“Marks of the Church: Faithfulness” Revelation 2:12-17 November 2, 2008
SI: We’re studying the seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3.
These are letters from Jesus Christ to seven churches in Asia minor,
written by the Apostle John as they were revealed to him.
Studying these letters makes us wonder:
What would Jesus say to us if he wrote Christ Covenant a letter?
What things would he praise us for?
What would he warn us about, what would he rebuke us for?
What promises would he make in his letter to us to stir us up and encourage?
I don’t think we correspond exactly to any of these seven churches—
because every church, just like every Christian, is unique.
But somewhere in the middle of all of them we find ourselves and
will hear the word of Jesus spoken to us.
Let’s read his letter to the church of Pergamum.
INTRO: I want to tell you two stories—one far away and one closer to home.
First story: I had a roommate in college whose father was a Spaniard.
My roommate lived in Barcelona as a boy where his father and uncle
ran an evangelical Christian publishing company.
This publishing company had been started by their father
who was a well-known Protestant minister who was persecuted under Franco.
The publishing company grew so they opened a branch in Ft. Lauderdale.
My friend’s father ran the Ft. Lauderdale branch, his uncle the Barcelona branch.
After college, I was living in Ft. Lauderdale and my old roommate called
and said: Come to my parents’ house and meet my uncle.
I met his uncle and there was a woman with him.
Afterwards I asked: That wasn’t your aunt, who was that woman?
She’s my uncle’s mistress.
I thought your uncle was a prominent Christian leader in Spain. He is.
Why doesn’t his church do something about his mistress?
Spanish men are expected to have a mistress when they reach a certain age.
You know it’s wrong, I know it’s wrong, the Bible says it’s wrong—
but it’s an accepted practice. And it’s so common, even among Christians,
that many churches in Spain just look the other way.
Second story: There are two large Presbyterian churches in Memphis just a few
streets away from each other, Second Presbyterian and Independent Presbyterian.
Both conservative, Bible-believing churches—I’ve worshipped in both of them.
In the 1960s a group of black college students came to Second Pres one Sunday
morning and they were turned away at the door.
This started a controversy in the congregation.
Some members said—We were right to turn them away.
This was a political stunt, not going to allow church to be used that way.
Other members said—Who are you fooling, turned away because black.
Of course they were coming for the wrong reasons, but lots of white people
come to church for the wrong reasons and we don’t turn them away.
The church was split over this.
Most of the Session said, We have to keep these people out.
Most of the Diaconate (younger men), doors open to all comers.
When Session realized majority of church against them—they left.
Took a number of people with them a few streets away and started
Independent Presbyterian Church.
Independent is a good church, but it had that troubling beginning.
What’s the common denominator in both of these stories?
Christians and churches compromising with culture.
Compromising with the Spanish view of masculinity.
Compromising with the old Southern view of race.
And that’s exactly what Jesus rebukes the church of Pergamum for.
Compromising with certain aspects of Greco-Roman culture.
This was still a good church in some important ways.
Jesus said, You’ve remained true, not renounced the faith.
Even had a faithful church leader Antipas was martyred.
But within the church were those who followed the teachings of the Nicolaitans—
which we will see, were those who advocated compromise with the culture.
Not compromise in every area, but in one or two key places.
But these were serious enough to Jesus that he said:
“Repent or I will soon come against you and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
But Jesus doesn’t stop with that warning—he promises wonderful things for
to Christians and churches who are faithful to him in this area.
Compromise with the culture is a temptation for every church.
Jesus wants Christ Covenant to be faithful to him in this difficult area.
Let’s look at this passage under three headings:
1. The temptation to compromise with the culture
2. The effect of compromise with the culture
3. The incentive for faithfulness in the culture
MP#1 The temptation to compromise with the culture
Let’s start with Pergamum and draw a line to Cullman.
Pergamum was the center of Roman government and pagan religion in Asia Minor.
There were many shrines dedicated to the worship of Caesar.
You remember we studied Caesar worship in the last letter, to Smyrna.
There was also a hill above the city, on top of the hill a temple to Zeus,
that temple had a throne with an image of the god sitting on it.
May be what Jesus was referring to when he said,
“I know where you live, where Satan has his throne.”
Historians tell us that this hill was covered with shrines to many other gods—
Participating in the feasts and ceremonies in these shrines was an important part
of being a good citizen and a respectable person.
If you were part of a trade guild, businessman—ceremonies expected to attend.
Everybody did, it was part of life in Pergamum.
So when a person became a Christian, and quit going to these shrines,
it caused big problems. Seen as anti-social, unpatriotic.
In fact, Christians were called atheists and haters of mankind.
No, not atheists, believe in one invisible God, and we love all people, even enemies,
and we are good citizens, and hard workers—but it didn’t matter.
Nicolaitians were those who taught compromise in this area.
They said that it was ok for Christians to go to these shrines,
and go through the ceremonies that were so much a part of Pergamum life.
We don’t know what the Nicolaitans’ arguments were but we can guess.
Best way to win neighbors is not to separate from them, but to participate
with them in their lives, show them that Christians are people too.
We don’t want to appear judgmental.
What better way to befriend them and show you are non-judgmental than by
sharing a meal at a temple or participating with them in one of these ceremonies.
These don’t mean anything anyway. These gods and goddesses are myths.
The Nicolaitians weren’t denying the deity of Christ or his resurrection
or the need to have faith in him for salvation.
They were just saying that living for Christ doesn’t require separation
from these common, cultural practices of Pergamum.
They were saying, it doesn’t have to be this difficult to be a Christian.
You don’t have to offend people, make it so hard on yourself, be weirdo.
And that is the temptation.
There are lots of good things in every culture for Christians to embrace.
But there will always be things in every culture that come into direct conflict
with God’s will for his people—and that will be the place where things get tough.
That will be the place where it will be hard for you if you stand for God.
What about American culture? What are our idols shrines? Few all of us face.
The god of personal fulfillment.
Believe in yourself. Be true to your dreams. Follow your heart.
Americans believe those things. Personal fulfillment is the justification
for many divorces. I’m not happy. I have to be happy. Cause of many
neglected children, and parents off chasing their happiness.
When Christians say—Personal fulfillment is a false god, the Lord calls you
to serve him and serve other people and be faithful even in unhappy
circumstances, that makes people mad. Makes fellow Christians mad.
How dare you tell me God doesn’t want me to be happy.
You can’t speak for God.
Much easier to keep quiet and say—
If you believe God’s told you it’s ok, it’s ok.
The god of sexual freedom
Many Americans believe that whatever two consenting adults do with their bodies
is their business. Promiscuity is more and more accepted and to stand against it
requires great determination because to do so is to be seen as judgmental.
When you say: God’s standard is abstinence outside of marriage,
faithfulness within marriage, and marriage between one man and one woman,
that angers many people.
There have been a few cases in Canada where churches and pastors have been
charged with hate crime for calling homosexuality a sin.
Even if things never get that bad legally in America,
culture pounds the message—
sexuality is private and off limits for any judgment.
Nicolaitan temptation still with us—can’t give in to it.
But what happens when we do?
MP#2 The effect of compromise with culture
The effect is this: The church becomes spiritually and morally confused
and loses its effectiveness, power, and identity. It’s no longer salt and light.
This is expressed in two vivid ways in this letter.
First, Lord Jesus compares the teaching of the Nicolaitans,
with the Old Testament story of Balaam and Balak.
Do you remember that story?
The Israelites were on their way to the Promised Land.
God had said to them over and over—You are my chosen people.
You are to me a Kingdom of Priests.
You are to be a light to the nations.
I’ve saved you out of slavery in Egypt,
I’ve prepared a land for you flowing with milk and honey.
Now, walk before me in holiness and faithfulness.
And the Lord said over and over—Don’t be like the people of Canaan.
Don’t worship their idols, don’t adopt their values.
Love me with all your heart and strength.
And the blessings of my covenant will flow to you and your children.
Well, on their way to the Promised Land, had to go through land of Moab.
The king of Moab, Balak, hired a fortune teller name Balaam to curse Israel.
But every time Balaam tried to curse, Lord spoke and said—I’ll curse you.
So Balaam blessed Israel instead. This made Balak very mad.
So Balaam said—Look, you want to ruin the Israelites?
Just get them to join in worshiping your gods and their God crush them.
So the Moabites started mingling with the Israelites.
Invited them to their religious ceremonies and feasts, which included
sexual immorality and the Israelites got involved in that.
It brought spiritual and moral confusion and a plague from God that killed 24,000.
Jesus draws a direct connection between Balaam and the church in Pergamum.
When you buy into the values and practices of Greco-Roman culture that
go against God, you sow spiritual and moral confusion and bring judgment.
Then Jesus emphasizes this in a second way—equally vivid.
“Repent therefore. Otherwise I will soon come to you
and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
What’s the sword of Jesus’ mouth? It’s the Word of God.
Jesus is saying: If you compromise with the culture
Word of God will become a weapon against you, rather than a weapon for you.
What if you woke up in the night, sensed somebody is in your house,
you lean over, and reach for the pistol in drawer of bedside table—
and it’s gone. And then you hear a voice say—Are you looking for something?
And you knew the weapon you wanted to use for your protection, used against you.
That would be terrible.
That’s what Jesus is saying can happen to you spiritually.
If you cave to the culture in the very area where the battle is being fought,
because you don’t want to be different, don’t want to offend—
whether it’s in the area of sexual ethics, or personal fulfillment, or materialism,
or whatever—you’ll be identifying with the enemies of God.
That’s the effect of compromise.
The church becomes less and less like the church,
more and more like the world and the enemies of God.
Why are there warnings like this in the Bible? Because God loves you, wants best.
Why do you warn your children before they leave house? Because love, want best.
This week we added a new driver to the Siegenthaler family.
Several times I’ve already said—Be careful. Watch out for this. Remember that.
It’s love. Jesus warns us because he loves us.
Jesus doesn’t want to fight against us with the sword of his mouth.
He wants much better things for us.
He wants us to be faithful witnesses for him in our culture.
That brings us to the last point.
MP#3 The incentive for faithfulness in the culture
“To the one who conquerors (overcomes) I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with an new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Let’s start with the white stone.
Historians tell us that small stones were used as tokens or tickets in the ancient
world for admission to public festivals.
The Christians of Pergamum would have received these stone.
Here’s a ticket to the feast at the temple of Athena.
All the businessmen of city will be there, you will be there, won’t you?
You are a good citizen, aren’t you? You don’t want to be blackballed, do you?
What would Christians do with their ticket?
Use it, like Nicolaitians urged, or throw it away and invite ridicule and conflict?
Do you see what those stones represented?
Identity and acceptance, security and success—all the deep longings of heart.
Jesus said: I’ve got a better stone for you.
It’s white. It has a new name on it known only by you.
White and new are code words in the Bible for eternal blessings.
Jesus is challenging us to trust him in this:
There is a great temple feast being prepared for us by Christ and
the ticket is faith in him.
And at that feast, far from being ridiculed,
you’ll have an identity that is glorious and honored.
But what about now? That’s in the future.
Do we have anything to sustain now?
Now we have the hidden manna.
You know what manna was.
It was the bread that God sent from heaven to feed Israelites in the desert.
Psalms call it the bread of angels.
Described as sweet and completely satisfying.
It was more than food, it was a symbol of God’s provision of Jesus Christ.
Manna is Jesus himself. It’s fellowship with the Bread of life.
Jesus says, if you are faithful to me in the tough places,
you’re going to know me and experience my presence.
I promise you will experience a sweetness and satisfaction in your life
that will be far better than the easy life you would get by just going along.
But it’s going to be hidden manna.
That means it won’t make sense until after you’ve obeyed.
In fact, beforehand you may think—there’s no way this is going to be sweet.
Jesus says, trust me. Be faithful, and I’ll give you manna.
I heard a story recently from a board member of Covenant College, my alma mater.
A Covenant graduate was talking about what she had learned at Covenant
and the difference it had made in her life and how it had prepared her
for medical school and her work as a doctor.
Then she said: Covenant also taught me how to get fired.
Explained how she had worked in a hospital that pushed her to give out
the RU486 abortion pill in the emergency room.
She told her supervisor:
“I believe that God has ordained every life on earth and that life begins at the
moment of conception. I will not hand out that pill.”
She was fired on the spot.
She stood against the culture, in this case our cultures’ love of abortion.
And she suffered, just like the faithful Christians in Pergamum.
She suffered ridicule and humiliation and loss.
But, in standing against the culture, she tasted the hidden manna.
Jesus was with her, he did take care of her. Knew him in ways would otherwise.
Faithfulness in the culture means that Christians sometimes fired from their jobs.
It means may be jobs and associations and activities off-limits to Christians.
Faithfulness means that, despite your best efforts,
people may think you are arrogant and judgmental.
Where are the places you have conflict with the values of our culture?
Jesus says—Face those things, suffer them, and I promise you will not be sorry.
You’ll taste the hidden manna.
You’ll experience my presence and grace.
Be overcomers—school, work, family—Jesus with us.