For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
Lights in the world (2)
What is the testimony of Christians in the world?
The pattern of growth of the church
When studying the history of the first century after the Word became flesh, we see that the first one hundred years can be divided into three sections of 33 years. In the first 33 years, we witness how the Word became flesh and came to this earth. We see the Head of the church, how He was born in a manger and then grew vertically into the presence of God.
From the manger to the throne, that is the pattern of growth of the life of Christ. It always begins in the manger and finally ends up with the crown, the throne. This way of growth begins horizontally, and finally rises up vertically into the presence of God. However, this way should be via the cross. If there is no cross, there’s no crown. This is the way that the Head of the church shows us the pattern of the life of Christ. If this is the way for the Head, it is also the way for the church.
Chapter 2 of the book of Acts gives us the testimony of the birth of the church. That is the beginning of the book of Acts and in the first 12 chapters, Peter is the most prominent figure. In the rest of the book, the most prominent figure is Paul.
When Peter was called by our Lord, he was casting nets, and this activity became his ministry. On the day of Pentecost, he cast one net, and three thousand fish came in. He threw another net and five thousand fish entered. Peter had received the keys – notice ‘keys’ in the plural. On the day of Pentecost, he opened the door of the kingdom of heaven for the Jewish people. In the house of Cornelius, he opened the gate of the kingdom of heaven for the gentiles. Peter’s ministry is always related to the foundation of the church.
Then along comes Paul. Paul is always involved with the superstructure of the church, because Paul was a tent-maker. So after Paul was called by God, he was used for the building up of the church. We can study his epistles and see that when he addressed the Thessalonians, the church was in its infant stage. When Paul wrote Romans, Galatians and First and Second Corinthians, the church had already entered its period of adolescence.
When we come to the last chapter of the book of Acts, Paul was in prison. However, from the prison in Rome, he sent four epistles: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. Now when he addressed the churches in Ephesus in Colossae and Philippi, these three churches had already reached maturity; the church was in its adulthood. They were ready to receive the highest revelation in the whole Bible.
What does this mean? In Acts chapter 2, we have the birth of the church, then its growth, and when we come to the last chapter, we see the maturity of the church. So if we want to know when the ‘golden age’ of the church was, without a doubt it was during the second 33 years.
Remember, from birth to maturity, it is just as the Bible says: “The path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter until the perfect day” (Prov. 4:18). The perfect day is the noontime, when the stature of the sun has reached its fullness. In other words, the just only see the sun rise, but never see the sun set; there’s no such thing as a sunset for them. The same happens to the church: The whole book of Acts tells us that for the church in its most glorious days, from birth to maturity, from sunrise to noon, it had no sunset.
In the book of Acts, we find Peter and John together. However, do we hear John speaking? The Holy Spirit is telling us something very interesting. When Peter stood up, John also stood up. Nevertheless, John always kept silent. The Holy Spirit wanted to preserve John, because he was going to speak on another occasion.
When we come to the last 33 years in the first century, we discover that John becomes the most prominent figure. When John was called by our Lord Jesus, he was mending the nets. That means that somehow the nets had broken, and it was John who repaired them. This became his ministry.
So, when he wrote the gospel according to John, we know that the nets of the gospel had been broken, and John was going to repair them. He was going to declare that Jesus is the Son of God. And not only that, but through his epistles and also through the book of Revelation, we begin to discover that the church was no longer in its full moon glory.
John was ageing, he was full of wrinkles. That isn´t surprising, because our outer man is decaying day by day. But John was very surprised to see that the church, the body of Christ, that should be full of the life of Christ, forever living and forever young, now had wrinkles and blemishes.
The church in the book of Acts is like the path of the just, like the shining sun shining ever brighter until the perfect day. It’s as if that church never aged or had blemishes. If we tried to understand the meaning of this from Philippians chapter 2 it means that, the testimony of the church was like the full moon. So if we want to go back to the beginning, what God wants is to see the full moon, because only in the full moon do we see the exact image of the Sun. When the church reaches its maturity, it simply means that it has been transformed into the image of Christ.
Now, we can say that in the first three groups of 33 years, the first 33 years were the day, the second 33 were the night and the third 33 were also the night. But in the second group we saw the full moon and when we come to the seven churches in Revelation, these were in the third group of 33 years.
The seven churches
After studying the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, we see that to five of those churches the Lord Jesus says: “Repent”. The word `repent' is normally addressed to unbelievers. So why did the church, the body of Christ, need to repent? Because it was ageing, becoming dirty and wrinkled; it was being polluted. Gradually, the church was becoming part of the world.
When studying the seven churches, this surprises us. That is the reason why John had such a burden for them. On the Lord’s Day, although he was far away, his heart was with the seven churches; he knew their condition. He had had the privilege to see the birth and growth of the church, and the even greater privilege to see its maturity. Now if the church in Ephesus was the most spiritual and most mature at that time, when Paul had already entered into glory, then John had the privilege to work in that which was the most spiritually mature of all.
The first church which the Lord Jesus addresses is the church in Ephesus. To the church that had once reached the highest pinnacle, the Lord now says: “Repent and do the first works”. What are the first works? They are the things registered in the book of Acts. Why? Because in those 33 years the testimony of the church had been like the full moon.
What was wrong with the church? It had drawn so close to the world; for that reason it is no wonder that it had so many blemishes. When the church is close to our flesh, it begins to age.
Now we can imagine the deep feelings of the Apostle John. He admired Peter and Paul. When Paul was martyred for the Lord and left this world, the church was in its maturity. What joy Paul must have had in his heart! Before his departure, he got to see the wonderful babe in Christ growing to maturity. That church became his crown.
John was ninety or hundred years old. He had seen the birth of the church and was witness to her maturity. And even though he had lived such a long life and had experienced so much, bearing all kinds of crosses and passing through all sorts of suffering, no suffering was greater than to see the church ageing.
There were still seven churches, seven lampstands. These lampstands are not of this earth, but they are in heaven; not only are they golden, but they are also heavenly. Even the church in Thyatira is called a lampstand, it is called a church. A church is a church, the church was still there. Nevertheless, what had happened to the seven churches? They belonged to the different phases of the moon. When we look at the church in Thyatira, what do we see? We see the new moon. It is still the church; but even though the lampstand was there in Thyatira, nobody could see the light in her.
I remember that once, when I was in Germany, I visited Frankfurt, the most sinful city in Germany. There I found a group of brothers. In the beginning, they had a burden to preach the gospel in Frankfurt, but at the moment when I arrived, they were busy moving. The brothers wanted to leave Frankfurt and move to Stuttgart.
Then, I asked them: “Brothers, if you think that Frankfurt is the most evil city, this must be the darkest corner in the whole of Germany. Now, the church is supposed to be the lampstand and this city needs a lampstand the most since it’s the darkest”. But they said: “This place is too evil, that´s why we want to move our lampstand to Stuttgart”. Fortunately, the testimony is not their exclusive right. If they, thinking they were the testimony of God, transferred their lampstand to Stuttgart, what would become of Frankfurt?
Do you see the mission of the church? Yes, the church is the body of Christ, and she embraces all those that believe in the Lord. The seven churches really are seven churches. They are seven gold lampstands, all heavenly. As far as the reality is concerned, as far as the life is concerned, they are still churches. Nevertheless the problem is this one: what is happening to the Lord’s testimony?
Let me put it this way, in the history of the first century, for the first 33 years we have the fullness of the sun; in the second 33 years, the fullness of the moon, but when we come to the third 33 years, we find seven churches representing seven different phases, just like the phases of the moon.
Among those seven churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia are like the full moon; and the church in Thyatira, the new moon. At the end of the first century, there were churches everywhere. But what God wants, before the Lord´s return, is to present to Himself a glorious church, which means the church in its full moon phase, the exact image of the Sun, transformed into the image of Christ.
However, when studying these two chapters, we find that those seven churches not only belong to the first century. Our Lord Jesus spoke to John as if he was saying: “You´ve lived long enough to be a witness to the declension of the church”. But our Lord saw much, much further ahead. Why? Because among those seven churches, to the last four - Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea- the coming of the Lord is always mentioned. In other words, these four churches would remain until the return of our Lord.
In the first century, the Lord did not return so when the bible speaks about His coming, it means that those four churches will remain until the second coming. Now, when the Lord addresses Philadelphia, He speaks about the great tribulation; but the great tribulation has still not happened in history. So we can be very sure of one thing: the church in Philadelphia will remain until the coming of the Lord, until before the tribulation. And they will be taken away, raptured.
The history of the church
To sum up, these seven churches represent the churches of the first century, but they also represent the churches throughout the two thousand years up until the Lord’s return.
These seven churches are actually seven prophecies to prophesy what will happen before the Lord’s return. In this way, we know that the church in Ephesus roughly represents the church in the first century; Smyrna, the church in the second and third centuries, when the church went through great persecution. From the fourth century, we have the church of Pergamum (whose name means `marriage'). Remember how the emperor Constantine embraced Christianity as the official religion, and from that time you can perceive a union between the world and the church. You also find that the throne of Satan is in Pergamum, just like our Lord said in that parable of the great tree where a nest was built for the birds of the air.
When we come to Thyatira, we see the church has entered the Dark Age. How could the world see the light while the church was in its dark age? The world was in darkness. We know the history of the church and how it was taken captive to Rome. How do we know that the church in Thyatira entered the dark age? Because the promise for the overcomers in that church is the gift of the morning star. When does the morning star rise? When the night has entered into its darkest moment. What phase of the moon do we have here, therefore? Without any doubt, it´s the new moon.
But, thank God, starting from that point, He was working in the church towards the recovery of His own testimony. From then on, until the coming of the Lord, he has been doing a wonderful work. God is going to revive His church. That is what the recovery of the Lord’s testimony is.
I remember a true story about a conversation between brother Austin-Sparks and Watchman Nee. He asked brother Nee: “In the Bible there are many prophecies. Now, tell me, which one in your view is the most difficult of all to be fulfilled”. Brother Nee replied: “The one that says that the Lord will present to Himself a glorious church”.
No matter how dark it is today, God never gives up on His own work. That is why God is calling out to the overcomers; not only individual overcomers, but corporate overcomers. God will put the weight of His testimony on their shoulders. And if they are faithful to the Lord, even though they are only a handful of people, if they are sufficiently mature and they reach the full moon phase, when they reach maturity, God will say that the whole church has reached maturity.
After Thyatira, we have the church in Sardis. Sardis means `remnant'. From the sixteenth century onwards, through Martin Luther, John Calvin and Zwingli, gradually we begin to see the moonlight, and we’re no longer in the new moon phase.
Now when we study the message to Philadelphia, we find that this is the only church which the Lord doesn’t scold or rebuke, and it is the only one to which the Lord says: “I have loved you”. And not only that, but it knows that it already has the crown. If somebody has a crown, this means that they are an overcomer. So there are two types of overcomer in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation. There are individual overcomers; however, the whole church in Philadelphia is composed of overcomers, and they already have their crown.
In the bible, only Paul knew that he already had the crown. And we know that there is only one church that has its crown: Philadelphia. So brothers, we can be sure that the church in Philadelphia represents the full moon.
Nevertheless, when we get to Laodicea, we find declension again, before the return of the Lord. Why was there decline? This is a great warning for everyone of us. If there were no decline after Philadelphia, everybody would say: “We are Philadelphia”. That’s why we find, before the Lord´s return that there is a church in Laodicea, which is no longer the full moon.
So we know about the church in Thyatira, the church in Sardis, the church in Laodicea, and also a little bit about the church in Philadelphia. These four churches will remain until the return of the Lord. This means that, before the return of the Lord, you either join Thyatira, or you remain as Sardis, or you go along with Laodicea.
What is the meaning of Philadelphia? It represents the full moon. Therefore, we know that it is the church according to God’s heart. Amongst these four, this one is the overcoming one. How our heart desires that church.
Remember, Philadelphia is our way, but it must never become our label. When you use Philadelphia as your label, it is because you’ve already become Laodicea. Now, what are the characteristics of Laodicea? They boast that they are rich and they are proud, because they are satisfied with Philadelphia as their label. Whenever you use Philadelphia to label yourself, you are no longer Philadelphia, but Laodicea.
This is a great warning: after the full moon, there is again a decline before the return of the Lord. How we should tremble before the Lord’s presence! It is so clear that that’s why we’ve been given the seven churches. In the first century, the seven churches existed and throughout two thousand years up until the Lord’s return, we have four churches.
This is a call to the overcomers. Before His coming, what is the way towards the recovery of the Lord’s testimony? The Lord is calling overcomers. Even in Thyatira, you can be an overcomer. Madame Guyon lived during the Thyatira phase, and she was an overcomer; brother Lawrence lived during the same phase and he was an overcomer. Because their light was limited, they remained there in Thyatira; but God considered them overcomers.
If you see the light, if you see that we ought to shine like the moon in the universe then the problem becomes this one: Do we shine like the full moon? This is the calling of the overcomers. Are you willing to shine as the full moon?
This is our way, and we want to walk in this way in trembling, because we want to be faithful until the end. We are waiting for the Lord´s return, going through much suffering and misunderstanding.
Let other people have their ‘mega-church’, let others have their prosperity. Are you willing to follow your Master, step by step? Then we will be transformed into the image of Christ, all by His mercy. You dare not be proud, because everything is by grace. You never say: “How rich we are”. Nor do you say: “How poor are the others”. If you know how poor they are, then that becomes your responsibility, because you should make them rich. Why do you yourself remain poor? You should buy eye-salve for your eyes, so that you can see.
This is the way for the recovery of the Lord´s testimony, and that is what the Lord is doing today. Therefore, the method according to John the apostle is this: when the church is going into decline, and it is no longer in the full moon phase, God calls for overcomers. So, if we hear the word, if we see the light, then there is no reason for you to stay in Thyatira any longer.
Today, by the grace of the Lord, we can walk in the way of Philadelphia. But remember, if we are not careful, a little bit of the flesh, a little bit of pride and tomorrow we will be in Laodicea.
A complete ministry
The reason why the church began to age, was because of the flesh. The church began to stain itself because of the world. Therefore, the cross has to work deeply in the life of the church. The work of the cross will deal with us, so that anything which is not in agreement with the Word will be done away with. In this way there will be no more wrinkles and no more pollution; the order of the church will have been recovered.
But that is not the end. Why? When the Lord says to the church in Ephesus: “Repent and do the things at the beginning”, that means returning to the book of Acts. We have been recovered; no longer are there wrinkles or spots. But, are we mature? In the work of restoration, the ministry of John is only one part; but that does not mean that we throw away what Paul has done. After we come back, we must grow. And not only grow. Sometimes, we become so `spiritual' that we no longer preach the gospel. No! In those second 33 years, Peter opened the door, and the gospel was wonderfully preached.
What is the full moon? First, that are no more wrinkles, no more dirt and everything is according to the Biblical order. But, is that everything? If that is everything, then each one of us can be described as a reformer. But that is not true; we need to go back to those second 33 years. On the one hand we must grow unto maturity, and on the other hand, we should preach the gospel to every corner of the world.
Today we are very happy, because we are no longer in darkness; the Word of God is very clear. May the Lord speak to our hearts, so that we are able to understand God’s heart, the will of God for the end days that we are living in.
The word of life
Let us return to Philippians 2:15, and the last part of the verse: “… you shine as luminaries in the world”. But we cannot stop here; if we do, we won’t know anything about the recovery of the Lord’s testimony. Verse 16 says: “… holding fast the word of life”. We must never divorce these two statements: “…shine as luminaries in the world, holding fast the Word of life.” These two things go hand in hand.
How do you know that a church is in the stage of the full moon? It’s to do with the way in which we are dealing with the word of life. Paul said “…holding fast the word of life.” Why? Because we may lose the word of life.
In other words, when we shine as the moon in the universe, not only is the moon full, but also the word of life is full. No wonder Paul says: “… hold fast the word of life”, because if we fail to do this, the word of life can diminish, just as the moon can become a crescent instead of a full moon. These two things are linked together.
Paul wrote the second group of letters: Romans, Galatians, First and Second Corinthians and then addressed the elders in Ephesus saying “I did not shy away from declaring to you the whole counsel of God”. Now, what is ‘the whole counsel of God’? It means the whole will of God. Paul said this referring to the above letters that he had already written at that time, so if we want to know the whole will of God, we must read these four epistles. We might think that when Paul wrote Romans and Galatians, his revelation of God’s purpose had already reached its summit. To our surprise however, from that prison cell in Rome, we find a higher revelation written to the churches at Ephesus and Colossae, and the deepest experience is presented to the Philippians. That is what happened; Paul was able to write such letters even though we never imagined that he could go even higher and deeper.
How does Paul summarize Romans, Galatians, and 1st and 2nd Corinthians? He said: ‘The word of the cross’. How then does he summarize what he wrote in prison? The word of life. The word of life was built upon the word of the cross as its foundation. We have four groups of Paul’s letters. The first group consists of First and Second Thessalonians, which are like a preface to the epistles; then we have the three letters that begin with the letter ‘T’: 1st and 2nd Timothy, and Titus, which are like an epilogue to the epistles. In between, there are the second and third groups: the word of the cross, and the word of life.
If you used one word to describe the second and third groups, you would have: for the second, ‘the cross’, and for the third, ‘the Christ’. Therefore Paul says: “I do not know anything, except Christ, and Him crucified”. When he wrote his letter to the Philippians, the word of God in Paul had reached its fullness and that’s why we find that the word of life is full here.
Now we know how to grow, because the work of God is complete. Formerly, Paul experienced growth in his spiritual life, and for that reason he became a spiritual person. But he could not help others to become spiritual. If he wanted to help others, he had to be given the word. Only when he received the word was he able to then explain his experience.
Everything that is related to life, constitutes the word of life. With this word of life, we will know how to grow from childhood, to adolescence, to adulthood. Now not only Paul can be spiritual. Thanks to the word of life, you and I can also be spiritual. When we grow towards maturity, we are being transformed into the image of Christ. The word of life gives us a blueprint as to how the life of Christ can grow in our individual lives and also in our corporate life.
Now, there is the possibility that we may lose the life word, in some form. This word of life is full, however if you lose part of it, you are like the moon in its crescent stage. The two things are linked. For that reason Paul says: “… holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I can have reason to glory that I have not run in vain, nor worked in vain”.
Here there is a danger. The church in Philippi, or the church in Ephesus, had heard so much, and had almost seen the fullness of the word of life; but if they were not careful, if they failed to hold fast the word of life, then Paul might feel that he had run and labored in vain.
If the church remains in its infant stage, always in the stage of the new moon, the church is still the church, born from Christ, born from above. But, somehow, Paul would feel some regret – which represents the dissatisfaction in the heart of God. When the church is in its full moon stage, then the word of life is full. When we see the full word of life, we see the whole blueprint for the growth of the church. Then, in the very end, Christ will present to Himself a glorious church.
When we look at the seven churches, there is a very important ruler to measure in what phase of the church’s testimony we are: how much of the word of life has been kept. That can almost determine in what phase of the moon we are.
The example of Romans
When we come to the word of life, we could take the whole bible with us. But, in fact, we need not go so far. In order to understand the recovery of the Lord’s testimony, we will try to review the word in a very simple way.
For example, if you read Romans and limit yourself to the first eight chapters, there you find the word of life: how this life is born again, how it grows and what is the final goal of that growth. In those eight chapters, we have first of all justification by faith, then sanctification by faith and finally, glorification by faith.
When we were born again, we received a new position, so that we could stand in the presence of God. Even being sinners, we can still be in His presence, through the precious blood of our Lord Jesus. We are justified by faith, we are in the Holy of Holies, we are at His feet. That is our position, that is heaven on earth.
After we were saved, we experienced justification by faith. Because of this position, we can always remain in His presence, and draw all the energy from God Himself. That energy and that power will sustain us so that we are able to live a holy life. That is sanctification by faith.
When we are standing before God, it is thanks to justification by faith. That means that we have been delivered from the wrath of God. But, thank God, when we are living a holy life, it means that we have been delivered from the power of sin. More than that, one day, the presence of sin will be gone forever. When our Lord returns, our bodies will be transfigured, and at that moment, we will be delivered from the presence of sin.
First, we are delivered from the judgment of sin; second, we have been delivered from the power of sin, and finally, glorification, the transfiguration of our body, means being delivered from the presence of sin. When we speak of justification by faith, that means regeneration; when we talk about sanctification by faith, that means transformation. And when we speak of glorification, we are talking about transfiguration.
Justification means that we were saved; this has already been done. But when we speak of transformation, we are talking about the salvation of our souls - being transformed day by day. That means that we are being saved today. But we will also be saved on that day, when our Lord returns. So, the complete process includes justification by faith, sanctification by faith, and glorification by faith.
Moreover, when we speak of glorification by faith, we think of that day when the Lord returns. We will be like Him, we will be transfigured. That’s glorification. But what Paul is trying to say to us is that between now and that day, if we observe our Lord with an open face, we will be transformed into His likeness, from glory to glory.
He is telling us that God has a purpose: that we may be transformed into the image of Christ. Therefore, not only will there be glorification on that day, but there can also be glorification today.
What is glorification? According to Paul’s definition, it means being transformed into the image of Christ. So then brothers, we have justification by faith – infancy, sanctification by faith - adolescence and glorification by faith - adulthood. We grow day by day, until we reach maturity of life. And that not only applies to individual believers, but also to the church in general.
The fullness of the word
This is the fullness of the word of life. Nevertheless, Paul warns us: “… holding fast the word of life”. If you are not careful, you may be short of the fullness of the word of life. Probably, you know justification by faith, and that is everything. You only know initial salvation, and nothing else. And other people have perhaps learned how to live a holy life, but they do not know that they must grow even more and allow the beauty and glory of Christ to be shown through them.
The danger that exists is that we only have a part of the word of life. Thank God, some people believe firmly in justification by faith, and some people really experience holiness. But the word of God is this: justification by faith, sanctification by faith, and glorification by faith.
Now, our light will derive from our life and our life depends on the word of life. If we are not diligent and we don’t come to the fullness of the word of life, then sooner or later, it will be reflected in our testimony. You may have many people who all know salvation very well; but our God will never be satisfied until he sees all his children grown up into maturity.
Now, how do we know that a church is in the new moon stage? Every church, as its name indicates, is a church. But when you talk about salvation, it is possible that they do not know about justification, nor sanctification, nor glorification, and that explains everything. If we use this ruler to go throughout the whole history of the church, we will learn wonderful lessons.
From the sixteenth to the twenty-first century, God has been working towards the recovery of the Lord’s testimony. Now we understand that if we merely recover church order then yes, we have made some type of contribution; but that will never reach the standard of God. May the Lord have mercy on us. This is so important. If we meet together as the church, then we are waiting for the Lord’s return.
Brothers and sisters, how can we grow together? That depends on whether or not we have the revelation of the word of life. Thanks to that word, we will be able to see how it can be reflected in our testimony. May the Lord open our eyes to really see the recovery of His testimony.
Summary of a message shared in 2nd Conference International, September 2005.