The book of Revelation has an exhortation to seven churches in Asia Minor from our Lord Jesus. These exhortations are still relevant today as they reveal healthy and unhealthy cultures that congregations sometimes emulate. The following are 7 principle characteristics of overcoming churches:
1. They keep the main thing, the main thing (The Ephesian church of Revelation 2:1-7).
Even though the church in Ephesus was full of good works, vetted apostolic ministry, persevered under trial, and did not tolerate evil in their midst, Jesus still commanded them to repent. They left their first love. The lesson here is that an overcoming church keeps the main thing the main thing.
This means prioritizing its love and passion for the Lord.
Consequently, even with all the intense demands of work and ministry, seeking God’s face and ministering to the Lord must always be the most important ministry for every local church.
2. They endure persecution (Church of Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11).
This church continued to proclaim the Gospel despite intense persecution. Jesus did not feel sorry for them but told them that to overcome they had to remain faithful unto death. Hence, during this season of fierce anti-christian sentiment, the overcoming church is called to continue to faithfully preach biblical truths despite all opposition. Christ's followers are either overcome with courageous proclamation or will commit treason by shrinking back.
3. They do not allow worldly values to penetrate their congregation (Church of Pergamum in Revelation 2:13-17).
Jesus rebuked this church
“who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.”
This city was a center of imperial cult worship as well as the worship of a deity (Zeus). Consequently, there was cultural pressure for residents to sacrifice to idols and participate in sexual practices with temple prostitutes as part of connecting with people doing business in their city. The lesson here is that overcoming churches need to protect their congregation from embracing the values of the prevailing culture. Contemporary churches that adopt secular values of societal groups will find themselves opposing Jesus, who will
“war against them with the sword of my mouth.”
4. They don’t tolerate false teachers and teachings (The church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29).
Jesus corrected this church because
“you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”
Jezebel was a female leader who embraced the sexual immorality and idol worship of the culture and influenced some in the congregation to do the same. The sin of this church was their tendency to tolerate a person and their teachings that were in opposition to the historic Christian faith. Since they did not remove her, Jesus was going to forcefully remove her and all her followers. The overcoming church is called to be intolerant of false teachers, teachings, and cultural compromise.
5. They have a good reputation in Heaven (The church of Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6).
Jesus rebuked the church in Sardis because,
“You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”
Since their reputation was that they were alive, they must have had a lot of good church activities. The lesson here is that mere church activities and good church attendance do not guarantee a congregation is truly alive in the sight of God. (There is no doubt that many churches today that have large youth groups, skilled worship teams, and large crowds, most people would consider alive, however, God would consider them spiritually dead!)
Also there are many churches that started great, had a great history of revival and mighty exploits. They looked to the past to validate their present and future. However, every new generation has to seek the Lord for themselves and cannot depend on their history to justify their existence. An overcoming church is continually alive with God’s presence, passion, and fire in every successive generation.
6. They are faithful under trial (The church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13).
Jesus commended this church when He said,
“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
Perhaps saying they had little power means they were a small church with little money and influence, but despite this, they remained faithful through opposition and persecution. The lesson here is that overcoming churches depend upon Jesus to be their strength despite their lack of power. They depend on Him to open up doors they cannot open because of their lack of cultural influence.
7. They are effective witnesses to their community (The church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22).
Jesus rebuked this church,
“because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
The hot water springs in the nearby city of Hierapolis were effective for medicinal purposes. In contrast, the cold water in the nearby city of Colossae effectively refreshed and quenched people’s thirst. However, when water from both these cities was directed into Laodicea, they were lukewarm and no longer effective for healing or refreshing. Jesus used this real-life situation in the city to illustrate how this church lost its effectiveness and was no longer a witness to the surrounding community. The lesson here is that overcoming churches must maintain an effective witness for Christ to their surrounding community.
A church overcomes or becomes self-sufficient and satisfied like Jesus described this church (“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing”). Churches that do not overcome are assimilated into the culture and become part of the problem.
Dr. Joseph Mattera is an internationally-known author, consultant, and theologian whose mission is to influence leaders who influence culture. He is the founding pastor of Resurrection Church, and leads several organizations, including The U.S. Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and Christ Covenant Coalition.
To order his books or to join the many thousands who subscribe to his newsletter, go to josephmattera.org