed and God helped her forgive them. Parents, take a minute to celebrate your daughter’s forgiving heart. It will serve them well throughout life.
It’s important to identify what we’re doing well. Several times, I’ve taught a course on preaching. One student would preach and the others would have a handout where they could write comments. After the sermon, no matter how poor, we would always before suggesting improvements take time to affirm the things the preacher had done right. Perhaps they had lots of zeal when preaching. We affirmed that. Or maybe the volume was plenty high so that everyone could clearly hear what was being said. We affirmed that, too. It was important that we sincerely praised what was worthy of praise.
God looks at you, my brother, my sister, and God sees lots to praise. You are making spiritual progress! Celebrate that in yourself and celebrate that in others.
Celebrate and keep doing what is working well.
III. AVOID PITFALLS
In San Diego, the Sunset cliffs are beautiful. Josh, 33, on December 27, 2015, was trying to take a selfie with the sunset in the background. He was so distracted that he didn’t pay attention to where he was walking, until it was too late. He fell headlong down the cliff and sadly lost his life. Distraction can be deadly.
Beginning in Revelation 2:20, Jesus warns the church in Thyatira – and so he warns us – to watch our step: “Death and disaster await you if you step off the cliff.” By all means possible, the Lord is warning us to avoid a serious pitfall. He is saying: Watch out!
There were several pitfalls that presented the church in Thyatira great danger. The first was false teaching. They had begun tolerating the wrong doctrines of a prophetess who was like Jezebel. In 1 Kings 16, we read how Queen Jezebel lead her husband, Ahab, to worship Baal and how this lead all of Israel astray. Perhaps the greatest temptation that we face these days doctrinally is what I call the temptation of magical thinking. God becomes our genie in a bottle who must do what we say, when we say it. God will make us wealthy; he will make us famous…or so they tell us. Instead of us being at the Lord’s disposal, the Lord is at ours. Prayer is no more us submitting to the will of God but God submitting to our will.
The second pitfall is so emphasizing God’s grace that we forget about God’s law. Don’t get me wrong. Grace – God’s unmerited favor, God’s forgiveness – is an important part of the Gospel message. Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matt. 6:12). Yet grace without law is like a plane with only one wing. How can it fly? 1 John 3:4 tells us that the essence of sin is lawlessness. And its exactly this kind of “anything goes” attitude that presented a dangerous pitfall to the church in Thyatira. They were tempted to join in with others in eating food sacrificed to idols. Also, they were surrounded in their city by all kinds of sexual immorality. Apparently, the false prophetess was saying that what they did with their bodies in bed couldn’t affect their spirit, their relationship with God. But Jesus warns in v. 20 – “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.”
The word in Greek for “sexual immorality” is porneias. It’s the same word from which we get our English word “pornography.” But the word porneias is really a broad one, referring to any sexual act forbidden by God. These are the kinds of things that are celebrated on television and in movies as “no big deal.” In fact, the Jezebels of our age make us think that we’re missing out on something by not participating in their revelry. Let me tell you, we are missing out on something. We’re missing out on sexually transmitted diseases. We’re missing out on the self-destruction that results when we ignore the Lord’s warnings. God gives us law not to steal our fun but to keep us safe. He has given us the parameters of life-long marriage between one man and one woman as the arena where we can express our sexuality in a way that is safe, joyous, and life giving.
Besides the pitfall of false doctrine and the pitfall of sexual immorality, the third pitfall is that of secret knowledge. Verse 24 warns of “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” When I was in 10th grade, the phone rang. It was my friend, Karen. She said: “Greg, would you like to come over to the house? A bunch of us are getting together to have a séance.” In high school, I didn’t have many friends, so to be invited to anything was a step in the right direction for me socially, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. They wanted to use a Ouija board and ask it questions. I told her that what she wanted to do was of the devil and that I wouldn’t take part.
Now we have the Internet and all kinds of games that are very dark. Parents, be diligent about what you let your children play. Do you ever take time to see what games they’ve downloaded and are spending hours playing? The lure of gaining secret knowledge or special powers is a strong temptation. We must avoid this pitfall ourselves and help each other avoid it, too. Put on the full armor of God, like Paul says in Ephesians 6. Be sensitive to the devil’s schemes and – in the power of the Holy Spirit – resist them.
Not only should we celebrate and keeping doing what we’re doing well; not only must we avoid the pitfalls of false doctrine, sexual immorality and the lure of secret knowledge or powers, finally, Jesus tells us: PERSEVERE. Look at verse 26: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…” I like how the New Living puts it: “to those who obey me to the end.” The crown is not for the one who starts well but drops out; it’s for the one who finishes.
Sometimes people have a mistaken idea about salvation. They think salvation is like buying a ticket for the Gautrain. Once you have the ticket, you can put it in your wallet and no one can refuse you passage. But here Jesus is saying to the angel of the church of Thyatira, the pastor: “Make sure you tell your flock that it matters whether you endure.” In fact, salvation is a journey. Jesus tells us: “Follow me.” One of the saddest verses in the Gospels is John 6:66 – “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” We start following him, but we must keep following him all the way to heaven.
Don’t give up. Persevere.
There are lessons about perseverance in many areas of life, including in the kitchen. When I was a boy, sometimes my mom would ask me to help her cook something. One time she asked me to help her make pudding on the stove-top. Back then, there was no so-called instant pudding. The only way to make it was over the flame. You’d dump the contents of the pudding box into a pan then add milk and put it on the stove. “Make sure you stir it, Greg” my mom warned me. “If you don’t stir it, it will burn.” And so I stirred…and stirred…and stirred. I stirred until I got tired of stirring. “Mom,” I said, “I think this pudding must be defective. It’s not getting any thicker.” “It will,” she promised me, “but you have to keep stirring. Don’t stop, or it will burn.” So I kept stirring, and a few minutes later, the pudding got thick.
When it comes to your walk with the Lord, some of you have been stirring for a while and your spiritual life is still thin. It’s not thickening up. I’m telling you this morning: PERSERVERE. Keep your relationship with God over the Holy Spirit’s fire. Keep stirring.
And what does God promise us if we don’t give up? He promises us authority. Spiritual power comes when we are obedient to God and when we persist in our faith. But the most important thing is not authority or spirituall power. Look at verse 28: “I will also give that one the morning star.” What is the morning star? Revelation 22:16 explains:
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”
My brothers and sisters, work with the end in mind. Don’t give up! Jesus is more than any golden letter “V,” more than any Olympic medal, more than any prize the human mind can conceive. Jesus himself is our reward, and Jesus is enough.
What Jesus said to the church in Thyatira, he says to our church, and he says it to us individually. We must work with the end in mind, but how? Celebrate and keep doing what is working well. Avoid pitfalls, the booby-traps of false doctrine, sexual immorality and the desire for secret knowledge. Finally, persevere. By the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of God, let us follow Jesus now and let us follow him to the end.