The Wrong Spirit

But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols.
Revelation 2:20 NLT

A few more thoughts about this Jezebel. Firstly, how can anyone lead another person astray? It can only be by presenting a series of ideas and suggestions that connect with what another person is already doing or thinking, confirming their thoughts and leading them into situations that are wrong. Or introducing into their thinking an alternative or totally different way or course of action. But however the process is completed, there is a synergistic connection, and thoughts are translated into deeds. What might be festering in the back of someone’s mind can be brought into the light of day by the right catalysts. Now, every society has issues with sexual sin. What God designed sex to be can become distorted and abused because our enemy, the devil, knows humanity’s weaknesses and he knows that he can quite easily bring about sexual sin. So if this Jezebel plays to generic weaknesses, perhaps by packaging her prophecies into plausible arguments for immorality, then people with such tendencies will be led astray. Easily and willingly.

But who or what is a Jezebel? The Jezebel of the Old Testament was a controlling, evil, idol-worshiping woman who was determined to get her own way, regardless of the consequences. She even set herself up against a man of God, Elijah, who fled from her in fear (1 Kings 19:3), in spite of the fact that he had just performed an amazing miracle at Mount Carmel. She was a formidable woman.

There are some Christians who speak about a Jezebel spirit. They refer to someone who wants to be in control of their local church or fellowship and cause disruption and problems to try and get their own way. They make things difficult for everyone else in the church, particularly the leadership. They use all sorts of techniques to try and get other people on their side, perhaps by a whispering campaign, or spreading lies about others, or by playing a persecuted role, inviting sympathy, encouraging people to take sides. But they can be very clever in the way they go about their nefarious business, packaging what they say innocuously, chipping away with a steady drip, drip, drip, until their objectives are realised.  Some may not even fully realise what they are doing. But it needs a strong leader to discern and call out such a person and deal with their evil ways. 

As pilgrims, we need to be aware of other people’s agendas, particularly when they are different to ours. And if we are uncomfortable about what someone is saying about another person or leader in the church, we should gently and graciously close down the conversation. We must never let our thinking or talking become corrupted by another person, no matter how plausible it may seem. The Apostle Paul gave some good advice in Ephesians 4:29, “… Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them“. And in Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone”. But how do we deal with the Jezebel figure trying to lead others astray in the church? The temptation would be to make an appointment with the church leaders to warn them, or start telling other people to beware of such a person. But this would be a wrong course of action. The church in Thyatira was guilty of permitting the sinful woman to spread her falsehoods unchecked. Jesus gave us guidance about how to deal with people who seem to be walking a sinful path, particularly one that is at variance with the purity of the Word. He said, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). But having said that, I have only rarely seen an issue resolved by the Matthew 18 process. Prayer is the most effective way of dealing with a wrong spirit. It may take time and patience, love and grace, but in 1 John 4:4 we read, “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world“. And as we read in the rest of the message to the angel of the church at Thyatira, Jesus will ultimately bring about a solution for a failure to repent.

One last thought. If in our local fellowships we find that our vision is at variance with that of the leaders. Or if the denomination of which we are a part is considering or allowing sinful or worldly practices into our churches. Or if we cannot agree or endorse the direction the leaders are taking us, then we must prayerfully consider our membership of that body of believers. And if, after a serious and prayerful period of reflection, we are still having problems, then we should move on to somewhere more in line with what we believe. What we mustn’t do is to become a root of bitterness, becoming a Jezebel. We won’t of course find a perfect church but we must find one that upholds the purity of God’s Word.

Dear Lord. Please help us to maintain the purity of Your Word and Your Spirit in our churches. Please give us discernment and wisdom in our daily walk with You and our fellow pilgrims. Amen.

Complaints

“But I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate some among you whose teaching is like that of Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. He taught them to sin by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. In a similar way, you have some Nicolaitans among you who follow the same teaching. Repent of your sin, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭2:14-16‬ ‭NLT

The story of Balaam and Balak can be found in Numbers 22-24. It’s a fascinating read, involving angels with swords and a talking donkey. Balak, of Moabite royalty, wanted Balaam to curse the oncoming Israelite nation because he was concerned that they would “…devour everything in sight, like an ox devours grass in the field!” He involved the Midianites, and together they asked a man called Balaam to curse the Israelites, but instead he ended up blessing them, delivering the message God told him to say. The story concludes with Balaam cursing the surrounding nations after blessing the Israelites. Balaam wasn’t a Godly man, because the Scriptures record that he was involved in divination, a practice that carried the death penalty for the Jews. He was also a Gentile. However, that did not stop God using him to deliver His message. In several places in the Bible we see that if necessary, God will use influential people in Godless nations to carry out His plans. 

At the start of Numbers 25 we see that the Israelite men were starting to cohabit with Moabite women, even getting involved in their Baal worship. And as a result they were guilty of the sins in the complaint we read about in today’s Scripture, they sinned, “by eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin”. Though we cannot find a direct Scriptural reference to Balaam teaching the Israelites how to sin, the theological consensus seems to be that Balaam advised Balak of a more devious response and solution – get them involved in the sinful practices of the Moabites and Midianites so that God will punish them. And in Numbers 25 the story of their sin and its consequences played out to a sad conclusion.

After referring to the story of Balaam, John continued in today’s verse, by exposing the Nicolaitans amongst them. They too followed the same practices of eating food offered to idols and by committing sexual sin. As we found earlier, the Ephesian church had also been infiltrated by adherents of this sect. 

Jesus’ response to those engaging in these sinful practices was a warning. He said that He would come to fight them with “the sword of [His] mouth”. And this fight would happen suddenly. Back in the wayward Israelites’ day, when their sin with the Moabites had been uncovered, the solution was physical, with God sending a plague which only stopped with a gruesome ending – one of the ringleaders and his foreign partner were skewered by a spear. But “the sword of [His] mouth” attack against the Pergamums was not to be through some physical punishment. It was through God’s Word, the Scriptures, bringing repentance from sin. The Old Testament remedy was a physical death. The New Testament solution would end up a spiritual death. But in both cases, and in the context of eternity, the outcome was the same. Eternal death.

Back to our usual question – how do these verses help the 21st Century pilgrim? One lesson is that we pilgrims must diligently maintain the purity of our faith. Sin has a habit of creeping up on us, nibbling away at the margins, disguised as something minor or inoffensive, something easily rationalised away. Remember – our adversary the devil is extremely good at finding our weak spots. In the garden of Eden, the serpent found a chink in Eve’s armour, – “Did God really say…” (Genesis 3:1). And followed it with a plausible, subtle, and clever restatement of God’s instructions. 

Another lesson is that the worldly practices around us, and as portrayed on films and television, can numb our spiritual discernment. The constant bombardment from devil-backed lobby groups, from advertising, from conversations with people who aren’t Christians, will potentially dull our senses and, particularly when we’re tired, will lead to sin. Each day we must put on our Ephesians 6 armour, and take up the sword, God’s Word. By so doing we can be effective witnesses, counter-culturally standing as beacons of hope in a dying world. And if we have weak spots that the enemy will penetrate, we must avoid the circumstances that can give him an opening. 

A common tactic of the enemy is to revive our embarrassing memories. He will remind us that because we once did something bad, we are no good and not suitable to be a child of God. But we must tell him that we have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. We are new creations. No more defined by our past, but instead defined by our future. In Hebrews 12:1, we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us”. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13b-14, “… I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us”.

The Pergamums earned a rebuke from Jesus because they allowed worldly customs and idolatry to prevail in their lives and in their church. Let us not fall into the same trap.

Dear Jesus. We thank You that You love us too much to allow us to wallow in customs that You disapprove of. We pray David’s prayer from Psalm 139 today, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Amen.

Nicolaitans

But this is in your favour: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
Revelation‬ ‭2:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Almost as an afterthought, Jesus encouraged the Ephesians with a favourable mention, perhaps not wanting to leave them with a negative. He affirmed them for hating “the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do”.  It appears that the Nicolaitans were a sect that probably started well but went off the rails, erring into theological error and sinful practices. There has been some conjecture that they were led by a man called Nicolas, who was one of the seven deacons chosen to wait on tables, as mentioned in Acts 6:5. Their error came from an attempt to merge with the sinful practices of the other religions around them, with things like sexual impurities, and eating food offered to idols, as expressly forbidden in the Apostolic dictate issued in Acts 15:20, “Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood”. And Jesus, in His message through John, declared their practices evil.

We see a similar problem in following our faith today. Our societies tend to follow and implement customs and practices that are at variance with Biblical teaching. And there is always pressure applied, from both inside and outside the church, to embrace and include worldly customs and practices in our liturgies and teachings, thus diluting the purity of our faith. In the UK today, topical moral issues involving, amongst other things, gender and sexuality, collide with Biblical teaching. But, Christians, amongst others, are even afraid to mention such difficulties between the world and the church, for fear of causing offence, which can potentially lead to being the subject of hate speech litigation. 

So what do today’s pilgrims make of all this? We know what the Bible says. We know about the moralistic debates going on in society. And we know that the two are incompatible. But rather than, as some denominations have done, try and integrate the two in our church liturgies, we must remain counter-cultural, upholding the truths we have been taught. Thankfully, we have been granted wisdom. Not worldly wisdom, but the wisdom that comes from above, with which we can plot a course through the minefields of life, avoiding the clash-points that can be so destructive. In James 3:17, we read, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere“. Notice that wise old James gave us guidance about how to avoid conflict. Godly wisdom will always look for a way of peace, love, mercy, and good deeds. And Godly wisdom, above all, exemplifies purity in our faith. With such sentiments as these we can avoid becoming modern-day Nicolaitans.

Dear Father God, we thank You for Your Word and the faithful men who recorded Your Spirit-filled messages so many years ago. Please help us to always seek Your wisdom and Your guidance in the issues we face day by day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.