7 Letters to 7 Churches: Conviction not Compromise!
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Revelation 2:18-29 ~ Sunday, Sep 29, 2019
In his book Triple Agent Joby Warrick writes a true story about how a Jordanian doctor who was radicalized on Islamic websites became a spy that ended up killing 9 CIA agents.
This young physician worked with pediatric patients in Amman, Jordan. He would stay up late at night after his shift and watch Islamic preachers on You Tube. He eventually came to the place that he wanted to get involved in the jihad and joined al-Qaida. A Jordanian spy agency found some of his online postings and recruited him as a spy!
He told the al-Qaida that he was working for the Jordanians and had some connections to the CIA. So this guy is a Doctor, who is Jordanian spy, that is working with the CIA… but who really is a Jihadist looking for an American target!
Over a period of about a year he built trust as a spy by telling American and Jordanian officials that he had information that could help capture key Taliban and al-Qaida leaders. One day he put on a suicide vest and made it into a CIA compound in Afghanistan and killed himself along with 9 other top CIA officers working in the Middle East.
Once the investigation was done by CIA Director Leon Paneta, it was discovered that the CIA had let down their very high standards that they normally followed because they were so desperate to get Osama bin Laden and his top two lieutenants. They compromised their standards in an effort to more quickly accomplish their mission! AND THE RESULTS WERE DEVASTATING!
The same thing happens to churches and to Christians when we compromise biblical teaching, even when it’s done so in the name of trying to reach more people with the saving Gospel! Compromising Christian truth when left unchecked always lead to spiritual destruction! That’s what’s happening at the church in Thyatira.
You wouldn’t have necessarily picked up on this danger based on outward appearances. There are some really good things going on at Thyatira. More people are attending worship there. More people are getting involved in the ministry there. More ministry programs are happening there. All of which sounds really encouraging. And, Jesus acknowledges these very things: "I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first." This was a hard-working church, a church that was doing more than it did at first—a church that was working hard to reach more people!
But if achieving these kinds of outward wins comes at the cost of compromising biblical teaching, whatever success these things represent is really short-lived. "The Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze," says, "Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols."
In other words, in their effort to fast-track results in accomplishing Chris’s mission, the congregation at Thyatira had compromised biblical standards. They are being tolerant in the most destructive kind of way: allowing someone who twists God’s Word though claiming they’re speaking God’s truth to have standing and influence among them. Jesus calls her Jezebel. It’s probably not her real name but a reference to wicked Queen Jezebel in the Old Testament. OT Jezebel promoted idolatry and pagan sexual activity among God’s people in the northern kingdom of Israel. The “Jezebel” in Thyatira had done something similar, apparently turning freedom from guilt that Jesus’ forgiveness supplies into an excuse to continue to chase after those sins that produce guilt in the first place. In particular, she encouraged sexual pursuits that were outside of the will and blessing of God. She knew how to package her message to make it sound godly while really appealing not only to sinful inclinations of lust, but also to human ego, peddling her so-called “deep secrets."
The blazing fires in Jesus’ eyes see right through these so-called “deep secrets” though, identifying their real source: Satan and his faith-destroying desires! His desires often show up in distorting and compromising biblical teaching. You see Satan doesn’t mind if we believe in a forgiving God as long as he can convince us to use forgiveness as an excuse to keep on chasing after sin. It doesn’t bother the devil if we proclaim that God is love, as long as we buy into his idea that love is love is love and therefore any sexual practice done in the name of love couldn’t possibly be immoral. In fact he roars with delight when loving Christians won’t sound a word of warning to fellow Christians because they believe the lie: “If it doesn’t hurt me, then who am I to say someone else’s sexual desires or preferences or practices are wrong?”
In fact, did you notice whom Jesus criticizes first? Though he will get to rebuking Jezebel and those who lie down with her, first he starts by reprimanding the “upstanding” members of the congregation who, though they didn’t practice what she preached, didn’t say or do anything to warn those who were. Here’s the reality: tolerating unrepentant sin among fellow Christians isn’t love. It’s sinning against them. It’s failing to love them enough to be willing to do something to actually try to turn them from destruction. Apparently practicing church discipline in a proper spirit of love and concern was as difficult back then as it is today! Compromise is a curse when it tolerates sin rather than doing the hard work of loving other like Jesus.
And that prompts us to do some self-reflection. Are we living and loving like Jesus? Or have you made compromises with sin? Have you compromised the integrity of your faith by the company that you keep? Do you hang out with people who are not godly influences on you, but excuse it by saying if you don’t spend time with them, you won’t have friends or you won’t get ahead in your career? Have you compromised your Christ-like love for others because though you see your Christian brother or sister caught up in a sin you really don’t want to put yourself on the line by calling them to repentance? Repeated compromise leads to impenitence, and impenitence leads to judgment. Making deals with the devil looks easy and maybe even feels like love, but in the end it always destroys you…and others too!
Why? Because the wages of sin is death and punishment, but Jesus throws a lifeline to every one of us even if we have outright compromised our Christian values or more subtly sat back silently while those around us did. Jesus says, "unless they repent of her ways." This is the marvelous thing about our Lord Jesus. He did not compromise when it came to paying for our sins! Knowing that even one unpaid sin would have been enough to send us to Hell, thank God that Jesus didn’t compromise and shirk from facing persecution, whipping, false accusations and a wrongful conviction for us. What’s more, he willingly faced the fully fury of God and paid for every wrong we commit along with every good thing we fail to do in order to hold on to us through faith that is sustained by his full and free forgiveness forever!
Jesus urges us in faith to, "Hold on to what you have until I come (2:25)." What do we have that we are to hold on to? We have Christ. We have his promises. We have his Word. To hold fast is to have a tight grip, that won’t let go. To cling to something with tenacity is to have such a fierce determination that you won’t let anything get between you and what you’re holding on to. Like the way a mother bear protects her cubs. We’re called to hold fast to what we have, so that nothing the world throws at us will get between us and Christ.
Whenever the devil comes prowling trying to come between us and Christ by convincing us that compromising our Christian convictions is a necessary trade off to get ahead or successfully avoid what is uncomfortable, Jesus gives us this truth to defeat him: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations - that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father” (vv. 26-27). This is the truth we need to cling to: the secret to everlasting success isn’t compromising our Christian beliefs but living them out with conviction!
That includes speaking this truth to one another too. Because the truth is until we’re home in heaven Satan won’t give up on us. He will keep on looking for places and times that we’re vulnerable to pitch his lies about compromise. And we all have these moments, probably more often than we’d really like to admit. But this is also why we need each other so much. Because when I’m weak, I need my brothers and sisters to love me enough to be willing to speak truth to me, and respond with faith that produces fresh fruits that reveal my return to what Christ has given me. I want to do the same for you because Christian love convinces me that this is how members of his family help each other! God puts us in each other’s lives so speak up, to speak the truth, and to do so in love. When my brothers and sisters share heartfelt truth with me, calling me to repentance, faith moves me to listen. To take to heart what they’re saying as from the Lord himself. Because Christ’s grace and truth are how we keep on overcoming the devil and his lies and empty promises, holding more firmly and grasping more fully all that Christ has given to us! God help each of us to hold on to what he’s given us as he works through all of us speaking the truth in love to one another to accomplish it! Amen.