Who can blame the believers in Pergamum for being afraid? They never knew when they would be faced with the terrible choice: worship Caesar or die. And who among us 2,000 years later is so sure of our own boldness we feel qualified to condemn those who looked for a way of escape. The memory of Peters bold assertions and subsequent denials of Jesus (Mt 26:31-35, 74, 75) warn us that good intentions can melt away when face to face with danger. Confronted with violent death or at least being thrown out of our homes and family, we too might find ourselves looking for loopholesways to avoid confrontation but still keep Jesus happy with us. Wed search for ways to live peacefully with our culture and yet still go to heaven. And into the urgency of that moment its likely that someone would rise up with a revelation from God saying they had discovered a deeper truth (Rev 2:24) which would free us from having to make the tough choice. They would say that God is somehow okay with our doing what everyone else is doing. For instance they might tell us that as long as we didnt really mean what we said, or enjoy what we are doing, or focused our mind on God while doing it, He would look the other way. After all, its whats in our heart that matters, not what we do with our bodies, right?
When Jesus calls religious leaders Balaam (Rev 2:14) or Jezebel (Rev 2:20), Hes talking about people who use spiritual authority to undermine the resolve of Gods people to remain holy and loyal to Him. In every generation there will be prophets and prophetesses who claim to speak for God but are deceived, or are not deceived and yet are willing to spiritually mislead believers for personal gain. Its a warning worth hearing because there are still people today willing to help us find loopholes to escape the cross.
The stumbling block
For believers in the first century a major stumbling block was the daily pressure to participate in family and community events which centered around religion. The Greek and Roman gods were worshipped in every sort of gathering. To avoid being drawn into such worship one had to stop attending important family events (weddings, funerals, holiday celebrations) and formal community gatherings which always included sacrificing to the local gods. And sexual activities were an essential part of some of the worship events. In the minds of those communities for someone to refuse to participate would bring the anger of the gods on them all. Paul addresses the same problem (1Co 10:19-29).
Balaam and Nicholas
Followers of a man named Nicholas were doing to the church in Pergamum the same damage that Balaam did to Israel. Balaam was a prophet who lived in Mesopotamia but who knew the real God and had a real spiritual gift of prophecy. Yet his heart remained gripped by the love of money. He wanted to use his spiritual gift to please certain people so he could get rich.
Balak: King of Moab who formed an alliance with the Midianites against Israel.
Balak offered Balaam a huge sum of money to cast a curse on Israel.
The only thing that prevented Balaam from doing so was fear, not love for God or His people.
So Balaam got his money another way. He counseled Balak on how to bring Gods judgment on Israel. He told him as long as Israel was righteous God would protect them, but he could get God to punish them by tempting Israel to sin. So Balak sent Midianite women near Israels camp to invite the men to join them in religious prostitution which was part of the worship of Baal of Peor (Nu 31:16; Dt 31:15, 16).
Other NT references: 2Pe 2:15; Jd 1:11
What did Jesus want the church to do?
Notice who He told to repent (vs 14, 16): He said you repent or Im coming to make war against them. He tells the faithful believers that by being passive and refusing to discipline the Nicolaitans they were putting them and those who might follow them in jeopardy. He wanted the faithful in the church to:
Expose the lie
- Clearly speak out against it. Lies left unchallenged have a strong infectious power.
- Dont assume the high road is to stay silent and wait for God to act unilaterally.
Warn the deceived
- This is what will happen to you if you dont repent. People need to understand there are repercussions for their actions, so at least they make informed choices.
Discipline the rebellious
- Remove them, set them outside the community of Gods people.
- The word of God to them is: repent or else (1Co 5:1-13).
Restore the repentant
- When church discipline is done properly the person disciplined will often repent and in most cases can be welcomed back into the fellowship of the church (2Co 2:5-11).
- The goal is restoration, never punishment.
Why must a church discipline?
Discipline is an essential element for church health. God used it to:
Warn those in jeopardy. Prevent the person sinning from being disciplined by the Lord Himself (1Co 11:31).
Encourage those who have chosen to be faithful to continue obeying.
Stop the spread of sin to others.
What areas must be disciplined?
There are behaviors a church cannot allow to continue undisciplined. Scripture does give us a list. Here are several. I dont think these lists are exhaustive, but they give us a good idea of the sort of areas that are included:
1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 22:15
The difference between stumbling and practicing
1 John 3:9 says, No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God
A true believer has: the will to obey, a sensitive conscience and the power of the Spirit. But its still possible for believers to stumble in sin (1Jn 2:1).
Different remedies are needed depending on the attitude of the person:
There are people who dont yet know its wrong.
There are weak people who are trying to obey but havent yet learned how to live victoriously.
There are people who dont want to stop but still acknowledge that Gods laws are right.
There are people who dont want to stop and decide to change the rules so they can practice that behavior without feeling guilty (the Bible doesnt really say thats wrong, youve just misinterpreted it).
There are people who dont want to stop and angrily dare God to stop them.
There are people who dont want to stop and declare God doesnt exist, so theyll never be punished for what theyve done anyway.
How should discipline be done?
Jesus gave us a very clear and simple process to follow and told us we have the authority to carry it out (Mt 18:15-20).
1) v 15 Go (dont be passive)
2) v 16 The first step is to speak to the person in private, one to one (brotherly/sisterly appeal)
3) v 16 Then two or more confront the person and insist on repentance.
4) v 17 If this fails, they report the situation to the elders of the church who again confront the person.
5) v 17 And warn those in the church who know this person.
6) v 17 Then they remove the person from fellowship, prophetically setting them outside the community of the saved.
Matthew 18:18; John 20:23 God grants His people the authority to discipline and request mercy. This authority has only been given in order to rescue people, not condemn them.
Galatians 6:1 It should be exercised with: 1) gentleness: keep the door open to return, show respect; 2) humility: if we become proud God will let us be tested by the same situation.
Meanwhile, every time we hear the Word of God or worship or take communion, we are being gently disciplined by the Holy Spirit
and humble repentance is the best way of being disciplined of all (1Co 11:31)
1) Some churches refuse to discipline at all, some apply it unfairly to some and not others, and some are unduly harsh and self-righteous in the process. Have you ever seen it done well? Without using names tell us the good you saw come from it.
2) Did you learn something in this lesson you didnt know before? What?
3) Does the idea of church discipline comfort you or frighten you?