Thyatira

One thing that reveals a lot about another person's character is their attitude when drying up. There are the tolerant and the intolerant. Imagine you're washing and the other person's drying. The intolerant subject everything you wash to minute scrutiny, like bodywork being checked in the Rolls Royce paint shop. And you have that uncanny experience of discovering things you've already washed back on the dirties side. At the other extreme are the tolerant. You leave a glaring lump of mince on a plate; they just flick it off. You overlook an egg stain; they just spread it out evenly with the tea-towel. Different people have different tolerance levels. But what if we're thinking not of washing up, but of the church? What should be our attitude towards 'dirt' - in the form of wrong belief or wrong behaviour - in the Christian fellowship? That was the issue in the church in Thyatira. And this letter shows us the attitude of the risen Lord Jesus to dirt in his church. Verse 18:

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:

These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire [ie, he sees everything that's going on] and whose feet are like burnished bronze [ie, he's ready and able to put the boot in]. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 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. (vv18-20) What was going on in Thyatira? There was a member of the church, a woman whom the Lord Jesus calls 'Jezebel' (v20). Now, a woman called Jezebel appeared in the Old Testament: she led people into compromise with other religions and into sexual immorality. And the Lord Jesus labels this woman in Thyatira with the same name, because she's doing the same damage. And within the church at Thyatira, she's leading people astray. They get mentioned in verse 22 as 'those who commit adultery with her'. So Jezebel and her following are like a blot on the church. And then, verse 24, there are 'the rest' ('Now, I say to the rest of you in Thyatira..') And the rest are, according to verse 19, loving and faithful, serving and persevering, and doing more in their Christian lives now than they did at first. Verse 20:

Nevertheless [says the risen Lord Jesus] I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel.

That is: you allow her to operate, unchallenged, undisciplined. And the Lord holds it against them, as he would hold it against us, in similar circumstances. Which brings us to: Firstly, WHEN TOLERANCE IS SIN (v 20). Now there is such a thing as right tolerance as well as wrong tolerance. The Bible tells us:

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. (Colossians 3.13)

So for example, there's right tolerance when it comes to matters of taste. Some of us like the more formal services here at church, and put up with informal ones like this. Others find formality does little for them and they put up with the liturgy. But matters of taste call for tolerance. There's also right tolerance when it comes to peripheral Christian truths. That is, truths that are not the central gospel truths about the way Jesus saves us and the lifestyle he calls us to. So, for example, some people here think the Bible teaches Christian parents to baptise their infant children. Others think they're wrong. But at that point, we tolerate one another. We don't pretend to agree or that it's unimportant. But it's peripheral to central gospel truths, on which we do agree. So matters of peripheral truth call for tolerance. But there's also wrong tolerance. Verse 20: 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. Those are not peripheral truths. The central gospel truth is that there is only one God and Jesus is the only way to know him and be put right with him. So any involvement in or ambiguity about other religions - 'idols' - denies central gospel truth. And the central gospel truth is that Jesus calls us into a new life where he is Lord. And that includes Lord over our sex lives. And the New Testament makes his will in that matter perfectly clear. So this Jezebel was not wrong on peripheral things. She was wrong on central gospel truth. But they tolerated her. No-one corrected her, or contradicted her, or tried to stop her. And that, says the Lord Jesus, is when tolerance becomes sin. Sadly, here in Newcastle, the Anglican bishop has taught that homosexual intercourse is not wrong; at least 'not always' wrong. So, in the words of verse 20, he misleads the servants of Jesus into sexual immorality. And similarly to verse 21, he's had time to repent of those views but is, currently, unwilling. He's playing the role this Jezebel played. The difference is this. In Thyatira, Jezebel was actually inside the local church. Here, the bishop is outside our church, out in the Anglican structures. (It would be helpful if we stopped referring to the 'Church of England'. The Bible uses the word 'church' either of the local congregation, or of the universal church that will ultimately be in heaven. What we call the 'Church of England' is in fact just a structure - for real estate and financial purposes - through which churches are linked.) But that doesn't mean we can do nothing. As members of a church linked in with the Anglican structure, we are responsible for what goes on in that structure. If heresy goes on and we do nothing, that, according to the Lord Jesus, is where tolerance becomes sin. Here's what the Bible says about a true church leader. Titus 1.9:

He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. (Titus 1.9-11)

And that's why, on our behalf, David, the Vicar, is having to take issue with the bishop and others in the Anglican structures. And if he wasn't doing so, I'm not sure I could belong to this church with integrity. Because then, as a body, we would be tolerating heresy. Which is when tolerance becomes sin. So, why do Christians tolerate what they shouldn't? In one way or another, we've all done so - this isn't just an issue for 'other people' who are 'out there'. Why do we tolerate what we shouldn't? Well, for one thing, we fail to see things from the Lord's point of view. Verse 20: 'You tolerate that woman Jezebel' says the Lord. And then he says how he sees things. Verse 21:

I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely. (vv21-22)

No doubt some of them were literally committing adultery in their sexual immorality. But it's likely that the Lord is talking about spiritual adultery, underlying the immorality and compromise. He's the husband, and they, like we, are his wife. And whereas in Ephesus we saw that the relationship had gone cold (Revelation 2.4-5), in Thyatira there is blatant unfaithfulness. We like to minimise these issues: So-and-so's a 'little more relaxed' on the issue of sex; or a 'little more ambiguous' about other religions. But that's not the Lord's point of view. The Lord sees it as a broken marriage. He's not an issue we can fudge or compromise. He's a Person we either love or betray. We tolerate what we shouldn't because we fail to see things from the Lord's point of view. But we also tolerate what we shouldn't simply because it's easier. It's easier not to confront, not to disagree, not to run the risk of conflict. We also tolerate what we shouldn't when we're structurally compromised. Financial structures can compromise us. So I thank God that JPC is financially independent of the wider structures. It removes the temptation to tolerate error because of the possible risk to salaries. That is a major temptation for many paid full-time Christian workers. But then, more literal structures - bricks and mortar - can compromise us. I take it that the second commandment still stands:

You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath (Deuteronomy 5.8; see also Deuteronomy 4.15-18)

Yet, we have just such images of the Lord Jesus at the front of our building: 3-dimensional in wood; and 2-dimensional in glass. And I feel 'structurally compromised' by that. Secondly, HOW CHRISTIANS ARE MISLED (v20,24). We've seen what these Christians at Thyatira tolerated. The question is: why? Why did faithful people tolerate and even fall for such obvious error? Verse 20, again:

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.

48. In other words, she claimed to be specially in touch with God and speaking messages direct from him. Or look at verse 24:

Now 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

In other words, she claimed to reveal 'deeper things' than they'd already been taught. A deeper understanding than their first teachers had given them. And Christians get bamboozled by claims like that. Take the extreme of the charismatic movement: someone has a prophesy saying that something clearly wrong in the Bible's eyes is OK. We know the Bible says something else, but the claim to direct speaking from God over-rides all sense. Or take the liberal movement. Read some of the reports from the denominational leaders in this country. They use phrases like, 'The Spirit is guiding the church into a deeper understanding.' The claim is that only modern scholars have really, deeply understood the Bible after 2000 years. Whereas, verse 24, when it's a step away from apostolic truth and practice, it's actually Satan who's doing the guiding. It's 'Satan's so-called deep secrets' that some scholars are publishing. We mustn't be bamboozled by the claims of any supposedly Christian teacher. Nor by their credentials. He may be the Reverend So-and-so, but you can be ordained and a heretic. He may be Dr So-and-so, the famous theologian, but you can get a PhD and be a heretic. This bamboozling happens in the secular world, too. There are certain claims, certain credentials that tend to make us accept what's said, unthinkingly, without question. 'Scientists have proved' 'Experts believe' 'Statistics show' So it must be true! And it happens in the church. Call yourself something like Jezebel did; claim to offer a deeper understanding, like Jezebel did, and some people will accept what you say, unthinkingly, without question. That's how Christians are misled. By claims. By credentials. And by the fact that the false teacher offers you an easier life. Notice, verse 20, that Jezebel doesn't call people to sexual self-control or even abstinence. That won't get her a following. Instead she offers sexual looseness. And notice she doesn't call people to costly evangelism. That won't get her a following, either. Instead she offers the multi-faith compromise where everyone is right and nobody's wrong so we don't have to evangelise or go parish visiting or plant new churches. False teachers always make life easier. That's why, along with their claims and credentials, they're so seductive. Thirdly, CHRIST'S RESPONSE. What is the response of the risen Lord Jesus to the impurity of belief and behaviour in his church? The answer is: he takes action to purify it -by either changing people or removing them. · What is the Lord's response to the misleader, Jezebel? Verse 21:

I have given her time to repent of her immorality but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering (vv21-22)

In this specific case, the misleader is beyond repentance. She's been given time to turn back to the Lord, but 'she is unwilling.' I hope that's not true of anyone here tonight. But I'm bound by this passage to say this. You may know that God has been speaking to you over a period of time and you've done nothing about it. If so, you need to realise that we are never neutral towards him. At any given time, our wills are either turning more towards him or turning more against. And the turning against can become permanent - even while you're saying you'll think about it soon. There is such a thing as being beyond repentance. Jezebel was. And in her case, the Lord Jesus took action to judge her. Verse 22:

I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children [which probably means her followers] dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (vv22-23)

According to the Bible, God imposed sickness and death on the whole human race as a judgement on our turning against him (see Genesis 3.16-19, Romans 8.20-21). It's a universal, indiscriminate judgement because we're all sinful and we've all sinned. But sometimes, God brings about sickness and even death in relation to a particular sin, as a visible judgement on a particular sin. And that's what happened here. It would be easy to say, 'But this is all so distant and removed from us, in the past, in the early church.' Not so. I recently heard about a pastor in Australia. He went to serve in a new church. And once he'd arrived he found that the fellowship, including the leadership, was rife with corruption and immorality. He worked away apparently in vain for a year to change things. He almost left, but as he prayed about it, he decided he should stay. And he says that he got to the point of praying in desperation, 'Lord, I've done what I can. Please will you clean up this church?' And he began to pray that regularly. Within the next year, there were over twenty deaths in that congregation. Cancer. Heart attacks. Accidents. Verse 23:

Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.

We should expect visible judgements on sin in the churches. Maybe the judgement of shrinking attendances in the false-teaching churches. Isn't that why they're so keen to explain away the figures, or hire a spin-doctor? Maybe the judgement of financial crisis in the denomination; or of exposed scandal in the press; or even the judgement of sicknesses, early retirements, or death. It is a sobering, but assuring truth: the Lord Jesus will purify his church, because his honour is at stake. But he does so in a way that discriminates between the faithful and the unfaithful. So while a Jezebel is judged, others repent or remain faithful. The judgements do no damage to the faithful. And they do no damage to the Lord's reputation. · Then, what is the Lord's response to those who've been misled? For this woman Jezebel (verse 21) there was no further opportunity to repent. For those who committed adultery with her (verse 22) there was still time to repent. Some of us may have been misled into compromising our faith. You may have been misled specifically into sexual immorality - heterosexual or homosexual. And the Lord Jesus calls you to turn back to him. Repent. He will have you back. And as for the rest of us, but for God's grace we'd have done exactly the same. We're no better. We may have sinned differently, but we're all sinful and all sin. So, come back to Christ. And come back into the fellowship of forgiven sinners. Then lastly, what is the Lord's response to the rest? Verses 24:

Now 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 (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.

Elsewhere in the book of Revelation it talks about holding on to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12.17, 19.10). I take it that means the apostles' testimony to Jesus, as we now have it in the New Testament, which completed the Bible. And the Lord's message is: hold on to that, until I come. How can we avoid tolerance that is sin? How can we avoid being misled? The answer is: 'Hold on to the Bible.' Hold on to the Bible alone as God's completed word and as our supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour. Accept nothing from any teacher unless we're persuaded it's a right understanding and a right application of what God himself has said in the Bible. So if you've not been checking what I've been saying against the Bible, please forget every word I've said. And if you have, please believe and act on only what you are persuaded is a right understanding and application of the Bible. Because it was putting a teacher above the Word of God, even in place of the Word of God - which led them astray at Thyatira. Into sinful actions for some. And into sinful tolerance for the rest. Verse 29:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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