No Room for Compromise

Revelation 2:12-17 New International Version (NIV)

To the Church in Pergamum

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.

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. 15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 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 ritten on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Dear Friends in Christ,                                                                                   Rev. 2:12-17

What thoughts come to your mind when you hear the word “compromise”?  The way you answer that question will depend to a great extent upon whether you view compromise as a positive or a negative, for indeed, it can be taken both ways.  For example, when a husband and wife find themselves embroiled in a heated argument with each one demanding their own way, something positive happens when they actually start listening to each other and they try to understand the other person’s viewpoint and they finally arrive at that middle ground that we call compromise.

But compromise also has a negative side to it, a side that we’ve all been tempted to engage in plenty of times.  For how often doesn’t the opportunity arise for us to compromise our faith and our relationship with the One who died that we might live?  The Bible is full of examples of people who fell prey to this type of compromise in their lives when they certainly knew better.  For example, Adam and Eve compromised their intimate fellowship with their Creator when they ate of the forbidden fruit.  David compromised his moral purity when he lusted after Bathsheba and committed adultery with her.  Peter compromised his self-proclaimed allegiance to Christ when he denied that he even knew him 3 times the night before Jesus was put to death.

But thankfully the Bible is also full of examples of people who refused to compromise their faith even under the most adverse and threatening of circumstances.  My favorite example consists of those 3 young men that many of us learned about way back in our Sunday School days, good ol’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  When they were ordered to bow down before a 90 ft. idol of gold that the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had set up and they refused to do it, they were brought before the king, who threatened to throw them into a blazing furnace if they did not obey him.  But they didn’t budge.  They refused to compromise.  Instead, listen to what they said to him, some of the most powerful words found in Scripture.  They said: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Well, this morning, on this Confirmation Sunday, I want to talk about compromise in the negative sense because one thing I can guarantee the 4 young people who will be confirmed here today is that the older they get, the more tempted they will be to compromise their relationship with Christ and turn their back on all that they’ve learned in Confirmation over the past 3 years.  Not at all unlike what would have happened to you and me if we had lived in the city of Pergamum during the 1st century at the time John wrote the Book of Revelation.  There is no doubt that we would have been tempted to compromise our faith because Pergamum was a religiously pluralistic city.  In other words, they worshiped multiple gods there.  In fact, they considered the worship of these many gods to be one of the highest virtues of life.  Their philosophy was, the more, the better.  So had you publicly acknowledged and proclaimed the Triune God to be the one and only true God and refused to place all these other false gods on the same level with him, you would have been ostracized and vilified by your fellow citizens.  You would have been seen as a threat.  You would have been labeled as intolerant and as an enemy of the state.

And that’s sad because Pergamum was actually a city that had a lot going for it.  The people there were wealthy, educated, and sophisticated.  The city once boasted a library of 200,000 volumes.  Pergamum was also the place where parchment was invented, the finest and longest lasting of writing surfaces.  But all the good of Pergamum was unfortunately overshadowed by the prolific idolatry that permeated and engulfed the city.  Numerous temples were built there to a wide variety of gods.  A colossal altar dedicated to Zeus, the chief of all the Greek gods, was carved there out of the solid rock of a nearby mountain.  There were temples to Athena, the goddess of war; Dionysus, the god of wine; and Asclepius, the god of medicine.  And of course, no Roman city would be complete back then without a temple dedicated to the Roman emperor who demanded to be worshiped as a god.  They even had one monument dedicated to “the unknown god,” just in case they missed one.

Can you imagine being a Christian back then and trying to live out your faith in the midst of that type of culture?  Such was the rather daunting challenge faced by the people whom Jesus addresses in the letter that serves as our text for today.  And when we read this letter, we find that the church in Pergamum was really no different than our church or any other Christian church today in the sense that it was comprised of both committed and compromising Christians.  Listen to what Jesus says to the committed members in Pergamum.  He writes: “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, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city–where Satan lives.”  So there were those in the congregation who had undergone some pretty severe tests and trials, not the least of which was the martyrdom, the murder, of one of their most faithful members named Antipas.  But in spite of all that persecution and adversity, they did not renounce their faith.  They did not abandon it.  They did not forsake it.  They were committed to Christ no matter what.

But then there were those in the congregation who, like many people today, were all too willing to sacrifice their Christian beliefs and convictions on the altar of compromise.  Jesus mentions some who were following the practices of the Nicolaitans.  Now who were they?

Well, I would describe them as a very worldly, immoral group of “Christians,” and I use that term “Christian” very loosely.  The Concordia Self-Study Bible describes them as “A heretical sect within the church that had worked out a compromise with the pagan society.  They apparently taught that spiritual liberty gave them sufficient leeway to practice idolatry and immorality.”  In other words, they had no problem with moral and spiritual compromise.  Their philosophy was, believe in Jesus, but join the party too!  After all, what could be so wrong with attending worship services at the local church of Zeus?  And what could be so bad about having a little fun with the temple prostitutes who believed that by engaging in sexual relations with them, you were connecting with the god they represented?

Moral and spiritual compromise – a real problem in Pergamum back then and a real problem in America today.  While I was working on this sermon I checked out George Barna’s web site because he’s the one who more than anyone else keeps his finger on the spiritual pulse of Americans these days.  One study revealed the following:

  • More than half of Americans no longer consider Christianity as the nation’s main religion while one in three Christians say “Jesus sinned while He was on earth.”
  • One quarter of American Christians dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate and almost half agree that Satan does not exist.
  • Two-fifths of those questioned say they do not have the responsibility to share the Christian faith with others.
  • 51% of born again Christians say that sex between unmarried adults is ok while 38% say that viewing pornography is morally acceptable.

How sad that the lines between right and wrong have become so blurred these days among Christian people and that the clear testimony of God’s Word has been called into question and compromised.  For not only does Jesus give a stern warning in our text to those who are guilty of this type of compromise, but such compromise also gives a very confusing and distorted picture to those outside of the church as to what it means to be a Christian.  Furthermore, we also see in our text that Jesus offers a very special promise to those who refuse to compromise their faith.  He says: “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”  Now what in the world does he mean by this hidden manna and white stone?

Well, one commentator I looked at suggests that the hidden manna most likely refers to the manna that was kept in the Ark of the Covenant, which was the primary symbol of God’s presence among his chosen people.  That hidden jar of manna served as a reminder of God’s grace – his undeserved kindness, love, and favor – and God’s faithfulness – grace because he gave them manna all those years in the wilderness in spite of their incessant grumbling and complaining; and faithfulness because that manna was there every day they needed it and ceased only when they finally set foot in the Promised Land, which was a rich and prosperous land flowing with milk and honey.  So in our text the hidden manna that Jesus promises to those who refuse to compromise their faith consists of his amazing grace and his ongoing faithfulness that we can lean on to carry us through the tough times of life.

And the white stone that Jesus mentions in our text could refer to one of two things.  Apparently a white stone was often used back then as an invitation to a banquet.  If someone wanted you to come to a banquet that they were giving for whatever reason, they would hand you a white stone which I suspect kind of served as your ticket to gain access to this banquet.  Well, if we employ that meaning here, then the white stone Jesus offers us is the invitation to be a part of the eternal heavenly banquet that he is even now preparing for all his faithful children in heaven.

But another interesting use of the white stone back then took place in courtrooms where it served as a vote for acquittal.  In other words, if the jury handed a white stone to the judge when they announced their verdict, that meant the person being tried was innocent of all charges and allowed to go free, very similar to what God does with us when the Holy Spirit brings us to saving faith in Jesus.  For in that glorious moment of regeneration, of being born again, he justifies us, which means he declares us to be righteous, innocent of all sins and charges that could be brought against us in the courtroom of heaven, not because we are innocent but because he declares us to be innocent as he imputes to us and gives to us the perfect righteousness of Christ.

So on this Confirmation Sunday, as 4 of our young people publicly proclaim their allegiance and loyalty to Christ, I pray that their lives as well as all of our lives will never be characterized by compromise, but rather by a firm, unwavering commitment to the One whose commitment to us took him from the glory of heaven to the manger of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary to the empty tomb and back to heaven again, all so that we could be his forever.  Amen.