Today’s Bible Reading: Amos 1-3:15; Revelation 2:1-17; Psalm 129:1-8; Proverbs 29:19-20
Today we start reading the book of the prophet Amos. Amos was a sheepherder who was called by God to speak for Him to the people of Israel (Amos 1:1). Notice Amos held a common job. You don’t have to be rich, or famous, or even have your life together for God to want to be with you. God wants to be with everyone. That is why He created you.
Amos wrote these passages about 150 years after Israel split into two nations: Israel to the north and Judah to the south. We’ve already read the fulfillment of many of his prophecies when we read 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles.
Amos’s main message in the first two chapters is judgement upon the nations that have harmed Israel. Damascus had beat down the people of Gilead (Amos 1:3). Gaza exiled Israel from their own land (Amos 1:6). Tyre broke a treaty with Israel and sold Jews into slavery (Amos 1:9). Edom killed many Jews, to whom they are related through Esau and Jacob (Amos 1:11). Ammon stole land from Israel (Amos 1:13).
These are all terrible things, we’d all agree. If they happened today we’d be outraged. But notice what God judges Judah for. His complaint against them was that they rejected His instructions. They allowed themselves to be led astray by false information (Amos 2:4). Clearly many nations (and people) are guilty of this today. Yet we show no outrage at this sin. Rather we actually encourage eliminating God from our lives in the name of openness and progress.
God regarded the people of Israel as a weary burden, not as a joy (Amos 2:13). How sad that we, whom He created for His own pleasure (Revelation 4:11), can exasperate God. (Nothing really exasperates God; this verse is anthropomorphic.)
God’s response to Israel was to reduce their strength and increase their fear (Amos 2:14-16). Their confidence in themselves would be put to the test only to come up short. But this is exactly what God wants because only when we lose our confidence in ourselves (and other people) can we put our confidence in Him.
Why would God do this? Because He loved Israel (Amos 3:2). God had a special relationship with Israel that He did not have with any other nation. Likewise, God has a special relationship with born-again believers that He does not have with everyone else (we are His children as we read in John 1:12 et. al). And God expects much from those He loves.
This makes sense. Your parents didn’t hold other kids in the neighborhood to the same standard they held you to. Parents love their own children and discipline them to make them better people. The same is true with God. He loves His children right where we’re at right now. But He loves us too much to leave us there. He is constantly trying to improve us.
John writes three letters, as dictated by Jesus, to three churches in our passage in Revelation today.
The church in Ephesus was a hard-working church. They seemed to be following the instructions God has laid out for churches in Paul’s letters (Revelation 2:2). But they had gotten to the point where they were doing all of it without any love (Revelation 2:4). Works without love is legalism. This is what religion is all about. Religion teaches that we earn God’s love by doing certain things. Catholicism, Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, and many more teach this. Even the polytheistic religions of ancient Greece and Rome operated this way.
But this is not God’s way. The entire message of the Bible is that we can’t earn God’s love or acceptance. Instead we should accept His love.
The city of Smyrna was a very wealthy city – sitting at the cross roads of two major trade routes. Yet the believers there were very poor and were being oppressed by those who were opposed to God (Revelation 2:9). But notice that even though they are poor, Jesus calls them “rich”. All the material possessions on this earth, including money, are temporary. The only thing that has any lasting value is a relationship with Jesus. That was why the believers in Smyrna were considered rich.
The church in Pergamum was located in a very religious city. Many pagan temples existed in Pergamum. Jesus praises them for remaining loyal to Him in the midst of this environment (Revelation 2:13) but condemns them for tolerating some false teachers (Revelation 2:14).
The story is the same in our lives. Just like the churches, God’s children do some things right. But like them none of us are perfect so Jesus commands us to remove the sin that is in our lives. “Good enough” isn’t. Even a little bit of sin ruins what we can be. Notice that Jesus didn’t gloss over their mistakes. Doing some things right didn’t make up for doing other things wrong.
Too many people think that God will ignore the wrong things they do if they do enough good things. But these verses clearly dispute that. God notices everything. Even more… He cares about everything we do. He doesn’t ignore the harm we are doing to ourselves through sin. And He wants us to turn away from the things we’re doing wrong (repent, as He stated in these passages) so that we can live victorious lives. We may not realize it, but even a little sin is like ball and chain around our feet that prevents us from advancing in life. The human race has accomplished a lot. But imagine how much more we could have accomplished if we were free from sin.
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