The Call to be Holy Revelation 2:12-17

12 ‘To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 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.

Pergamum was the Washington DC of the Ancient Near East. It was the political and cultural capital of Asia Minor. It was also the stronghold of pagan worship with its temples to Athena, Hera, Dionysus and a huge altar to Zeus, all built on the Acropolis with its pillar of rock 800 feet high – “Satan’s throne”. It was at Pergamum that the first Temple to the Roman cult of Emperor worship was built to honour Augustus in 29 BC. Every citizen of the city was expected to join in that civil religion. So Pergamum was not an exceptionally difficult place to stand firm as a Christian, especially when some Christian leaders like Antipas were being martyred. The church at Pergamum was being attacked on all sides by the pressures of a pluralistic multi-faith pagan society. And sadly some were giving in to its temptations – falling into the errors of Balaam and the sins of the Nicolaitans. So God calls that church to repent of its sins.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
But what were the sins the church at Pergamum had to repent for? We find two in verse 14.
14 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.

IDOLATRY
This was Balaam’s first error, leading the Israelites in the wilderness to worship the Baals, the false gods of the Moabites.
Numbers 25 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them.
Numbers 31:16 makes it clear that the blame for this idol worship fell squarely on Balaam.
Decades earlier the apostle Peter had also referred to Balaam’s sin to warn Christians of the dangers of idolatry.
2 Peter 2 13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, revelling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness.
We may feel that idol worship is not so much of a problem today. I could talk about other religions as worshipping idols. When we looked at the Ten Commandments I talked about the false gods of Entertainment and Celebrity. For tonight let’s remember the words of Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Greed is worshipping the false God of Money. Our world is full of temples to that false god, the shopping arcades. Our homes are invaded by shopping channels and online shopping. And now with smartphones for the first time people can buy anything they want, literally anywhere at any time. We live in a world where how much somebody earns and how many possessions they have is considered so much more important than what kind of person they are. We have that institutionalised idol the National Lottery. There are pressures from all sides to worship and serve that false god of Money. Remember the warnings Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 6 19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
24 ‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

Money is not the only false god, of course. Whenever we trust people or possessions or position to do for us what only God can do, then that is idolatry. J.I.Packer perceptively wrote, “The list of other gods is endless, for anything that anyone allows to run his life becomes his god and the claimants for this prerogative are legion. In the matter of life’s basic loyalty, temptation is a many-headed monster.”
Worshipping idols was Balaam’s first error. But there was a second too.
14 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.

SEXUAL IMMORALITY
Pagan worship, false religions, cults and the occult have always lured people away from God through sexual immorality. Through immoral rituals and practices to seek the illusion of pleasure from each other’s bodies instead of drawing close to God to find His peace and joy and love. Again in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned against immorality
Matthew 5 27 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
There are so many pressures from the world around. Our society has abandoned any pretence to sexual morality. The content of television programmes which used to be reserved for late night viewing now showing when children are watching. Material which used to be in top-shelf magazines, and much worse, is now freely available through the internet. Along with everybody else, it is an increasingly difficult battle for Christians to live holy lives. In His first Letter, John gave this challenge.
1 John 2 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.
The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – pleasure, possessions and position each of which are worshipped and pursued by so many people.
Balaam’s second error was leading the people into sexual immorality. Telling people that it doesn’t matter how they behave.
And then the church at Pergamum had fallen into a third sin.
15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
We met the Nicolaitans in the first Letter to the Seven Churches where the church at Ephesus were commended for hating the practices of the Nicolaitans. Sadly the church at Pergamum had fallen for the lies of the Nicolaitans. Their sin was

COMPROMISE
The Nicolaitans were a group within the church who taught that you could be a Christian and also worship other gods at the same time. That you could serve Jesus and the Greek gods and the Roman gods and worship the Roman Emperor as a god all at the same time. That was a very prudent approach when the alternative for Christians was persecution and imprisonment and even martyrdom. But it was based on a lie – a heresy. The truth is as Jesus says, you cannot serve two masters.
History tells us that the influence of Nicolaitans expanded to many parts of the church through the second century. They were the ancestors of modern liberal theology and easy-going morality. In this world of tolerance and “political correctness” we find the same false ideas spreading into the church today. Pressures to play down the truth, in order to avoid conflict with the world around. The idea that “all roads lead to god”. The false belief that Muslims and Sikhs and Buddhists will all be saved which leads to the emptiness of so called “multi-faith worship”. Worse than that is the wrong idea that it is acceptable to incorporate elements of other religions into our Christian life and worship and that pagan immorality is acceptable for Christians. Such beliefs and practices are a denial of the uniqueness of Christ. It is a rejection of the central confession of Christianity that Jesus Christ is Lord – the one and only Lord of all.
G.K.Chesterton said, “Compromise used to mean that half a loaf is better than no bread at all. What it really means is fooling people that half a loaf is better than a whole loaf.”
Tremendous pressure is put on Christians nowadays to “be charitable”. People demand that we should “not be judgmental” and “to accept other people.” But that is a deception. Truth is truth even if nobody else believes it. Lies are lies even if everybody else believes them. And the truth is that Jesus is the only way to God and the only way of salvation. We should not compromise!
So here is the challenge of this letter to the church at Pergamum. God calls us to be holy. To refuse to worship the false gods of Money and Entertainment and Celebrity or any other false gods of other nations. To resist all kinds of temptations to immorality. To refuse to compromise the truth of the gospel. And there is a wonderful promise to all who do remain faithful to the one true and living God.
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 hidden manna – the bread of heaven of God’s blessings which are so much greater than anything and everything that this world can offer. And the white stone – in a society where judges indicated their judgment by a black stone for the guilty or a white stone for those they pronounced innocent. Christ promises a white stone – because being holy and innocent in God’s eyes is more important than anything else in the world!
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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