Mind the Gap!
Some gaps obviously need closing – but some that are closing urgently need widening. David Andrew brings a reminder about 'the difference that makes the difference'…
Only stunt drivers may have been dismayed recently when the final section of Scotland’s newest Forth Road Bridge closed the gap between the north and south shores of the estuary. The rest of us will be well served by the elegant – and gapless – new bridge.
Many of us who have been privileged to live in some proximity to this massive engineering feat have watched with some awe as great towers emerged from the chilly waters and, month by month, sections of road began to inch across the gaps. However there is a gap of a very different sort that should never be bridged and many of us, in our lifetime, have witnessed the relentless determined construction that aims to close the gap between the Church and the world. No true church will use this bridge. This is non-negotiable. When the church becomes a mirror image of the world, she is no longer the spotless Bride Christ will return to claim. But the worldly church will not be left on the shelf – Antichrist will also need a bride…
As it is, the true Church will never be assimilated, never blend in, never merge with the world – God will see to it that this never happens. Too often, we forget that the Church is of divine, not human origin. She is His pure Bride, His invincible Church, bought by His blood, deathless by His resurrection, authorised by His Kingship, separated by His holiness, secured by His promises, confident of His return – and of her Wedding Day.
It's God’s gap
The pronouns ‘in’ and ‘of’ are not interchangeable in describing the Christian's relationship to society. God has placed us ‘in’ the world (as he placed Daniel ‘in’ Babylon), but we are crucially not ‘of’ the world – any more than Daniel was ‘of’ Babylon. There is a God-given, God-ordained uniqueness that separates Church from society, Christian from non-Christian. If society blurs the distinctions between black and white, truth and falsehood, right and wrong, Jesus and Muhammad, what ‘difference’ can be accomplished by politically-correct Christians who simply blend in – whose lives never challenge the world’s twisted versions of truth and reality?
The issue is UNIQUENESS. We get a glimpse of how much this matters to God when He says to Jews exiled in Babylon: "What is in your mind shall never happen—the thought, Let us be like the nations…" (Ezekiel 20:32). About six hundred years later, He spoke in similar terms to the growing Jewish and Gentile churches: "… you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light." (1 Peter 2:9). Light banishes darkness, it never blends with it – and the light of the Jewish and Gentile Church – what makes the Church unique – is Jesus. We are given a glimpse of the glory to come which reveals this to be literally true: "…the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb." (Revelation 21:23)
The gap is Jesus…
But, glorious as is our hope, it reveals for now and for our time, why the gap between the true Church and the world can never be closed. It's easily understood when we realise that the gap is Jesus. You can blend the Bride only if you can blend the Groom. A Jesus made to suit the world's tastes would never have been crucified; He would have been celebrated. When He died, He would have stayed dead like every other sinner in history. In Lewis' famous description, "death itself works backwards" only for a spotless sacrifice.
As we can see, Satan uses countless strategies to try to close the gap. He loves it when Christians unquestioningly accept the world's fashionable views on sexuality, Israel and the Jews, world religions, abortion, marriage and parenthood etc. He has even more fun when Christians are so ignorant of the Bible that they don't even realise they have an on-going (unwinnable) argument with God. Some of Satan’s strategies are even more subtle. What about this clever one…
Satan once sought to destroy a church – to close the gap – through its passion for the truth. But just at the height of the deception, the Church got a letter…
As we unpack the significance of Jesus’ seismic message to Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7), we learn why the gap between the world and the Church can never be closed – and why we must be constantly on guard against the "wiles of the devil":
This letter is from the One who has "eyes like blazing fire" – this is the One who sees everything, misses nothing: "…all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account". (Hebrews 4:13) Does that send a shudder down the spine? It certainly would have in Ephesus. All those times we have bristled at ignorant drivers, watched TV shows we would never admit to our Christian friends, lavished money on ourselves but sent a token 'donation' to a charitable cause… He knows it all. He has seen it all. The blazing eyes leave us no hiding place. Let us reflect with sober discernment.
But to whom does this all-searching gaze belong? He is also the One with feet "like bronze glowing in a furnace". These feet do not recognise "no-go areas" and He has a history of sending His missionaries into the world's forbidden zones because He will always be found where lost souls are to be found. His furnace-taming feet were seen by the King of Babylon, when he tried to burn three godly men and saw that they had a fourth Companion who saw to it that they were delivered, not from the furnace, but in it! Immanuel means God with us – always, and never against us. (Romans 8:31)
Great Job but…
Ephesus was a church plagued by false teachers. Not that, as a church they had been led astray by false doctrine. Quite the contrary. So relentless was the assault against the truth that this church had developed powerful discernment. Their spiritual antennae were fine tuned to detect impostors.
Unwittingly, they had become so skilled and focussed in this warfare that it had become their raison d'être, their 'specialty'. They were the nemesis of false apostles and dodgy pastors. But sadly, this very strength proved to be their weakness – indeed it was the very thing that attracted a severe warning from the Lord Jesus – even a blunt threat of closure.
Ephesian hearts must have thrilled as Jesus showered them with commendations – such as we would rejoice to receive ourselves: He has personally taken an interest in their work; their zeal for the honour of His Name has caught Jesus’ attention; their hard work (Greek: implying 'to the point of weariness'), endurance and perseverance are also noted and commended; He has seen that the one thing they can't 'endure' is wickedness in Christian clothes – false apostles who seek to mislead the flock and dishonour Jesus to gain worldly honour for themselves; Jesus even acknowledges that they stand shoulder to shoulder with Him in their detestation for a sex cult that haunts the fringe of the church to entice Christian disciples into immorality.
And we think "what can possibly be wrong with such a church?" And why does Jesus have so much that's positive to say about a church that He's threatening to shut down? Answer: because He always 'speaks the truth in love' – which means ‘the harder the truth you have to speak the more you should wrap it in love’. So what is 'wrong' with this church that seems to be doing all the right things? In a word FOCUS.
Question: What is the only legitimate focus of the Church? Question rephrased: What is the only legitimate focus of Jesus’ Bride? Is it not her Groom? Do we not consider any marriage ill-advised if the bride has an alternate pre-occupation?
Ironically, it was this very church which (some thirty years earlier) Paul had joyously described as now belonging to the "household of God… built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." (Ephesians 2:19-20)
Most Christians understand that Jesus is the great preoccupation of the New Testament, but fewer understand that the Old Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures) bears witness to Him on every page. Jesus explained to His critics that the Scriptures they thought they knew so well were His witness (John 5:39), that Moses had written of Him (John 5:46) and that even Abraham had rejoiced in anticipation of Jesus’ day (John 8:56). Since John the apostle – once their own pastor – had first recorded these facts, it’s reasonable to assume he had so taught the Ephesian believers.
If the focus of prophets and apostles is Jesus – how can the Church be the true Bride of Christ unless she is preoccupied with her Groom?
Scholars have spilled much ink debating how to understand v.4 – have they lost their first love for Jesus, for each other, for the lost world? Probably the answer is 'yes' to all three possibilities. However, the focus of John's Revelation is indisputably the Lord Jesus.The revelation is of Jesus, the letters to the churches are from Jesus, the critique of each church is the Lord Jesus' own evaluation, their accountability is to Jesus and overcomers' rewards are promised by Jesus. With the weight of this, it seems entirely reasonable that their 'first love' is their devotion to Jesus. This is what they have lost.
Ephesian believers shone with a bright light – but it was their own light, not the Light of the World – somewhere en route they had missed the point of sound teaching: that it should fix our eyes on Jesus – or keep pulling our gaze back to him – so we are transformed into His likeness and shine with the light of His presence in our lives (2 Cor 3:18). They had lost their devotion to the Conqueror seated on a white horse (Revelation 19:11) and mounted a hobby-horse. Satan knows it's a very short ride on a hobby-horse to join the heretics. A heretic may be – hard as it is to believe – someone who has a passion for the truth but whose passion displaces devotion to the One who is the Truth. The world will not see Jesus in those who are not looking at Him.
An undistracted focus on Jesus is how we ‘mind the gap’ and refuse the distractions of the world and the compromises of the worldly church – it’s the only way for the Bride to ‘make herself ready’ (Revelation 19:7).
Today’s urgent question: ‘Is our first love showing? And, if it is… IS IT HIM?’