The Stolen Crown

"Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown!" (Revelation 3:11)

This warning was sent to the church in Philadelphia. God had shown His approval to the church in what they were doing. The Lord had lovingly promised His protection in upcoming battles and temptations. However, the church also received a serious warning not to allow itself to be robbed of its testimony and its crown of victory. “Hold fast to what you have!” was Jesus’ challenge to the present and future church.

Near Alasehir, only ruins remain of Philadelphia, once an important and prosperous trading center in ancient times. All that is left of this city are fragments of walls and the remains of an ancient theater. Had the community forgotten the serious warning they had received or simply underestimated it? Is this the reason why only ruins remain as a reminder of the once flourishing community?

What makes the universal Church of God so unique?

What distinguishes it as a ministry or local church from other organizations or religions? What legitimizes an assembly as a church of God? The strong and unique relationship with the triune God makes the decisive difference. He Himself is their Creator and builder. God is protector, guide, teacher, and strength. The church was created by God to worship, glorify, and serve Him. God organizes and governs the church – yesterday, today, and forever.

Why did Jesus issue this warning when He had promised His protection? The church is made up of human members, people who lead a holy and redeemed life. As human beings, we are created with free will and are responsible before God for our decisions and actions. Daily and hourly, without fail, we must willfully and consciously remain within the sphere of God’s preserving power and grace. Then there is no danger (Romans 8:35-39).

However, two elements can threaten our position and the promised crown of victory: the loss of the Holy Spirit, and the cooling of our first love for God. Without the sustaining and governing power of the Holy Spirit and the burning love for God, a church of God becomes merely a human assembly – without authority and divine blessing.

Loss of the Holy Spirit

The fundamental promise of God: “I will build My church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18) has been part of the Holy Spirit’s mission since Jesus’ ascension. Jesus entrusted the disciples to this Comforter (John 16:7). It was important to Him that they not begin the great work without the fullness of the Holy Spirit. That is why the disciples stayed together in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49) until they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is the life force for the children of God, without Whom they can do nothing (John 15:5). At the same time, He is also the promised teacher and mentor who develops each individual and makes them usable. The Holy Spirit works the gifts in the children of God – as He wills and as the church needs. He then uses them as instruments, giving blessing and success for their respective tasks (1 Corinthians 12).

In what way could we lose the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives? He is a personality. If, in human wisdom and power, we begin to belittle Him and His divine instruction, He will be grieved and quietly withdraw (Ephesians 4:30). We may still assume that all is well, perhaps see ourselves as fighting for biblical truth, and yet we are already traveling into darkness without this heavenly Leader.

Christ’s warning to Philadelphia was so imperative because the enemy of our souls will always tempt our human side. He wants to make us great and secure in our own eyes. He will sow seeds of doubt within us about the wisdom and faithfulness of God and will whisper to us that we are responsible and can do things on our own rather than waiting on the Holy Spirit to work in us. He will make us anxious and send us counselors who recommend human values and goals.

That is why it is so important to live within the will of God, to understand His words, and to recognize open doors. Where people are filled with the Spirit of God, they will allow themselves to be used by God. They will ask for open eyes to see the ripe harvest field, and the need of souls will urge them to earnest intercession and personal service. It is the church’s task to be a light and to be used by God for missionary purposes. Ultimately, the guidance and effectiveness in this work comes from the Holy Spirit.

In order not to grieve the Holy Spirit, it is extremely important not to fall into human activity and strategies for building the church. When human laws and regulations become more important than the freedom of the gospel, when we fill the functions in the church according to human criteria, we displace the Holy Spirit from His ministry. If we choose preachers and teachers who satisfy human qualifications or please our eyes and ears (2 Timothy 4:3-4), then the Holy Spirit will withdraw.

The sheer volume of knowledge available to us today is a huge problem. We have many ways and techniques to get a whole range of answers to every question. In addition, a good, preferably academic education seems to be standard – an education that is deeply anchored in a humanistic world view and value system which we then absorb. Are the words of Jesus still valid, in which He thanked the Father for hiding the true knowledge from the wise and prudent of this world (Matthew 11:25)?  Do we no longer need the O ne who will “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13)? At the time of John, it was still true: “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him” (1 John 2:27).

Can we still wait quietly to receive a divine answer to questions regarding the Word of God or making good decisions? Have we learned to entrust ourselves completely to His guidance and His divine plan? If theological training becomes more important than the shaping of our heart and character by the Spirit of God, we are in grave danger. Church history teaches that it was precisely the loss of the initial “enthusiasm” – the fullness of the Holy Spirit – that led to the consolidation of the young church into human formality and church hierarchy, to the first apostasy.

Loss of a burning love

Jesus acknowledged that the works in the church of Ephesus were of a high standard. They were diligent and had a clear sense of discernment (Revelation 2:1-7). But for all their zeal for God, they had unfortunately lost an essential element: burning love for God (verse 4). “Without love” means “without God” – because God is love (1 John 4:8).

Do you know 1 Corinthians 13? How often have you prayerfully read this chapter, studied it carefully, and even spoken on it? It says that we could speak with a perfect knowledge of biblical truths, have a perfect faith that even moves mountains, even sacrifice all our wealth and ultimately ourselves completely, but without love, it is worth nothing.

“Love suffers long and is kind…bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:3, 7). But what does it look like in everyday (church) life? How much of this divine attitude is still within us? Jesus gives us clear instructions for our relationship with our brothers: “Judge not!” (Matthew 7:1-5). Are we more inclined to be an intercessor for our brother, or do we accuse him before God? What about our love for redeemed children of God if they do not recognize the biblical doctrine about the church or entire sanctification?

God is love. If we have HIM, if we are a church filled with the Holy Spirit, we will also have the divine love (agape) in us. 

What can we do to protect ourselves from these two dangers? 

How can we keep this promised crown meant for conquerors? Paul tells us many times: “Brethren, pray for us!” (1 Thessalonians 5:25). This request is still extremely relevant and necessary today. The responsible brothers and sisters in the church and ministry, the pastors and teachers, are in daily need of earnest and persistent intercession. God can only be gracious to us if those in authority lead a consecrated life, full of love and humility before God. When the Holy Spirit can work through them with power, and reveal God’s will, then we will experience the glory of God. 

Live daily under the leading of the Holy Spirit. Welcome Him as your teacher and your guide throughout your life. Learn to better recognize His voice and translate His will into concrete actions. If you have not yet experienced sanctification like the disciples at Pentecost, seek this grace of God. Consecrate yourself and your life completely to the service of God and allow yourself to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Study the love of God in His Word and in your own life. Let your love for God, your brothers and sisters, and all people grow. Spread this love lavishly so that tears are dried, wounds are healed, and hearts regain courage for the future. The more that love can reign in us, the more clearly can we see how our fellow human beings need this love. They need salvation, and they need the Savior.

The more our lives are fed by the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the more His divine love fills our lives and shapes our character, the more firmly we are anchored to the blessings that guarantee us the eternal crown. We will then be with God for all eternity and bring worship and honor to our eternal King together with all the saints.

Hermann Vogt

Gifhorn, Germany

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