Read: Revelation 2
Imagine, if you will, a church consultant being sent out to every congregation in order to observe its operations and to offer an assessment of the relative health of that congregation. The consultant, wanting to start on a positive note, begins his evaluation citing those things which are commendable in the congregation under consideration. Then, the consultant offers a few words of constructive criticism and some suggestions for improvement.
Now, since that worked so well, let’s send consultants into each of your homes. And then we will assign each of you a life-coach to offer you guidance. You get your report-card. How are you performing? Can you count on the consultant to be totally honest? Who is paying him? If it’s coming out of your pocket, isn’t there a chance that he might sugar it up a little for you? What if he has a lot to say that is not complimentary? Do you blow him off? Do you say to yourself, “Oh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s looking at things as an outsider. He doesn’t understand the dynamics of the situation. He isn’t familiar with the history behind things,”?
“Let him who has ears, hear.” That is what the one who holds the seven stars of the seven churches in Asia says. They can listen, or they can choose not to. It’s up to them.
Do any of us like to hear when our shortcomings are told to us? Do we take these criticisms to heart? Or do we become defensive? Is it worthwhile to consider the source? Why am I getting this feedback from this person at this time? Maybe not all feedback is helpful. Maybe feedback needs to be sorted out carefully. We have ears, but will we hear?
Our imaginary consultant will prove most helpful if he is someone who has our best interests in mind. That’s the trick. You need to be confident that there is no other agenda at work in his evaluation.
The individual who speaks to John and gives him the evaluations, which he is presumably to deliver to them when he is able to get off of the island, or when mail service resumes, repeatedly identifies himself using a string of epithets. He keeps switching these epithets up. He self-identifies as: he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands. Next he is the first and the last, who died and came to life. Then, he who has the sharp, two-edged sword. Finally (in this second chapter)–the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. These epithets offer the credentials of the evaluator. These identifying marks explain why a person might want to open his ears and hear what he has to say.
Honest and helpful feedback is very hard to come by. Oft times those who are most willing to offer you feedback are not those who offer you the best feedback. We prefer to consult those whom we are pretty confident will agree with us; those who will take our side; those who, for the sake of our relationship to them, will feel compelled to tell us only what we want to hear.
The Spirit of God searches our hearts and minds, St. Paul writes. The Spirit knows you. But how does He speak to you? How does He reach out? This process gets difficult because human beings, who are fallible, are involved in the process. The Holy Spirit spake by the prophets. Faith comes by hearing. That means someone’s voice is the carrier of that message. Is the possessor of that voice trustworthy even only as a messenger? We are back to credentials, aren’t we? That is forever our dilemma. With politicians, with parents, with leaders of all sorts, we are frozen in apprehension due to our own belief in the pervasive nature of sin in every man’s life. The Spirit, who sweeps John up and grants him this mystical vision will be one step removed when speaking to the seven churches through the intermediation of John.
My point here is not to solve the problem for you, but to point it out. It is also worthwhile to question and examine for ourselves what has prompted us on other occasions to invest our confidence in this or that individual or organization that has done consulting work for us. Whose best interest do they have in mind? Does the process of producing credentials help or confuse the problem? Does this process lead to a lot of self-promotion that might make us suspicious?
Let him who has ears, hear. And let him who thinks, consider. And let him who has been granted the Spirit of God pray for discernment in matters that can leave any sane person’s mind in a whirl.