False Teaching in a Christ-Centered Church
Sermon Text: Revelation 2:12-17
Sermon Theme: A faithful, Christ-centered church can fall prey to false teaching. And if we don’t fight against it, we will find ourselves fighting against Christ.
The word of God is a sword, able to slay both sin and sinners. It turns and cuts every way; but the believer need not fear this sword; yet this confidence cannot be supported without steady obedience. As our Lord notices all the advantages and opportunities we have for duty in the places where we dwell, so he notices our temptations and discouragements from the same causes. In a situation of trials, the church of Pergamum had not denied the faith, either by open apostasy, or by giving way so as to avoid the cross. Christ commends their steadfastness, but reproves their sinful failures. A wrong view of gospel doctrine and Christian liberty, was a root of bitterness from which evil practices grew. Repentance is the duty of churches and bodies of men, as well as of particular persons; those who sin together, should repent together. Here is the promise of favor to those that overcome. The influences and comforts of the Spirit of Christ, come down from heaven into the soul, for its support. This is hidden from the rest of the world. The new name is the name of adoption; when the Holy Spirit shows his own work in the believer’s soul, this new name and its real import are understood by him.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- Is today’s user-friendly, seeker-oriented, market-driven church preaching much against worldliness? Maybe it might make unbelievers (not to mention many believers) uncomfortable and is therefore avoided as poor marketing strategy. Far too many churches have married the social and political systems, so that worldliness has become synonymous with the church. Sinning believers should be made to feel miserable in the fellowship and worship of the church by being confronted powerfully with the Word of God. Neither is the goal of the church to provide an environment where unbelievers feel comfortable; it is to be a place where they can hear the truth and be convicted of their sins so as to be saved (Romans 10:13-17). Gently, lovingly, graciously, yet firmly, unbelievers need to be confronted with the reality of their sin and God’s gracious provision through the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
- What do we do when Christ’s enemies are found among those who profess his name but have actually turned astray to heresy? While many in the Christian realm today make light of doctrine and view biblical and theological error as unimportant, that is not the perspective of the Lord of the church. Our Lord holds it against any in His church who hold to error. Tragically, some in Pergamum were tolerating these errorists, instead of confronting them and, if they refused to repent, putting them out of the church (cf. Titus 3:10-11). Like many churches today, the church at Pergamum failed to obey the biblical mandate to practice church discipline (cf. Matthew 18:15-18). Doctrine matters! If we are not firmly rooted in the truth of God’s Word, we will be easily misled. The entire church in Pergamum was admonished for the actions of a few people. And if we are not firm in our convictions, we’ll tolerate the infiltration of false doctrine in our churches.
- When we change, what must we be careful not to do pertaining to God? We are always changing but what direction that change takes is the question. Is it in a Christ-like maturing or drifting into compromise and in danger of becoming intertwined with the world.? Many times, worldly wisdom and faithfulness to God are not cohesive. The Bible says that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God” (Romans 8:7). “Do not be conformed to this world,” wrote the apostle Paul, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Because they have been redeemed by God’s grace, believers are called to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). “Pure and undefiled religion,” notes James, consists in keeping “oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27), because “friendship with the world is hostility toward God. Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
- What is so scary about the Pergamum church? Is it that while they loved the Lord, they didn’t love him enough to guard their church from compromise? They didn’t love Him or each other enough to reject false teaching, or admonish and discipline those who were led astray by false teaching. We often refuse to exercise church discipline. The church is seen as a club, but not as an authoritative body of believers. If someone commits a sin and wrongs others in the church, or is in grave error from a teaching standpoint and refuses to repent of that error, that person generally just leaves and goes to another church. We are such a mobile society now that the idea of being tied down to a local body of believers who have authority to admonish individuals, is something that is far from the mindset of many in the modern Christian church. Commenting on this passage, Matthew Henry says, “Though the church, as such, has no power to punish the persons of men, either for heresy or immorality, with corporal penalties, yet it has power to exclude them from its communion; and, if it do not so, Christ, the head and lawgiver of the church, will be displeased with it.”
- Are we always on the watch for indifference to subtle inward influences which are corrupting us and endangering our spiritual life? Will not the Lord correct by judgments the Church that allows itself to be careless? We can do so much more; we can repent of our laxity and be faithful amid the corruption in our world. Repent—that single beautiful word that expresses the whole requirement of God, and consequently the whole duty of man, in reference to every deviation from the right path. It is that which is first and instantly demanded, and which, if genuine, leads to all the rest.
- What does the Lord exhort the church to do?At every age of church history there are those within the church who would advocate a policy of accommodation. But what does our Lord say concerning such accommodation and compromise? He commands the church, “Repent; or else I will come to you swiftly and wage war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:16). Here our Lord’s warning to those who advocate and accept a course of compromise is that of a king declaring war against his enemies. There is a spiritual warfare being waged between the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of the world; and there can be no neutrality. Despite your convictions, if by your actions you indicate you are siding with the world, Christ will view you as being aligned with the world and treat you accordingly. 1 John 2:15-17 makes the believer’s duty to avoid worldliness unmistakably clear: “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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
- Do we really want peaceful coexistence with the world but war with our Lord? The Pergamum church faced the same choice that every similar church faces. It could repent and receive all the blessedness of eternal life in the glory of heaven. Or it could refuse to repent and face the terrifying reality of having the Lord Jesus Christ declare war on it. Maintaining the path of compromise ultimately leads to judgment. For the entire church of Pergamum faced the battle sword of Christ’s judgment, the heretics for practicing their heresy and iniquity, and the rest of the church for tolerating it. The church must not tolerate evil in any form.
- Are people overstating the power that Satan has in this world? Satan’s “throne” may be here on earth, but it is not a throne of sovereignty. He “rules” in a subordinate sense, not an ultimate sense. He is roaming the earth seeking those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8), but his freedom is subordinate to God’s sovereign power and control. Look at the “binding of Satan” in Mark 3:27 which does not restrict all his activities but highlights the fact that Jesus is sovereign over him and his demonic forces. For God’s “seal” on Christians does not protect them in every sense but only in a spiritual, salvific manner, since they suffer from persecution in various physical ways. Conversely, God’s seal on Satan prevents him from harming the salvific security of the true church, though he can harm it physically. We can be comforted by the faithful believers at Pergamum who exemplified the truth of Christ’s words in Matthew 16:18: “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” No amount of satanic opposition can destroy genuine saving faith that believers possess.
- No church is problem free or sin free. It is easy for us to brush off what we consider “small sins.” Why is it important to address even small sins? Read 1 Corinthians 5:6, Galatians 5:9; Galatians 6:7-10.
- To what extent do you think repentance should be an ongoing part of a believer’s life? Is repentance something you consciously think about, or not? How should we incorporate confession and repentance into our walk with God?
- How do we protect ourselves and protect our church from compromise? What should we do if we see compromise present in the life of someone we love? What would you want someone to do if they see compromise in your life? Compromise is blending two ideas together. The dictionary says it is “to lay open to danger.” In spiritual matters, any position of compromise opens you up to danger and corruption. Be aware that as we engage the world around us, we need to make sure that we are influencing the world with the kingdom’s values, not embracing the world’s values.
- What is one area in your life where you need to stop straddling the fence and give yourself fully to God?
- What was the truth that the Church at Pergamum held fast? Was it worth holding? Did it refer to politics, philosophy, literature, or science? There was considerable political zeal in Pergamum and learning flourished there too. It was the boast of the town that it encouraged literary and scientific men. Notwithstanding this, not a word is said in this letter commendatory of their holding fast to anything save the truth. Science, learning, art are good, but not “the good.” What was His truth? “My name” and “My faith.” It is a saving name: “There is no other name” (Acts 4:12). It is a pardoning name: “Repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name” (Luke 24:47). It is a royal name: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:10).
1) IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE A CHRISTIAN ANYWHERE. Christianity is not a thing of locality, but of character. But Christianity can live wherever a man can live, for it is a thing of personal character, and as that is a matter of choice, and as a man is always what he chooses to be, he may be a Christian if he chooses in any circumstances or in any place. And what is true of places is equally true of occupations. Unless a man’s business be in and of itself sinful, pandering to the vices and demoralizing to the characters of his fellows, he may serve Christ in any profession or trade. Character may take some of its coloring from circumstances, but it is itself independent of them; for it is the choice of the personal will by which a man is enabled to breast circumstances, and make them subservient to his own great life-purposes.
2) Pergamum Historical Background: The road north from Smyrna follows the coastline some forty miles and then turns inland in a northeasterly direction up the valley of the Caicus River. About ten miles inland from the Aegean Sea stands the impressive capital city of Pergamum… Pliny called Pergamum “by far the most distinguished city in Asia.” Built on a cone-shaped hill a thousand feet in height, it dominated the surrounding valley of the Caicus. Its very name in Greek (Pergamon) means “citadel.” Although the site appears to have been inhabited from prehistoric times, its rise to prominence came in the third century B.C. when it became the capital of the Attalids. Under Eumenes II (197–159 B.C.) Pergamum became “the finest flower of Hellenic civilization.” It boasted a library of more than 200,000 volumes. Legend has it that parchment was invented there when the supply of papyrus from Egypt was cut off in reprisal for Eumenes’s attempt to lure a famous librarian by the name of Aristophanes away from Alexandria. Until Attalus III bequeathed his kingdom to Rome in 133 B.C. the Pergamene kings continued as enthusiastic patrons of Hellenistic culture.
The most spectacular aspect of this remarkable city was the upper terrace of the citadel with its sacred and royal buildings. Of these, the most remarkable was the great altar of Zeus that jutted out near the top of the mountain. A famous frieze around the base of the altar depicts the gods of Greece in victorious combat against the giants of earth (symbolizing the triumph of civilization over barbarism). It commemorates the victory of Attalus I (the first ruler in Asia to refuse tribute to the plundering Gauls) over the Galatians. Religion flourished in Pergamum. It was a center of worship for four of the most important pagan cults of the day—Zeus, Athene (the patron goddess), Dionysos, and Asklepios (who was designated Sōtēr, Savior). The shrine of Asklepios, the god of healing (also known as “the Pergamene god”), attracted people from all over the world. Galen, one of the most famous physicians of the ancient world, was a native of Pergamum and studied there.
Of greatest import for the Christians living in Pergamum was the fact that it was the official center in Asia for the imperial cult. It was the first city of Asia to receive permission to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living ruler. In 29 B.C. Augustus granted permission for a temple to be erected in Pergamum to “the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma.” Of all the seven cities, Pergamum was the one in which the church was most liable to clash with the imperial cult.
(From New International Commentary – NT)
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