Dr. Howard Hendricks, when he taught the Book of Revelation would remind his students that the postal route from the first century ran in the exact routing of the seven churches. The best way to remember them was by a learning device, so he would say “Everybody sing please, that sounds pretty lovely.” From the first letters come the names in order of the seven churches.
• We have seen that we must invite Jesus deliberately to daily renew the priority of our “first love” as walking the journey with Him – we learned that from the letter to Ephesus.
• We have seen that fear will distract us from the great commission – we learned that from the letter to Smyrna.
• We looked briefly at the idea that exhaustion comes when we forget the power of God and are distracted by the power of evil – we learned that from the letter to the church to Pergamum.
For a few minutes I would like to look at the letter to the church at Thyatira. The city was sixty miles inland from Pergamum. It functioned as the great city of the Hephaestus metal workers guild and temple for the Greek god of the anvil and smelting process. The people of the town were largely businessmen and tradesmen, and they were facing a problem. Those who came to Christ were called to live distinctly, but they would lose their jobs if they didn’t agree to participate in things that God strictly forbade. They were tempted to look the other way and compromise their beliefs to keep peace in their lives.
Key Principle: When we allow immoral actions to continue unchecked because we don’t want to cause conflict we fail to lead.
Here is the letter:
Revelation 2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: 19 ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23 And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. 24 But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. 25 Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Thyatira was situated in a valley that connected two other valleys. It had no natural fortification at all and although at this time a Roman garrison was stationed there, their aim was not to defend Thyatira, but to delay the invaders long enough for Pergamum, the capital up the road to be prepared for the coming attack. Thyatira was dispensable in the economy of the day. Though not easily fortified, Thyatira was on a major trade route and was well known for its trade guilds – there were carpenters, dyers, sellers of goods, tanners, weavers, tent makers, etc all making a living from their trade. Lydia in Philippi was a trader of fine cloth and came from Thyatira. (Acts 16).
The guilds of the trades were central union halls for tradesmen to earn contacts to make a living but they were linked with the worship of pagan gods. Each guild had its particular god. Members were expected to attend all its functions and participate in its activities which included offerings, feasts and often immoral behavior. The members of the church in Thyatira were torn between making a living on the one hand which meant having to be part of the guilds and on the other hand staying faithful to Christ and his standards.
How could they have heart health in a place set for compromise of principles?
First, they needed to keep in mind that Jesus was watching every choice they made.
Look at the description of Jesus in Revelation 2:18: “eyes like a flame of fire”. The images of flaming eyes also reminds us that God’s eyes are penetrating, seeing everything, knowing everything. –
• Jer 16:17 – “For My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from My face, nor is their iniquity hidden from My eyes.
• Heb 4:13 – And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Jesus mentioned this, because the compromises of the guild were a sore temptation to each believer. I want you to think about the temptation process for a moment, and what Jesus sees:
In his little book called “Temptation” Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote some insightful words. He wrote:
“In our members there is a slumbering inclination toward desire, which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power, desire seizes mastery of the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is a sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, our love of fame and power, or greed for money…At this moment God is quite unreal to us. [Remember those words.] He loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real… Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God… The lust thus aroused envelopes the mind and will of a man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. The questions present themselves as, “Is what the flesh desires really sin in this case?” And, “Is it really not permitted me, yes, expected of me now, here in my particular situation to appease desire?” It is here that everything within me rises up against the Word of God…. Therefore the Bible teaches us in times of temptation in the flesh, there is one command: Flee! Flee fornication. Flee idolatry. Flee youthful lusts. Flee the lusts of the world. There is no resistance to Satan in lust other than flight. Every struggle against lust in one’s own strength is doomed to failure.
The Bible calls believers to resist the devil but to flee temptation. Far too many are ready to flee the devil but try to hang in there and resist temptation… and neither will work. God was specific about withdrawal – and that is what the Thyatirans didn’t want to do. To withdraw from the place of temptation seemed like it was a surefire way to cut off their income, crippling their future.
Look at the six descriptive phrases of what as GOOD about this church in Revelation 2:19:
- I know your deeds – it was a working church.
- and your love – it was a church with a heart.
- and faith – it was a Biblically focused church.
- and service – it was a need focused church.
- and perseverance – it was a steady and enduring church.
- and that your deeds of late are greater than at first – it was a growing church..
The deadly sin mentioned in Revelation 2:20. The issue wasn’t their instigation of immoral teaching – it was their TOLERATION of it. Look closely at the term in 2:20: (apó-af-ee’-ay-mee: is a combination word “away from” and hiēmi, “send”) – properly, send away; release (discharge). Essentially, they didn’t CUT OFF the cancer, but let it grow larger and more pronounced.
Second, remember Jesus is very strongly set in His standards.
Revelation 2:18 also described Jesus as “His feet are like burnished bronze…” Jesus isn’t flip-flopping around on right and wrong. He is, was and will be the same.
Look closely at the compromise here…Think of the problem as actually a two-fold one. There wasn’t ONE tempted party, there were TWO.
• First, the guild member didn’t want to quit the guild. He was a business man, and the objection was this: Do I really need to leave the lodge to follow Jesus? How will I get work? I will lose all my contacts!
• Second, the church didn’t want to lose the guy and his support and connection to the community. How will we reach anyone in our community if we hold to such standards? If we don’t allow some who are connected to the community to come in, we are going to be irrelevant in outreach!
It doesn’t take many people to raise a ruckus in a church:
A farmer once walked into a restaurant and asked the owner if he could use a million frog legs. Desirous of putting frog legs on the menu more frequently, the owner asked the farmer where he could get so many. The farmer said, “My pond is overflowing with them. Their croaking is driving me up the wall and I’d love to get rid of them.” The owner told the farmer to bring him as many as he could. A week later the farmer returned with an embarrassed look on his face. He held up two scrawny frogs and said, “I was wrong about a million frog legs. These two frogs were making all the racket. I never knew two frogs could cause so much noise.” My point is it doesn’t take many people to call the church to compromise. One is all that it takes.
Here is the problem: Jesus calls His church to purity. We don’t have a right to change the message. We don’t have the right to make it more palatable. We aren’t Jesus’ PR firm, we are His church. Follow the line of compromise won’t have the long term results we desire. It reminds me of a little ditty …
A sailor on duty got frantic when he fell into the briny Atlantic.
After hours in the sea, He was saved Yes-sirree.
Happily hoisted aboard the Titanic
The moral: It is no good getting saved by a ship that is bound to sink just as it is no good following teachers whose doctrines are bound to be condemned at the judgment seat of Christ.
Third, we need to practice seeing things as Jesus does.
Jesus said in Revelation 2:19 ‘I know your deeds, … 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.”
Here is my question: “How can we tell whether a teaching or a doctrine is from God or from a Jezebel?”
Here are some things we can look for:
First, Jezebel doctrines teach that something evil can be good. They bring in a different god’s ideas about good and right. Paul warned the Ephesian elders against such false teaching: Acts 20:29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Second, Jezebel hates God’s true Word – and seeks to discredit it in any way possible. Jezebel hated Elijah and tried to destroy all the true prophets who faithfully spoke God’s word. Christians who are bound by Jezebel’s doctrine similarly have no regard for God’s word.
• They would rather “experience God” rather than study his Word.
• They would rather worship God or fellowship with other believers than sit under solid Biblical teaching- unless it was tailored to felt needs…. Ahab said about Micaiah, God’s faithful prophet in 1Ki 22:8 “I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad”. Jezebel prophets prophesy only good things – peace and prosperity (Jer 23:14-17). They never prophesy judgment. It is unbalanced, unbiblical and wrong.
Look near the end of the letter. To the “overcomer” those who don’t get misled by false teaching, God promised two things:
1) He says that he will give authority over the nations. We don’t have to be worried about the world as it presses in on us. We will have authority over it.
2) He says that he will give them the Morning Star. In Rev. 22:16, the morning star is identified as Christ himself. – but it appears to be used of REAL HOPE.
While faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time, HOPE is believing that character will produce the best end for God’s purposes!
Leaders, when we allow immoral actions to continue unchecked because we don’t want to cause conflict – we kill truth and hope.
We are badly in need of leaders in our churches that will stand for truth. Our schools are in a tenuous spot. Let me illustrate that:
The other day I was standing in the back of a meeting hall beside a College President. He told me something that stunned me. He said the largest Christian University in the world is located in Virginia, and has (including online students) 90,000 students. He said the school costs $1 Million a day to operate. He said I shouldn’t worry because it brought in about $3 Million a day. Then what he said stunned me. He told me that more than 70% of that university’s funding comes through government back programs – guaranteed student loans, GI bill, etc. What do you suppose will happen to that school if the Executive branch of the US government decides to make the acceptance of homosexual faculty and staff a litmus test of whether one can receive backed funds through the US government? How many schools will find themselves threatened with shut down? Will they remain faithful to what the Bible teaches even if they have to close their doors?
Last September, the news carried this article:
A public school district in Massachusetts cut ties with Gordon College following the private Christian institution’s request for the legal ability to discriminate against LGBT community. Gordon President D. Michael Lindsay signed onto a letter asking the Obama administration for an exemption from an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against gay employees. It sparked a backlash, even as Lindsay attempted to explain that although the Massachusetts college was requesting the legal ability based on religion to discriminate, it had no plans to do so.
Coming soon, we are going to pushed out of education. It is already happening. In our little town, it has cost our little church thousands to move us out of any government backed program – but we did it because we don’t want to set up compromise.
I believe that leadership will make or break our future as a movement of churches, and as a nation. We MUST develop people:
HARRY TRUMAN ONCE COMMENTED ON THE IMPORTANCE OF POLLS TO LEADERSHIP, WITH THE FOLLOWING INSIGHT, “I WONDER HOW FAR MOSES WOULD HAVE GONE IF HE’D TAKEN A POLL IN EGYPT? WHAT WOULD JESUS CHRIST HAVE PREACHED IF HE TAKEN A POLL IN ISRAEL? WHERE WOULD THE REFORMATION HAVE GONE IF MARTIN LUTHER HAD TAKEN A POLL? IT ISN’T THE POLLS OR PUBLIC OPINION OF THE MOMENT THAT COUNTS. IT IS RIGHT AND WRONG AND LEADERSHIP — MEN WITH FORTITUDE, HONESTY, AND A BELIEF IN THE RIGHT — THAT MAKES EPOCHS IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD…“
Finally, don’t only think of quantity as success – remember quality of the work.
Revelation 2:24 says: “But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. 25 Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.
Did you notice Jesus didn’t tell the people who refused to be involved with compromise to worry about their quantity as much as their quality?
I am not arguing against big churches. Small isn’t holy – it is small and MIGHT be holy – or not. Large isn’t compromising – it MIGHT be absolutely faithful to God – or not. My point is that we must remember to focus on the quality of our work – not simply the numbers and stats.
When I started the school at GCBI I wanted to take young people through the 1189 chapters of the Bible. I didn’t give them ten books about the Bible by Christian publishers – just one… a Bible. They read it, they mark it, they work it, they fall into the pages for hours on end… that is the design of the program. If you want to see it in action – you can look up our website and watch all 580 hours of Bible instruction online. It is: classroom.gcbi.net where you sign in as a guest (so you don’t get graded!).
I wanted 12 students. The next year I wanted 12 more. I wasn’t trying to grow the program, that isn’t my focus. What I wanted to do was to the best I could to train them, not worry about getting nationally funded or noticed. Schools now give full credit for the work these students do – but only because they sought out the school. I didn’t reach out… I focused on working the program to become something Jesus would smile at.
Three beautiful roses placed on my wife’s pillow with a little note will do the job well – I don’t have to order three dozen and fill the house with them. We have to get back to understanding what makes our Father smile (Romans 12:2).
When we emphasize quantity and not quality, I become concerned we are becoming like our nation. I think of the words spoken so long ago…In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.“
Let’s be careful to focus on doing things God’s way, and let Him be responsible for the numbers game. We need to focus on what Jesus told us to be:
Walt Disney was a dreamer. His crowning vision was EPCOT; Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. He envisioned the perfect city of 20,000 using all of the most modern advances technology. One problem, Walt Disney died before his cream was ever realized. His dream was so big and complex and outside the box that no one else in the Disney company ever caught the dream and had no idea what to do after Walt was gone. What Walt Disney intended as a living breathing perfect city turned out only to be a entertainment center. Disney’s world would only become a place to visit.Jesus left a blueprint for His church so vast, so marvelous, and so innovative. A living breathing expanding organism that would permeate and transform the whole world. The problem is, that as time went on, His followers lost the vision and couldn’t wrap their minds around such a magnificent plan. Rather than a community of loving, passionate follower of Christ dedicated to demonstrating the power of the Christ-transformed life in a dark world, they began to do what they knew best, build buildings and run organizations and develop entertainment centers that would hopefully draw the crowds to hear the story but miss the transforming power of Christ.