Hold onto what you Have (Revelation 2:18-29)
It is a problem that has faced Christians through the centuries; how do I get on in the world while keeping my Christian principles? I know I am not to be of the world but cannot deny that I am in the world and retreating from the real world is not an option (although many have tried); as a Christian I am supposed to engage with the society around me, of which I am a part, but how am I to do that while remaining unsullied by contemporary standards?
Paul’s advice to the Roman church was, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Ro.12:18). He goes on in Ro.13 to write about being submissive to authorities, paying taxes and giving honour where it is due, but how far does this accommodation with the world go before it becomes compromise?
Some Christians will insist on an uncompromising stand on every single issue, even going so far as to separate into communities that remain as exclusive as possible, keeping themselves untouched by anything to do with the world. Paul addresses something of this kind when he deals with meat sacrificed to idols in 1 Cor.8 and makes clear that, in many such instances, it is the individual conscience of ‘the weaker brother’ that is the only consideration.
Some Christians get along so well with the world, however, that we can begin to doubt their credentials as Christians and that is the problem facing believers here. Thyatira was a small but busy centre of commerce, the smallest town among the seven to whom John writes. As a thriving commercial centre it entertained many trade guilds, including wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers (Lydia was originally from Thyatira, Acts 16:14), leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers and bronze-smiths.
It would have been very difficult for any Christian to make a living without belonging to one of these guilds and that would mean eating at trade banquets where meat offered to idols was served up and the religious elements of such an offering perhaps included in the banquet. Whoever Jezebel may have been it seems that she convinced some that this was alright. But it didn’t stop there and such banquets could degenerate into parties of the kind Christians should not been seen attending.
Having someone who is considered a prophetess to condone such things leant weight to the argument that “while in Rome” etc. and being so encouraged Christians would very quickly lose sight of their identity and, more importantly, whose they were. Jezebel also offered secret knowledge to those who followed her, what Jesus calls ‘Satan’s so-called deep secrets’.
This is a heady mix of ambition, pleasure and esoteric insight and not so far removed from the problems facing Christians today, certainly in the developed world. The world seems preoccupied with itself and its ambitions, is increasingly liberal and experimental in enjoying pleasures and seems willing to follow anyone promising them initiation into the meaning of life (preferably secret) and the secrets of success. Prophets and prophetesses abound and the truth available to anyone willing to pay their dues and join up.
Jesus’ answer to all this, his counsel to Christians concerned about these things is simple:
“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first...Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you); Only hold on to what you have until I come” (VV19, 24-25)
This is the burden of the concerned Christian, to hold on to what you have, “guard what has been entrusted to your care” (1 Tim.6:20); “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” (2 Tim.1:14). God’s promise is, “I will impose no other burden on you”; other than what? No other burden than the Christian service and faithfulness to truth already enjoined on us. This is our burden as it has been the burden of all believers in all ages; may we bear it faithfully because:
“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations – ‘He will rule them with an iron sceptre; he will dash them to pieces like pottery’ – just as I have received authority from the Father. I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
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