In our third study of this season, we take a look at the church in Pergamos. Again, we will see that Jesus has a message that is designated specifically for this church. This church, we will see, was of faith but it was a church that compromised in its beliefs. In our study this week, we will see that there is a warning about compromising your faith.

The Church in Pergamos

As with the church of Ephesus, and the church in Smyrna, we will see that Jesus makes it clear that He was well aware of the works of the church in Pergamos. Jesus said, “These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is (Rev. 2:12-13).This reminds me of what the writer of the book Hebrews said about the divine truth being sharper than any two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12)

Now Pergamos, or as it is known as today, Pergamon or Pergamum, was a very religious place. Along with Ephesus and Smyrna (Izmir), Pergamos were considered the royal cities in ancient Greece as they were all wealthy and very populous. Pergamos, specifically, had several temples where the ancient Greeks would worship and serve their gods.

As with the church of Ephesus, we will see that Jesus first commended this church. Jesus commended those of the church in Pergamos for holding fast to His name and not denying their faith, even in the days after Antipas was martyred (Rev. 2:13). Antipas, as scripture tells us, was a faithful believer in Christ. So, as we saw with the church in Smyrna, it was incredibly difficult for the believers that lived in Pergamos.

So, how would you, a sincere believer, deal with being surrounded by wickedness?  I don’t know about you, but if you haven’t realized it, most of us are surrounded by wickedness.  

If you recall our recent study with those who were of the church of Ephesus, they had absolutely no patience for those that were evil and were false apostles.  Now, we learned that we are to be compassionate when it comes to the sinner; we are to rebuke what is evil.  This means that to those that walk in disobedience to God’s instructions, we are to show them the way of holiness and righteousness with the hope that they will repent from their way.

Tolerating wickedness

Now, those in the church of Pergamos chose to handle those of wickedness differently? Those that were of this church allowed people that held to the doctrine of Balaam to be in their church (Rev. 2:14). Now, some of us may not have an understanding of what this means, so, let’s take a look at what the doctrine of Balaam is so that we can have a full understanding of Jesus’ rebuke.

In the book of Numbers, we learn that Balaam was a gentile prophet who Balaak tried to use to curse Israel in their days of wandering in the wilderness (Num. 22:1-6). However, God spoke to Balaam and told him not to go with the Balaak’s men, but Balaam ignored God and went with Balaak’s men (Num. 22:20-22). Why did Balaam go with Balaak’s men?

Balaam’s error is shared with us in both Peter’s second letter and in Jude’s epistle as one that moved for profit. Peter wrote, “[False teachers] have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:15).

Jude, in his letter, wrote, “Woe to [sinners]! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah (Jude 11).” So, Balaam’s error was one that was essentially born of greed. Now, while the error of Balaam was/is great, the doctrine of Balaam is not the same as his error as they are two different things.

The “doctrine of Balaam”, according to what Jesus said to those of the church in Pergamos, is what he taught Balak. What did Balaam teach Balaak? In Numbers 31:15-16, Moses spoke of how Balaam counseled Balak on how to get Israel to trespass against God. Balaam taught Balak to corrupt Israel through intermarriage which Israel was forbidden to do, but they did it anyway; intermarriage would play a role in Israel forsaking God and His way.

As Jesus said, the doctrine of Balaam was a stumbling block to Israel which the Lord was not pleased with during the days of Moses.  So, we should understand that the believers in the church in Pergamos were allowing Balaam’s doctrine to be a stumbling block to those that may have come to learn about the Lord.   The believers within this church should have been more like those of the church of Ephesus who didn’t tolerate evil.

The next group of people that those of the church in Pergamos were tolerating was the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:15). What makes this even worse is what Jesus said about the Nicolaitans when He spoke to those of the church of Ephesus. Jesus complimented those of the church of Ephesus in that they did not tolerate the Nicolaitans just as He hated the Nicolaitans as well (Rev. 2:6).

What would make Jesus despise someone? To me, this is an interesting question to answer because we know that the Lord is both a merciful and forgiving God. However, there is one sin that the Lord detests and will not pardon. What is that unpardonable sin? The unpardonable sin is blasphemy against the Spirit (Matt. 12:31; Mark 3:28-30); the spirit of such a blasphemer is a spirit that cannot be clean.

So, who were the Nicolaitans?  They were a people who had a spirit that stood in opposition to the Lord and could not be cleaned; they should not have been tolerated.  It is believed that the Nicolaitans were a gnostic cult that believed one should indulge in sin to understand it.  Don’t think for one second that God will tolerate those that blatantly choose to indulge in sin!

So, imagine allowing people to be in your church encouraging others to indulge in and take pleasure in sin!  Those in this church should have never permitted these sinners into their congregation to spread such a corruptive and destructive doctrine!  Such a doctrine would cause those in the congregation to think that there’s nothing wrong with indulging in sin and they could be pulled away from the Lord!  

Now, those of this church, you could imagine, were doing this as a means of self preservation as they did not want to go the way of Antipas – they didn’t want to die!  So, in order to preserve their lives, they did not make much of a fuss to the sinner – they looked the other way.  In other words, those of the church in Pergamos compromised in their faith.   

A Problem With Compromising?

Now, some of us may initially think of compromising and think that there should be nothing wrong with compromising. Why so? Because we have been taught that compromising is the only way to live in peace with another.

That said, when we look at those who were believers in the church in Pergamos, we wouldn’t say that they were living in peace, were they? Maybe they thought they were but Jesus’ rebuke shows us otherwise. You see, maybe the sinner was not doing harm to them but by compromising in their faith, they were inflicting harm on their own soul!

Understanding the issue

Now, to compromise means to settle differences with another in some form of an agreement that the two parties can agree on; it is a concession to make peace. So, nothing sounds terribly wrong about that as, again, we consider compromising is the way to peace when two parties fight or argue with each other.

However, spiritually speaking, we must understand that obedience and disobedience to God are two completely different mindsets. You see, the sincere believer has a nature that is of the Holy Spirit; our spirit desires to walk in accordance to the word of God. Whereas the nature of the sin is one that lusts for that which is of the flesh; it’s a nature that lusts against the Spirit.

Paul spoke of this issue in great detail in his letter to both the church in Rome and to the Galatians. In Romans 7:13-25, Paul speaks about the desire to live holy and righteous but how it’s difficult to do so. Paul wrote, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal (worldly), sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do (Rom. 7:14-15).”

Paul spoke of the war the inner man through the battle that he experienced. Paul said that he desired to live holy and righteous but was unable to because his worldly mindset would always drag him away into sin. As we saw Paul state, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice (Rom. 7:19).”

Now, Paul’s words should speak loudly to us because his words speak of the same inner war that many believers face on a daily basis. There is a battle for your heart – your soul – between the nature of the Lord and the nature of sin. You, as a child of God, should be living in holiness and righteousness. Yet, the nature of sin that lies within us, by default, is always working in compromising your faith.

You see, this inner war takes place within all of us is because those two natures are contrary to each other. To the Galatians, Paul wrote that when one sins, it is because the flesh lusts against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17). In order to overcome our sinful nature, we must be guided by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16). If you don’t let the Holy Spirit guide you, if you aren’t living according to the word of God, it’s easy to end up compromising your faith.

Don’t compromise your faith

Some might even say that scripture implies that one must learn to compromise in order for there to ever be “peace”, or at least our idea of what peace is.  

One of my favorite verses in the bible comes from Paul who wrote in his letter to the church in Rome, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:17-18).”

Do you think this statement speaks to one compromising so that there might be peace between two?  Along those lines, let me ask you this:  Do you think there can be peace without compromise?  Consider your thoughts and answers to those questions as there is an issue with the way in which some of us think about compromising.

Now, as you think those questions over, I want to take a look at Paul’s statement about peace and cross reference it with some earlier verses from this passage of scripture. In Romans 12, we will see that Paul spoke about the conduct of the believer. Paul tells the believer to “let love be without hypocrisy (Rom. 12:9).” In other words, your love must be genuine and sincere – real, pure, and honest.

In that same verse, Paul then said that the believer should “Abhor what is evil.  Cling to what is good (Rom. 12:9).”  To abhor means to loathe or hate – not tolerate.  So, the sincere believer should not be tolerant of what stands in opposition to holiness and righteousness.  

So, think about that statement and then think back to your thoughts on my questions about compromising and peace.  Do you, as a child of God, think that you’re supposed to compromise with those that live in sin?

To answer these questions, we must consider the principle of our faith that God has called us to live by. Jesus taught the principle of our faith when He said that we are to love the Lord with our whole heart and love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:36-40). When Satan, one that’s fully convicted of living in sin, tempted Christ, you’ll recall that Jesus rebuked him and then told the devil to get behind Him (Matt. 4:1-11).

As a child of God, the principle of our faith is to love God, His way, and to flee from sin — wickedness.  So to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with making concessions, however, when it comes to sin, the believer should never compromise.  We must be just like Jesus when Satan tempted Him.

Paul said to Timothy that the believer must be ready to preach – minister God’ word – in season and out of season; we must be ready to convince, rebuke, and exhort with all patience and teach (2 Tim. 4:2). So, if it’s not clear, there is nothing wrong with compromising to settle differences on day to day matters. However, when it comes to the walk of faith, you should never give a pass to sin thinking that sin is OK.

This is why Jesus rebuked this church for compromising their faith and encouraged those believers to “fight against them with the sword of [Jesus] mouth”; they were to fight using the word of God. Jesus did not desire for those of this church to go any further in compromising. The last thing you want to do is fully corrupt your soul by continue to take steps where you are compromising your faith.

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