Lent Devotion 3: True Worship
‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ (Matt. 6: 21)
A few years ago, my teenage son told me that the largest evangelical church in our city was winning over many of his friends. His concern? Those new converts continued in sexual immorality as the church ‘did not make a big deal about premarital sex.’ Later I read one of the pastor’s books in which he conveyed quietly that Christians had to become ‘gay–affirming’ if they wanted to be relevant to a new era.
Last month that pastor presided over President Obama’s inaugural prayer breakfast. Barack’s first pastoral choice had been cut at the last minute when it was discovered that he had a ‘homosexuality, sin, and healing’ sermon in his preaching history.
What we worship will be reflected in our sexual ethics. Such was the case for the Church at Pergamos, the third church Jesus addressed in Revelation (2: 12-17).
Pergamos was the Washington DC of Asia; its name allegedly means ‘married to power.’ Any citizen of Pergamos would have been surrounded by smart focused people aspiring to go places with people a little more important than they were. Power and false worship, or idolatry, go hand-in-hand. We give our hearts to what matters most to us. Social significance mattered to the Pergamons.
Pergamos led the way in worshipping false gods in the form of people. For example, the city was the first to build temples to the Roman ‘king’ Caesar Augustus. Devotion to Caesar and other deified humans often resulted in sexual immorality. One might ‘bond’ with a human mediator and so aspire to the power of the idol itself. Moral compromise became a stepping stone to power
It was costly to be a Christian in Pergamos. That’s why Jesus came with a two-edged sword in His words to wake up the church there the threat of false worship. That’s why He addressed the church in that city as dwelling among ‘Satan’s throne.’ (v.13) And that’s why He encourages them strongly to keep holding fast to His Name, even to the point of death. The church at Pergamos is the only one of the seven known to have had a martyr, namely Antipas.
But idolatry is a powerful hook, even to devout Christians. Jesus knew they were being seduced by false teachers into false worship. Skewed spiritual and sexual practices resulted. The Pergamons did not renounce Jesus; they just incorporated devotion to the sensual gods into their worship of Jesus (2K 17: 41).
St. Peter alerts us to this brand of idolaters known as Balaamites (1P 2: 13-22) when he speaks of greedy ones whose ‘eyes are full of adultery,’ ‘who seduce the unstable,’ and ‘who entice people just escaping from those living in error. Promising them freedom, [these false prophets] are slaves to depravity.’
Jesus does not seek reconciliation with the Balaamites; He is jealous for His Church and insists that the saints at Pergamos renounce all vestiges of this idolatry. He does not mince words: ‘I hate such a mixture! Repent! Remove what is true from the false!’ In other words, you should worship no other gods but Me!’
Let’s not relegate the compromise at Pergamos to the ancient world. The striving for power continues; that mixture of skewed spirituality and sexuality is growing like leaven in the church today. Might we offer ourselves wholly and only to Him, forsaking popularity for the promise Jesus gave the Pergamons?
He promised ‘hidden manna’ and a ‘white stone’ for all who forsake sexy idols. (Rev. 2: 17) Hungry, we eat the bread of Heaven and worship the One who gave all to make us His own; humbled as a stranger in a strange land, we journey to the City of God, our heart’s true home.
‘He who offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies Me, and to him who goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.’ (PS 50: 23)