The Church Kaleidoscope Meditations: 4. The Thyatira Experience: Mixing with the world
Rev 2:18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write”
The Speaker: Jesus comes to this church, very simply as, “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” In one sense this very straight forward description is more awe-inspiring than some of the more allegorical descriptions. As the Son of God he is the direct representative of the Godhead. Yes, he is also the one who came to earth and went through the fires of persecution, injustice and death. He is the one who has been tried and tested by difficulties, stresses and strains of opposition and rejection. Whatever pressure we may think we are going through, he has a worse experience to compare to it and so knows what are our trials.
Affirmation: There are good things about this church, things the all-seeing head of the church knows about as he walks among his churches: “I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” (v.19) He knows their deeds, their service, he knows that these are motivated by love, expressed by faith and that enables them to persevere in what is often a difficult world. He also knows that this activity has grown since they were established. This is a ‘doing’ church, this is a church that does stuff and is known for it. Someone said of my present church some years ago, “they are brilliant at events.” Sometimes we rest in our activities thinking that this is all that is needed. Just recently I have been running a prayer workshop, focusing on praying for the Church and we have examined the various things churches do, things that actually stop them reaching their full potential. One of those things is busyness, a busyness that deceives us into thinking this is all Jesus wants. It is not, he wants a living body. But there are also other things that mar the church, that hinder it, and that prevent it growing to reach its full potential.
Check out your teaching: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.” (v.20,21) One of the things we have recently observed in this workshop is that a vibrant church is one that puts biblical teaching and standards high on the agenda. Authoritative preaching and teaching is one of the Lord’s primary tool to ward off heresies. In this church there was a woman, or maybe some with the spirit of a woman who reflected the character of the original Jezebel, wife of king Ahab (see 1Kings 16 on) who led a way of life that was idolatrous and rejected the word of God.
All we are told here is that ‘she’ “she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols,” and therefore adulterated the faith. In our prayer workshop recently we noted that the biblical standard that limits sexual activity to ‘one man plus one woman, committed to each other for life’ has been abandoned not only by the world but by some in the church. We further noted that in the world around us:
- sexual activity is viewed by many in younger generations especially (but not solely) as a normal part of an everyday relationship with (any) others, given the opportunity, (boyfriend often means sexual partner),
- cohabitation is the norm for many, despite the frequent surveys that show that it is far less stable than a committed marriage,
- divorces are common with inadequate counselling provision to avoid it happening, despite the frequent surveys that show the harm done to children through divorce, and the ensuing dysfunctional behaviour of the young being observed in society,
- gender boundaries have been removed and identity confusion reigns with inadequate consideration and understanding being given to a) the reality in each case and b) the effects upon society and individuals.
Toleration of idols: Eating food sacrificed to idols was no big issue in some way as the apostle Paul noted (see 1 Cor 8) and yet it was a way of tolerating the idol practices of the surrounding community. The thing about Thyatira was that it was a great trading and business centre with many trade guilds and these largely comprising non-believers would be idol worshippers. If you want to be part of the community, Jezebel urged, it is all right to go along with their practices and still be a Christian. In our society today there are similar groups who gather for mutual benefit who idolize business, prosperity and success and they so often have the insidious effect of watering down the faith of the believer by seducing them into those practices. This was Jezebel’s approach, you don’t need to cut yourself off from society, the church has been too strict and judgmental, it’s all right to go along with these things, God will still love you.
Examples: Moses challenged Israel, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him,” (Deut 30:19,20) and later Joshua similarly challenged Israel, “if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Josh 24:15) i.e. if you say you are a believer, make a clear choice, go along with the world and watch for the repercussions, or go all out for God and watch the blessings.
Warning: Jesus will not tolerate this in his church. As Peter said, “it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household.” (1 Pet 4:17). Here he says, “So 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 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.” (v.22,23) This is going to be painful, but when it happens, people will know it is God. That is those in the church who go along with these things, but there the others: “ 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, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’” (v.24,25) These are the ones who held back from this; just remain faithful is his charge, nothing more.
The Overcomer: Note this: “To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end.” (v.26a) Faithfulness and purity is his call, not just now but always. Ignore what the world is doing all around us, they will reap the consequences of their lifestyles (and it is already becoming obvious), you just remain true and faithful. “I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’—just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star.” (v.26-28) The Son of God previously said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Mt 28:18) The overcomer, the one who remains faithful to the end, will share that authority. Jesus is the ‘bright morning star’ (Rev 22:16), the last star in the sky saying goodbye to the darkness and heralding a new day. Christ will give himself to the overcomer, they will share together, fellowship today, knowing one another. You don’t need to go the way of the world, knowing Christ is the most satisfying thing you can know in the whole world. If Christ seems distant, is it because we have distanced ourselves from him and we have drawn near to the world in its ways and beliefs? May it not be so! “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (v.29)