Friday, August 16, 2019

Letter for Leaders--Pergamum (Rev. 2)

We are moving forward through the letters to the churches in Revelation, looking at them as guidelines for any leader who wishes to lead his flock as a godly shepherd.  Leaders in the church are to model Jesus; He leads us to the Word and He is the Word.  So we have an excellent way to constantly check how we are leading. 

Let us check out the guidelines in Pergamum:

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it."

The "sharp, double-edged sword" as you know, is the Word of God: "and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17).  The Word/Jesus oversees the church.  His Word and Him being the Word is the only arbiter of how a leader should lead and conduct the affairs of the church. 

This church is being commended for remaining "true to my name."  This is immensely critical given where the church is located:  in a spiritual stronghold where Satan holds sway. Death has already visited the church and the leadership has stood firm, not renouncing the faith. This church is staying true to its calling:  to preach the Word.  

The only basis for leadership direction is the Word.  This requires two things.  We must really know the Word--the Scriptures in their entirety as the whole counsel of God.  We must also really know the Word--Jesus Christ.  Both are critical to remaining true to His name, and not compromising the message.

Bill Johnson of Bethel Church once commented that he could not have a gospel that did not promote healing.  That sounds spiritual, compassionate and reasonable.  But it is not Biblical.  That is key here:  the Word is our only foundation, and even if it makes us uncomfortable or culturally out of sync, we are to remain firm.

Why?  Look what the angel says further on: Some members of the church (or perhaps some leaders) are holding to beliefs that are contrary to the Word.  Food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality are what the Nicolaitans are promoting and this church does not seem to mind their presence and their teachings.  Their sister church in Ephesus is commended for repudiating these people. 

How do we, as leaders, face our "Nicolaitans"?

In Acts, chapter 15, the early church faces a controversy about circumcising Gentile believers.  What is evident here is how the apostles gather together and speak the Word in order to settle the dispute.  Peter does a Spirit-led job in summarizing how God worked among the Gentiles: 

"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.  And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:6-11)

That last verse is the essence of the Gospel and Peter is standing on that.  James then quotes the Word directly:  

“‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’" (Acts 15:16-17)

Peter acknowledges that the Gentiles at some point would enter in God's Kingdom.  His first sermon earlier in Acts demonstrated this; he repeatedly used the Word to underscore his points.  Here he gives a salient summary.  James then steps up and quotes a passage to give the leaders the answer:  The Gentiles received the same Spirit from God as had the Jews.  Thus, salvation comes only from "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." The Law cannot and will not save. 

The Word provided the answer.  

Therefore, in James' judgment, derived from God's Word, the Gentiles should avoid:  "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20)

Isn't that a contradiction?  Aren't these leaders putting some additional "law" on the Gentiles?  Deuteronomy says,

"They stirred him [God] to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
and you forgot the God who gave you birth." (32:16-18) 

Paul further notes: 

"Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Cor. 10:18-22)

Thus, the early church is opening its arms to the Gentiles based on the Word.  But they are also limiting the Gentiles because the idols and their altars are demonic.  Why would the leaders allow their new brothers and sisters in Christ to engage with demons?  Dark and light are not to cohabitate; allowing Gentiles to still interact with the meat, the altar and the idols would be contrary to God's Word about the true nature of idols.  

Was this inconvenient to the new Gentile believers, who saw nothing wrong with grabbing a hunk of meat after it had been sacrificed to some god?  Yes.

Was it judgmental to limit the sexual behavior of Gentiles in addition to all things idolatrous?  Yes.  

But the Word of God is uncompromising on such matters.  So should the leadership be, regardless of cultural norms.  

Interesting to note that the Spirit will fight the teachings of the Nicolaitans at Pergamum with the sword--the Word of God.  It is not a battle of opinions, majorities or cultural standards.  God's Word is the only foundation for starting, running and sustaining a church.  

The Spirit promises "hidden manna" to those who remain true.  

Jesus identified Himself with manna:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:25-35)

Boom.  Holding fast to the Word means holding fast to Jesus.  Victory means more Jesus--more Manna.  More life, more strength, more joy.

Talk about a church where the people are fed with Christ as the Word by being in the Word... Whoa! and Amen!

In so many churches today, with the focus on the Word being reduced to more of an opinion, or a quick encouragement, would anyone notice if the Spirit walked away? 


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