When a True Church Tolerates False Teaching
Sermon Text: Revelation 2:18-29
Sermon Theme: When a true church tolerates false teaching, Jesus confirms, chastises and commits to the church in their pursuit of holiness.
Even when the Lord knows the works of his people to be wrought in love, faith, zeal, and patience; yet if his eyes, which are as a flame of fire, observe them committing or allowing what is evil, he will rebuke, correct, or punish them. Here is praise of the ministry and people of Thyatira, by One who knew the principles from which they acted. They grew wiser and better. All Christians should earnestly desire that their last works may be their best works. Yet this church connived at some wicked seducers. God is known by the judgments he executes; and by this upon seducers, he shows his certain knowledge of the hearts of men, of their principles, designs, frame, and temper. Encouragement is given to those who kept themselves pure and undefiled. It is dangerous to despise the mystery of God, and as dangerous to receive the mysteries of Satan. Let us beware of the depths of Satan, of which those who know the least are the most happy. How tender Christ is of his faithful servants! He lays nothing upon his servants but what is for their good. There is promise of an ample reward to the persevering, victorious believer; also knowledge and wisdom, suitable to their power and dominion. Christ brings day with him into the soul, the light of grace and of glory, in the presence and enjoyment of him their Lord and Savior. After every victory let us follow up our advantage against the enemy, that we may overcome and keep the works of Christ to the end.
(From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary)
- What is every Christian life meant to be? A life of continual progress in which each “tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant,” in reference to all that is good and noble. A continuous progress towards and in all good of every sort is the very law of the Christian life. Every metaphor about the life of the Christian soul carries the same lesson. Is it a building? Then course by course it rises. Is it a tree? Then year by year it spreads a broader shadow, and its leafy crown reaches nearer heaven. Is it a body? Then from childhood to youth, and youth to manhood, it grows. Christianity is growth, continual, all-embracing and unending.
- Does your latter works exceed your first? Growth is what every believer should strive for. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 4:10 that “For to this end [godliness] we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” And so, if Christian people are not daily getting better, they are daily getting worse. There are two alternatives before us. Either we are getting more Christ-like or we are daily getting less so. Are you growing in your Christian walk? Are you more zealous than before or less? Is your service for God more than before or less? What is one practical way you can focus on growth in the next week?
- Are you making it a habit of cultivating that which is securing your continual growth — these two things being love and faith? These are the roots; they need cultivating. If they are not cultivated then their results of service and patience endurance are sure to become less and less. These two, love and faith, are the roots; their vitality determines the strength and abundance of the fruit that is borne. If we want our works to increase in number and to rise in quality, let us see to it that we make an honest habit of cultivating that which is their producing cause — love to Jesus Christ and faith in Him. For your deeds are explained as a series of praiseworthy Christian qualities: love, which nothing is greater; faith, for continuing trustful reliance on Christ is basic; service, for this is what the Master expects to find his servants doing; and perseverance, for steady progress is more important than a bright beginning.
- Suppose Christ came to the local church in which you participate. What compliments would He give? What criticisms would He make? What commands would He issue? What do you think Christ’s opinion of your church is? For we know that because of His awesome authority, Christ has the right to criticize and command repentance. The risen Christ fully knows all the strengths and weaknesses of each of his congregations. The church is Christ’s church. It belongs to Him, and He holds it accountable to himself.
- Every generation of Christians must face the question, “How far should I accept and adopt contemporary standards and practices?” On the one hand, Christians must not deny the faith. On the other, they must not deny their membership in society. The cause of Christ is not served if Christians appear as a group of old-fashioned people always trying to retreat from the real world. Christians live in the same world as their neighbors and face the same problems. They must find Christian solutions. The false prophetess and her followers had been so ready to conform to the practices of their heathen neighbors that they had lost sight of the essential Christian position. They had exalted expediency over principle. The risen Lord points to the very essence of Christian living when he urges high standards of moral conduct.
- Are there any Jezebels in our lives, telling us lies and perverting the Bible? Christ commends the church at Thyatira for their life of active service but holds against them the fact that they tolerate the false prophetess whose influence has led them into an unholy alliance with the doctrines and practices of their pagan neighbors. Therefore the issue is that the people here in Thyatira have been led astray. It is so easy sometimes to be caught up in false teaching. Sometimes the immature Christian can easily cling to that which tastes as sweet as honey, only to later have it turn to ash in their mouths. This is especially why we must condemn the false Gospel that led many astray—not because the people are stupid, but because they have clung to untruths without testing them. That is why the men and women of Berea were called “noble” by Paul for searching the scriptures to test whether his message aligned with what the Old Testament had to say. More than simply living on feelings, we must test every form of doctrine by the Word of God. False doctrine and sin are not to be allowed—even under the banner of love, toleration, and unity.
- Have we let anything come between us and the Lord? Throughout the Old Testament, the union of that which is holy with that which is impure is considered by God as spiritual adultery. It was an abomination in His sight! The church of Thyatira had betrayed Jesus and all that He stood for and taken on another lover! And in the process, many had fallen under the lies and delusions being taught. As E.C. McKenzie once said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it often enough, many will believe it.” and “Some people remember a lie for ten years but forget the truth in ten minutes.” If this is so for you, remember the Lord had given room for repentance!
- What internal pressures do we feel by our own evil propensities to conform to society? As the guards and the cultivators of that which we have, there must be vigilance and resistance and persevering prayer; there must be a war continually waged against evil thoughts, evil propensities, and evil actions; and there must be an unceasing and determined effort to bring the whole soul under the supreme dominion of gospel principles and of gospel influences.
- What worldly pressures do we feel to conform to the world? The mere presence of material and worldly objects has a tendency to divert our attention and our affections from those objects which are spiritual and unseen. The quantity of time and thought and labor which worldly business receives, from both the master and the servant, is often unfavorable, and sometimes fatal to fervency of spirit. But, take heart, we can take refuge in the thoughts that at the end of the day – at the end of all time – Jesus will be the just and righteous judge because 1) He knows everything, all the circumstances surrounding your life He knows perfectly, and 2) He has the authority and strength to execute judgment with power. For we can have hope in the words of Psalm 2:12: “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
- In the world today, tolerance (at least for sin) is considered to be a virtue. Jesus clearly does not consider that tolerance for sin is a virtue. Is tolerance ever good? When? Tolerance can be good. For example, we should tolerate people’s different personalities. A parent should be tolerant of a child who needs time to learn and understand his homework. A boss should be tolerant of the occasional mistake. But the church should not tolerate people who spread false teaching. Jesus is primarily criticizing the church for allowing the false prophetess to remain and influence people. Jesus said that He himself was going to throw her “onto a sickbed.” The church should have exercised church discipline on this woman before her poison was allowed to spread. We can never tolerate sin or false teachings. This is true not only for your church, but also in our families. We are called to speak the truth in love. We call sin, “sin.” And then we implore the sinner to repent. Do not take pride in tolerating something which God Himself does not tolerate. We are to be holy as He is holy.
- Are you always discerning and testing the spirits? As 1 John 4:1 states: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We should test the spirits by looking both at their teaching (comparing it to God’s Word) and their lifestyle. Some show themselves to be false prophets by teaching things which are contrary to the Word. Others show themselves to be false prophets by claiming to teach the Word and then indulging themselves in the world.
- Are you looking out for those who are actively pushing an agenda? Is that agenda encouraging people to live a lifestyle of sexual immorality? Most people who teach license in this area do so because they themselves are involved in it. “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3). God has called the bride of Christ, the church, to be holy. We are to be set apart from the world. All types of sexual immorality are to be actively avoided as believers pursue a holy life. Sexual immorality is one of the top methods of temptation Satan uses against the church. And it is sadly often successful. The text is clear—Jesus is not happy with any type of sexual immorality. And there are many types of sexual temptation which assail the church. Fornication, adultery, divorce and remarriage for all types of unscriptural reasons, and pornography are all not only prevalent but widely accepted in our culture. As believers, we must stand strong against these temptations. We must understand that we are in a war. The battle first takes place in our mind. And every time lustful thoughts pop up, we must attack them. We cannot be complacent because it is war. Take every thought captive to Christ, both the wrong way of thinking which infiltrates the church and our own minds, which if we are not careful will allow themselves to be convinced by what the world is selling.
- Do you not know that the heart will be judged? The motive behind our deeds is just as important as the deed. God has perfect, intimate knowledge of every human heart; no evil can be hidden from Him (Psalm 7:9; Proverbs 24:12; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 20:12). In the Scripture above, we see that God will not always overlook sin in the church. When His judgment falls, it will begin in the church. The works spoken of here are the works of the heart and mind which come to maturity in actual deeds. Good or evil actually begins in the mind and heart. Just as beautiful words cannot come from an evil heart, beautiful deeds cannot either. What we are inside will show in what we do for God — “According to your works”: Always the basis for future judgment (Revelation 20:12-13; Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6). Deeds or works do not save (Ephesians 2:8-9), but they do evidence salvation (James 2:14-26).
- At times, are you putting God to the test? Do not keep pursuing a lifestyle of sin and thinking, “I can repent later.” You don’t know when God’s patience will run out. You don’t know when the opportunities to repent will be gone and you will find yourself facing God’s judgment with no way out. “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). Don’t be seduced by a lax attitude toward the merciful and gracious almighty God. For God sometimes gives a false security which sinners often promise to themselves when they have committed disgraceful crimes with impunity. That is, sinners at times do not experience the vengeance of present wrath and so neglect penance until sudden destruction comes upon them like the pain of childbirth and they are not able to escape. They are said to be given over by God to this neglectfulness that this security produces, for they are abandoned to a hidden, although not unjust, judgment.
- In the Church today, most believers are not tempted to worship pagan idols of wood or stone, but they do worship other idols! Speaking of idols, what could some of these be? Material possessions, various lusts, recreation, entertainment, career and selfish ambition.
- Is there ever any good in learning “the deep things of Satan?” The false prophetess apparently, argued thus: in order to conquer Satan, you must know him. You will never be able to conquer sin unless you have become thoroughly acquainted with it by experience. In brief, a Christian should learn to know “the deep things of Satan.” By all means attend the guild-feast and commit fornication and still remain a Christian? NO—may it never be. Rather, become a better Christian! This seems like an easily dismissed illogical idea. Why would anyone engage in wrong doing simply to become a better Christian? But in the moment of temptation to sin, we do many things that are illogical. Remember that it is the prerogative of God alone to know evil fully, without being hurt or defiled by it.
- Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? The Bible teaches that true Christians can fall into sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:15-20) and idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:21). But to lead other Christians into false doctrine or immoral living is a very serious sin, one meriting the most severe punishment. In Matthew 18:6-10, Jesus graphically described the serious consequences for those who lead other believers into sin: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” The “little ones who believe” in Christ are not physical children, but spiritual children–believers. It is so serious to lead another believer into sin that the Lord said death by drowning was a better option. The imagery of maiming oneself is language depicting the need for drastic action in dealing with sin.
- Why would loosening of sexual standards to conform to the prevailing morals of the culture be destructive of vital Christian faith and witness? How has your culture tended to take the edge off your own Christian moral convictions or forced you to be quiet about them? What are the real compromises that dilute vital Christianity—not the trite legalisms, such as smoking?
1) GOD SEES INTO OUR MIND AND WILL. (By Cyprian): One will not escape and avoid God as his judge, for the Holy Spirit says in the Psalms, “Thine eyes have seen my imperfection and all will be written in thy book” (Psalm 139:16) and again, “Man looks upon the face, but God upon the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Let the Lord himself also forewarn and instruct you with these words: “And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the desires and hearts.” He perceives the concealed and the secret and considers the hidden, nor can anyone evade the eyes of God, who says, “Am I a God at hand, and not a God afar off? Shall a man be hid in secret places and I not see him?” (Jeremiah 23:23-24) He sees the hearts and breasts of each one, and, when about to pass judgment not only on our deeds but also on our words and thoughts, he looks into the minds and the wills conceived in the very recess of a still closed heart.
(From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
2) GOD WILL NOT ACKNOWLEDGE SINNERS. (By Tyconius): To be sure, the Lord speaks to those who kept their minds from the doctrines of the devil, lest they turn from the dogma of the truth of the church. For they were taught that they should follow no man but rather the truth of the faith, for the Lord said to those who had left the faith, “I never knew you, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:23). For just as those who do iniquity do not know God, although they speak of him, so also God does not acknowledge the workers of iniquity, although he knows them all. In this way, the righteous do not know the teaching of Satan, although they might hear it and feel the attraction of his temptations. And so it can happen that the righteous do not hear evil things from which they abstain by righteous living, since it is written, “There must be heresies so that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Corinthians 11:19). And again, “Should they say to you, Lo, Christ is in the inner rooms, do not believe it” (Matthew 24:26).
(From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture)
3) Thyatira Historical Background: Following the overland route from Pergamum to Sardis, travelers would head eastward along the south bank of the Caicus River, turn southward over a low-lying range of hills, and descend into the broad and fertile valley of the Lycus. Their journey of about forty miles would take them just across the Mysian border to the city of Thyatira situated on the south bank of the Lycus in the long north-south valley that connected the Caicus and Hermus valleys. Thyatira was founded by Seleucus I as a military outpost to guard one of the approaches to his empire. Since it possessed no natural fortifications, it would draw heavily upon the spirit of its soldier-citizens to make up for its vulnerability. In 190 B.C. the city fell to the Romans and became first part of the kingdom of Pergamum and then part of the Province of Asia.
With the coming of stable conditions under Roman rule, Thyatira was destined for growth and prosperity as a center for manufacturing and marketing. An outstanding characteristic of Thyatira was the large number of trade guilds that flourished there. Ramsay notes that inscriptions, although not especially numerous, mention “woolworkers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths.” In Acts 16:14-40, we meet “a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira,” who also had a house at Philippi. It would appear that Thyatira’s market extended across the Aegean Sea into Macedonia. Since the trade guilds were inseparably intertwined with local religious observances, they posed a special problem for the economic well-being of Christians. The divine guardian of the city was the god Tyrimnos (identified with the Greek sun-god Apollo), who would be conceived of as the patron of the guilds and therefore honored in their festivities.
(From New International Commentary – NT)
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