A Christian who feels sorry on Sunday for what he did on Saturday but still plans to do it again on Monday is in grave danger! This is the attitude Stephen calls "flexitarianism," and in this message he challenges us to get rid of it.
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Here’s a story that describes the times we live in. It came across the AP News Network a little more than a year ago.
“Even after five years, Christy Pugh has no trouble sticking to her vegetarian regimen; the secret to her success? Eating some meat.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m a bad vegetarian, that I’m not strict enough or good enough,” the 28-year-old bookkeeper from Concord said recently. “I really like vegetarian food but I’m just not 100 percent committed . . . you see, I really like sausage.”
The article went on to say that this growing number of people are now referred to as “flexitarians” — a term that was voted by the American Dialect Society, as the most useful word of the year (2003).
Mollie Katzen, a cookbook author and a founder of a mostly vegetarian restaurant advocates vegetable-based diets, but sees room for flexibility.
She said, “I don’t feel it’s wrong if you’ve got a great big plate of vegetables, but your protein is from a healthy, happy chicken.”
How’d she know that chicken was happy? How do you know that? Was it smiling right before . . . never mind.
Charles Stahler, co-director of the Baltimore-based Vegetarian Resource Group, credits the growth of his movement to these flexitarians — vegetarians who dabble in meat and meat eaters who seek out vegetarian meals.
Stahler said, “This is why Burger King now has a veggie burger. It’s not because of true vegetarians – they wouldn’t rush to Burger King anyway. It’s because of [the millions of people] in the middle. They are the driving audience.”
© 2006 The Associated Press.
But there you have it – a most useful word for diet – flexitarians.
Well I have coined a new word for the church – and I believe millions of people will find it helpful.
Isn’t that a great word for a new denomination? It should catch on well because it describes the prevailing mood of the church.
It fits the millions of people in the middle.
Flexitarianism is for people who aren’t 100% committed . . . they are the undecided . . . they dabble in both worlds . . . so the church of the flexitarian denomination can be a place where saints and sinners will both be comfortable.
Listen to these advertisements from churches to lure unsuspecting unbelievers or the uncommitted believer to be interested in attending:
- “There is no fire and brimstone here. No Bible-thumping. Just practical, witty messages.
- Another reads, “Services at our church have in informal feeling. You won’t hear people threatened with hell or referred to as sinners. The goal is to make them feel welcome, not drive them away.”
- One person advertising for his church said, ‘The sermons are relevant, upbeat and best of all, short. You won’t hear a lot of preaching about sin. Preaching here doesn’t sound like preaching; it’s sophisticated and friendly talk.”
- Another speaks admiringly of their pastor, “He preaches a salvation message, but the idea is not so much being saved from hell but saved from meaninglessness.”
John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel (Crossway, 1993), p. 47
I watched one of the most popular preachers in our country today recently sit through a television interview and repeatedly dodge the implication that anyone who disbelieved in Christ would not go to heaven.
He and a growing host of others are amazing flexitarians.
One author commented that for most preachers caught up in this, they would never say that they’re trying to compromise the gospel, but they do. But whenever the word of God is decentralized and the gospel is diluted and the hard truths avoided and the tough passages reworded, the truth of scripture is compromised.
Adapted from MacArthur, p. 48
Have you noticed advertisements from churches of all denominations that arrive in your mailbox? They all say the same thing – you can come dressed any way you want, the coffee and doughnuts are great – we’ve got really cool music and our pastor’s sermons are short, witty and non-confrontational.
Imagine having the president of the United States here today and the advertisement implying: we know he’s really not your cup of tea so we’ll promise you coffee and some music you’ll like and if the president says anything we’ll make sure it’s witty, short and dynamic.
Can you imagine getting an advertisement that read:
Come prepared to worship the living and true Lord
Come prepared to study the scriptures and discover truth
Come prepared to confess your sin and renew your walk of integrity.
We are here to meet with God as an assembly – do we find Him so dull that we must attract people with coffee and comfortable clothes?
But you say, the churches are growing and mass numbers of people are attending as is our own assembly.
I agree with George Peters, who wrote, Numerical growth can be deceptive. It may be no more than the mushrooming of a social movement; it may be Christendom in the making but not Christianity. Many mass movements of the past have been just that – particularly in France and Russia, when many were driven to baptism and drawn into the church, resulting in a mass of people professing Christianity without any resemblance in lifestyle defined by the New Testament. It came at the expense of the purity of the gospel and true Christian living. (Listen to his words, written now several decades ago) The church has become infested with pagans [in lifestyle] and [undefined] in theology . . . large segments of [the American church] have become Christo-pagan.
Ibid, p. 73
Both Christian and pagan. Flexitarian.
This is the new denomination for our times; led by men with nothing to challenge and people with nothing that changes.
A man in our church who usually tells me the latest funny story came up to me a couple of weeks ago and said, “Here’s a new one you’ll love.” I said, “Try me.” He said, “Okay. Well there was a lawyer, a doctor and a preacher that were out hunting deer together.” I said, “I don’t like where this is going.” He said, “Just listen . . .”
All of a sudden they saw a buck within range and all three raised their rifles at the same time and fired. The buck went down. All three jumped up and said, “I got it . . . that was my shot that got him.” And as they ran toward it they argued with each other about which one of them had killed the deer. When they arrived, it was too hard to figure out. The doctor said, “Listen, let me settle this . . . I’ll examine the deer and determine who’s shot hit the mark.”
After examining the buck for a few minutes he rose and said, “It was definitely the preacher who got him.” The lawyer said, “Wait a minute . . . how can you be so sure it was his bullet?” The doctor said, “Obvious! It went in one ear and out the other.”
Perhaps it’s going in one ear and out the other because we say nothing worth retaining. And if the preacher says nothing worth retaining, the congregation may find it easier to find nothing worth reforming.
The truth is, Flexitarianism is not something new. In fact, travel back with me nearly 2000 years and listen as a church and its leaders are warned by Jesus Christ.
They had become flexitarians . . . and the Lord was writing them a personal letter and moving to judge them and remove their candlestick if they did not repent.
Let’s open his letter to them – and us – in Revelation chapter 2.
While the church we studied in our last session was struggling through pressure and persecution, the church in Pergamum was flirting with corruption and immorality.
Ray Stedman, God’s Final Word (Discovery House, 1991), p. 46
Revelation 2:12. And to the angel – the messenger – of the church in Pergamum write, ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.’
By the way, this is the description of our Lord – who speaks with clarity and discernment. While the leadership and congregation at Pergamum were compromising their message, the word of God remained crystal clear.
In the days of John the Apostle, Roman governors were divided into two classes; those who had the right of the sword and those who didn’t.
If you had the “right of the sword” you then had the power of life and death in your words. Speak the word and a man could be executed on the spot.
William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1 (Westminster Press, 1976), p. 90
John reminds his readers that though they live in Pergamum where the governor had the right of the sword, the Risen Christ has the power of the double edged sword. In other words, Rome might be powerful, but Jesus Christ is the ultimate Governor over life and death.
13. I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
This is the commendation. Our Lord is both harsh and helpful. At the same time He is both frightening and forgiving.
Before we hear His criticism and challenge, let’s stop long enough to understand His commendation.
The Lord opens with encouraging words, in verse 13. I know where you stay . . . where Satan’s throne is.
Pergamos – which is the feminine form or this city’s name, or Pergamum – the neuter form which was far more common, was a city built on top of a tall hill from which the Mediterranean could be seen, 15 miles away.
Ibid. p. 87
While it was never as famous as Ephesus or Smyrna, it boasted of its famous library which contained more than 200,000 parchment rolls.
In 1878, archaeologists with the Berlin Museum, excavated the ruins of Pergamum and discovered the massive altar of Zeus.
The structure was a huge court in the shape of a horseshoe which projected out from the hillside. The columns that rimmed the court stood 40 feet in the air. The podium for the altar itself stood 18 feet high. The base of the structure was 448 feet long and on it was the carving of a battle between the gods and giants.
From a distance, this structure looked like a massive throne jutting out of the hillside of Pergamum.
Adapted from, John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 1 (Moody Press, 1999), p. 86 & Stedman, p. 47
It was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Many believe that this was the thought behind our Lord’s comment regarding the throne of Satan – the prominence of false religion and false worship to false gods.
Still others believe it refers to the worship of another prominent god named Asclepios. He was the god of healing and his temples served as ancient hospitals where people flocked to claim his healing power. There were pools of water considered sacred and with healing power.
The symbol for Asclepios was serpents wound around a pole; used to this day as the symbol for medicine.
I found it interesting that Asclepios is the official name used by Medicare for its email alert system.
I’m not recommending Medicare is connected to Roman gods, although getting them to pay can be considered a miracle.
People would flock to the temple of Asclepios and spend the night on the temple floor. Throughout the temple, non-poisonous snakes were allowed to slither and the sick and diseased believed that they could be healed if one of the serpents touched them.
The symbolism of a serpent would have been immediately connected by Christians with the Serpent, Satan. They considered the worship of this god to be a counterfeit of God’s healing power among other things.
Add to that the fact that one of the most common names for Asclepios was Asclepios the Savior.
Barclay, p. 89
Can you imagine such a counterfeit religion? A false god whose symbol was a snake and his name was the savior.
Jesus Christ commends this church by saying, “I know where you live.”
Isn’t that a wonderful thought?
I know where you struggle in the home of unbelievers; I know where you plug away at work; I know the route you take home; I know everything about your neighborhood and your local school board and the temptations of your culture.
I know exactly why you might be tempted to stay quiet . . . give in . . . relax . . . maybe even become a Flexitarian so you don’t stick out like a sore thumb at school or on the job.
But notice, verse 13 again; I know you hold fast my name – in other words, you’re not telling people you follow the savior and hope they think you’re fitting in with all the other Asclepios worshippers. You are holding fast my name – Jesus Christ. For there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
These believers were resolute regarding the gospel truth.
Even in the face of danger – notice the next phrase in verse 13b – you did not deny your faith in Me even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
Even in the face of persecution and death.
We know that later in this city two stonecutters were executed by Diocletian because they refused to carve out an image of Asclepios.
MacArthur, p. 86
Paul wrote to Titus this glorious truth, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11-12)
Evidently the believers in Pergamum were not doubting the singular deity of Jesus Christ nor their faith in the singular deliverance by Jesus Christ alone.
Now the Lord moves from commendation to criticism.
Notice verse 14. But I have a few things against you; you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Balaam was an Old Testament prophet who could be hired by the enemy to bring harm to the people of God.
In Numbers chapters 22-24 Balaam was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, who wanted to see the Israelites cursed so they would not defeat him in battle.
God kept Balaam from cursing Israel – you may remember Balaam riding his donkey to meet the king and an angel standing in the middle of the road. The donkey was allowed to see him but Balaam didn’t. The donkey stopped and refused to proceed, which made Balaam angry and so Balaam smacks the donkey with a stick. They the Lord put words in the donkey’s mouth and allowed the donkey to actually speak them and he said to Balaam, “Why are you hitting me – is that any way to treat the animal that’s carried you around all your life.”
And Balaam said, “No, but if I had a sword in my hand instead of a stick, you’d be dead.”
The amazing thing to me isn’t that the donkey was talking to Balaam, but that Balaam was talking back. He actually got into a conversation with his donkey – without ever asking – “Um, when did you learn to speak?”
But then an angel appeared and told Balaam what was happening and challenged him only to speak to the Moabite King what God put in his mouth.
At this point the embarrassing analogy was rather obvious – Balaam you’re the donkey. Now try to do as good a job as your donkey did, communicating the word that God puts in your mouth.
He followed orders and refused to curse Israel.
Later on, however, he returns and teaches Balak how to bring Israel down – send Moabite women around to offer them a combination of sexual immorality and idolatry . . . the combination will be explosive . . . and destructive.
Balaam’s plan succeeded until God moved in judgment and disciplined His people (Numbers 25)
Balaam went down in Biblical history as the symbol of mixing immorality with religion.
He gave Balak the formula that is still at work today in the church – “listen, if you can’t curse these people, then corrupt them.”
What Satan couldn’t do from without he succeeded from within!
The Nicolaitans further seduced the Christians with their teaching that God created sexual activity and so the Christian could maintain his identity as a Christian, but in the name of Christian liberty, attend the pagan orgies and participate in acts of immorality.
The temptation hasn’t changed over 2,000 years. If Satan can’t curse you, he’ll attempt to corrupt you.
“C’mon . . . relax . . . don’t be the odd man out . . . flex a little . . . join the church of Flexitarians . . . a little bit of God – a little bit of the world; a little bit of the Bible and a little bit of sin . . . lighten up!”
Tonight I’m going to talk openly but prudently about what I’ve entitled “Dangerous Affairs” as Solomon illustrates the seduction and destruction of a young man in the book of Proverbs – and the warning he delivers to us all of incredible loss and heartache.
The bait of Satan hasn’t changed all that much.
One historian provoked my thinking when he said that sexual purity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity introduced into the ancient world.
Demosthenes, the Greek orator who lived 250 years before John the Apostle, wrote this of their Greek culture “We have harlots for pleasure; concubines for daily cohabitation and wives for the purpose of having legitimate children as well as managing our household affairs.”
75 years before John mailed this letter to the church at Pergamum, Cicero, the Roman philosopher had written the prevailing attitude – the politically correct viewpoint on sexual relationships. Evidently, in this manuscript, he was writing against someone who had suggested sexual abstinence before marriage and fidelity during marriage. He was rather upset at the idea and wrote, “For the one who thinks that men should be forbidden the love of women, he is extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle [that is of virtue], but he is at odds, not only with the license of what our own age allows, but also with the customs of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone ever find fault with it? When was such permission denied? (Now follow this) When was it that that which is now lawful was not lawful?
William Barclay, Letters to the Seven Churches (Abington Press, 1957), p. 52
Sound familiar? Ladies and Gentlemen, what is considered lawful may be nothing more than evil.
What is politically correct may be biblically corrupt.
What the world applauds and promotes may very well invite the judgment of God . . . not only on the world, but discipline upon the church.
Paul wrote to the Roman believers regarding the holy standard of God remaining in spite of the fact that their culture not only practiced sinful lifestyles but approved and applauded those who did the same (Romans 1:32).
And we all say, “Amen, to that!” Yes, Lord . . . that Roman world was guilty! Those Greeks played fast and loose with the truth. Their moral boundaries of those Americans are made out of straw. Amen Lord . . . tell ‘em!”
What I find fascinating is that the Lord isn’t telling the world to repent . . . He’s telling His church. You . . .and me.
We have heard the commendation of the Lord . . .the criticism of the Lord . . . it’s obvious that no church, no matter how faithful, no matter how orthodox, no matter how successful is ever out of harm’s way. You can never say, “The enemy has staged his last attack . . . we’re home free.”
Verse 16, “Therefore, repent!” Aorist imperative. Stop sinning! Turn around . . . stop compromising and comingling truth with error. You’re heading in the wrong direction!
If not, verse 17, I will come to you and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.
The change in pronouns between you and them – “I will come to you and make war against them” reflects an underlying Hebrew idiom where both pronouns refer to the same body. The church is commanded to deal with their tolerance of immorality. The imperative mood emphasizes the urgency of the request.
Robert L. Thomas, Revelation (Moody Press, 1992), p. 197
In other words, do it now!
You are in deep trouble to do anything with sin but deal with it seriously and severely.
Listen, a Christian is in trouble if he feels sorry on Sunday for what he did on Saturday but is planning to do again on Monday.
Charles Swindoll, Getting Through the Tough Stuff, (W Publishing, 2004), p. 155
That’s not repentance.
You don’t get points for being in church on Sunday. The urgency of God’s commands are not lessened for people just because they clocked into Sunday school.
Sir, you’re planning to meet a woman you’re not married to later on tonight . . . don’t do it.
Ma’am, you’re planning on responding to that email invitation to lunch from a married man . . . don’t do it.
Young lady, you’ve been asked out by a guy you know doesn’t belong to Jesus Christ and you’re tempted because of a 100 reasons. Don’t go!
Listen to the warning and do it today!
Verse 17 – He that has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Are you listening?
Will you shut my Spirit up, God asks?
Will you listen to everyone but Him?
If you will listen and if you are among those who follow after Christ, you are given two special commitments from Christ.
First, in verse 17 the Lord promises, “I will give some of the hidden manna to you.”
This promise alludes to the fact of coming nourishment and satisfaction, just as the Israelites were satisfied by manna in the wilderness journey – by the way, it was during the days of manna falling from heaven that Balaam did his worst with King Balak.
Thomas, p. 198
The Rabbi’s had already been teaching the tradition that Jeremiah the prophet had hidden the ark before the destruction of Israel and it will not be recovered until Israel is restored in future glory.
Those reading this commitment, to provide hidden manna meant to enjoy the blessing of the Messianic age.
Barclay, Revelation, p. 94
To the Christians reading this, it clearly meant that they would enjoy the blessings of the coming new world where Christ the true Savior of the world reigned supreme.
The Lord also promised them, notice further in verse 17, And I will give him a white stone with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
I counted at least 6 different views on what this white stone meant and the name upon it.
Frankly, they were all wonderful options and we can’t be sure which one it is. But all of them are positive and applicable in the coming kingdom.
I’ll mention two of them.
The juries of the Roman court cast their vote in cases involving the death penalty by dropping into an urn one stone. They had 2 stones given to them at the outset of the trial; a dark stone for a guilty verdict and a white stone for acquittal and release. Alcibiades, a Greek statesman living before the generation of John the Apostle once wrote, “If I should be accused in a capital case, I would not put my trust in anyone. I would not put my trust even in my mother for fear that through error she might put in the run a black instead of a white stone.”
Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation (Zondervan, 1971), p. 55
So the commitment from Christ that no one shall lay any charge of guilt upon the elect (Romans 8:33).
There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
The other possible meaning of this white stone if from the world of sports. The outstanding victors at the Olympic games that won several contests were awarded a white stone with his name written on it that would serve as his ticket to a special awards banquet and other festivities.
Adapted from MacArthur, Revelation, p. 91
In this view, Christ is promising a heavenly award banquet and festivities for His bride.
And on this white stone that gains the believer entrance, is a special new name. And it’s private, between Lord and servant.
The word translated “new” is from a Greek word that does not mean new in the sense of recent or newly aquired; but new in the sense of different in nature from anything else. “This is new” – in other words, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Listen, Jesus Christ is going to give every believer a special new name. A pet name. A nickname.
Isaiah 62 prophesied of God’s people when he wrote, “The nations shall see your righteousness and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (Isaiah 62:2-3)
Listen, when you refuse to compromise; when you refuse to be a flexitarian with truth and morals and purity and integrity and values . . . you will very likely be called names.
But God says . . . “Just wait . . . I have a special name, just for you – between Me and you . . . to mark your eternal status and reward in the kingdom.”
In the meantime, know that temptation is always lurking – not just for the church, but the Christian.
Satan is baiting his hook . . . he wants to add another member to this growing denomination called Flexitarianism.
I pick up on at least three warnings from Christ’s letter to the church at Pergamum which was at risk.
- Don’t be surprised by temptation to compromise – anticipate it. Expect it!
- Don’t be naïve in the face of it; detect it. The enemy hasn’t really come up with any new game plan. He continues to use the plays that work the best. And compromise is one of his best plays.
- Don’t negotiate with temptation; fight it. Resist it. Flee it. Like Joseph of old, if you have no other option, leave your coat behind you and run for your life.
Legend has it that Martin Luther, the great reformer was once in his study and he became so angry at thoughts of temptation it seemed that the devil was in the room with him. According to tradition, Martin Luther picked up his ink well and is if he were throwing it at the devil he threw it across the room and it smashed against the wall, leaving a large ink stain.
I’m not sure if that’s true – but I do know this for sure: Martin Luther used his ink to write such truth that the kingdom of Satan trembled. He also wrote lyrics that spurred the Christian onward with confidence and courage.
One particular set of lyrics states:
Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right man on our side,
The man of God’s own choosing;
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus it is He –
Lord Sabaoth His name,
From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
Martin Luther, A Mighty Fortress is our God; stanza #2
He has . . . and in Him so shall we.