Did you ever go into a review, whether a job review or a review of your progress with an advisor or teacher, and get both the good news and the bad news about your performance? Typically we’re told to start off with the good news first, because that softens the bad news. But even after we hear the good news, we don’t like hearing the bad news. We especially don’t like it if there’s a warning that’s attached that says, “Shape up, or else.” That was the type of message God gave to the church in Pergamum:
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:
‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. ‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’
– Revelation 2:12-17, NASB
God has a few good things to say. First, the believers there had been faithful, even though there was a huge throne in Pergamum dedicated to one of the Greek pagan gods, likely Zeus. That’s what the reference to Satan’s throne is about. Because of such a monument, it would have been a place deeply steeped in the religious practices of that false god, similar to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, which Paul brought to confrontation. Staying true to the message of Christ would have been difficult in such an environment, yet the believers there were doing so. And they did so even in the face of persecution, even persecution leading to death. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that they were doing some things that were causing others to stumble. For instance, they were eating of food sacrificed to idols. Now Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10 that it was permissible as the food had come from the earth, and it was therefore the Lord’s. In other words, just because folks sacrificed it to an idol didn’t mean it had any power behind it. But as Paul pointed out, it could lead other believers astray and if that was the case, to abstain. Our brother’s well-being should be put before our own. For instance, the eating of food from idols may give legitimacy to those idols for those who were not strong and well-established in their faith. And as a result, they may engage in practices regarding those idols, or acts of immorality. That’s why Paul wrote the words He did and that’s why Jesus called out such behavior in Pergamum. Then there came the question of teachings and doctrine. Apparently some at Pergamum held to the teachings inf the Nicolaitans. We don’t know for sure exactly what that was, but we know it deviated from the Gospel. As a result, they were following false doctrine. And naturally Christ was saying it needed to stop.
The bad news was severe enough for Christ to give a very stern warning. We don’t like to think of Jesus as a warrior, but that’s what He said He would do, if necessary. If they didn’t repent of the things He was accusing them of, they would fight agaisnt the sword of His mouth. Despite what they were doing right, the things were bad enough that if Christ had to “go to war,” He would do so. That should serve as a stern warning to us, too.
We all know there are things which we do that are pleasing to God. And we all likely realize there are things which we do which God finds issue with. One of the traps of the world is to think because the good things we do outweight the bad, we’re okay. But nowhere in Scripture is that supported. God has one standard and we’ve all missed it: perfection. So that means our efforts shouldn’t be directed at doing more good than bad and hoping God weighs the scales. Rather, we should go out and give it our best to do everything in a way that is pleasing to God. We should strive to eliminate those things which God has a problem with, focusing on doing what is good. After all, that’s what we expect of God, isn’t it? We don’t want a half-way God. We want an all the way God. So isn’t it reasonable to be all the way people for Him? And while I realize that perfection is unreachable, that is the goal we should shoot for and make our best effort towards. God will help us. And He looks at our heart. If our earnest desire is to be pleasing to Him in all that we do, that will please Him. But if we try to weigh the scales, we will find that we aren’t pleasing Him at all. That’s what we can take from His words to the church in Pergamum.