Have you ever heard the story of the guy who could not decide what side he wanted to fight for during the Civil War? He put on the coat of the North and the trousers of the South, and guess what? He got shot at from both sides! This is what happens to the compromiser, the person who tries to live in two worlds. It’s one miserable place to be. Sadly, there are many in the church today that live a compromised life.
This is nothing new—the letter from Jesus to believers in the first century reveals the problem with compromise.
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “ ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
Pergamum was the capital city of Asia when this letter was written. It was a large city, built on a massive hill that towered thousands of feet above the plain below. The city was filled with well-educated, very cultured citizens. However, it was also a city of rampant paganism and immorality.
Still, Jesus had a witness in that city. Someone had heard the gospel somewhere and trusted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and was used by God to plant a church there. Evidently, that church took root and began to grow. Through this church, people in Pergamum were exposed to the gospel, they believed the gospel, and they were saved. It seems that, for a time, the church was doing what the church was supposed to do.
But something happened along the way—something had crept in and was threatening the church. So, a message was given, and it was to be delivered to the believers in Christ’s church in Pergamum—but this message does not begin with a word of comfort and encouragement. The message Jesus gave was a warning of impending judgment. He presented Himself as the one who has a sharp sword with two edges.
This is something John had already witnessed (1:16) and it is something that we will see again in chapter 19.
The sharp sword is the Word of God and, in the book of Revelation, the Word is a deadly weapon of Judgment.
15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations.
Jesus wasn’t playing games with His church. The church was in danger—not only from their casual compromise with the world but—more terrifyingly—from the judgment of their Lord.
The letter to the church at Pergamum is very relevant for the church today because it reveals a truth that is just as important for 21st-century believers to know as it was for our brothers and sisters nearly two-thousand years ago: It is not enough to suffer for Christ, we must also live for Christ.
To understand this point, we have to remember that…
The Church is Planted in Hostile Territory – vs. 12-13
Jesus said that Pergamum was the place where Satan’s seat was. It was a city that embraced Emperor worship. Every year, the citizens of the city were required to make a sacrifice to the Emperor, and the penalty for refusing to participate in this ritual was harsh—sometimes the sentence was death.
The city was also known for worshipping the Greek gods of war and healing. It was a world-center of idolatry and immorality of every kind.
By God’s grace, Jesus saw that there were those who were firmly committed to Him and would not deny the faith—even under the threat of persecution and death.
There were those who were willing to suffer and those, such as Antipas who was ready to die before they would turn against their Savior.
Jesus took notice of them, and He commended them for their commitment to Him while they were in hostile territory.
Like the church in Pergamum, Christians today are living in hostile territory. Let me explain.
I don’t think anyone in this room is under any pretense that the world is excited about churches that refuse to be driven by pragmatism—a philosophy that promotes the idea that the church can allow for some sin just as long as something good comes out of it—mainly growth.
I don’t think anyone thinks that the world will embrace churches that stand firmly against the modernism, post-modernism, universalism, and immorality of every kind.
Here’s my point, there are those who would like every gospel-preaching church in our community closed down.
Some governments actively work to silence the voice of believers and stamp out the existence of Bible-preaching churches in their country. Jesus’ church has many enemies who are hostile to it. We’ve all seen the advance of ISIS and the execution of Christians who just happen to be in their way.
The world in which we live is not getting better. The world in which we live is not becoming more accepting of those who disagree with the pagan philosophies they embrace and exhibit. If anything, the world is becoming more hostile to the people of God, and as the world becomes more hostile, the church will be tempted to compromise.
In our nation, politicians, advocacy groups, educators, and the media do what they can do to get Christians to back away from what we believe.
They tell us God isn’t against things like homosexuality, promiscuity, or any other kind of immorality.
They tell us that God is one among many gods and that it is wrong to believe that everyone who does not believe in salvation through Jesus Christ is condemned.
They tell us the Bible is not true and they make us feel that only naïve people believe anything written in that man-made book.
They tell us Jesus isn’t the Son of God.
They tell us that those who believe in miracles such as the resurrection are simple-minded.
Their ultimate goal is to try to get believers to walk away from the faith, or, at least to get the church to become more open-minded about accepting other positions and opinions.
They are using the same tactics Satan used in the garden—they are trying to make us doubt God. They know that if we begin to doubt just a little—if we open the door just a bit, then they will gain a foothold and weaken the church.
However, we must continue to stand on the Word of God. We must continue to hold to the faith that was passed to us. I love what our vision statement says: We will stand on the truth of Scripture, and we will not be swayed by the whims of our culture. We will teach the truth of God boldly, and we will encourage members to relentlessly pursue a passionate life of reckless obedience to our Savior and King.
We know that the church is still planted in hostile territory and there are always those who will do whatever they can to try to weaken believers and weaken the testimony and effectiveness of the church.
I would love to tell you that all the believers in Pergamum stood strong, but the Scripture tells a different story.
Jesus had something against this church—He made an indictment against them.
While some believers were standing and suffering for Christ, others were not even living for Christ. Compromise had caused the church to lose it distinctiveness—this was the problem because…
The Church Must Remain Distinct – vs. 14-15
Being distinct means to be recognizably different from the culture—this was not the case in the church at Pergamum, and the charges brought against this church were serious. Evidently, there were those in the church who were committed to the doctrine of Balaam.
What Jesus is pointing to is a story from Israel’s past found in Numbers 22-25. Balak, the king of Moab, heard about all that had happened to everyone who stood in Israel’s way and he knew there were millions of Jews who were marching toward his kingdom. He had every right to be afraid, so he sent for a sorcerer named Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam tried three times to curse the people of God—but each time he ended up blessing them.
Eventually, Balaam gave up, but before he went home, he taught Balak how to weaken Israel. He told Balak to introduce the daughters of Moab to the men of Israel. When this happened, the men of Israel began immoral relationships with the women of Moab and eventually the women of Moab led the people of Israel into idolatry which was spiritual adultery. Their sin brought a plague on Israel that killed 24,000 people.
What happened? In one word: compromise. They did not believe that God meant what He said.
You see, God told the men of Israel not to have relationships with heathen women because God knew that such compromise would be costly. Compromise would cause Israel to look less like the people of God and more like the people of Canaan. Compromise would cost them their distinctiveness.
So, when Jesus said that they were committed to the doctrine of Balaam, the Lord was saying that they were compromising—they were allowing for sin that was tripping up or enticing other believers in the church to become idolatrous and immoral.
Not only were they committed to the doctrine of Balaam, but they were also committed to the doctrine of the Nicolatians. They were living in unrestrained indulgence. They were pursuing pleasure. They were the original “If it feels good, do it” people.
Here is the issue, the people of the church were not denying Christ, but they were not confronting sin.
Because of their sin, they had lost their distinctiveness and, more importantly, they had lost their effectiveness.
This is where we need to stop and understand something—Jesus is not okay with sin in His church. You might have seared your conscience, and you might have quenched the Holy Spirit in your life, but please don’t think for a moment that Jesus accepts sin in your life and in the church.
Here is something else to consider—if you don’t think your worldliness affects this church, you are very wrong.
At this point, I need to make a few applications that may be offensive, but it is the truth. We often hear people wondering what is wrong with the church in America and they usually begin to blame the wrong things.
We need to know that the church in America is not weak because believers sing contemporary music in our worship services, they no longer use the KJV, or because churches have become more casual than they used to be.
The church in America is not weak because they have fewer public worship gatherings than they used to have.
The church in America is not weak because they have removed denominational names from their signs.
The church is America has been crippled by the unconfessed sin of the Christians on the membership roll.
The church in America has been made ineffective because Christians do their religious duty on Sunday morning, but think nothing of service to Christ Monday through Saturday.
The church in America is sickly because we worship our children, our profession, and our possessions.
The church in America is anemic because many of the men in the church on Sunday were watching pornography on Saturday night.
The church in America is ineffective because Christians have surrendered our moral authority on the altar of convenience and acceptance.
The church in America is not making an impact because Christians have compromised and they have become committed to their sin instead of their Savior.
The church in America is not reaching people because Christians are committed to their preferences instead of their purpose.
The church in America is limited because all-to-often, Christians love themselves more than they love God and love others.
The church in America is diluted because pastors use the Word of God as an illustration instead of preaching the Word.
These things did not happen overnight—these things have slowly crept in, and they are laying waste to the church of Jesus Christ.
Our allowance of sin personally and our tolerance of sin in the body has robbed us of our distinctness. We are not recognizably different from the lost around us.
So, I ask you, if there is no recognizable difference between the people of God and those who are far from God, what makes us think lost people will want the faith we proclaim?
The church is not weak because we have changed our philosophies, the church is weak because we have compromised and made allowance for sin.
Jesus made no allowance for sin to continue in the church. He commanded them to repent.
Those believers had to turn and go the other way. They had to stop tolerating the compromise that was leading to their sinful condition. They had to turn away from their moral corruption. They had to turn away from the little gods they were giving their lives to worship.
They had to turn again to the One who saved them and loved them and gave them a future and an eternal hope.
But notice, they had to repent quickly—Jesus does not treat sinful compromise in His church lightly. He is not patient. He told them that if they did not follow His command, He would go to war with them—He would judge them with His word.
Brothers and sisters—if there is compromise that you’ve allowed in your life that has led to sinful thoughts or behavior, you must repent.
7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Sin always carries a cost. Ravi Zacharias has rightly said: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
Believer, Jesus tells us to repent.
Now, let me tell you why you should give up the promise that sin makes to you.
Jesus said that the person who overcomes will receive hidden manna. Manna was the bread that God gave the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. It sustained their life in the desert, but the manna Jesus promises will sustain our lives for eternity.
Jesus said that the person who overcomes will receive a white stone with a new name written on it. In the ancient games, those who won were given a white stone. This stone was their ticket to a feast prepared only for the winners. The stone is a promise to believers that they will enjoy all that God has prepared for them.
Here is the point, there is a powerful temptation to compromise, but the promise Jesus makes to those who overcome is more powerful.
So, live for Christ and live your life for what is to come.
As God’s people, we must realize that it’s not enough to suffer for Christ, we must also live for Him.
We must stand strong against a world that wants us to deny our Savior and neglect His word.
We must stand strong against the pull to compromise and lose what makes us distinct. At the same time, we must confront and seek to restore those who have fallen. But we do this in love and humility, to glorify God and build each other up.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot be willing to only suffer for Jesus, He calls us to live for Him.