There’s a story of a 17-year-old who embodies almost everything a parent could ask for in a son. He is loving toward his siblings. He chooses good friends, and he shows concern for those who are not part of his inner circle. He does his share of the work at home, and he holds down a part-time job, all while earning good his grades at school.
There is one problem though. He seems to become a different person when he gets behind the wheel of a car. For example, one day he pulled out of a parking space and almost ran into two people just standing there by a parked car. He simply doesn’t pay attention while driving. He consistently gets distracted and takes his eyes off the road.
So the question is: what should his parents do about it? Should they overlook this issue in light of all of his good qualities? Or should they confront him with something this potentially deadly?
In Revelation Chapter 2, the Lord particularly addresses this problem with His children.
In two of the three churches Jesus visits in this chapter, as a whole they are doing pretty well. In most things, they are hitting the mark. So what is Jesus to do?
Should he let the little things slide because in general things are OK?
This text tells us that this is not how God works.
He tells us that even if most areas of our Christian life are in line with His will, this doesn’t mean He will overlook those that are not.
Yes, our Father is patient and understanding, but He does take our unfaithfulness seriously.
He says to the Church at Thyatira and to us, “I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience” But still, “I have a few things against you”
There are seven letters to churches in the book of Revelation and it is helpful to remember a couple things about them:
First, we should know that they are a picture of seven kinds of churches that you will find at any time, in any period of history.
Every church in the world today will fall into one or more of these categories of churches. WE fit into one or more of these types of church ourselves.
And the second thing is these words are prophetic in nature. They speak together of God’s Word regarding the past, the present, and the future from the first coming of our Lord to his second appearing.
But, in this regard, you will not hear of a definitive interpretation. Unlike much of the bible, the book of Revelation cannot be read plainly, because it is not written in plain language. These are “hidden words of the Lord” that will be revealed in the fullness of time. They are presented this way because we are to know some, but not all of what they mean.
Still, the events and sequence of the end times are the single most disagreed upon topic in the Christian faith.
And it shouldn’t be that way, because, in faith, we should release these matter to God, and his will, and get about the task of being prepared for his return rather than worrying about it.
As I said a few weeks ago, not even Jesus nor the angels knew the times and places of Christ return. And if they do not, we do not. It’s in God hands.
To summarize in brief: In Chapter One, the apocalypse is unveiled. John’s vision begins. Christ in his glory announces himself as Alpha and Omega and commands John to write down what he hears and sees and send it to seven churches in Asia from his exile on the Island of Patmos.
As the visions begin, John uses language to describe them that is both familiar and cryptic. It’s familiar because it’s used similarly in Old Testament writings such as the book of Zechariah, so we know that ancient readers could understand it’s usage, but cryptic because it’s symbols and references speak of future times and places and events that are outside our ability to know for sure their meanings.
But the John tells us of the seven stars and the seven lamp stands. Jesus has told him these represent the seven churches he is to write to and the seven angels sent to them.
So we have these seven churches. So far we’ve talked about three.
Ephesus: This was the church who was doing great but lost focus. At first, it was all about Christ, but then started to be about other things. The honeymoon was over and it seemed that people has started to forget about their first love.
Smyrna: This was one of only two churches Jesus didn’t have a complaint about. They were suffering for Christ, and he tells them the suffering won’t last forever, and they should persevere.
Pergamum: This was a church that Jesus was most unhappy with. They were not what he expects at all from his believers and he has not just one complaint, but several. Faced with the same challenges as the people in Smyrna, the people of Pergamum had at least partially succumbed to them. They still had good things going for them and all was not lost. But to keep a comfortable life for themselves, and avoid the suffering, they tolerated pagan worship and practices to occur even within the Christian church.
That brings us today to Thyatira. Thyatira was a church in compromise. A church on a slippery slope.
Revelation Chapter 2:18-29 [From the NLT – New Living Translation]
18 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Thyatira. This is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze:
19 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.
20 “But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman-that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet-to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.
22 “Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering,* and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.
24 “But I also have a message for the rest of you in Thyatira who have not followed this false teaching (‘deeper truths,’ as they call them-depths of Satan, actually). I will ask nothing more of you 25 except that you hold tightly to what you have until I come. 26 To all who are victorious, who obey me to the very end,
To them I will give authority over all the nations.
27 They will rule the nations with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.*
28 They will have the same authority I received from my Father, and I will also give them the morning star!
29 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.
Thyatira was located about 35 miles southeast of Pergamum. It was a very small city, but a busy commercial center. It was on a major road of the Roman Empire, and, because of this, many trade unions had settled in this city. Everyone who worked there was a member of one or more trades. There were carpenters, dyers, sellers of goods, tent makers, etc.
In the church at Philippi, which the Apostle Paul began, there was a woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, who came from Thyatira. But in truth it seems, it was difficult to make a living as a Christian in Thyatira without belonging to the union, and thus participating in pagan life in some way.
To be successfully in business, you had to do some rather unsavory things. You had to break a commandment here, and give a false sacrifice there, contribute to a system of corruption and immorality.
I’m not sure it’s all that much different now. To make it big in business, you are almost required to bend the rules and compromise God’s values. A little bribe here, some untrue flattery there, maybe drinks at a strip club for a big client, cutting corners in quality and safety, doing some “creative tax work”, giving payoffs and big contributions to law enforcement, judges or certain political campaigns, gathering inside information.
It’s all part of doing business, some will say. “I know the product is unsafe, or immoral, but that’s how I make the big bucks.” You can’t make money without getting your hands a little dirty.
That’s the very same situation here in the three churches visited in Chapter 2.
Smyrna said they wouldn’t do it and they suffering as a result, but God was happy with them.
But Pergamum said “OK, fine … if we have to we will. It’s the cost of doing business.” God is very unhappy.
And Thyarita here says “well maybe just a little bit – no major offenses – just minor little sins – what will that hurt” Just a bit of compromise is no big deal.
And God said … my children “You’re on a bad road”. This whole compromise thing is a slippery slope and I am not amused.
Do you remember from many years ago when Jimmy Carter said that although he hadn’t been unfaithful he had “lusted in his heart”, and consider this a sin as well. That remark was published in the late 70’s one of the rare issues of Playboy magazine where people did indeed truthfully read something rather than just look at the pictures.
And at the time, his comments where the material of many jokes, and he was brutally criticized for saying them.
But he was being truthful and sincere. He was aware that at moments in his life he was being tempted, and could have let things slide. He could have thought “Just a little indiscretion here and there, no one would know, not so bad, not a bad sin, everybody does it. :
But just letting himself think that was again, heading down the slippery slope.
It’s like the guy and the girl that are alone at the drive-in movies. Do you remember when we had drive-in movies everywhere?
That same process goes on there. A guy or a girl who follows Christ and has decided to honor Him by waiting until marriage is honestly faced with real biological urges and temptations like everyone else.
So at the movies they hold hands and then hug, and then kiss, and then really kiss and then…somewhere the line has to be drawn. And the more you start down that road, the more difficult it is to not compromise your values more and more. Where is that line. When does it actually become sex before marriage? When exactly are you no longer a virgin?
Another recent former President tried to blur that line when he stated that he “had not had sexual relations with that woman”. Remember that?
He says that what he said was true, technically, depending on how you define sexual relations.
And that’s the argument the people of Thyarita might try to make. “Yeah, we allowed some stuff, but not all the stuff, technically we didn’t really do any bad thing.”
But you permitted some, and tomorrow you will permit more, says Jesus. So you also will be part of the suffering. And, frankly, most all of you are to blame. Some simply permitted the offenses, while other participated. Some listened and were convinced of the heresies (some called them deeper truths) that allow such things.
But there is a small group. Some of you have held tight, you may suffer now, but you will be rewarded later.
Reminds me of a story I read online confirming that it’s tough to stand firm in your beliefs and still live in the world.
This pastor online writes “I remember when I was in a union for a brief time when I was working in school as a kid. I went down to the union hall because they said I had to be sworn in to the union. And so a man got up in front of about 600 people who were all there for this union meeting and he said, “I want all of the new people to stand up,” and I stood up and he said, “Now I want you to raise your right hand and swear…”
Well, I don’t swear to anybody but the Lord. So I didn’t raise my hand and I didn’t say anything, I just stood there. And they said, “Do you swear to have allegiance to local 770, the retail clerk’s union? Do you…” And it went on and on throughout all of this stuff and I didn’t put my hand up because in my simple understanding of my Christianity, I don’t swear by anything. My word is good. My yea is yea and my nay is nay. And I just felt that my conscience wouldn’t let me put my hand up and I didn’t want to swear allegiance to anybody but Jesus Christ, [especially since] I had no idea what I was getting in to and what I’d have to be held to if I did swear.
So while I was standing there without my hand in the air, a man grabbed me by the neck and threw me out of the building…and asked me why I didn’t put my hand up. And I explained to him that I was a Christian and my allegiance was to Jesus Christ and that I would be a faithful and dutiful employee and do everything that I was told, but I wouldn’t swear my allegiance to anyone other than Christ.”
It was not well received. You may not realize it but we are called to swear allegiance to all kinds of things in our lives, and we don’t realize it. We sign loyalty agreements at work, and confidentiality clauses, and non-competition clauses. And if we won’t, we don’t work.
Personally, I have left more than one job because I was ordered to do something immoral and even illegal as part of my regular duties. I would not dishonor my Lord and violate the laws of my nation for money.
And that’s the place all these three churches were faced with. They had to join these trade unions (and keep in mind I have nothing at all against unions per se, unless they are engaged in illegal and immoral activities). These folks, however, were required be part of these business groups and were REQUIRED to bend or ignore their beliefs or not work. If they didn’t compromise, they would be blacklisted.
One church seems to have said, no way, and they paid for it. The other two, to differing degrees, went along with it.
We may think “what” they went along with is kind of weird, but again it’s not all that different than our world. These early Christians were told they had to have sex if they wanted to keep their jobs. Anyone not think that happens today? If you think pressure related to sex in the workplace doesn’t exist for men and women, you haven’t really been in the workplace.
They were told to make contributions to things that dishonored God, make sacrifices and compromise regarding things of the world, worship objects instead of the True God. I’ve been subjected to such things in the workplace many times.
And here in the holiday season, we have the same such behavior and temptations. To a large degree we have established, and it’s only been in the last hundred years or so, a whole new religion, a whole new god at Christmas. Call it Santa, call it commercialism and materialism, call it greed and the worship of the almighty dollar. Mass marketing has almost forced each and everyone of us to participate in a “get Christ out of Christmas” agenda whether we like it or not.
Honestly, where can you go to shop today and not be inundated with a godlless “me first” version of Christmas?
A teenager told me recently, it’s not about the size of the gift, it’s about it’s “cash equivalent”. And a new trend is to simply attach your receipt to the package itself, as a special consideration since, the recipient is likely to return it anyway.
Christmas is an easy time to compromise, to let the world win. It’s also the time a follower of Christ can stand apart.
Christ tells us here and now, and we look at the prophesy in terms of modern day life application. It’s not about the pressure that is put on you by the world, it’s what you do with it.
Yes, you may get fired, you may suffer, the church may be persecuted and put down and made fun of, but Jesus is the same now and he was then, and the same as he always will be.
His love for us never changes, and expectation of obedience never changes.
Thyarita reminds us that when we compromise that of God, it’s a slippery slope to destruction. We do live under God’s grace when we are saved by the blood of Christ. We do know that we are no longer bound or saved, nor actually ever were, under the law. We know the wages of sin, and that Christ paid them in full for us.
But does that mean we can let things slip?. That sin doesn’t matter. Just a little cheat, a little lie, a little covet, a little sexual misconduct….no big deal….
The answer is clearly no. We rely on Christ’s strength to give us self-control to stand firm in living lives to God’s glory in response to his sacrifice and redemption. Yes, when you accepted Christ, and I pray that you have, you may be saved for the torment of hell in eternity, but hell on earth still awaits the church on the slippery slope.
The truth is by the end of the second century there was no church in Thyatira, it was gone, out of existence.
It was not destroyed from the outside, knocked down with picks and hammers. It fell from the inside, one little compromise at a time.
(c)2010 Timothy Henry