“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” Revelation 2:8-11
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” - Matthew 16:24-26
It is normal in the natural physical world to observe animals simply doing what animals do. Animals operate from basic instinctual drives. We should expect no more. An animal only wants the physical. His physical appetites are his only concerns. Animals exist at the level of “I want. I feel like.” This is also the mantra of the secular world in which we live.
An important difference between mankind, created in the image of God, and animals is that unlike animals, people have the ability to discern the spiritual. In stark contrast to obeying animalistic instincts, taking the easy road, and serving the whims of the times, Jesus tells His followers in Smyrna He knows their afflictions and persecutions…. “deny yourself” and pursue what is right and holy.
For the follower of Jesus, the spiritual reality is always the priority. Having or losing material possessions or physical health (afflictions and poverty) is not the primary focus for the child of God. We should know that if we lose it all and live as God instructs us, we are rich - rich in what really matters. But if we are physically healthy and have nice stuff but lose sight of the holiness of God - we lose what matters most - for eternity.
Although the surrounding culture was prosperous and flourishing, the church in Smyrna was materially poor and persecuted. Those looking at them could see that they didn’t have access to the things that the flesh naturally desires. Like the church in Smyrna, the church in the US also exists in a prosperous and materialistic culture. The danger to God’s people is that we may focus so much on the material that we forget that the greater reality is the spiritual.
God is holy. His values are truly clear and are opposite the world’s values. Those who are suffering afflictions and real poverty are often rich in the things that really matter, and He knows their pain.
Our world currently has a virus that makes some people sick with all the problems that come with physical illness. Many people have died from this virus. The world and our government are 100% committed to stopping Covid.
“Our” government is not neutral. Many see Covid (and global warming) as the greatest threats facing humanity. We may or may not see them as real threats, but they are not the main threat.
Humanity has a spiritual and moral disease - a sickness that affects absolutely every person with all the problems that come with spiritual illness - in this life and for all eternity. Many will experience spiritual death. For the CHRISTIAN there can be no question that this is the real threat.
The world system that is so committed to stopping a virus is also uncompromising in its commitment to indulging every kind of physical impulse and total moral and spiritual depravity. A spirit of antichrist is being promoted without compromise. Many see biblical morality and God’s holiness as existential threats. The holiness of God and the world are absolutely, eternally, and irrevocably in conflict. The emphasis on the physical goes hand in hand with a demand for a complete, unapologetic anti-Christian moral and spiritual agenda straight from the pit of hell. We are called to deny the flesh and its desires and focus on the spiritual.
The mantra of the world is to indulge absolutely every desire of the flesh. This is constantly being promoted in the media and the culture, but we know that the person that compromises holiness for the sake of worldly, temporal comforts is not just poor; they are lost. The CHRISTIAN who refuses to compromise for the sake of worldly, temporal comforts is truly rich.
For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? - Matthew 16:26
We cannot trust the world for understanding. There is only one source for truth.
Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. - James 4:4
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. - 1 John 2:15-17