Robert Jeffress - The Church That Was Too Accepting And The Church That Was Too Tolerant
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Is it possible for Christians to be too accepting and too tolerant? Our culture which applauds inclusiveness emphatically answers, no, but God's word says, yes, as we will see in Jesus' message to the Christians in Pergamum and Thyatira. My message is titled, "The Church That Was Too Accepting, and The Church That Was too Tolerant". On today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Francesco Giocondo was a new husband who wanted to honor his new bride. And he felt like perhaps the best way to do it was to commission a painting of her that would capture her stunning beauty. He realized that the more accurate the portrait was, the more honor it would bring to his new wife. So he scoured the earth, and he finally found the painter for it. Perhaps you've heard of him, Leonardo da Vinci. And the painting that has now hung in the halls of kings and queens, now is in Paris, France is called the Mona Lisa. Today it's valued at well over a half of billion dollars because it is a beautiful painting that accurately represents the bride.
I thought of that this week, as I was preparing the message on Revelation 2, and Revelation 3, why is it that God is so interested in the church and what happens in the church? Well, God loves his son, Jesus Christ. He wants the world to be captured and captivated by the beauty and the glory of Christ. And yet Christ is in heaven right now. The only thing that the world can see of Jesus Christ is the body of Christ, the church. The local church is the representation of Jesus Christ. And what the world thinks of the church, it ends up thinking about Jesus himself. That is why God is so interested in making sure that the church reflects the beauty and the glory of Jesus. And that's why we find in Revelation 2 and 3, a condition, a report of the seven churches in Asia Minor.
As we read these reports of churches from 2000 years ago, we discover what God admires and what God abhors, not only in the church, but in the lives of those of us who make up the church. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Revelation 2, we're going to look at the church that was too accepting, and the church that was too tolerant. Revelation 2. Last time we began by looking at the first two churches, the church at Ephesus, I called it the cold church. Even though the church was orthodox, it was hardworking, it had a tremendous reputation, they had left their first love. Which is not just a love for Jesus, but a commitment to obey him. Smyrna was the second church. It was a church that had no negative thing to say about it. Jesus only commended them for being a church that was obedient in the midst of persecution. And now we come in Revelation 2:12 to the third church, the church at Pergamum. I call it the compromising church.
Lemme just say a word about the city of Pergamum, for 400 years, it had been the capital of Asia Minor. It was near the ancient city of tRoy. There were a number of pagan temples in Pergamum. Perhaps the best known was the one on top of the acropolis, the highest point in the city. It was a 40-foot altar to the Greek God, zeus. I think perhaps Jesus had this in mind when he described Pergamum in verse 13 as the dwelling place or the throne of Satan. The description of Christ is suited for the church at Pergamum. Remember every letter begins with a particular description of Christ from Revelation 1. One aspect of that description of what John saw that is particularly suited for the problem in the church. He says in verse 12, "To the angel, the pastor of the church in Pergamum write, the one who has the sharp two-edged sword"...
Somebody asked me last week, "What is the two-edged sword"? Well, it was one main Roman killing machine. It had two blades on it, on either side. And so it would slice somebody through with one swing, and finish the job off with the final swing. The reason this is applicable to Pergamum is as the capital, the governor of Pergamum had the authority from Rome to carry out capital punishment. He had the ability to use the two-edged sword to take a life. It's interesting that in Hebrews 4:12, the Word of God is described as being sharper than any two-edged sword. And you find this sword coming into play again when Jesus returns in Revelation 19:15, as the battle is raging at Armageddon, look at what happens, "And from Jesus' mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it, he may smite the nations and he will rule them with a rod of iron". Verse 21 says, "And the rest of them were killed with the sword, which came from the mouth of him who sat up on the horse. And all the birds were filled with their flesh".
The sword, the Word of God, coming from the mouth of Jesus is going to be used in the last days to slay the wicked. But that same sword has a purpose in the life of Christians. It is that sword, that Word of God, that separates us as Christians from an unrighteous life. It frees us to serve Christ from the bondage of sin. Look at the affirmation of Pergamum beginning in verse 13, he said, "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is, and that you hold fast my name, and you do not deny my faith". Jesus said, I know exactly where you are Christians at Pergamum. I know it's not easy in a city like that being faithful to me. You're where Satan's throne is, the center of idolatry. God wants his light shone everywhere.
And that's what was happening in Pergamum. He said, "I know where you dwell, you're where Satan's throne is, you've become faithful. Even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one who was killed among you, where Satan dwells". Nevertheless, even though the church was faithful in some way, Jesus said, "I have something against you". Beginning in verse 14, "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. Thus, also you have in some way, those who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore, or else I'm coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth".
Two false doctrines the church was buying into. First of all, the doctrine of Balaam. Balaam was a prophet for hire. He would sell his services to anybody who wanted to employ him. So the king of Moab named Balak said, "I'd like to hire you to curse Israel". Well, Balaam figured out real soon that wasn't a smart thing to do, to curse God's chosen people. So he refused to curse them, but he said to Balak, he said, "Now, if you really want to destroy Israel, here's what to do. Just get them to intermarry with unbelievers. And that will weaken their nation. It will dilute their faith". 2nd Corinthians 6:14 says, "Do not be bound together with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness and lawlessness? What fellowship has light with darkness"?
For those of you listening to this broadcast, for those of you who are here today, I don't think a Christian should ever marry or even date an unbeliever. I mean, a date may not lead to marriage, but sometime it's going to lead to a marriage. And that's why you're not to be in any kind of emotional relationship with an unbeliever. Now I'm going to tell you as a pastor for more than 40 years, 99 times out of a hundred the believer doesn't lift up the unbeliever to where he is spiritually, the unbeliever drags down the believer to where they are. God understands that principle. And that's why he says don't buy in to the doctrine of Balaam, intermarriage. And then he says, "Not only that, you subscribed to the doctrine of the Nicolaitans", verse 15.
Who were the Nicolaitans? Most Bible scholars believe it was a false sect of Christianity founded by Nicolas, who's mentioned in acts 6:5, as one of the first seven deacons that was chosen by the early church. Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, it says, was probably the founder of this false sect of Christianity. What was the doctrine of the Nicolaitans? Well, it was a doctrine that allowed Christians to engage in sexual immorality, and also to participate in the pagan feast of these false Gods. And they came to that conclusion based on two heresies that the Nicolaitans bought into. First of all, they distorted Christian liberty, and you see the same thing happening today. They went around saying "We're free in Christ. Freedom in Christ. We don't have to obey some list of laws any longer. We're free in Christ".
And indeed Paul said in Galatians 5:13, we were called to freedom. God has called us to freedom. But they don't quote what else he said in verse 13, "Don't turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another". Listen to me this morning. Yes, we're saved by grace, but grace is not the freedom to do what we want to do. Grace is the freedom to do what God wants us to do. In many ways, grace is a stricter requirement than law is. The Bible says, don't use your freedom in Christ as a license for sin. That's what the Nicolaitans did. They distorted Christian liberty. Secondly, the Nicolaitans embraced gnosticism. Now, I don't want to get off into the weeds here, but gnosticism was the Greek philosophy of dualism, that separated the body and the spirit. The gnostic said, "The spirit is good, but the body, that which is material is evil".
Now here's the problem with that, when it comes to sin, they said, "Because your flesh is evil, you don't have any choice but to sin. But when you sin that's not really you doing it, the real you is your spirit. That's just your old person. That's your flesh doing that". Listen, the Bible doesn't make that dichotomy. When Jesus redeems you, he doesn't just redeem your spirit, he redeems your body as well. God does care what you do with your body. That's why in 1 Corinthians 6:18-19, Paul says, "Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit"?
What was the remedy to this false doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans that the church of Pergamum had bought into? He says it in one word, verse 16, he says, "Repent, stop what you're doing. And turn around and start heading in a new direction. If not," he said in verse 16, "I'm coming to you quickly, and I will make war against you with the sword of my mouth". The same sword, the same word that I'm going to extinguish non-Christians with at my second coming, that same two-edged sword I'm going to use against you Christians living a disobedient life. You are in the same category as an enemy of Jesus Christ. That is what happens to those who continue in disobedience.
Notice the promise to Pergamum, he said, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows, but he who receives it". Three promises to those Christians who live in obedience to God. First of all, the hidden manna. Remember manna was that divine, supernatural food God provided the Israelites in the wilderness. God's saying, I'm going to take care of you, I'm going to provide for you. Not only that, secondly, he said, "I'm going to give you a white stone". Colored stones were used in the courts of law to signify either guilt or innocence. If you received a black stone, a colored stone, it was a sign of guilt. A white stone was a sign of innocence. And then he said, "I'm going to give you a new name written on the stone, which nobody knows, but he who receives it". Whatever these three things signify, they are a promise of God's reward to the faithful when he returns.
Now quickly, let's go to the second church here, the church at Thyatira. I call it the apostate church. Thyatira was about 40 miles from the capital city of Pergamum, but they were two distinct cities. Thyatira was a blue-collar town. It was filled with laborers who were members of guilds like shoemakers, dyers, coppersmiths, merchants, slave traders. There's one notable person that we know from the New Testament who came from Thyatira, Lydia. She started the church at Thyatira. Look at verse 18, the description of Christ, "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".
One of the chiefs gods, false gods in Thyatira was tyrimnos, the sun-god. He was a fake god. Here's the real Son of God, with real eyes that are flaming like fire, meaning that he sees everything that is happening. He starts with an affirmation, "I know your deeds". And he mentions six things to commend the church for, good deeds, love for others, trust in God, service for the Savior, patient endurance in trials, zealousness. They had all of the ingredients for a great church, but he said, I have something against you. Look at verse 20. "I have this against you, that you tolerate," underline that word, "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. And I gave her time to repent and she not want to repent of her immorality".
What was going on here? Well, well, here is a woman named, well she's Jezebel-like and she's teaching a doctrine that leads to immorality and eating food sacrificed to idols. What does that mean? Remember what I said, that it was a blue-collar town. People were workers with their hands, they were members of trade guilds. Well, in the town of Thyatira, to be an accredited member of a guild, you were required to bow down and worship the false God, in this case, tyrimnos. And that meant engaging in sexual immorality, eating food that had been sacrificed to idols. If you wanted to make a living, you didn't have a choice. And this prophetess, Jezebel, found a way to pervert scripture and say, "You know what? God doesn't want you to go hungry. He doesn't want you to go without. And so God doesn't mind if you engage in this immorality and worship of the pagan deity in order to provide for your family".
I want you to notice something about the church, they had all the right ingredients for a successful church, but not in the right proportion. They couldn't balance love for others with a love for truth. Let me tell you something, folks, God never calls upon us to sacrifice truth for love. He never calls us to sacrifice truth for tolerance. Notice that word, he said, "This is what I have against you, you tolerate this woman Jezebel". Tolerate, I thought that was a good thing. They said, aren't we a great church? We love everybody and we judge nobody. That's not a reason to rejoice, it's a reason to bow your head in shame. Jesus said, "You've tolerated this woman, Jezebel".
You know, again, today we worship this idea of tolerance, of acceptance of everybody and everything. It is not a Mark of commendation, it's a Mark of condemnation for any church. Now listen to me this morning, as an individual Christian, not just as a church, as an individual Christian, God does not ask you to sacrifice truth for tolerance. The most loving thing you can do for somebody is to tell them the truth of God's word. It is the truth of God's word that frees them from unrighteousness, that frees them from sin and slavery. We have a responsibility to share with people the truth. That's something the church at Thyatira just didn't understand.
And notice the promise to the church at Thyatira, "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 themselves, I place no other burden on you". Just keep doing what you're doing church. If you have not known the deep things of Satan. I had to look at that phrase again, the deep things of Satan, that's what he calls the teaching of Jezebel.
Now do you think Jezebel walked around the church saying, "I'd like to share with you the deep things of Satan". Nobody would have listened to her. What she said was, "I want to share with you the deep things of God. God has given me a Revelation in these latter days that I want to share with you church. He hasn't given it to anybody else. He has given it to me and I want to impart it to you. And then she went into her blasphemy and false doctrine". That was the problem of Thyatira. They followed this woman who wasn't teaching the deep things of God, but the deep things of Satan as well. If we go out of the circle of God's will, we're beyond the place of God's protection and face judgment. But as long as we obey what we know to be the truth, as long as we stay within the circle of God's revealed will, nothing of any real harm can come into our lives.