Summary: The letter to the sexually immoral church at Thyatira.
Turn with me to Revelation 2.
Twenty years after King James I of England received the first Bibles he commissioned to be translated into English, his successor Charles I commissioned 1000 more copies to be printed. Needless to say, he was not pleased with the result. As a matter of fact, he was so displeased that he fined the publisher a year’s wages and took away his printing license. What in the world had the publisher done to deserve all that? He left out one small three-letter word. In our Bibles, Exodus 20:14 is only 5 words long. It says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” The word that King Charles’ publisher left out was “not”. So in that 1631 edition of the King James Bible, the seventh commandment commanded its readers that, “Thou shalt commit adultery.” I’m sure if a printer made that error today, the reaction would be different. Instead of the publisher being forced out of business, I’m sure that their sales would be off the charts. Of course, people have not needed a Bible misprint that commanded adultery to allow them to engage in immoral behavior, have they? The fact is that we live in one of the most sexually supercharged times in history. It doesn’t take any more than a quick flip through the TV Guide channel to see that. It is nearly impossible to avoid sexually charged images in our world today. From TV to billboards to magazine covers in the grocery store to storefront displays. Sexually charged images are feeding our sexually charged culture everywhere you turn. Who knows whether those images are the cause or the result of the immorality that abounds in our culture today. Activity that was hidden away in the back seat a generation ago is socially acceptable and even encouraged today. The statistics tell a sad tale. According to the Christian pollster George Barna, in 2003, 6 out of 10 Americans believed that it was morally acceptable to live together instead of getting married. The same number of people agree with actively engaging in sexual fantasies. Nearly half of Americans believe it’s OK to have sex with someone you’re not married to. Around 4 out of every ten Americans see nothing wrong with viewing pornography. And nearly a third see nothing wrong with homosexual sex. It’s no wonder that our society is in the condition it’s in. It’s no wonder our families are so messed up. But, in a way, even though it’s heartbreaking and disturbing, it’s easy to understand. It’s easy to understand, because the world is full of lost people. And lost people are going to act like lost people. People who are lost have no choice but to live in bondage to sin. Sometimes they are capable of reform, but apart from the cleansing blood of Christ and the power of His imputed righteousness, there is no victory over sin. We can expect nothing else from lost people. But here’s what’s really disturbing. Barna’s statistics show very little difference between people who call themselves Christians and those who don’t. In other words, these same sexual sins are nearly as much in the church as they are in the world. Statistically, among people who identify themselves as born-again Christians, nearly 4 out of 10 think it’s OK to live together without the benefit of marriage. The same 40% think actively engaging in sexual fantasies is morally acceptable behavior. Just as many or more people in the church are viewing pornography as those outside the church. According to his research, Barna indicated that more people in our churches today think it’s a sin to break the speed limit than people think it’s a sin to break the 7th commandment. That’s in our churches folks. No wonder they call us hypocrites. No wonder we can’t reach the world for Christ. We can’t reach the world for Christ because they see no difference in us. And they see no difference in us because there is no difference in the way we live. And there’s no difference in the way we live, because many times there’s no difference in us. There’s no difference in us, just like there was no difference in the church at Thyatira.
It’s interesting that the church at Thyatira received the longest letter of any of the seven churches here in Revelation. They received the longest letter, even though they were from the least significant area. They were from the typical small town of the day. They weren’t from San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York. They were from Bluefield or Princeton or Tazewell. The town was full of working class folks. People who worked hard making mostly textiles. It was a town that rarely experienced economic stability. Things in Thyatira were either boom or bust. At the time of this letter, they were experiencing good times. The purple cloth they manufactured was in high demand by the Romans. It’s amazing how many things the working folks of Thyatira had in common with working folks today. They were known for a couple of things. They were known for their trade guilds. Trade guilds were early examples of labor unions. So they were working men and union men. Like a lot of working men today, they were also known for not being very religious. The church at Thyatira wasn’t persecuted, because they didn’t really care what you worshipped. They weren’t into all that religious stuff. They were too busy working hard and playing hard. And play hard they did. Each of the trade guilds regularly held meetings. And the meetings would go like this. Spend a little time paying tribute to the pagan god of their guild. Spend a little time taking care of business. Spend a lot of time drinking and partying. And the partying always included sexual immorality. You can see that the Christians from the church at Thyatira had a problem. Thyatira wasn’t an open shop. In other words, you had to be a member of the trade guild to work in Thyatira. And if you were in the trade guild, you had to participate in the meetings. You see where the problem was. What would have been the right thing for them to do? The right thing for the Christians in Thyatira to do would have been to sacrifice their personal comfort and welfare for the sake of Jesus. The right thing would have been for them to refuse to participate in the pagan guilds and refuse to engage in their immoral practices. Of course that would have meant they wouldn’t have been able to work. It might have even cost them their lives. But what did Paul say in Philippians 1:20-21? He said, “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Christian, our attitude must always be like that. Our attitude must say to the world, “I don’t care what’s going on in the world. I don’t care how everybody else lives. I don’t care what it’s going to cost me. I will live in such a way that Jesus Christ is magnified in my body.” The church at Thyatira wasn’t willing to live like that. So instead of sacrificing whatever was required for them to Jesus to be magnified in their bodies, they compromised.