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The Liberal Church Notes

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Title:   Thyatira – The Liberal Church

Text:   Revelation 2: 18 – 29

Introduction:

If there is a key that describes the American mind-set today, it is the word Liberal or Tolerance.

·         The thought behind this is that right and wrong varies from situation to situation.

·         What’s wrong for me may be right for you and vice versa.

·         It teaches that all views are equally valid and there are no absolutes.

·         The only absolute is that there are no absolutes.

·         We tolerate everything except intolerance.

·         As a result, we are killing truth and values have no value.1

But this is just society’s worldview, right?     Wrong!

Last year, the Los Angeles Times quoted Christian pollster George Barna’s research that only 44% of born-again adults are certain that absolute moral truth exists.

·         Barna also discovered that only 9% of born-again teenagers believe in absolute moral truth.2

·         This is frightening! God’s Word, the sharp, two-edged sword is being replaced with the Devil’s pitchfork.

Our worldview is now defined with a Burger King philosophy, “Have it your way,” rather than by heaven’s King3 who says, “Have it My way!”

So what can we do to remedy the situation that we find ourselves in?

Jesus has some choice words to a church teetering on the edge of disaster.

The city of Thyatira was the smallest of the seven cities mentioned in the letters to the churches. 

It is also the city about which the least is known.

Yet, it is to this little known church in a little known city that Christ addresses His longest letter.

While not a lot is known about ancient Thyatira, some things are known and they are worthy of mention.

1.      Thyatira was probably founded by Alexander the Great some 300 years before Christ.

2.      The name Thyatira means “Unceasing Sacrifice”. 

3.      It probably received this name because it was a military buffer city. 

4.      It was located some 40 miles south east of Pergamos, the capital city of that province. 

5.      When enemies invaded, they would naturally come to Thyatira first. 

6.      While its location did not allow it to defend itself very well, its mission was to hold the enemy just long enough for Pergamos to prepare itself for battle. 

7.      As a result, Thyatira was destroyed and rebuilt many times during its history.

It was somewhat famous in its day for commerce.  There was main trade route that went through the city.  Thus, tradesmen from around the world bought and sold there.

1.      Thyatira was known for its woolen industry, especially for the dyes produced there. 

2.      They manufactured a very expensive purple dye that was valued by royalty and the wealthy of that era. 

3.      This dye was obtained from a certain shellfish. 

4.      This little creature was brought up by divers; its throat was slit open; and a single drop of this dye was obtained. 

5.      That dye, coupled with the chemical composition of the water of Thyatira, made colors possible there that could not be reproduced anywhere else on earth. 

6.      This industry is mentioned in the Bible. 

7.      We are told about a woman named Lydia who is called “a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira…”, Acts 16:14.

Thyatira was also known for its trade guilds. 

1.      These were like the ancient unions of the day. 

2.      Workers from the various industries of the city, bakers, wool worker, dyers, bronze workers, potters, and others, all banded together to set prices, guarantee work. 

3.      To refuse to join a guild was to give up all prospects of work. 

4.      This little fact will become important as we move through these verses.

Thyatira was also a center of occult worship. 

1.      There was a temple in the city dedicated to fortune-telling. 

2.      It was presided over by a female oracle named Sambathe´.

If there is one word that describes the situation we find at Thyatira it is the word “Liberal”. 

This is a church that has left its founding principles

Remember, these letters can be views three ways: Practically – They are literal letters to real churches with real issues.  Prophetically – They speak to the church in different periods of church history.  The church of Thyatira speaks of the period between 600 AD to 1500 AD.  The time known as the Dark Ages.  Many practices here similar to Roman Catholicism.  Personally – These letters have a message for every church and every believer who will hear and heed.  A church just like every one of these seven churches can still be found in the world today.  Folks, there is a word here for us if we will receive it today.

I.          The Personality of Christ as He addresses Thyatira (2:18).

The letter to the church in Thyatira is the longest of the seven letters.

It may have been the lengthiest letter because Thyatira was the most corrupt of the churches.

·         The title, “Son of God”4 declares Christ’s absolute deity.

o       He is equal with God the Father.

o       He is the eternally existent One who has been designated to rule.5

Jesus then refers to His eyes and His feet (head to toes).

·         He says His eyes are like a “flame of fire,” indicating that He is able to see into the secret places of our hearts.

o       The word “fire” also suggests discerning and severe judgment (cf. Rev 1:14).

o       Everything yields to fire.

o       Fire consumes all that it touches.

o       Nothing escapes.

·         Jesus moves from his head to his toes and says that His feet are like “burnished bronze,”6 meaning that He will pursue evil and stamp it out.

Illustration: Stop for just a moment and think back to a time when you sinned or unintentionally did something wrong and got in trouble.

·         Do you remember that feeling when your parent, spouse, friend, or teacher stomped into your presence and stared you down with eyes of fire?

·         It’s scary, isn’t it?

In the same way, the glorious Jesus Christ is also to be taken seriously because He is the holy and righteous Judge.

·         He is not “brother” or “the man upstairs.” “the guy in the sky”

·         He is the Son of God and our coming Judge.

 

II.        The Praise of Thyatira was Positive (2:19).

These are the strongest words of commendation given to any of the churches.

·         But before He confronted her weakness He affirmed her strengths.

·         Jesus realizes something His people often do not: Christians need encouragement as much as they need rebuke.

·         We should follow this practice: first affirm the positive and then rebuke the negative.7

Jesus begins His commendation with the phrase “I know your deeds” (Rev 2:2; 3:1, 8).

He then affirms the church in four ways.

  • “Love” (agapen).
    • Love is a sacrificial commitment to God and others.
    • Of the seven churches, Thyatira is the only one singled out for their love.8
  • “Faith” (pistin).9
    • Faith is a conviction or persuasion based upon hearing. NOT FEELING!
  • “Service” (diakonia).
    • Service is a voluntary ministering to others.10
    • Service is exhausting, and it’s very easy to become weary and even resentful because others may seem like they aren’t pulling their weight.
    • Are you a servant?
    • In what ministry context do you consistently serve?
    • Whom do you sacrificially serve?
    •  
  • “Perseverance” (hupomonen):
    • Perseverance is the ability to persist in doing well through time
    • It is refusing to throw in the towel when things get tough.
    • This requires fortitude and tenacity.
    • Perseverance has to do with our understanding of God’s sovereignty.
    • If we know that God is in control of our circumstances,
    • Then we keep at it for we know that God is working out the situation according to an eternal plan.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (with ten being the highest), how would you evaluate yourself in the areas of love, faith, service, and perseverance?

You get the impression that Jesus was telling them that the best days were ahead for their church.

And that’s how I feel about OUR church...

·         There have been some good years in years gone by...

·         I’m sure many of you have fond memories of the wonderful things that have happened in our church.

But I am convinced that our best days are ahead...

·         I am convinced that our best work... our best victory... and our best growth is in front of us!

·         What will it take to become that Church?

Jesus tells us... "love...faith...service...perseverance"

·         If we aren’t a church where love...and faith...and service... are cultivated...

·         If we aren’t a church that is willing to work even harder now... than in days gone by...

·         Well...then perhaps our best days ARE behind us.

After giving out four straight A+ grades, Jesus includes a progress report that reads: “your deeds of late are greater than at first.”

·         The church had been growing in her strengths.

·         Most likely these deeds are greater both quantitatively and qualitatively.12

·         However, some of us need to recognize that God is not asking us to take on more works for Him.

·         Instead, He is calling us to do the works that we are currently doing, with greater excellence.

Unfortunately, the church at Thyatira was not an honor roll church.

In fact, Jesus is about to flunk a number of people in this church.

III.       The Criticism of Thyatira is Pronounced (2:20-23).

Jesus says in 2:20,

Jesus begins His scathing rebuke with the familiar words, “But15 I have this against you.”

·         Jesus spoke these very same words to the church in Ephesus (cf. Rev 2:4).

·         Ephesus was strong in doctrine but weak in love.

·         Thyatira was strong in love but weak in doctrine.

It’s common for churches to be polarized in one of these two extremes.

·         Either they will have full heads and empty hearts, or full hearts and empty minds.

·         Either polarization is deadly.

·         Balance is the key in any church.

·         God demands both love and sound doctrine

Illustration:

·         Sound doctrine and Practical Love are like the two chemical ingredients of salt.

·         Interestingly, salt is composed of two poisons: sodium and chloride.

·         If we ingest one without the other we would die.

·         But if we combine them together properly we have sodium chloride which is common table salt.

·         It gives flavor to food and life and health to our bodies.

So too, doctrine and love must be bound together.

One without the other leads to a deadly imbalance.

Separately they can be deadly.

But combined they provide health to the body of Christ.

The church at Thyatira had gotten out of balance.

They had all love but no doctrine.

The result was devastating.16

The initial charge against Thyatira is: “You tolerate the woman Jezebel.”

·         There is our word “tolerate” once again.

·         Notice that Jesus’ rebuke is directed against the church of Thyatira, not Jezebel.

·         Jesus was angry that these believers tolerated false teaching and sinful behavior rather than confronting and condemning it.

Old Testament presents the passage –

·         You may remember that Jezebel was the notorious wife of Ahab, king of Israel.

·         Queen Jezebel led King Ahab away from worshipping God to serve the false god Baal.

·         Then, through intimidation and deception, she got Ahab to propagate her idolatrous teaching throughout Israel (1 Kgs 16:31-33; 2 Kgs 9:22).

·         But that’s over 900 years before this letter is written to Thyatira.

So obviously Jesus is talking about another Jezebel, a current leader in the church.

·         I don’t believe, however, that her real name is Jezebel,

·         There are some names, like Judas and Jezebel that are completely out of bounds for anyone to give to their child.

·         I think Jesus refers to this prophetess in Thyatira as “Jezebel” because that name had become synonymous with wickedness.

Jesus says that this Jezebel: (20).

·         This Jezebel called herself a prophetess but she did not serve the Lord.

·         Instead, she misled believers—not by seducing them herself but “by her teaching.”17

·         This could mean that she openly taught that free sex and idolatry was okay, but I doubt it.

·         Even most nominal Christians wouldn’t tolerate that.

·         It is more likely that her teaching was imbalanced and distorted to the point that her listeners were enticed to engage in such behavior.

·         This woman must have been persuasive, charismatic, and maybe even attractive because she was able to lead Jesus’ own “bond-servants” into a religion that was essentially a combination of idol worship and orgies.

Generally speaking, in our society nearly all religions make at least a pretense of teaching the values of marriage, family, and faithfulness.

·         But that is changing.

·         What God has called an abomination in His Word, many, even in the religious community, are now calling normal and holy.

·         That was apparently happening in the church at Thyatira as well.

It goes without saying that Jesus didn’t appreciate this.

·         So He declared,  (21).

·         Jesus “gave her time to repent.”

·         It’s not clear how or when this opportunity for repentance came,

·         But it indicates an important biblical principle:

o       The Lord’s judgments are not hasty—

o       He gives time for repentance.18

o       But that time is limited.

o       Unfortunately in this case, this woman refused to repent. She hardened her heart.

Jesus’ warning is powerful: (22-23).

·         Three times in these two verses, the phrase “I will” appears.

·         It is Jesus Himself who brings God’s discipline.

·         He says that Jezebel will end up on a bed of suffering since her influence has led to the violation of the marriage bed.

·         But she is not the only one who will suffer—so will those who commit adultery with her.

Jesus goes on to say, “I will kill her children (i.e., disciples)20 with pestilence.”

·         The result of this looming judgment is then “all the churches will know that I21 am He who searches the minds22 and hearts.”

·         Discipline in the church has several purposes:

o       One is correction in the sinning person’s life.

o       Another purpose is restoration — always the goal of biblical discipline is to bring the person back to the Lord.

o       But discipline also has the purpose of instilling a healthy respect for the Lord in the people of God.23

Jesus closes this condemnation by stating the biblical principle: “I will give to each of you according to your deeds.”24

·         This is confusing to some people, because we are familiar with passages to the effect that God will not count our sins against us and will bury them in the deepest sea.

·         But then we read passages like this which indicate that we will be held accountable for our deeds.

·         I think both are true.

Believers in Christ will never face the eternal judgment for their sins but they will be held accountable for their deeds when it comes to the handing out of eternal rewards.

Unbelievers, though separated from God because they died without Christ, will also be punished in proportion to their deeds in this life.

It would be easy for us to think that we are far from the church at Thyatira.

We don’t have any female heretics that I am aware of; much less one that might be called a Jezebel.

We don’t take a casual corporate attitude toward sexual immorality, and we certainly don’t promote idolatry.

But I think we might be congratulating ourselves too soon.

·         One of the things you discover readily when you read the Old Testament is that adultery and fornication are often used as symbols of spiritual unfaithfulness.

·         Israel is often accused of adultery even when no sexual immorality is involved.

·         When God’s people put other things ahead of Him—whether it be success, prosperity, materialism, sports, fitness, financial security, or even ministry—he becomes jealous because we are being unfaithful to Him, the One who created us, loved us, died for us, and is one day coming again for us.

·         He will tolerate no other lovers.

·         The seductive teaching of Jezebel is a real danger in our church and our lives.

Every generation of Christians must face the question,

·         “How far should I go in accepting and adopting the cultural standards and behaviors of my day?”

Where does being contemporary cross over into compromise?

·         If most people, even most Christians I know, watch whatever comes on TV, does that mean I have carte blanche to do the same?

·         If they are going to R-rated movies, is that sufficient justification for me to go?

·         If most are becoming tolerant of attitudes and practices that were routinely condemned 20 years ago, is that reason for me to change?

The problem you see, is that we Christians are caught between two worlds—citizens of two countries.

·         We are citizens of earth and at the same time citizens of heaven.

·         The cause of Christ is not served if Christians come across as dinosaurs trying to hide from the real world.

·         The Amish, for example, are not winning the world to their faith; they are just a curiosity, and they are fortunate if they even keep their own children among the faithful.

·         But by the same token, the cause of Christ is not advanced if we buy wholesale into the world’s values and become chameleon Christians indistinguishable from its permanent residents.25

Jesus now returns to the faithful remnant within the church at Thyatira.

IV.       The Challenge (2:24-25).

Apparently this woman claimed that her teaching (that Christians can indulge the flesh with impunity) was deeper than the apostles’ teaching, but it was of course the depths of satanic doctrine.

·         Jezebel claimed to introduce her followers into the deep things of God (cp. 1 Cor 2:10), but in reality she was introducing them to the deep things of Satan.

·         The faithful in Thyatira had dared to stand against the pressure exerted by Jezebel and her group.

·         In return, Jesus promised not to add a further burden to the faithful beyond that of putting up with further ridicule and social exclusion brought on by their daring to label fornication and eating meat sacrificed to idols as sinful activities in which Christians should have no part (2:24).

·         This group of loyal Christians valued their relationship to God more than their jobs, their families, and their very lives.

To these faithful believers, Jesus says: (25).

·         Jesus again returns to the faithful remnant and concludes with a call to “hold fast what you have”26 until He returns.

·         He doesn’t say leave the church;

·         He says, “hold fast” (krateo) your integrity and your works.

This is no minor warning. The tendency of believers is to lose ground rather than hold fast and move ahead.

·         There is always the need to cling to the Lord and hold tightly through a close walk with Him in the Word.27

·         Jesus says to those who have resisted this false prophetess, simply “hold on.”

·         He’s not asking for anything else from us and He promises things won’t get any worse.

·         Just hold on.

There may be some of you this morning that are almost to the end of your rope.

·         You’re discouraged, you’re depressed, you’re feeling like a failure, and life seems ready to crush you.

·         Just hold on to what you have.

·         Yes, holding on until Jesus comes may seem like a long time, for we don’t know when that will be.

·         One thing is certain—it can’t be any further away than our own death because to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (Phil 1:21-23; 2 Cor 5:6-9).

V.        The Entitlement of Hope for Thyatira  (2:26-29).

After a sobering wake-up call the church at Thyatira is ready for some hope.

So Jesus says, (26 – 28)

In 2:26, Jesus gives the clearest definition of an overcomer in these seven letters: “he who keeps My deeds until the end.”

·         Most anyone can run, walk, or crawl a 100-yard dash.

·         It doesn’t matter how much you weigh or how slow you are, you can travel 300 feet down a track.

·         Obviously, not everyone will set a world record—at least not for speed.

·         But most will eventually cross the line.

But a marathon is another story.

·         Here Jesus calls us to a marathon.

·         This requires a determination to persevere and to finish well.

The reward for such faithfulness was the privilege of reigning with Christ in His earthly kingdom.28

·         This blessing to motivate the unfaithful in the church to return to God’s will for them and to encourage the faithful to persevere.

·         Believers who are faithful will receive authority in heaven from Jesus Christ

·         Where you sit then depends on how you live now.

·         You may not live in a position of power now,

·         But if you serve the Lord faithfully, God will give you a position of power and prestige in His kingdom.

The Old Testament passage Jesus quotes here in 2:27, which comes from Psalm 2, seems like an odd choice in that it speaks of ruling in judgment on the wicked.

·         But if you examine the psalm more closely, you note that the immediately preceding verse offers this promise,

·         “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Ps 2:8).

·         The authority we receive from Jesus, He goes on to say in His letter to Thyatira, will be like the authority He Himself receives from His Father.

Jesus also says that He will give the overcomer the “morning star” (2:28).30

·         Jesus is promising all overcomers His own eternal presence,31 for at the end of Revelation

·         He says, “I am…the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).32

·         The overcomer will experience great intimacy with His Lord.

But there also seems to be another emphasis.

·         The text literally says, “the star, the morning one.”

·         This means the brilliant or bright one, the brightest of all the stars.

·         The star of the morning may be considered the brightest, and the symbolism here indicates the glory that the righteous will experience in the coming kingdom.

·         Daniel the prophet says it best: “the righteous will shine like the stars forever and ever” (Dan 12:3).

Jesus closes this letter with the familiar call: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2:29). All seven letters close with this statement. Yet, beginning with this letter, the last four letters place this call after the promises to the overcomer.

We see the personal and loving concern of the Spirit of God for His people and His desire that we all respond in faith and obedience. In leading Intentional lives – Passionate about Telling others about Jesus – Faithful to the task – Not compromising in Morals and Values and being Sound in Doctrine and teaching from God’s word.

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