“Take up your cross and follow me” is a lofty command, and not one I am quick to keep as I should.
I look at this in a few ways, and I think the Church of Smyrna is a good example of what this means.
We can take up our cross as we take a stand against evil, knowing that the world will hate us for it and want us killed.
We can take up our cross as we patiently endure suffering and persecution, rejoicing in the Lord and His promises despite our circumstances.
We can take up our cross as we die to self and to sin, which can be painful as we war against sin.
We can take up our cross as we trust in Jesus to provide for us instead of trusting in man or the things of this world, even if it means death.
We can take up our cross as we turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and trust in God to avenge as we reject the ways of violence and instead seek the path of peace.
Smyrna suffers, but despite all of their suffering, they are rich. They are rich towards God because of their faithfulness and a heart that is “poor in spirit,” always looking for areas of lack and searching for more aid and power from Jesus by the Holy Spirit in them.
As for me, I fall short in many ways.
I appreciate all that “take up your cross” might mean, because ahead of this I want to keep the commandments of Jesus and walk faithfully in His ways. Doing so means death. However, as Jesus reminds Smyrna, “he that overcomes will not be hurt of the second death.” We will live again and be given a crown of life!
I would that I could do better about “taking up my cross.”
I usually have no trouble speaking against evil, so long as I am confident that I know enough about what I’m speaking about. If it’s dealing with things that seem to be very nuanced, I’m not as quick to jump on board because I have done this in the past and was shown to be foolish as a result. In this way, I have learned to take up my cross and die to pride, knowing that most who I view as enemies have some valid points and I should listen so that I can speak to them in an effective way, not just bulldoze them with clever arguments.
I’m not so great at enduring suffering with patience. I’m a complainer and prone to fear, but I do see the Lord working on this.
I know how painful it is to fight against sin. I still have areas of sin I fight against, the chief one being anger and my temper. That’s why I am so adamantly against people who justify these things. For me, they are a kind of Satan to me. I have to say, “get behind me, Satan.” I should rather die for the ways of Jesus than let my flesh cause me to sin and bring shame to Him.
However, to those who are better than me and who can “be angry and sin not,” do not be accused or misjudged by me. Jesus knows your heart. I just do not expect Jesus to give great power to those who are prone to wrath, lack self-control, and have froward mouths, like I do. To this, I must continue to “take up my cross” as I learn to “turn the other cheek” and suffer with patience, peace, and joy in the Lord.
I’m not so great at “taking up my cross” and trusting in Jesus instead of this world. I have had struggles with covetousness and fear of poverty—though, not at an extreme level. I think my problems here have been somewhat mild, other than the anger and resentment that sometimes went with it.
I have put seeking Jesus above riches. I have a business that is very basic. I do just enough work to provide for my family. If I put the time I spend in Christ and placed that effort into growing a business, if I used my full potential in that regard, my family would be very well off.
I do consider myself to have one Smyrna trait, and that is being “poor in spirit,” so even if I am not so great at taking up my cross right now, I trust that the Lord will see my desire and work this in me more fully, for His Name’s sake.
I also know that we all need grace. God sees what we value. He sees our struggle against the flesh and our desire to be pleasing to Him. Maybe we do not become perfected in the spirit of Smyrna, or maybe we do.
I think we should aim to be as Smyrna. However, all things hinge on the grace of God towards us. We are justified before God by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. If we put our trust in Him, seek Him with our whole heart, repent of sin and be “poor in spirit” as we “hunger and thirst after righteousness,” He will do wonderful things in us!
Do you have thoughts about what we can learn from the church of Smyrna? Please leave a reply in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you!