If the church in Ephesus is commended for its discernment, the church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17) displays a distinct lack of judgement in their cavalier attitude toward biblical sexual ethics and idolatry. Jesus uses the example of the entrapment (“stumbling block”) of king Balak of Moab against Israel in the Old Testament (Numbers 25:1-18; Numbers 31:16)* to make a powerful point for Pergamum and for us. We should be wary of the small enticements that are sure to come our way. “You give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” is the idea. Paul echoes the same warning in 1 Corinthians 10:1-14. But God is faithful and will provide an out in our times of testing and temptations. This is also the promise that comes with the warning: feast on the bread of heaven (the “hidden manna”) rather than be satisfied with what amounts to spiritual junk food (“food sacrificed to idols”). As we all know since we watched Super Size Me, junk food will fill you up but will never nourish you.
This week we consider the following reflection questions from Dolores and John Marciniec:
- Some of the people of Pergamum gave way to the influence of Roman culture and acted as those around them rather than holding fast to their faith. This displeased God because He never trivializes wrongdoing/sin. Consider drawing up a list this week of where you have made compromises in holding fast to your faith in Christ and talk with God about it.
- It is common for people within a culture to be influenced by that culture. Our culture can provide many temptations and potential stumbling blocks to the faithful. Even though you may think that you are alone in your temptation, you are not. 1 Cor. 10:13 tells us that all temptations are common to humanity and that God is faithful to provide a way to escape the temptation. When you are being tempted, is it your practice to ask for God’s help and His way of escape?
- It is hard to know or recognize where you might be compromising God’s standards if you are not familiar with His Word and in communion with the Holy Spirit. What spiritual disciplines can you continue or develop to sharpen your ability to remain faithful and uncompromised, whether by culture or governmental authorities (as was the case under Roman rule)?
*The history of Moab and Israel is a complicated series of confrontations that have rare happy endings (Ruth being one notable exception). When king Balak hires Balaam, a diviner, to curse Israel, all Balaam can do is bless God’s people (and curse Moab! Numbers 24:17). So, Balaam switches tactics and advises Balak to use the trap of inviting Israel for a meal, which quickly turns into an idolatrous orgy. Balaam knows full well Yahweh’s holiness and Presence cannot ever cohabit with sin. The people’s sinful behavior results in a devastating plague. Phinehas, a priest, intervenes at the last moment and makes atonoment for Israel which ends up stopping the plague (Numbers 25:8). His atoning action is remembered in Psalm 106:30 and prepares the way for Jesus. Jesus dies the death of judgement, hanging on a cross and speared (John 19:34) in our stead. By His atoning death and resurrection Jesus stops the plague of death that we all deserve.