*This title, some phrases in quotes, and some of the content of my teaching are based on a CD series on the book of Revelation by Chip Ingram – Living on the Edge
"Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." (Rev. 3:3) We see Jesus warning us and commending us so we will be ready for His return. Like a good teacher or professor He wants us to know what we need to learn so we will do well on the final exam (1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-11).
Both the church at Pergamum and Thyatira were rebuked for following false teachings/teachers which will be our focus today. (See Rev. 2:12-17). Last week we studied the issue of sexual sin in these two churches but the deeper issue was the false teaching/teachers that led the people into sexual immorality and idolatry. "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth" Balaam, a Gentile hireling prophet, (really a soothsayer/magician) had tried to defeat Israel by cursing them. But God caused him to bless them instead. Since he couldn't conquer them through cursing, he conquered them through compromise and corruption by seducing the Israelite men to fornication and intermarriage with pagan Moabite women which led to worshiping their gods. (See Numbers 22-25; 31:16) The most obvious application for us in this is that Christians are not to marry non-Christians (including nominal Christians – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18) but it also means to remain set apart for the purposes of God, not the ways of the world. "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers [do not make mismated alliances with them or come under a different yoke with them, inconsistent with your faith]. For what partnership have right living and right standing with God with iniquity and lawlessness? Or how can light have fellowship with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and Belial [the devil]? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement [can there be between] a temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God; even as God said, I will dwell in and with and among them and will walk in and with and among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. So, come out from among [unbelievers], and separate (sever) yourselves from them, says the Lord, and touch not [any] unclean thing; then I will receive you kindly and treat you with favor, And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." Many Jews and Muslims lose their families when they come to Christ and they need to know they have a Father – the Lord Himself. Idols here, of course, mean not only carved images but any objects which come between the soul and Christ. They could be money or pleasure or fame or material things.
How do we apply this to our lives? Marriage – Christians are not to marry non-Christians (including nominal Christians). (If already married to an unbeliever, this passage does not justify separation or divorce. God's will in such a case is that the marriage relationship should be maintained with a view to the eventual salvation of the unsaved member. (1 Cor. 7:12-16). Friendships – a believer cannot have "spiritual fellowship" with unbelievers and unbelievers should never be our bosom buddies. Business – A Christian should not go into partnership with one who does not know the Lord. Secret orders – It applies clearly to secret orders or fraternities. Church – A faithful follower of Christ would not want to hold membership in a liberal church where unbelievers were knowingly admitted as members. A Christian should maintain contact with the unsaved in an effort to win them to Christ, but he should never engage in their sinful pleasures or in any of their activities in such a way as to lead them to think he is no different than they.
The teaching of the Nicolaitans has been interpreted differently by various commentators. One possible meaning comes from the meaning of the two words nika, "to conquer" and laos "the people" or "the laity". This may refer to the unbiblical distinction between the clergy and lay people that has greatly diminished the effectiveness of the church in evangelism and discipleship. The priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9) means that all Christians are ministers and are called and gifted by God "for the work of the ministry." (Ephesians 4: 12; 1 Peter 4:10) Many Christians abdicate this responsibility to the "professionals" and thus Christianity becomes a "spectator sport". Vocational Christian workers, missionaries, pastors, etc., are like player coaches called to both train and equip the laity and minister in their own sphere of influence. Yet all of us are called to carry out the Great Commission (evangelism and discipleship) in our network of relationships. "Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt. 28:18-20)
"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." Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets." This woman was like the Jezebel in the Old Testament (1 Kings 16-22) who led the people of God into idolatry and immorality through her marriage to Israel's king Ahab and in the name of religion killed God's true prophets and promoted Baal worship. The Jezebel here in Thyatira promoted a Gnostic heresy which claimed to tap into the secret mysteries and "the depths" of God-a phrase which she undoubtedly borrowed from Paul's letters (Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 2:10). (This secret knowledge is what Oprah is promoting today through a Course in Miracles and Eckhart Tolle's books and teachings. Some Christian leaders call her the most dangerous woman in the world.) Jezebel's teachings simulated orthodox Christianity and seduced believers to accept idolatry and pagan worship. Jezebel typifies a spirit of independence and rebellion against God. This spirit accommodates Christianity to the religious mind-set of the world, and uses the name of God in the process (as Oprah is doing). It is a spirit which God does not tolerate.
There is another false teaching in many churches today that Dr. Larry Crabb calls the evangelical prosperity gospel which is also harmful. It does not deny that Christ is the only way to salvation (as Oprah and Tolle do) but that God promises temporal blessings to us when we obey him. Crabb calls this the Law of Linearity. Do A (obey the Lord) and get B (temporal blessings). But the Law of Linearity is a "priority" problem and God calls it idolatry. "You shall have no other gods before me." "Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God (not His gifts) with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment." (Exodus 20:3; Matthew 22:37-38) It is a "promise" problem, for the New Testament never promises that obeying God will bring temporal blessings. In fact, many Scriptures say that obeying God will bring trials, suffering and persecution. "In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," (2 Timothy 3:12; Also see John 15:18; Acts 14:22) It is a "definition" problem. God defines spiritual "blessings" as anything that draws us closer to Him (which often means trials and suffering versus when things are going our way) and anything that makes us more like the Lord Jesus who lived every moment of His life to please His Father and bring glory to Him. (Romans 8:28-29) God will never help us live the Law of Linearity. If we choose to seek the blessings of this life more than God Himself we are in a battle with God: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God." (James 4:4) Yet, there is a spiritual Law of Linearity -the new way of the Spirit: "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his flesh, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life (the God-like life)." (Galatians 6:7-8) And God will empower us to live the new way of the Spirit that will please Him and be for our eternal good. "… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." (Philippians 2:12-13)
The answer to false teaching? Know God's Truth!!! Scripture says that apart from knowing and obeying God's Word we cannot know right from wrong and are susceptible to false teachings/teachers. "For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn't know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong." (Heb. 5:13-14) "Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance (obedience) of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel." "Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."(Acts 17:11)
Discussion Questions FOR APPLICATION OF GOD'S WORD
What did the Lord say to you through this message?
Are you unequally yoked with unbelievers in any of the areas above?
Do you agree that you are in full time ministry?
On a scale of 1-5 how well do you know God's Word? Be ready: If you need to grow in the knowledge of His Word what will you do and when will you do it? Discuss this at your table.
Scripture memory verse: "Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you." (Rev. 3:3)