When we lived on the island of Guam nearly thirty years ago, I had occasion to sleep in the jungle under the stars. I had something to sleep on and a machete. The machete was to help me cut through the denseness of the jungle in order to have a place to walk, sit, and/or sleep. One side of that machete was sharp; the other not at all. With much force I could cut my way through, but if I used the wrong side progress through the jungle would come to a near stop.
The Sword of Christ
Jesus opens His words to the church at Pergamum as one who wields a sword that is powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword (even a machete). This imagery is not lost on those who understand the nature of battle. Whereas one side of the sword is sharp, but the other dull, the Lord’s sword is as sharp as a razor on both sides.
Of course, the imagery of a sword is not to be understood as anything but a metaphor. The sword of the Lord is His word (Hebrews 4:12); this single volume of the Lord’s healthy remedy to man’s soul is able to penetrate the strongest shell of a man and expose him to the Lord’s medicine. Into Pergamum the saints were to take this sword.
The City of Pergamum
Pergamum was a wealthy city, but not considered prominently commercial like the previous two (Ephesus and Smyrna). It housed the second largest library with around 200,000 “books” (Alexandria having the largest). It is not unlikely these “books” were probably there to give man an education that was second to none; the education one gained, however, would only be of this world. Because of political loyalty to Rome the education received was secular in nature. The education received produced for that city, among other things, a temple for emperor worship (Augustus Caesar).
Though the city may have been prominent and well-endowed with things like great architecture, also present was the Lord’s church.
The Pergamum Congregation
The Lord’s church was struggling, however. They were commended by Him who redeemed them because they held fast to the Lord’s name, His way of life – at least in part.
Though the Lord looked upon His congregation as being one that lacked much, He was still able to note what good they were accomplishing at the time. The challenges they faced were monumental. Satan was enthroned politically, religiously, culturally, and morally. Such an environment can pose a problem to any and all who have a heart where thorns were allowed to spring up (cf. Matthew 13:3-9). This environment was a drag with heavy weights.
The local church struggled to keep their heads above water and to their credit they did not deny His name. Though their heads were above water the weight that was tied to their ankles was beginning to pull them under. They needed quick addressing.
We might say that the church at Pergamum was using one side of the sword with which to work. Satan, however, was in the way and flexing his muscle.
With one side of the sword being used (as if one was using a machete), the church at Pergamum had arrived at a point where the Lord gave warning (2:14-16). On the other hand, when both sides of the Lord’s sword is used, as one swings in this direction, and then brings the sword back from the other direction it removes whatever is in the way. Satan’s flexed muscles will then be nothing but butter as it meets a hot knife!
The church, however, did not properly use the sword as the Lord designed (cf. Acts 20:20, 27-32). A sword improperly used allows an object in its path to stand, for the roots of that object hold it firmly in place.
The Doctrine of Balaam
The “doctrine of Balaam” had taken root in the church and the Lord was mighty displeased. An improperly used sword could not achieve its design because the Christians (at least some of them) allowed a teaching to take root. They expended the spiritual wealth (and health) of the Lord in order to gain in material wealth of the world.
In the long ago, Balaam knew well what the Lord’s purpose was with regard to Israel, but his desire to gain “economic freedom” encouraged him to think he could supplant God’s purpose for his nation with a scheme that nearly brought Israel to a stop. Balaam planted weeds and thick foliage all around Israel (the male was vulnerable to the female), and this was why Israel suffered greatly (Numbers 22-25; 31).
The Lord’s Message to Pergamum
The church in Pergamum was also to know their vulnerabilities (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11) and then prepare themselves to thwart Satan’s attack that was surely to come. Paul told Timothy to flee youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22), and the Lord said to Peter, James, and John that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Mark 14:38). Indeed, the flesh is weak, but there is no way for it to gain any strength when the Lord’s weapon and arsenal is improperly used (cf. Ephesians 6:13-18).
In this light the Lord gives them an exhortation (2:16). The good they had associated with their works (2:13) was not adequate to save them in the end.
Thus, the Lord called upon them to repent. God’s call to repent, it has been said, is His hardest command to obey – and well it might be.
Repentance gets to the core of who is actually “Lord” in one’s life. Is it the inclinations of man’s heart which is evil continually (cf. Genesis 6:5, 12) or will one live in accordance with the Lord Jesus (cf. Galatians 2:20)?
The word “repent” is easily understood to mean they needed to have a change of mind with regard to their approach and tactics in this battle Satan was waging against them. The sword the Lord gave them had been improperly used (or laid down).
The Lord calls upon them to put to proper use His “implement of war” (Hebrews 4:12; Romans 1:16). If they refused to do so, then the sword the Lord made for them to use will be used on them (cf. John 12:48)!
With the exhortation comes a promise to him who overcomes. After the battle is won the Lord’s food is given to replenish one’s strength. God’s manna is not something kept in a jar only as a memorial, but a promise of strength that only one who can continually replenish the jar provides (cf. 1 Kings 17:14). If strength would be gained in a world that brings weariness to God’s child, let each one hear what the Spirit says to the churches.