Jesus teaches us a history lesson
If the church in Pergamum was warned not to give an inch to a culture entrenched in sexual immorality and idolatry, the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29) is warned against people inside the church who, when “given an inch” are “taking a mile.” The lightning rod is the infamous false teacher nicknamed Jezebel (Revelation 2:20). Here Jesus gives us an unforgettable history lesson. By associating Jezebel with the problem the church is facing, He is saying: ‘take this compromise very very seriously.’ (you can read the full background of Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:29-33, 1 Kings 18-19, 1 Kings 21; 2 Kings 1:16-17; 2 Kings 9:30-37).
The consequences of bad partnerships
So what was the compromise of the church in Thyatira and what can we learn from it? In sum, bad partnerships. For Thyatira, the affluent manufacturing center (textiles and metallurgy among others), to belong to the trade guilds was the people’s livelihood. The problem is this membership also could lead to sexual immorality (where we get the word pornography) and “food sacrificed to idols,” which is another way of restating the First and Second Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me,” and “You shall make no graven images.” What they did is the equivalent of attending trade conventions in Vegas and being lured into participating in the immoral activities on the strip. The scourge of sexual promiscuity and idolatry went hand in hand in the Roman world. It doesn’t take much digging into our contemporary culture to see a connection with us. Jesus says, “stop this.” Note though that in His firmness He’s allowing plenty of time to repent. In the history of the real Jezebel, she essentially was given time measured in two decades to find her way to the Lord. But, as the “Jezebel” of Thyatira, “she refuses to repent” (Revelation 2:21). As a result, and boy do we know this in our own lives and the lives of others, the consequences of being stubborn and set in our ways are very real. Jesus uses all these adverse circumstances as attention-getters so that we might turn back to Him (Revelation 2:23).
What partnerships should I shed? Which ones can I keep?
Ask yourself the kind of partnerships you should reconsider. Some examples: subscriptions (online pitfalls are limitless); boundless allegiance to ideologies that are dishonoring to the Lord and His Word; maybe it could even be a more literal “guild” or membership into an organization that stands in blatant contradiction to God’s Word. Churches throughout history have fallen for partnerships that ended up in disastrous consequences. New England is no exception: how many churches have lost their Gospel witness since the puritans first came? Maybe you are contemplating entering into a relationship that is not honoring to God (Judges 3:5-6; 1 Kings 11:1-4; 2 Corinthians 6:14)?
However, we also remember that some of the Thyatirans are stalwart believers, putting their faith in action in genuine love (Revelation 2:19). They are told to push through until the end (Revelation 2:24-26). Their (and our) reward will be nothing short of spectacular. Whereas Jezebel caused Ahab her husband to squander his kingship and authority, those who stay the course will be given a share in Jesus’ kingship and authority given to Him by the Father (Revelation 2:26 = Psalm 2:7-9). So, we may be tempted to think, I can’t really give up these memberships, endorsements, associations, affiliations, partnerships and relationships etc. because I would lose too much. Here Jesus says, take heart, you will gain a membership that is far greater: kingship with me, the King of kings. This is the ultimate reward: prestige and honor is the membership that really counts, that of Heaven.
Lydia our example
Lest we think we should just abandon all partnerships and retreat from our professional life, Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:14-16) is a great model of a faithful woman who acts as a counter to “Jezebel.” The Word of God says that the “Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” Lydia is the consummate and wealthy insider in the exclusive purple dye trade and “a worshiper of God.” As the Lord causes her to respond to the Gospel, she receives the membership of HEAVEN with all the privileges this entails (Philippians 3:20). Lydia serves as an encouragement that one can fear God, stay in her professional “guild,” and still maintain an uncompromising stances in a culture awash with anti-Biblical values. May we all gain from Lydia’s wisdom!