The Letter to the Church at Thyatira
Some Partnerships aren't worth it!
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Some advantageous partnerships just are not worth what they promise. At the heart of this letter to Thyatira we will discover that truth.
To the Church in Thyatira
18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): 25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.
26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—
27 ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter;
he will dash them to pieces like pottery’—
just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Once again, Christ, who with God and the Spirit is characterized by love is gracious with his compliments. He whose eyes are like blazing fire, able to see what happens even if no one else knows, able to see what is in the hearts of each person and what makes each church tick is gracious in giving compliments.
Whereas the church at Ephesus had works but had lost its love, the church at Thyatira not only had works, they also had kept their love. And on top of that compliment, Christ adds that their works are increasing. Their faith was producing more fruit, greater accomplishments, they were increasing their impact on the city in which they lived. And they persevered. Whereas Smyrna had to be reminded to persevere, Thyatira had this quality as part of the character of their congregation. Imagine being complimented by Christ for our love, faith, service, perseverance and an acknowledgment that unlike so many who start strong and then diminish, the service of the church at Thyatira was just increasing. May those compliments be true of us.
Thyatira was a city that had its importance by its location and its businesses. The city was planted in a valley on a significant travel route between Pergamum and Sardis. Like so many Canadian cities that arose and flourished because of the presence of the Canadian National Rail Road, Thyatira flourished because of the travelers that went through its town. With markets freely available through those travelers, those business that were strong in Thyratira flourished. Inscriptions mention wool-workers, linen-workers, dyers, leather- workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers, and bronze-smiths. Their clothing dye was especially famous. From a certain root which grew in abundance in the valley, they extracted a red -> purple dye which was a color of choice in valuable clothing. In a city where markets were easily accessed, these were good businesses. In fact, we know the success of some of these business from Acts 16. There Paul met Lydia in Philippi (500 miles from the city of Thyatira,) a dealer in purple cloth, a prominent success business woman who became a Christian. What is important here is to remember that for this success to happen, many partnerships were formed, some of which were guilds, something like unions, business partnerships that had membership requirements.
Now even though this church had the great qualities of love, faith, service, perseverance and service growth, there was a problem - “that woman Jezebel.” The truth is, we don’t know if the woman Jezebel is a real person or a person(s) given that name as a symbol. But the significance of the symbol itself is clear.
Most of us will remember the story of Elijah at Mount Carmel when the prophets of Baal could not convince Baal to light their offering no matter how hard they danced or cut themselves, but Elijah prayed and fire came down from heaven consuming the drenched offering that Elijah offered. And you might remember that all these Baal prophets got into Israel through the wife of king Ahab named Jezebel.
But how did Jezebel get to be Ahab’s wife? How did she get that prominent place of influence? If we can answer that question, then we will come to understand how it is that this Jezebel in Thyrtira got a place of influence in that church.
Ahab was the son of King Omri. Kind Omri was not a good king - according to 1 Kings 16(25) he did more evil in the eyes of the Lord and sinned more than all those kings who went before him. Like father, Like son, Ahab had no moral fibre. Scripture records that he was even worse than his father, increasing his father’s evil. Now how did he do this?
Well, we know some facts. We know that during Ahab’s 22 year reign, with the exception of a drought that happened in the region, the nation of Israel prospered materially under Ahab’s reign. One of the reasons for affluence was a partnership, a marriage of convenience with the daughter of King Ethbaal, a Phonecian king of Sidon, a port city to the Mederranean Sea which carried a lot of trade. The daughter was Jezebel. With her came affluence, business success, markets to sell Israelite goods, access to markets throughout the known world. When Ahab married Jezebel, Israel’s fortunes increased multiple times. Ahab, raised by a self centered useless father named Omri only knew how to make his fortunes increase, Jezebel however came as a women who knew how to use power to her own advantage, skills she had learned from her father Ethbaal who to the best of our knowledge was a priest, a high priest of Baal.
We know these details about Ahab and Jezebel’s character because of a certain incident with a man named Naboth (1 Kings 21). He owned a vineyard in Jezreel, a beautiful garden city close to Ahab’s beautiful palace. Ahab wanted to add to his property, increase his affluence and so he offered to buy Naboth’s vineyard. But Naboth, being a faithful Israelite, knowing that the property was the inheritance to his family in the future refused to sell. Ahab’s response was to go home and mope, sullen and angry. Jezebel noticed and when she found out what the problem was, her response was simple “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth.” Jezebel had scoundrols falsely accuse Naboth, he was stoned and Ahab got his property for free. That’s what kings do - in Jezebel’s mind.
So we know that Ahab was not much of a leader, more of a whimp, and Jezebel had no problem using whatever power she had in any way she wanted. She was very willing to abuse power.
This is the partnership that Ahab got himself into for the purpose of prosperity, the purpose of selling Israelite goods to a bigger market.
Jezebel, probably herself a priest of Baal, the power broker in the family, insisted on her right to bring with her 100s of priests, worship her own religion, even promote her own idolatrous religion of Baal worship in the land of Israel. And this is how Ahab’s evil exceeded that of his father, he partnered with, he married Jezebel.
Now back to the church at Thyratira. This church, which is not poor like Smyrna, had among its members a person or persons who brought affluence to the congregation, but their partnership in the congregation came with other influences, guild idol worship. The fact that this was regarded as a partnership that mirrored the partnership between
Ahab and Jezebel comes through clearly in some less reliable original manuscripts where the copier inserted the word YOUR instead of that. The implication was that there was a partnership, a marriage so to speak between the church at Thyatira and this person(s) promoting idol worship.
Parts of her teaching included what were called “deep secrets.” She was a spiritual guru, the Eckhart Tolle of Thyratira. Gnosticism which had powerful influences throughout the region permitted gross moral sin because what you did in your body did not influence your spirit. She promoted partnerships in the idol worshiping trade guilds and the church embraced her because with her came prosperity.
The picture that we get from this letter is that these unholy partnerships bring the fierce judgement of God who calls us to be separate from idols, committed wholly to Christ. And so Christ whose feet are as burnish bronze will come in judgement as King over all that is impure, unholy.
Repayment, even vengeance is in his power to accomplish. Jezebel may be a power broker, unrepentant in the church, but all true authority and power was in Jesus hands and he will repay for all their deeds.
Some partnerships just are not worth it.
What was true for Ahab, what was true for the church at Thyratira, is still true today. Yet some lessons seem so hard to learn.
I had a very good friend in one of the previous churches I served. Of those who loved to work, of those who freely shared with others his time and abilities, there were few if any, there were none like him. He had time for you. A faithful church member, an elder. He had his own business but business in that town was slow. He had an opportunity to become a partner with another man doing the same business. A new line was being offered, a new product that promised to be a hot sell. They formed a partnership. It was good to see my friend doing better financially. But then we noticed something. He was often “on call” on Sundays. Soon he was doing installations on Sundays and did not come to church at all. It was not more than four years, and though he had been encouraged and exhorted by the members and elders of the congregation, that unholy partnership for the sake of prosperity cost him his relationship with the church.
How many times I can multiply this story in the churches I have served I cannot count.
Friendships that look promising, at least there is some gain on the social ladder, social prosperity. And youth discover that friendships come with attachments.
Marriages that are entered into, because she is so beautiful and I love her. For the sake of relational prosperity, like Ahab who according to 1 Kings 21:20, 25 sold his soul for gain, how often young people sell their soul for the possibility of marital bliss just to discover that all to often marrying someone who is not in the Lord is to enter into a partnership that is hard, filled with grief, tested endlessly by the temptation to compromise especially in the area of our most important relationship, our relationship with God.
Paul says it bluntly in 2 Corinthians 6:14.
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
17“Therefore come out from them and be separate!
Christ and Baal, you hear the reference to Ahab and Jezebel. Count the cost of the partnerships you form. Some partnerships aren’t worth it.
(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.