Summary: Sin is not excused by good works, and unrepentant self-indulgence is destructive. Sexual integrity is not just a private matter; how we handle it will determine what happens with our church.
This has the potential for being the shortest sermon I’ve ever done. At first glance, it seems all I need to do with this text is to praise the church for doing so well, declare myself to be against sin, and wrap it up. The shortest sermon I’ve ever done, and maybe the shortest on record! Anybody want to say amen?!
The church at Thyatira received fulsome praise. It was praised for being diligent in love, faith, service, and patience. Who has any quarrel with those things? And if the Lord then goes on to say that he does have something against the church at Thyatira, and that that one thing is that it tolerates sin, well, who can quarrel with that? Who doesn’t tolerate sin? Doesn’t everybody have blemishes? Doesn’t every church have sinners in it? Nothing new there. If you can find the perfect church, be sure not to join it, because once you do, it won’t be perfect any more! We know that sin exists; we know that it’s in us; we know that it’s in our church. So what? We’ve heard all that before. Can’t we just go home now?
You’ve heard the old story about Calvin Coolidge, who, before he became a high school, was a quiet-spoken president? He was known for the briefest of answers when questions were put. And so the story goes that Mr. Coolidge went to church one Sunday, and when he got home, his wife asked what the sermon was about. Coolidge replied in one word: "sin". His wife, not quite satisfied, asked what the preacher had to say about sin. And Coolidge’s reply has become a classic: "He was against it."
Well, of course. Aren’t we all? So shall we wrap up and go home, having heard the shortest sermon on record? The invitation hymn will be ...
Not on your life. Not a chance. The text in front of us does a great deal more with the theme of sin. It forces us to confront one overwhelming reality: that there is among us a deadly virus an insidious sickness. There is something which, if not understood, will ultimately destroy us. And not only will it destroy us as individuals; it will also destroy our church.
And so today the lord of the church at Thyatira will speak, in some detail, to the church at Takoma, and will say to us: understand this disease. Understand that if there is no integrity, there is ultimately no church. If the deadly virus is not attacked early and often, it will destroy everything else. Like those virus infections that some of us keep fighting, the symptoms of sin persist long after we think they have been treated. No, the sermon won’t be that short; in fact, it will be rather involved.
The first thing we have to understand is that sin is not excused by good works. Moral shortcomings are not just paid for by the good things we have done. Failure is not compensated for by accomplishments. You can’t just put the good stuff on one side of the scales and the bad stuff on the other side and weigh them out. It’s not that simple.
Listen to the praise the Lord offers the church at Thyatira, which He follows immediately with something else: "I know your works -- your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. But I have this against you ... "
The oldest mistake in the world is the notion that we can earn our way into God’s favor. From the Jews of Jesus’ time, who thought that keeping the hundreds of requirements in the Sabbath law would make them right, to the modern Christian who supposes that going to church and staying out of trouble is going to buy him a one way ticket to heaven, lots of people have assumed that doing good pays the bill for doing bad. But it’s not that simple. It doesn’t work that way.
You remember the story about the old southern preacher who had to do the funeral for the town’s meanest man? For the guy who cheated, lied, stole, and embodied every vice known to man? The family hired the preacher, and whoever pays the piper calls the tune. So the preacher struggled and labored to find something good to say, and finally managed at least this: "Old John warn’t no saint; but he warn’t no Yankee neither."
We like to think that in the end everybody’s sort of OK, everybody’s all right. But no, listen again to the Lord of the church: "I know your works -- your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. But I have this against you …"