Years ago when I worked for a brief time with an alcohol and drug treatment center, I gained some new vocabulary. Words like “co-dependent” and “enabler” became important. Granted that they suffer today from overuse and have become part of our modern psycho-babble, they do speak of a dangerous condition into which Christians are often in danger of falling.
Sometimes, what we think of as love exercised to those involved in self-destructive behavior is really a sort of sloppy sentimentality that is not beneficial to those who are an object of that love. It “enables” them to continue in their action. We tolerate sin for whatever reason and by tolerating, we actually encourage it.
We don’t want to scare people away from church. We want to be “seeker-friendly.” This is not, however, a new problem in our churches. It was a problem that raised its head even before the ink was dry on the New Testament. It’s seen in the fourth letter that the risen Christ dictated to the apostle John in the book of Revelation (2:18-29):
18. And to the messenger of the church in Thyatire write: These things says the Son of God who has His eyes like a flame of fire and His feet like polished bronze:
19. I know your works and your love and your faith and your service and your endurance and your last works are more than your first.
20. But I have this against you that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and teaches and leads astray my servants to commit fornication and to eat idol-sacrifices.
21. And I gave her time to repent, and she doesn’t want to repent of her fornication.
22. Look! I’m throwing her into bed and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent of her works.
23. And her children I’ll kill with death, and all the churches will know that I am the One who searches the minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
24. But I say to you, the rest of those in Thyatira, as many as do not have this teaching, as many as have not known the deep things of Satan, as they say: I’m not putting on you any other burden,
25. except, hold tight to what you have till I come.
26. And the overcomer and the one who keeps my works to the end, I will give him authority over the nations,
27. and he will shepherd them with an iron rod; as vessels of the potter they will be shattered,
28. as I also received from my Father. And I will give him the Morning Star.
29. The one who has an ear -- listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
In this letter we hear Jesus using what is known today as tough love. He is not being an enabler. He is not being “gentle Jesus meek and mild.” Though He doesn’t say so here, it’s apparent that He’s angry.
What’s He mad about? A woman named Jezebel. Verse 20 describes her actions. She was a leader in the church, a self-proclaimed prophetess. (A few Greek texts have the word “your” here. The word “woman” could also be translated “wife.” If so, that would mean she’s the wife of the “messenger” addressed in verse 18. She could be the pastor’s wife!) She is using her “gift” to seduce the folks in that church to get involved in idolatrous pagan worship. This worship involved as it often did, illicit sexual activity.
I assume that Jezebel is not the woman’s real name. I can’t imagine any parents giving their daughter that name. Her namesake Jezebel was the daughter of a pagan king of Sidon and lived hundreds of years earlier. She was married to Ahab, king of Israel and introduced the worship of the fertility god Baal to the nation (1 Kings 16:29-33). She slaughtered the prophets of the LORD and is pictured as one of the most evil figures in Old Testament history. Her final end was that she was killed in a coup – thrown out of an upper story window, trampled by horses, eaten by dogs and spread “as dung on the face of the field” (2 Kings 9:30-37). Pretty grim!
The prophets in the Old Testament railed against, not only sexual sin, but idolatry, the worship of other gods, besides the LORD. The LORD is presented as a jealous God and sees worship of other gods as adultery. Israel was his wife and “fooling around” was not tolerated.
The New Testament church is the bride of Christ and Jesus will not tolerate our “fooling around” with other “lovers” – false gods or idols. Though in this text He threatens harsh action against Jezebel, she is not the only one He is upset with. It is the church at Thyatira, addressed thought the messenger. It was the church’s tolerance of sinful teaching and leadership in its midst. The object of His disciplinary action is that “The churches will know” who He, Christ is (verse 23).
This church like the church in Smyrna (see previous) was a compromising church, but not only was it putting up with false teaching, it was tolerating sinful behavior by one of its leaders. Perhaps like the church in Corinth, they were “puffed up” (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2) and thought they were open-minded and liberal in allowing this sort of behavior.
We often hear preachers condemning the sins of those “out there.” Jesus doesn’t do that. He offers grace and forgiveness to those who have not yet come to know Him. But though He is gracious to those who have come to know Him, He expects more. He expects His bride to be pure and faithful to Him. He expects us to “hold tight” to Him (verse 23).