In his letter to the church in Smyrna, Jesus said, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” (Rev. 2:9). While Smyrna was one of the more prosperous cities of Asia at that time, the believers seemed to have gone through much persecution because of their faith and it was hard for them to make a living. For them to prosper, they needed to compromise their faith, which they refused to do. While they were living in poverty in the eyes of the world, they were not poor in the eyes of Jesus when he said, “Yet you are rich.” In what way were they rich? In his epistle, the apostle James revealed a way to look at true riches. He said, “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5)
While they were living in poverty, this did not degenerate to a point where they were forced to do wickedness to make ends meet. The church was not rebuked for any wrongdoing, even on account of their affliction and poverty. They were deprived of material things, but they had what was needed to live—food and clothing. They appeared to have followed the admonition of the apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy. He said, “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-7). They were well aware of the need for them to keep their integrity and be found blameless, even in the midst of hardship. They lived by what the Book of Proverbs says, “Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse” (Prov. 28:6).
The affliction of this church did not only come from the hostile society in general, but also from those who called themselves “Jews”, but were not. Now, who is a Jew? The apostle Paul clarified this issue when he said, “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly…No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28-29). These pretending Jews did a lot of harm to the believers because of their slander. This could be the main reason why the believers were suffering and the society itself became hostile towards them. They were considered as outcasts because of the slanderous words that were said against them. This scenario is very much true even to believers of today. There are many who call themselves “believers” who are doing more harm to the Body of Christ than good. They either slander those who are trying their best to be faithful followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, or influence others to compromise their faith, just as they have been doing themselves. Indeed, a believer is not one who only professes his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ with his mouth, yet he does not live accordingly. Rather, a believer is one who not only confesses his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but also lives a life glorifying to the Lord.
The suffering of the church was not an isolated case or unexpected at all. In his epistle, the apostle Paul emphasized that suffering is part and parcel of a believer’s life. He said, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Yet while the church in Smyrna suffered, it remained steadfast in the faith. They knew that these sufferings served to test their faith more than anything else. While the Lord warned the church that some of them will continue to be tested, this was not meant to go on forever. He said, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days” (Rev. 2:10). Similarly, believers today should take comfort that their sufferings are only for a moment. These are not meant to bring destruction or death, but to further strengthen their faith. In his lamentation, the prophet Jeremiah declared, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young” (Lam. 3:27). Friends, let us not resent and resist the tests that come our way. These are needed to prepare us for a better future. Our ability to endure to the end and thus receive our great reward will depend on how well we have been tested and yet remained on course in the process. Yes, some of us might appear poor from the outside, but we are actually rich inside. We have Jesus with us. Hallelujah!