I’ve been driving by a local church that has an eye-catching message: “Love is the absence of judgment”. That sounds good in an age of safe-spaces, trigger-warnings, and micro-aggressions. But, is it true that “Love is the absence of judgment”?
“Love is the absence of judgment”. Or is it? What should a church sign say? What message should it send to the public? How does a church want its sign to shape the thinking of people who read it? What about Christ does a church want to convey? I’ve been driving by a local church that has an eye-catching message: “Love is the absence of judgment”. That sounds good in an age of safe-spaces, trigger-warnings, and micro-agressions. But, is it true that “Love is the absence of judgment”? If by judgment they mean self-righteous, holier-than-thou decrees about the flaws, failures and sins of others than I would agree with that. One look at the church’s homepage and you realize that the message is actually more targeted than that and the church is marketing itself to the LGBTQ community.
The reason I lead in with this today is because what Jesus does in our passage today is the exactly what this local church today has resolved not to do: confront sin. Jesus – by instruction and example – shows us we are to make judgments. But we are to make humble, reasoned, evaluations of conduct and speech to see how it compares to God’s Word. Judgment is not to stand over others in haughty condemnation. Instead it is to use the Bible to measure human conduct (our own included) and distinguish what is right and wrong. Why? So people who are separated from God in their sin can be saved. So Christians can repent and grow in righteousness. Because we are trying to save souls from the ultimate final Judgment to come – a judgment from which there is no safe space, a judgment in which God is going to display His macro-aggression.
Love is not the absence of judgment because judgment at times is a necessary expression of love. The Bible requires believers to judge. We are to judge ourselves and judge each other. Judge teachings we hear and conduct we see. Judge the world and it’s values, behavior, priorities, and ethics. This goes to the heart of separation. We are to pull out and abstain from sin and worldliness. How can we do that if we don’t judge things? In other words, how can we separate ourselves from the pollution of this world if we can’t recognize it? Judging is the act of comparing human teachings and conduct to God’s Word to see if they are approved. Now of course this can be done in a sinfully arrogant way, but there is no justification in Scripture for that. Instead, it is to be done in a humble godly way. What is the proper meaning of judge? To judge simply means to compare something in order to determine if it is right according to a standard. Our standard is the word of God. We are commanded to make judgments in order to determine if something done or said is right according to the standard of God’s Word. The very purpose of these letters included the need for these churches to hear His determination of their conduct and His rebuke of sin in their fellowship.
Resolution #3: Repent of the Sins in Their Life (v20-21, 24)
The sins the church was guilty of were serious. I see 4.5 of them here.
FIRST: Turn towards teachers approved by God and away from false teachers. First and foremost they needed to kick Jezebel out. “Nevertheless I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess.” Pergamum had Satan, Thyatira had Jezebel. Pergamum couldn’t kick Satan out, but, Thyatira needed to kick this woman out. She was a major problem in the church at Thyatira.
It is unlikely that this woman was actually named Jezebel. Probably what Jesus is doing is behavioral association. That’s when someone’s behavior is like another person’s and so they get called by the other person’s name whom they resemble. We do this a lot actually, like when I act or talk like my dad my brother will say, “Hey Mike”. Or when one of my kids act like me Annie will say to them, “Okaaaay Justin” It’s like John 8 when Jesus calls the Pharisees children of Satan because that’s who they resemble. It’s like 1 Peter 5 when Rome is called Babylon. It’s when Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being children of the ancient Jews that killed the prophets – basically accusing them of the same stubbornness and the same murderous guilt.
A little history lesson of the OT Jezebel will do two things: help us understand better the kind of woman who was a problem in Thyatira and prevent any Christian parents from ever naming their daughters Jezebel. There are two names never to name your kids: Jezebel and Judas. Jezebel had led the Israelites into the same sins of idolatry and sexual immorality. This self-proclaimed prophetess in Thyatira was tolerated and was therefore causing the Church to commit two great sins that should never mark a Christian Church: idolatry and immorality.
TWO: Turn towards sexual purity and away from sexual immorality. Notice again where this woman’s teaching was leading to: sexual immorality. Verse 19, “By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality…” This culture we live in is becoming more and more Corinthian – less and less modest, and more and more sexualized. It’s bad enough to try and be an island of purity in the midst of the cultural sea of perversion, but, here we see that within the Church someone was leading Christians into sexual immorality. This wasn’t just that someone got caught up in sexual sin or was struggling with some sexual sin in their life. This woman was using the name of Jesus to endorse sexual sins that Jesus actually condemns. Its like what we see in the Church today where so-called Christian speakers and authors and teachers will not just condone the LGBTQ movement, but, advocate for those lifestyles and condemn Christians who stand with the Word of God. (That’s using the Lord’s name in vain by the way). For instance, on one local church’s website you can read these words:
“We refer to ourselves as “Progressive” and “Christ Centric;” which is to say that we attempt to follow the example of Jesus as we welcome people from all walks of life, regardless of sexuality (or other issues that seem to separate us) into our faith community.”
Jude 3-4 warns specifically against this.
THREE: Turn towards worship of the Lord alone and away from syncretistic idolatry. Verse 19, “By her teachings she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of foods sacrificed to idols.” Idolatry is the single quickest way to arouse the jealous anger of the Lord. John, the author of Revelation, ended his first epistle in 1 John 5:21 by saying, “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” Now, idolatry means to worship another god that is not a god. Actually, a statue, a spirit, a foreign god are nothing more than demons pretending to be gods. What would happen is the pagans in the city would offer animal sacrifices to their pagan gods and eat the meat in a feast as part of a ceremony in honor of their god. Christians were not to participate in this. But they were, because this woman in Thyatira was teaching them it is okay. What she was doing was reducing Jesus to a level equal to other gods, or, only marginally more superior. To affirm Jesus as God, but, to also affirm other gods is blasphemous.
FOUR: Turn towards the knowledge in Christ and away from Satan’s hidden secrets. Verse 24 Jesus says, “….” One of Satan’s best strategies to lure people away from God is secrets. Secret wisdom is seductive. The occult is built upon the secret knowledge of the universe that people can learn and thus manipulate the life around them. It began in the very beginning. It was Satan’s tactic with Eve: seduce her with secret knowledge. But Satan’s offer of wisdom is not the wisdom of God. It is the wisdom of this world. It is in Christ that the knowledge of God is found. Turn to Colossians 2:1-3 with me [Read]. If you want true wisdom, and you want true knowledge, it begins with a fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) and it is found in Jesus Christ. Outside of Him you will linger in darkness.
Number 4.5 is the key to all this: change their stubborn hearts into responsive hearts. Notice how Jesus says He gives the woman time and her followers in verses 21-23 [Read].
Their hearts were like stone, unresponsive, stubbornly sticking to their sinful ways. They were guilty in their hearts first for forsaking the fear of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11), for losing a love for the Lord (John 14:15), for deeds of darkness rather than living in the light (Eph. 5:8-14), and for not wanting God’s will (Eph. 5:15-17). They needed to change their hearts and turn their hearts towards the Lord in repentance. This was the key. As long as you are turned away from the Lord you will love false teachings, love sin, love false gods, and love so-called secret knowledge.
#3: What Kinds of Threats did Jesus Christ Make to the Church in Thyatira? (v22-23)
In light of these sins Jesus makes some threats. Notice verses 21-23 with me, “…..”
Of course, we should ask, “In what way does Jesus threaten His Church?” Does He forsake her and cast her away? Does He rescind His love? Does He take back His forgiveness and cast Christians back under condemnation? No. When His Church sins He draws near – not with tender love – but with tough love. If a church’s sin increases then He will strikes harder with the rod of discipline. His threats are made to bring correction and further the training in righteousness (Heb. 12:11). And when He does actually carry out what He threatens it is to purify His Beloved Church. Notice 3 things about His threats
First notice His patience. However, here we have something to marvel at and worship the Lord for: we can see the patience of Jesus Christ in the midst of His holy anger here. He has given her time to repent. This must mean that the Lord has somehow rebuked her in the past – maybe through believers there who challenged her from God’s word. Either way Jesus doesn’t drop the hammer on her immediately. Second Peter 3:9 says the Lord is patient not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” Our Lord wants repentance, not retribution, and over and over again in Scripture we see that He is willing to suffer for a while at least and hold out for people to turn from their sin.
Secondly, notice His promise. When people are threatened they ask, “Is that a threat?” and the other person replies, “It’s a promise.” A threat is a promise. And just like Jesus promises blessings His threats are promises of discipline. He promises to “cast them on a bed of suffering”. Let us not make the mistake of underestimate Jesus Christ’s willingness put His Church into the furnace and burn away her impurities. We are not told specifically what this suffering is, but, we can be certain that it will indeed be a time of intense suffering for unrepentant Christians.
Thirdly notice the purpose. We might ask “What will this accomplish?” Read these words slowly in verse 23, “….” Two things are the purpose: the refining of the Church and reverence for the Lord’s Name. Perhaps the Christians there are like us today, thinking that somehow the Lord doesn’t see our sin. We can keep it from Him. Or maybe people think that God doesn’t judge sin. This verse here is a warning: He does indeed see sin and He does indeed judge it, and so we are to walk in the fear of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11)
He threatens this Jezebel like woman and when He says “her children” He means all those who follow her in committing these sins. To refer to someone as a child of someone else in Scripture often refers to the teacher/student relationship. Timothy and Titus were Paul’s children. John wrote to his “children” in his letters, referring to those believers whom he had pastored. In Thyatira a lot of Christians were children of this false prophetess.
#4: What Incentives did the Lord have for them?(v26-29)
His Incentives are simple for those who hear what the Spirit is saying: authority over the nations. For those who submit to the authority of Jesus Christ now, no matter the cost, He will give authority over the nations in the age to come. Just as He submitted to His Father while on earth, and has now received authority, so He will do with faithful believers.
#1: Push forward to progress in our faith. It is not accidental. It doesn’t happen to us without us realizing it. Growing in the Christian life takes effort like anything else in life. Becoming a good driver, shooting freethrows, learning math, or how to swing a hammer all take practice and intention. So does spiritual growth. With devotion to spiritual things someone will see over time the change in themselves and be able to say, “I am in a place that is further along than I was a while ago.”
#2: Realize the Lord cares about us as much as our holiness, and He cares about our holiness as much as He cares about us. The problem we may run into is that when there sin in a Christian’s life or a church one of two mistakes are made. First, people begin to think that because Jesus is angry with their sin He must no longer love them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Anger and love are not mutually exclusive. The second mistake is to think that because Jesus is so loving He would never become angry with our sin. This also could not be further from the truth. We must realize that the Lord cares about us and He cares about our holiness.