While in college, I sat down with my dear Grandmother H. during one of my stays with my grandfather and her; we convened in their living room, which had a distinct Japanese esthetic from the items they collected over their years as missionaries there. Normally, we would have sat in her kitchen, playing Monopoly or Skip-bo, or I would have stood against the kitchen counter, watching her bake and cook while I pealed some of her small but satisfying cookies away from the Tupperware where I knew I would almost always find them. For class, I had been assigned to interview a woman whom I considered a mentor. There in the living room that day sat one. She is the kind of tried and true, faithful, sacrificial, and hospitable person you just hope you have a bit of (or more than a bit of) in you as a granddaughter. During our soudan—Japanese for conference—that day, she shared a quote with me that held with her through the years. It was from Corrie ten Boom, “The center of his will is our only safety.” My grandma thought those words were good; I thought of their life, taking an ocean liner over to a new country as a young family, raising children without other family anywhere nearby, seeking others’ benefit and teaching her children to do the same, and in terms of possessions, voluntarily not having much. So, yes, this phrase resonated with her, that the center of God’s will is the safest place to be.
She tucked those words of safety into my soul, something good that would not be pealed away. The initial sweetness that I received from her—like games or times together in her kitchen to teach me about how to make her pie crust from scratch—was accompanied by a different kind of sweetness too. The safety I gained at that pivotal time in my life and still gain through my grandparents is through their wise clarity about truth and through their uplifting affirmations about my own faith. Faith—what a wonderful thing to affirm in another person. I’ll always cherish their joy in my faith. They know that my only real safety is with God, and so, used the proximate safety of our times together to lead me, in various ways, to my true safety with him.
When reading the letters to the seven churches in Revelation, how fitting to think of them in terms of safety too—at least in part, considering the remainder of Revelation after these letters contains prophecies about a tribulation time in which believers will be anything but, in an earthly sense, safe. During that time, the church will want to stay as close to Christ’s will as possible, as close to his heart as possible. So must we too.
These letters gauge how I’ve understood the epistles and Gospels—like a check-in toward the conclusion of the Bible to help me know if I have done the work of interpretation correctly. If we understand what Christ has taught and since nothing is new under the sun, these letters address and report what our collective concerns are to be as well.
Christ’s remarks in these letters also give us an example of how to think of the presence or absence of truth in each other. Typically, he has affirmations and admonitions for each church. The act of teaching each other, directly or indirectly, to remember the truth in our thinking, loving, and doing—we are wise to view this not as being judgmental, but as being discerning and caring; we ought to promote each other’s true safety. Yet, if admonishing one another in the truth ever keeps us from freely and openly affirming one another as well—as Christ does both—well, I know that signals trouble in my own heart to repent of.
Now, through drawing our attention to the themes of Christ’s remarks in the seven letters, we are taught to how to have a safe community, bringing each other to the center of his will in our interactions.
Safe Community is Affirming
Christ is attentive to giving affirmations in these letters; where he sees deeds of righteousness and holiness, he is quick to speak it (Rev 2:2, 13, 19, 3:4, 3:8). Where he sees a cause for compassion, he is quick to speak words of care, and remind of his kind of riches (Rev 2:9, 3:18). Safe community follows his example and looks for every opportunity, every expression of genuine faith in Christ—even a glimmer—that seeks the Word and ways of God. This is an active pursuit, to search out in each other what is honoring to God—affirming each other’s faith, love, purity, service, and deeds. As we do, we encourage each other that to live according to his ways is to overcome and be rewarded (Rev 2:11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21).
Safe Community is Discerning
Safe community is also discerning about sin. Christ is concerned that we not tolerate evil deeds done by those in our communities (Rev 2:2, 6, 20). He also desires that we test those we follow to see if they are teaching us the truth; he is glad for the purity that comes when we can identify those who are not teaching his truth (Rev 2:2). He desires that we give each other opportunity, even generous opportunity, for repentance (Rev 2:5, 16, 21-22, 3:3, 19). And through this all, he desires that we be clear about the standard of sin versus goodness (Rev 3:17-18), and that we never lead each other or permit influencers to lead each other into sin or unfaithfulness (Rev 2:14). He desires that our deeds of righteousness and holiness continue to grow (Rev 2:19). He desires that we remember our motivation, our zeal for Christ, in everything we do (Rev 2:4; 3:15, 19).
Safe Community is Stretching
Throughout these letters to the seven churches, there is a theme of perseverance and endurance (Rev 2:10, 17, 25, 3:10). Safe community stretches toward our goal of Christ because we know that Christ’s sanctifying work in us is never done on this earth. There is always more to learn of him and more ways we can turn to his goodness. Scripture often acknowledges that we will suffer and be handed evil. So, safe community assumes the priority of encouraging each other to not grow weary in keeping his Word (Rev 3:8, 10), to be faithful—even to death if God should ever ask martyrdom of any one of us—to suffer without fear (Rev 2:10), and to suffer without denying him or his Name (Rev 2:13, 3:8). Safe community stretches us toward these ends, prodding complacency and encouraging active obedience to Christ in every somber or every mundane situation we are presently called to endure.
Safe Community is Scriptural
We find how to do each of these points in God’s Word—to know what is sin and what is good, to understand affirmations and rewards of faith, and to endure with zeal for him. Even when pursuing these, we are still left needing more than each other. We are called to each other, to the same faith, and to use our gifts in each other’s service. But we cannot perfectly understand each other even when we share in common the most important part of our lives. Even when we share in the priorities of Christ, we are not able to change each other’s hearts or give each other complete understanding. Further, each one of us answers to Christ. Note that he sees some in the church at Thyatira who are practicing evil and some who are not. He addresses both groups with a different message (Rev 3:24). So, in safe Christian community, we direct each other toward God’s revealed will in His Word because He understands our hearts and He is our final authority. So, safe Christian community directs each other to our God who understands us in his Word as our authority.
The resonant security I have found with my family and with my grandparents comes through having these same purposes—the same Lord. We desire to go back to his Word again and again. This is what they have done for me; and by being further ahead, they have afforded me much. In reflection, feeling understood by my grandparents is not what makes being with them one of my favorite places, though I am much understood; it hasn’t been the cookies or Monopoly games, though they have been much appreciated and are cherished. At the base, what makes being with my grandparents one of my favorite places to be has been our commonality and their unique role in my life to encourage me toward Christ, such that I am helped to find my safety in his will. This kind of safety in Christian community, whether in a soudan or in a coffee shop, transcends generations, cultures, and more.
It seems that we can be afraid of entering into this kind of community because of fear—that we will be quick to judge each other. We should make every effort to avoid judgment by increasing our affirmation of others’ faith and knowing we cannot see the church through a single lens, especially if Christ does not. But if God’s will is our safety, being judged by each other while pursuing his will shouldn’t be our worst fear. After all, if being judged results in helping us discover a way to be more faithful to Christ—then praise God that we have drawn nearer to our goal. Being judged is far from the worst that a fellow Christian can do to me, but I am grieved if we cannot share in Christ’s priorities together for fear of it.
Instead, we ought to be most concerned about Christian communities that we not set proximate safeties (i.e., not being judged) as ultimate safeties when, instead, proximate safeties can aid and accompany our growth toward the ultimate safety of God’s will. Setting proximate safeties up as ultimate safeties in Christian community means that our inevitable failures in judging each other or making each other uncomfortable, for example, will severely deter us from seeking the revealed will of God that Christ has given us in his letters to the seven churches. Christians, the only real safety is the kind that will matter in the end. Grow with me and bear with some proximate “danger” of undo judgment for the purpose of moving toward thriving in ultimate safety.
Christian, your faith is my joy. I have great gratitude to God for the faithfulness, love, and service in you. Persevere in discernment and clarity about sin; do not grow weary of doing what is good. Endure and you will overcome; suffer hardship well, for our King will come on the clouds very soon. And never forget his Word. See your greatest safety in the center of his will so that you can remain steadfast and be readied for his coming.
Lianna Davis (@liannadavis) is wed to Tyler and mom to two girls, one who lives in heaven and one who lives on earth. She serves with Hope Mommies, a non-profit organization sharing the hope of Christ with bereaved mothers, and is co-founder at Of Larks, a blog for theologically-minded women writers and readers.