Marks of a Great Church: A True Maturity

marks of a great churchPergamum not surprisingly appears among the cities some Jews thought slated for divine destruction. Given the context, paganism in general or, more likely, the imperial cult in particular led to the martyrdom of Antipas mentioned in 2:13. As a "faithful witness" he is like his Lord (1:5; 3:14). Others in the church have survived but have nevertheless suffered, and Jesus commends them for their "faith" in him (2:13), which probably means faithfulness to him (cf. 2:10; 14:12). But suffering does not automatically validate everything we do or believe (2:14).

Marks of a Great Church?

2 Thessalonians 1:1?4

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

1. Their faith was growing more and more

It is said when we see the kind of growth that is so obvious to us that it makes the person almost unrecognizable to us because he has grown so much since the last time we saw him. This is the force of this word. It is faith that is growing at such a rapid rate that we are being really and radically changed so much into the image of Jesus that we are not the people we used to be.

We do not act like we used to act. We not talk like we used to talk. We do not do what we used to do. Because our faith is growing so rapidly and radically. Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:1?5:

This is a mark of a great church. You can look inside it and see people who are being changed.

2. Their love is increasing

a) Love has a root. Note in verse 3 the word, “the.” It is not the word “our.”

The kind of love that we are to have for one another is neither defined by the word or by our way of seeing love. The world defines love by tolerance. To love someone is to let them be. Accept them as they are and where they are and if who and what they are is going to bring them under the dreadful judgment of God, it is better for them to know that you love them as they are than it is for you to tell them the truth about the inevitable outcome of their lives. We open define love by felt needs.

The love is expressed toward others based upon what God is showing us in His Word about His Love for us so that when someone is living in ways that are in direct contradiction to what God so clearly communicates in His Word, our greatest act of love it is to show them the love He has for them as seen in His Word.

b) Love is relational. It gets involved. It is each to the other. It is our investing our lives in each other.

c) Love is real. It is believers in the body of Christ so committed to Christ that we genuinely care for one another. And nothing produces this kind of expression in the body of Christ like persecution from the outside or tribulation on the inside. Some of you have gone through some very sore trials. What would you have done without your brothers and sisters in the body of Christ?

Here is a second mark of a great church that is always present.

The Pergamum church had the veneer of maturity but it was a false maturity – they were those who were had compromised their faith. .

3. Don’t assimilation

We should be careful, of course, to distinguish between appropriate interaction with culture and compromise with it. Paul as a first-century missionary readily spoke the language of his culture and had friends who were high ranking citizens involved in pagan civic religion (Acts 19:31).

But the warning against intimate relations with unbelievers (Ps 1:1, Prov 13:20) caution against adopting the world’s values, not against being with others to promote the gospel (Matt. 11:18-19,-Luke 15:1-2). Joseph (Gen. 41:45) and Daniel (Dan. 2:24,- 4:19) both worked with and should respect for their colleagues and kings in a pagan culture, and Jeremiah told the exiles to seek the good of the land where God had placed them (Jer 29:7).

But we need to make sure that we are influencing the world with the kingdom’s values, not embracing the world’s values where they conflict with those of the kingdom.

Because Revelation mentions only the martyrdom of Antipas, probably few Christians had already been martyred when Revelation was being written. If the churches of Asia were like many of us, they may have been hoping and praying that Antipas would prove the final martyr. But Revelation warns that suffering is coming – the gospel always involves suffering (Mark 13:9-10). With cutting-edge evangelism inevitably comes suffering (Col 1:23-24), right through the final generation (Rev. 6:9). The church tolerated compromise and so merited Jesus’ rebuke. Yet their temptations were all too like the sorts of choices all Christians living in non-Christian societies must make.

4. Don’t compromise

For them, if my brother’s wedding banquet is catered by priests from the adjoining temple, do I eat the idol’s meat or offend my brother? Do I publicly refuse meat offered to some deity for Caesar, thereby incurring the suspicion of disloyalty to the state?

For us, we have to face the pressures to compromise in areas of sexual morality, chemical addictions, silent accommodation of the reigning secularism and so forth. Sexual immorality, like any other sin, compromises God’s will, and in our culture certainly accommodates the values of the world.

The Bible is firm against all premarital or extramarital sex and often uses the term "prostitute" to describe one who practices any such behaviour (17:5), after all, “if it is despicable for a person (even one in great need) to sell his or her sexuality for a little money, is it any better to give it away without charging anything?”

Biblical sexual ethics require us to save our bodies for those who will value us not for a small fee but who will regard us as persons of worth equal to themselves and commit their lives to us.

But we also need to be sensitive to those who have lived differently before they met Jesus, because all of us are dependent on his forgiveness for our sin whatever our sins have been (Mark 2:14-17; Luke 7:47-50; 15:1-32,- John 4:16-26).

Those still involved in immorality must also be reached in Christian love; they must learn how much God thinks they are worth. Contrary to the approval of his most religious contemporaries, Jesus ministered prostitutes (Matt. 21:31-32. The warning here is against the sin rather than to denying that Christ does not forgive us for the past.

5. Don’t sanctifying the world’s values

The main story of Balaam occurs during the sojourn of the Israelites in the plains of Midian, east of the Jordan River, at the close of forty years of wandering, shortly before the death of Moses. The Israelites have already defeated two kings on this side of the Jordan: Balak, king of Moab (Numbers 22:2), consequently becomes alarmed, and sends elders of Midian and his messengers (Numbers 22:4-5), to Balaam, to induce him to come and curse Israel.

Balaam sends back word that he can only do what YHWH commands, and God has, via a nocturnal dream, told him not to go. Moab consequently sends higher ranking priests and offers Balaam honours; Balaam, in his coveteousness, continues t
o press God, and God finally gives him over to his greed and permits him to go but with instructions to say only what He commands.

Balaam thus, without being asked again, sets out in the morning with the princes of Moab and God becomes angry that he went, and the Angel of Jehovah (Numbers 22:22) is sent to prevent him.

At first the Angel is seen only by the donkey Balaam is riding, which tries to avoid the otherwise invisible Angel. After Balaam starts punishing the donkey for refusing to move, it is miraculously given the power to speak to Balaam (Numbers 22:28), and it complains about Balaam’s treatment. At this point, Balaam is allowed to see the angel, who informs him that the donkey is the only reason the Angel did not kill Balaam. Balaam immediately repents, but is told to go on.

As a religious "prophet,” "Balaam" sanctified the values of the culture by providing theological justification for them, such as, "Since an idol is really nothing, my worshiping is no harm" (e.g. 1 Cor. 8:4). Like Balaam, we can sanctify worldly values by attributing them to God.

In short, when we value what the world does instead of valuing the kingdom we forfeit our role as witnesses for Christ’s kingdom in this world. Revelation called the churches in Asia to wake up to the reality that the world and the church were locked in a fight to the death. The image of "Balaam" reminds us that it was compromise with paganism brought Israel defeat, and compromise with pagan values will do the same for us.

Perhaps not all Pergamum Christians will "overcome” but those who do and avoid the idol food will be admitted to a heavenly banquet with an unlimited supply of manna. It is easier for Christians to avoid compromise with the seductive values of the world when we keep in mind the much better world God has in store for us someday.