In Revelation chapters 2-3, Jesus sends seven messages to seven different churches in Asia: the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. However, at the end of each letter, Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. It seems that Jesus intended for all of his followers to listen to and learn from each letter sent to each specific church.
Some of these churches were living during a time of persecution, other churches had just gone through a time of persecution, and for other churches persecution was coming soon. Some of the churches were wealthy and influential by the standards of this world, while other churches were poor and weak by the standards of this world. But, there is one thing that each church shared in common with all of the other churches: each of the churches had works.
All of the churches were doing something. However, Jesus did not praise the churches nor did he warn the churches simply based on the fact that they were doing something. Works themselves did not earn praise from Jesus nor did works on their own earn Jesus’ reproach. Instead, Jesus examined the motivation and intention behind the works. Jesus was looking for works that were motivated by love and done out of faith and dependence upon him. Works without love are worthless. Works without faith are worthless. And, works done on human strength and ingenuity are worthless.
On the other hand, Jesus praised works that were motivated by love – even when those works seemed powerless. Jesus praised works that demonstrated and responded to faith in him. Also, Jesus praised works that were done in complete dependence upon him. Thus, the magnitude and effectiveness of the works themselves are not a standard of measurement. Jesus measures works – either good or bad – based on love, faith, and dependence upon him. In other words, Jesus does not measure our works based on what we can do for him, but on what we allow him to do for and through us.
However, when we refuse to do works based on our own strength, and instead wait for Jesus to work in and through us, there is a tendency to push ahead of where Jesus is working. Because of this, Jesus also praises those churches who demonstrate patience and endurance. It takes patience and endurance to wait for Jesus in the midst of persecution, trials, antagonism, and even during good times. It is natural to want to push ahead and to do as much as possible and to be as effective as possible. Again, these are not the measures of success for a church. Instead, churches are measures by love, faith, and complete dependence upon Jesus.
Also, the churches in Revelation were continually warned to stand against false teaching, and once again this false teaching is defined as that type of teaching that leads to works that are contrary to the gospel. Specifically, Jesus mentions idolatry and sexual immorality. But, we could also extrapolate this to include any works – any lifestyle even – that does not demonstrate “good works”. We have already seen that “good works” for Jesus are works that are motivated by love, faith, and dependence up him. Thus, churches should stand against those teachings that lead people toward works that do not demonstrate or are not motivated by love, faith, and dependence upon Jesus.
There are magazines, studies, web sites, and gurus that will help you measure the success of your church. In reality, there is only one measure: Jesus Christ is both the measure (standard) and the judge. In these letters to the churches of Asia, he continually stressed love, faith, and dependence upon him. Notice specifically that Jesus did not count numbers, nor did he measure financial wealth, nor did he consider political influence, nor did he count education, nor did he consider buildings and property. Instead, Jesus measured each church based on their love, faith, and dependence on him. Perhaps these are the measures that we should use when determining the success of our churches in the perspective of the head of the church.