The stadium in Aphrodisias- purpose comes from design
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
Stewardship of my design is as important as training is for an athlete. If we are designed for something specific, we must stay the course. We obey with our bodies, not with our minds, so we can’t mistake understanding for obedience! I can know my design, but unless I actively obey, I’m not walking in the works he’s prepared for me to do. God’s design + my belief in that design = good works that he has prepared.
The pillars of the Artemesian temple in Sardis
In Sardis there are two ENORMOUS pillars. They are splendid from afar and staggering to stand beneath. The foundations of these pillars are huge, far too big to even try and wrap your arms around, if they didn’t have a wide foundation they would fracture. The fact is, the higher something gets, the stronger and wider of a foundation is needed.
Revelation 3:1-2, “… ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.'”
The church in Sardis was not what it seemed. Their deeds specifically are where the criticism lies, in their greatest strength is their greatest weakness. The church at Sardis appeared like they were alive and thriving, but in reality there was only a small remnant of faithful believers who were considered worthy. The body of believers there had an inaccurate perception of their reality and things we beginning to fracture as a result. The greater the gap between perception and reality, the more pride you have. The issue of a skewed perception of self works both ways… not just for those who hold themselves in high regard, but also for those who consider themselves as worthless. We are called to BE, not to SEEM. Is your Christianity about managing a reputation, or living out a reality? Manage long enough and it will catch up to you and begin to crumble.
The trade guilds of Thyatira
Revelation 2:20, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
In Thyatira, trade guilds were everything. In order for your business to thrive, you needed to belong to an association of others in the same trade. The problem for 1st c. Christians wasn’t in the association… it was in what was required of those who belonged. Each trade guild has its own patron god or goddess that was honored and venerated at guild feasts. Knowing what we do about Roman culture, this meant eating food that had been sacrificed to idols and participating in all sorts of sexual fantasies. It wasn’t defiantly immoral in Roman eyes, it was a part of worship and how you got ahead in business. What is a Christian tradesman supposed to do? If he is to be successful, then he must participate in the culture of the trade guild. But if he doesn’t, what will happen to his livelihood? What of his family? The tension here is difficult. What do we do in a culture that isn’t aggressively or actively persecuting our faith, but instead will ignore you entirely unless you play by their rules? The letter to the church at Thyatira is one that is a gut-check. They don’t just have a false teacher in their midst, they are called out for tolerating one. Toleration is everywhere nowadays. If we stand firm for what we believe, we are “intolerant,” the cardinal sin of an educated American in 2016. Higher education now calls for training in “cultural competence” and we are left wondering how uncompromising our beliefs has deemed us incompetent.
So what do you do with the tension? The only way is not by deeds, but by holding fast to Christ. If you’re going to suffer, suffer for being Godly, not for being ungodly.
1 Peter 4:1-6, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.”