They have been called the “Seven Deadly sins”. Solomon wrote In the Book of Proverbs: “six things the Lord hates, and the seventh His soul detests, namely: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plots, feet that are swift to run into mischief, a deceitful witness that utters lies, and he that sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16-19). Later, in Church History, “The Seven Deadly Sins” became known as the Capital Vices or in Latin theology the “Cardinal Sins”. These vices that have been recalled since early Christian times to instruct the church concerning fallen humanity’s sin nature. The currently recognized version of the list is usually given as wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. No matter how you slice it – we have always known there is a SIN PROBLEM in the world. To naively believe that most people are “basically good” is to show you have a VERY LIMITED life experience.
Coming back to our study in Revelation, we see the sin problem as it affected seven churches of the time of the Apostle John – at the end of the first century. It was now more than fifty-five years from the time of Jesus’ death and Resurrection. We have noted already that John wasn’t writing to individual believers, but to churches that were characterized by sin problems. Though that was true, it was equally true that each church was made up of believers that individually struggled – just as we do today.
Key Principle: There are sinful choices that can cripple believers and churches. We must identify the dangers, and deliberately choose to walk away from the temptations.
The letters as they appear in chapters two and three were sent to seven literal churches in the order of the postal route. They are perhaps easier to recall if you use the teaching device Dr. Howard Hendricks taught his students years ago. Repeat and learn the phrase: “Everybody Sing Please That Sounds Pretty Lovely”. The seven messages were loaded with information each city could recognize from its own history and experience, and it would be great if we had the time to share all of the history we cover on our trips to the seven churches. In the end, what will fulfill our purpose for today is NOT a complete study of the places and letters, but a brief look at each to ask a simple question: What is the sin problem here and how does it woo believers today? We will not avoid what we don’t identify as a problem. That is the reason for SPEED BUMP warnings, POT HOLE signs and WET PAINT notices.
Each of the seven letter is broken down into the same details:
- The name of the city is given first. Next there is an identification of Jesus that is significant to that city. For instance, to Smyrna – an archaic city that lay in ruins by the C5th BCE and was DEAD but later reborn under Antigonus in the C4 BCE – Jesus introduced Himself as the One who was DEAD and is now ALIVE!
- The praise for the church is given. Usually it is a simple statement of Jesus KNOWING something about the struggle of the church. For example, to Ephesus, Jesus said He knew their patience, and the purity in their struggle with the Nicolaitines.
- The indictment or instruction usually follows the praise. An example of this would be in the case of Pergamon, where Jesus said: “Some are in the error of Balaam and Balac and still others are overtaken in the error of the Nicolaitines.” It is from this section that we will discover the sin problems in this lesson.
- The letters also include the penalty or promise given to the church based on their sinful practices or resistance to them. Things like “a white stone of acquittal” or “hidden manna” are offered for their obedience.
Look at the pat of each letter that bears out the SIN ISSUES. What were the seven hindrances that can become deadly sins for God’s people? Each church has one, and every believer faces them.
Hindrance #1: Neglected Priorities – When we don’t place our heart for God above all else.
The letter to the church of Ephesus is found in Revelation 2:1-7. It is worth noting that as a city, the sun was setting on the prosperous port of Ephesus, and all that was left was a trinket trade and tourism to the Wonder of the Artemission – a temple to the goddess of LOVE – an old shrine on the cliff above the city. To that mother of the churches of Asia Minor, John was instructed to dictate a letter from Jesus that said:
2:1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: … 4 ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 ‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. …”
They left their first love. They began in love with the Savior – worshipping, thanking, praising and sharing because of HIM. WHAT BEGAN AS A PASSION became a PROGRAM. The issue was NOT a lack of vigilance against error (2:2), it was not a matter of endurance (2:3), nor acceptance of popular trends (2:6) – the issue was a heart for God. Without that heart – God’s church set aside the essential fiber that held it together, AND DRONED ON WITHOUT ITS PASSION THAT OFFERED ITS PURPOSE.
How does that happen to a church? How does it happen to an individual believer? There are several ways.
- We can forget whose pleasure our life is for. We must stand against the current of spiritual drift and seek the Lord’s pleasure first in every situation. Currents will pull strongly to self satisfaction – but the focus of the believer is to be the pleasure of the Lord.
- It can also happen by getting caught up in PROGRAM CREEP. We start to measure our walk with God and our work for God – instead of gauging our passion FOR God Himself.
Jesus offered a three-fold prescription:
- Remember – recognize what we have left behind (2:5).
- Repent – change our mind in a way that leads to a change of action (2:5).
- Return – restore the old works by turning back (2:5).
Surprisingly, the answer isn’t to QUIT WORKING but to go back to the reasons we were working in the first place.
Hindrance #2: Fear of Opposition – When we pull back on our witness for fear the reactions will be painful.
Forty miles north, the city that sat upon a hill that appeared as a crown above the harbor of Smyrna, but her church was afraid of the rising tide of persecution (Revelation 2:8-11). John recorded Jesus’ words:
2:8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: .. 10 ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life…”
The church of Smyrna was gripped with fear. Jesus knew their physical troubles and material needs (2:9), as well as the persecution by other religious people (2:9). Instead of promising the church a FREE RIDE in the coming days – Jesus warned the people of coming persecution. He said:
- New imprisonments will be ordered (2:10)
- New troubles are ordained to arrive (2:10)
- Some would be martyred (2:10)
How do believers face the fear of rising ANTI-CHRIST waves that seem to be growing in strength and severity? Even more, how do believers face the harsh reality that many are, right now, suffering severely for the cause of Christ?
First, remember that COMPLAINING was not to be the church’s water mark – so we need to check the whining. Second, we need to remember that this is not our permanent home. Believers must constantly reinforce Heaven as our home and spiritual warfare as our constant companion.
A church that is focused on creating the kingdom on earth will be tempted to lose its edge in seeing this as a temporary situation.
Hindrance #3: Compromise of Principles – When we join the corps of the unfaithful because we feel they are stronger.
From Smyrna, an hour and a half’s drive north along the coast will take us to the ruins of the once impregnable cliff city of Pergamum. The warnings against her church included the strong rebuke that the tolerance of error was eroding the truth to a dull and compromised lump.
2:12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: … 14 ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. 15 ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth… “
A careful look at the Balaam and Balak story would recall a “prophet for hire” (Num 22-24), a story that offered the warnings of a compromise of life (cp. 2 Pet 2:15; Jude 11). Suffice it to say that two kinds of false teaching were being offered to people based on the paycheck offered to their clergy:
- Seductive teachings that drew weak away in forbidden food and immoral practices. These appear to have been focused on Christian “liberties” without restraint.
- Mysticism of the Nicolaitians – accepting intimate revelations given privately and replacing the hierarchy of the priesthood with a new “Spirit chosen one”. The bottom line was they lacked objective accountability.
Believers that want to do things “hanging over the edge” into the world without any accountability are abundant – but every growing believer needs to beware.
Hindrance #4: Tolerating Immorality – When we allow immoral actions to continue unchecked because we don’t want to cause conflict.
If we headed from Pergamum, another sixty miles inland, we would reach the great ancient city of the Hephaestus metal workers guild and temple at Thyatira. These were believers in desperate need of the message of purity from the one whose eyes were flames and feet were fine brass.
Look at the six descriptive phrases of what was 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.. sadly, it was a church about to get crushed under the weight of sin:
2:18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: .. 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. ..”
The deadly sin is 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: (af-ee’-ay-mee: apó, “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.
We need to check ourselves carefully: Many would rather experience God rather than study his word. Many would rather worship God or fellowship with other believers than sit under 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.
When believers tolerate immoral actions allowing them to continue unchecked because we don’t want to cause conflict – they kill truth and rob hope.
Hindrance #5: Spiritual Apathy – When we allow the weakness to spread unchecked by vigilance and defense of the truth.
Chapter three opens with a letter that went to the next postal route city – another two hours by modern bus today, traveling to the southeast. The proud revived city of Sardis was chastised for its pride by the One who died, and was raised again.
3:1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. …”
Sardis was one of the great cities of the ancient world, the capital city of a great empire. The Greeks referred to it as the greatest of all cities. In the previous letters, “I know thy works” had been a comforting phrase – HERE THERE WAS NOT. Here, Jesus pointed out that their reputation was different than their reality. They LOOKED strong, but they were WEAK.
They remembered the past and were complacent about the present – presuming on the future: When a church lives in the past, its reputation and its history, that church is dead. When a church is more concerned with form and ritual that church is dead. When a church is more concerned about church activities than that God be glorified through those activities, it is dead. When they try to grow and hold on to people, they become self focused. When it is more material than spiritual, it is dead.
Believers have the same temptation – look back to a former commitment, and breeze through a retirement from our faith. Vigilance is the opposite of apathy – not simply action.
The 4,000-mile-long Great Wall of China was built to keep invaders from the north. The first wall was constructed by Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of China, who lived between 259 – 210 BC. But is AD 1644 the Manchus broke through the Great Wall and overran China. They did this by bribing a general of the Ming dynasty to open the gates. As Christians, we must be vigilant that nothing breaches our spiritual defenses. Even the most mature believer can never afford to let down his guard. (A-Z illustrations).
Hindrance #6: Dwindling Stability – When we won’t push to deliberately build the body of believers.
Twenty-seven miles southeast of Sardis was the earthquake battered community at Philadelphia who was promised that faithful believers could be an eternal strong pillar in God’s Temple.
3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: …8 ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. …”
Faithful, but barely hanging on – that is the truth behind thousands of churches and literally MILLIONS of anemic and sickly Christians. Have you seen them?
- Alzheimer’s Christian: Remembers only selectively what God has done before, but fails to be able to connect with what may be happening in the Kingdom around him today.
- Autistic Christian: Stuck on a phrase and often inappropriate in responses. Unable to connect to anyone that has no special training to understand them.
- Epileptic Christian: Not in control of all energies expended. Seems passionate but strangely disconnected from the body, randomly expending great energy not directed by any leadership or head.
- Leprous Christian: Unfeeling toward other parts of the body and infectiously causing a spreading numbness of insensitivity that kills good growth.
- Obese Christian: Ready to sit and eat with no real intent to get up and DO anything, they become expert food critics of the messages they hear.
- Burned Christian: Because of an experience that often has nothing to do with the current body they are in, they are in constant need of careful handling and touchy care.
- Anorexic Christian: Unable to see themselves as God says they are, they continue to self inspect for every flaw, totally overtaken in their own issues.
- Heart Diseased Christian: Unable to function normally because of other contributing behaviors that have weakened their endurance.
Hindrance #7: Luxury Distraction – When we focus so much on this world’s comfort, we forget this isn’t the real world.
Finally, the church set on the ridge between the hot spring cliffs of Pammukale and the snow caps of the Taurus mountains, the distracted city of Laodicea was chastised for offering a half hearted commitment to God while their focus was on themselves!
3:14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked…”
Here we are, the modern believer in the west. We own many Bibles, but seldom really read any of them. We have hundreds of choices for church families – but we only go if there is something we are really encouraged by. There are lots of opportunities to serve Jesus in our community – but we cannot fit it in between the sports we play and the sports we watch. There are incredible numbers of places to share the Gospel – but there is little time because our Facebook friends need to know what we are cooking for dinner tonight. We love the children of our community – but teaching them God’s Word would take time from seeing my friends in church. We love ministry – if someone could just put it together for us and let us come. …You see, we are BUSY people. We are TIRED people. We are IMPORTANT people – at the center of our world. We seek COMFORT – not commitment. We seek PLEASURE – not persistence in the tough things.
Here we are facing the hindrances of obstacles to follow God. They are sinful choices and fallen practices.
- I don’t always place my heart for God above all else.
- I pull back on my witness for fear of the reactions.
- I am tempted to join the unfaithful because they seem stronger.
- I tolerate immorality because I don’t want to fight everything.
- I get apathetic the truth.
- I don’t push to deliberately build the body of believers.
- I focus too much on this world’s success and pleasure and forget this isn’t the real world.
I am a modern Christian. There are sinful choices that can cripple believers and churches. We must identify the dangers, and deliberately choose to walk away from the temptations.