Revelation 2:14-16 But I have a few things against you, 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. 15 So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the
Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
Review Yesterday we took a look at Jesus' third letter in the book of Revelation to the church at Pergamum - a church who had compromised. We had noted how Jesus compared her internal problems to the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolatians, and drew parallels to the historical account of Balaam's deception of Israel in Numbers 22-25. We saw three elements associated with compromise from that historical record: apathy, blindness and carelessness. To illustrate how all three of these elements work together to set up somebody to compromise and ultimately fail, I give you a story told by my grandmother: the two frogs that fell into a can of cream.
Two frogs and a can of cream
Have you ever compromised in your Christian walk or do you know of a church that has compromised? Consider the two frogs that fell into a can of dairy cream. Two frogs were playing near a can of cream one day when they suddenly fell into the can. Unable to climb out, both frogs knew they were in trouble. The first frog chose to be apathetic and blinded himself to the truth of the situation, carelessly remaining in his spot. The second frog meanwhile decided to try to swim and began moving his legs as fast as he could. The first frog picked on him and said it was a waste of time and to enjoy their new surroundings. The cream was smooth as silk and as long as it was outside, the temperature would become more comfortable as a the day wore on. The second frog ignored his compromising friend and soon before he knew it, his frantic swimming had caused the cream where he was at to form a pat of butter whereupon he could perch himself and hop out of the can. Sadly the compromising frog never got to see his friend escape, for the weight of the cream had overtaken him and all that could be heard from the can was the pop of an air bubble at the place where the second frog had sunk. Apathy + blindness to the truth + carelessness = discipline/judgment.
Pergamum was that second frog in the can who needed to heed the warnings of her Savior who was urging her to swim by His grace and not get pulled under by the seductive lies of the teachers within her. Sadly this tendency to mix worldliness with Christianity has been amply documented throughout church history and is clearly evident today. As John wrote in 1 John 2:15 "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
When the church compromises in its attempts to win people over, everyone stands to lose
Compromise throughout church history
In briefly commenting on the error of the Nicolaitanes in Revelation 2:15, Dr. W.A Criswell writes: "The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes is a doctrine of sacramental salvation. According to that doctrine, one is converted not by the power of the regenerating spirit of God through the acceptance of the saving message of Christ, but by an act of parliment. As you are born a citizen of the state, you are christened a member of the church."1 For the first three centuries of church history, the Christian church had been persecuted like the church at Smyrna. By and large she had remained pure. At the beginning of the fourth century a Roman Emperor named Constantine legalized Christianity, making it not only legal but intermingling it with the Roman way of life. Constantine had experienced a supposed conversion to Christianity led him to unite the church and the empire into what would eventually become Christendom. As you move into the sixth century, the beginnings of the Roman Catholic church were well underway with the elevation of Mary and the initiation of the papacy. By Constantine's planting of the seed and the Roman Catholic system taking root, the boundary between church and the world had been blurred.
Compromise in the Christian world today
In our church world and culture today, we are seeing similar concessions being made. No longer is it acceptable in many quarters to preach Jesus as the only way and the Bible as the only Divinely revealed book. The institution of marriage, once uniformly agreed upon in all pulpits, is now being redefined and softened. I am frankly shocked at how our Christian book stores will sell and promote books written by popular evangelical authors who deny the existence of hell, the Trinity, the Deity of Jesus Christ, the exclusivity of the cross, salvation by grace through faith alone and the inerrancy of scripture. Furthermore, the headlines of church leaders yielding to worldly pleasure and the church itself mirroring the culture in terms of divorce rates and neglect of moral and spiritual responsibilities has the marks of a Pergamum-like flavor in many churches.
To compound the issue even further, many so-called Bible believing churches are looking increasingly to culture and the secular world, rather than the scripture for guidance in everything from counseling to leadership to communication of the Word. I even saw one church leadership training conference, hosted by a popular evangelical leader, have as a keynote speaker an outspoken celebrity. This celebrity in question was giving advice on church leadership and yet he himself purposefully avoids church! Am I saying that there is no truth whatsoever to be found in non-biblical resources. No. All truth that corresponds with scripture is God's truth and God can at times grant insight to the church from science or the culture, since he owns every square inch of truth. (Proverbs 2:6) However the issue at hand is whether or not the guiding principles of our church or Christian lives are the chapter and verse truths that can only be found in scripture.
As Bible teacher Dr. John MacArthur notes: "While tolerance is lauded in our modern culture, tolerating heretical teaching or sinful behavior in the church is not a virtue but a sin." 2 As we noted already: apathy + blindness + carelessness = discipline or judgment.
How to avoid compromise and be the non-compromising church that Jesus wants
The prescription issued by Jesus in this letter to Pergamum is the only antidote we have to reversing the pattern of compromise: repent, receive and resolve.
1. Repent - Revelation 2:16.
Repentance is when I have a change of heart away from my sin to running full speed into the arms of Jesus. When we have grown apathetic, seek Jesus to reignite the opposite affection - love. Whenever you and I have blinded ourselves to doctrine and the truth of scripture, run to Jesus who is the fullness of grace and truth. (John 1:14) Whenever we have become careless in our morals and decisions, run to Jesus to become vigilant in living for Him. (Ephesians 5:14)
2. Receive. Revelation 2:17a
Receive the word. Receive what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Ask Him to give you the ears to hear so that you may freely receive all that He has for you. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)
3. Resolve. Revelation 2:17b
Resolve. That is - make a firm decision to not go back. Jesus closes this letter with an exhortation and encouragement to overcome and draw closer to Him. Thus resolve to draw nourishment from Jesus, the hidden manna, bread of life ("the hidden manna" of Revelation 2:17 corresponds to John 6:48-50). Resolve to trust in Him, your precious stone that alone grants you admittance into the favor of God. ("the white stone" of Revelation 2:17 reminds one of the "precious stone" of 1 Peter 2:7). Resolve to ever focus on His name, outside of which no salvation or hope can be found. (Acts 4:12 corresponds most likely with the name written on the stone in Revelation 2:17). Repent. Receive. Resolve. This is the three-fold antidote to compromise issued by the Great Physician. May we by faith take it in and be the non-compromising Christians and church that He wants.
1. W.A Criswell. Expository Sermons on Revelation. Volume 2. Zondervan. Page 138.
2. John MacArthur. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary - Revelation 1-11. Moody. 1999. Page 89