The Letter to the Church at Pergamum
And our problem with Pornography
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Pornography - if you know its power and prevelance, you will understand the letter to the church at Pergamum that we are about to read. Let me give you just a few statistics that are now three years old, the trend in the years before indicates that it will be worse today.
Every second - $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography
Every second - 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography
Every second - 372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines
Every 39 minutes: a new pornographic video is being created in the United States, in Canada, statistically, every person spends $30.21 in purchasing pornography per year.
Of those who view pornography on a regular basis, 75% are men, 25% are women.
Now the shocking statistics
90% of youth in NA has seen pornography via internet, movie or magazine by before they are 16 years of age, the average age of exposure to porn being 11 years of age. In excess of 40 million adults in NA alone access porn sites on a regular basis. Now they also surveyed Christians. Of those men who attended a promise keeper convention, 53% admitted to viewing pornography in the week before the convention. 47% of Christians in NA will admit that pornography is a problem in their home.
Very few, if any of us are untouched by this dynamic. Our televisions give us half hour sitcoms with dozens of comments containing sexual innuendo. Advertising specializes in skin exposure. I need not go on. The point is simple, we live in a culture where sex sells, where the desire for profit knows that sex sells, where there is very little sense of shame and modesty, where the cultural air we breath is sexualized. And if you have struggled with pornography, you know its power to consume your soul, gut your relationship with God, defeat your Christian witness and make you feel like hell is a present reality.
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
Pergamum, Christ acknowledges was where Satan had his throne, Satan lived. In Pergamum, that came to expression on at least two levels. First, it was a city where pagan religions shaped culture. Just outside of the city stood a large hill that overlooked the whole city and area. On its peak was an altar to Zeus, the God of the Greeks - in the day of John, Zeus was still worshiped.
Pergamum was also the home of Aesculapius worship. Aesculapius was a god of healing, its symbol was a snake. The temple for worshiping this god was a major medical enterprise in Pergamum. On top of that, it was also a centre for the worship of Dionysos, and Asklepios.
The Christian church existed in the shadow of these powerful Greek and Roman religions. Their religious world views shaped the culture of the day. We need to remember that the very word culture as it is used in sociological and anthropological circles has at its very root the word cult, as in belief systems that create perspective of reality and shape values and behaviors. A Christian culture is a place where the Christian world view, value system and behaviors characterize the people. Like the city of Pergamum, we don’t live in a Christian culture. The predominant god of our culture used to be failing hope of progress through science and technology. Now as that is failing, many gods are replacing it. Like Pergamum.
Even though Christ honors the church at Pergamum for staying true to his name, he had a serious problem with the church.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. 15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
You might remember the story of Balaam’s donkey from the book of Numbers chapter 23-25. Balak, king of the Moabites who worshiped the idol of Baal saw the Israelites coming through the desert and knew that he did not have a chance against this ocean of people coming toward him. So that he might get the upper hand and be able to defeat them, he tried to hire a sooth sayer named Balaam to place a curse on Israel. Balaam, when it came to his cursings and blessings however knew that he could only give what his god allowed him to. At first he was reluctant to go but then as he went, an angel of the Lord stood in front of his donkey to warn him about putting a curse of Israel. Balaam, not seeing the angel starts beating his donkey and the donkey said “What have I done to you to deserve this treatment?” When Balaam finally sees the angel, he realizes that the talking donkey was trying to save Balaam’s life. The upshot of the story is that even though Balak, king of the Moabites was ready to reward Balaam handsomely for cursing the Israelites, all Balaam could do was bless Israel, no less than three times. Now that is where for most of us the story ends. But it does not end there.
You see, Balaam liked money. Knowing that he could not curse Israel, according to Numbers 31:15, Balaam taught Balak, king of Moab how to defeat Israel. His advice to Balak was simple. Give the men of Israel some skin. Send a crowd of your Baal prostitutes, they will be defeated by their beauty, their souls will be overcome by their illicit desire and soon they will be one with you worshiping your idol Baal.
Balak followed Balaam’s advice. In a place called Peor, Israel’s men and the Moabite prostitutes got together. Israel started worshiping Baal. In judgement, the Lord commanded that those who became one with these prostitutes and this religion be put to death. 24,000 men died in Israel that day. From that point on Baal of Peor became a symbol in Israel’s history, a symbol that represented the truth that there is a gateway to falling away from faithfulness to God, there is a gateway to compromising the faith, it is by sexual sin.
Sex, feasting our eyes on the opposite set, is fitting in the context of marriage, feast our eyes and our desires on our beloved, a clear theme from the Song of Solomon. But when we feast our eyes one that which is not ours, we are opening a door to soul destroying power that is able to destroy our faithfulness to God. How often I have seen members of a congregation place their faith and their marriages at risk by turning their eyes in the wrong direction. Jesus said for good reason “if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell.”
Now you can see the struggle that the Pergamum church was going through. They lived in a city where the dominent culture was that of pagan religions. How do you witness in that city? Must you be completely against that culture? What happened over time is that, probably for the sake of love, they allowed in their midst those who held to the teaching of Balaam. Turning our eyes and our hearts to what is not ours, feasting our eyes of the prostitutes of Zeus, it doesn’t hurt anybody does it? Besides, if we are to witness to them, how can we unless we have relationships with them? Within the context of the church, permission was growing to compromise faithfulness to God and faithfulness to wives and faithfulness to sexual purity. And on top of that there were the Nicolaitans. We know very little about them, but they two seemed to promote compromise with the surround dominant culture. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Baal Peor was alive and well in the time of the Pergamum church and it is alive and well today. And the clear theme we need to recognize here is the spiritual danger we place ourselves in when we allow the eye candy of pornography into our lives. Remember, that in the scriptures, behind the idols in whatever age they exist were demons, spiritual power of evil. And as they did in the time of Israel, in the time of the New Testament church in Pergamum, and even today, these spiritual forces of evil will use pornography and sex to ensnare Christians into bondage. There is a reason why there is such a thing as pornography addiction. Many addictions are simply expressions of idolatry today. People start making sacrifices to something that is not God, in the hope of getting a return. For some its $, for others its time, on the internet late into the night, for others its marriage relationships, and for all, it is placing their relationship with God at risk.
Israel was judged. Whereas the word of God a double edged sword comes to us as a comfort and a warning, to those who turn their eyes the wrong directions and in time give themselves to the worship of that which is not God, there will come a time as it did for 24,000 in Israel at Baal Peor, that God’s word comes and speaks with power judgement alone. He will fight against them with the sword of his mouth.
Of those men who attended a promise keeper convention, 53% admitted to viewing pornography in the week before the convention. 47% of Christians in NA will admit that pornography is a problem in their home.
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
This passage calls us to a battle that is fought in our own hearts, and a battle that we as a congregation need to fight together. Yes we live in a culture where sex is available everywhere, where the eyes can feast lustfully on every computer screen, every television screen, every magazine stand, but we are called to battle. To him who overcomes - the implication of those words is that a fight is on, and we need to struggle with this temptation until we win the fight. To him who overcomes, he will receive hidden manna, the provision of God that gives strength for the journey, a white stone, we don’t really understand the reference. Two theories are suggested, a white stone of acquital used in some courts of judgement in the middle east, or a white stone, based on what was in the Ephod of a High priest indicating a “Yes” from God, or a white stone of friendship.
How do we overcome?
Pronography and sexual sin is not just an individual battle, this is a family battle, this is a church battle. By our privacy, with the power of guilt and shame, Satan wins.
If you struggle with it, there is grace, there is forgiveness available in Christ. Take that, receive that. There is more though.
Don’t fight the battle alone. Get help. Become accountable to someone who you trust for your behaviors around pornography. Get help, when the battle gets hard, you need people to pray with you. Get help, start a standard as a family as to where your TVs are, and where your computers are. Get help, there are others who have fought the battle and won among us. With Christ, you are more than a conqueror. But you will not conquer alone.
The promise is a new name, written on this white stone. We know the symbolism of a new name, it is a new identity, to those who overcome, you become a new person, a new creation in Christ. That is God’s promise.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.