Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says there’s a link between adultery and idolatry.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: You see, adultery breaks a marriage covenant. And a covenant with the world when our hearts go after this world, we end up having a broken covenant relationship with God. It affects our covenant relationship with Him.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Surrender: The Heart God Controls, for Tuesday, September 5, 2017.

Plenty of women would be incensed if their husbands were to be unfaithful in marriage. But those same women don’t realize how they’re being unfaithful to God. Learn to pursue faithfulness in every area as Nancy continues the series "Letters to the Churches of Revelation, Part 4: Compromising Truth."

Nancy: If you were Satan and wanted to silence the Church and its witness, what would you do? Well, one obvious way would be to make a frontal assault, to bring in overt opposition from outside the Church, to pressure Christians to deny Christ and then annihilate those who refuse.

The problem, is true Christians won’t deny Christ. As we have seen over and over again throughout history, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. In fact, history has shown us that the Church actually thrives and multiplies and spreads in periods of persecution.

So Satan has found what I think is a remarkable alternative, rather clever on his part. Rather than annihilation of the Church—he certainly does that at times—but there’s another program he has, and we could call that accommodation. Not annihilation but accommodation. This has a more subtle backdoor approach.

He can try to conquer from without by means of persecution and intimidation, or he can try to corrupt the Church from within by means of deception and infiltration, penetrating, permeating the Church from within.

In the persecution approach, the world rejects the Church and moves against the Church. In the accommodation approach the Church embraces the world and moves toward the world.

In the persecution approach, the annihilation approach, the Church has a confrontational or adversarial approach with the world. They don’t mix. But in the accommodation approach, the Church and the world have a comfortable relationship with each other. They become blended together, melded together.

Now both of these approaches were taking place in the Asian city, the capital city of Pergamum in the first century as we’re looking at these seven letters to the churches in Revelation. In the case of Pergamum, the subtle approach, the accommodation approach, was proving to be more effective than the frontal assault on the church.

Let me read the first part of this letter, Revelation chapter 2, and we’ll pick up from where we left off in the last session. Verse 12, Revelation 2:

To the angel of the church of Pergamum write: "The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword, ‘I know where you dwell where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you do not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.’”

So as he does in virtually all the seven letters to the churches in Revelation, he gives the commendation first. But now he moves to the confrontation or the rebuke.

You see there were some in Pergamum, including Antipas, who were boldly and bravely facing that frontal assault that Satan had launched against the church. They were saying, “We will not bow the knee to Caesar.”

But Satan had another more subtle assault going on within the church. And sadly, some in this church were surrendering to his efforts rather than standing against them.

Verse 14 Jesus says,

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

This is a complex passage. I'm going to try today and in the next couple of sessions to unravel some of this for us. We don't know a lot about the Nicolaitans. But apparently they were a group in this church who were promoting a teaching, a doctrine, that was having the same effect on first century believers that the teaching of Balaam had on the Israelites in the Old Testament.

This teaching, the teaching of Balaam, the teaching of the Nicolaitans, was apparently similar to the teaching of and influence of someone called Jezebel in the next letter to the church at Thyatira. We'll come to that in a few days. So the Niolaitans, Balaam, Jezebel, these are similiar doctrines or teachings as far as we can tell. They were holding to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

Now, if you remember, the church in Ephesus that we studied a couple of weeks ago, Jesus said to them, “You hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” So the Ephesian church hated the work of the Nicolaitans, but in the chuch of Pergamum some were holding to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

This is something Jesus felt very strongly about. He said about whatever this teaching was, "I hate it." It was detestable to him. And some in this chuch in Pergamum were being drawn subtly into a teaching that Jesus hated. They were at odds; these are professing believers, people within the church. These are not the pagans outside the church. These are people within the church who were at odds with the thinking and the heart and the values of Jesus Christ Himself, the Lord of the church.

Now there were two groups in this church in Pergamum. There were those we read about in verse 13, including Antipas, who was martyred for his faith, who Jesus said, “You hold fast to my name, you do not deny my faith.” There were some who were holding fast to Christ. They were persevering. They were faithful saints.

But then in verse 15 there were these others who hold to the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. They were either holding fast to Christ and His faith, or they were holding fast to false doctrine.

So there was a division in this church. There was a controversy, and it had to do with doctrinal issues. These doctrinal issues affected the lifestyle and the behavior of the church.

Now notice that the church as a whole did not hold to false teaching. But the whole church was held accountable for the fact that some did. And they were held accountable for the fact that these false teachers were being tolerated within the church.

Christ was grieved by those who held false doctrine. And He was grieved by those who had a complacent attitude toward those who held false doctrine.

Now let’s try and unpack what this doctrine was all about and what it has to do with us today. There’s a reference here to Balaam, the teaching of Balaam. Balaam is an important biblical character, believe it or not. I did a little research and found out that his name appears more than seventy times in the Bible. I would not have thought that until I went and counted them up.

The primary account about Balaam is found in the book of Numbers, and we’re going to go there in just a moment. But he is also referenced in four other books in the Old Testament and in three New Testament books.

Second Peter, for example, warns about those who follow the way of Balaam. Jude warns about the error of Balaam. And here in Revelation 2 there’s a warning about the teaching or the doctrine of Balaam.

So what is that teaching? Well, verse 14 of chapter 2 says that Balaam taught "Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat foods sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality."

Now to know what that’s all about, we have to go back to the book of Numbers and see the background. If you need your memory refreshed on this as I did, you want to go to Numbers chapter 22. The story is told in Numbers 22–24.

Let me just sum up this story for you this way: After forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel was now moving toward the Promised Land, Canaan. Balak was the king of Moab, a neighboring country east of the Jordan River. Balak had seen Israel win two major battles on their way to the Promised Land. God had intervened on their behalf, and they had wiped out the enemy.

So now here’s Balak. He’s now really concerned. He’s terrified, in fact, because he sees this advancing hoard of Israelites, and he feels, “We’ve got to stop them, or we’re going to get run over. We’re going to get wiped out.”

So Balak the king of Moab sends messengers to a prophet named Balaam who lived 400 miles away. That’s a long distance in those days. But this prophet Balaam had an international reputation.

Balak the king of Moab said to Balaam, “Come and curse the people of Israel.” He knew there was power in this demonic curse. And the point is to curse them so we can defeat them. He offers Balaam money, prestige, honor.

He says, “I’ll make you rich if you will curse these people for me.”

Now God tells Balaam not to go, but Balaam insists on going, and God finally lets him go. But he won’t let Balaam curse the Israelites. In fact, every time Balaam tries to curse the Israelites what comes out is a blessing. Three times he blesses them, and there’s power in those words.

Much to Balak’s dismay, Balak the king of Moab, Balaam prophesies that Israel is going to be victorious over her enemies. He brings in this prophet and says, “Curse these people so I can defeat them.” Instead what comes out is a blessing, and he says, “Israel is going to defeat all her enemies.

Now turn to Numbers chapter 25, verse 1. “While Israel lived in Shittim,” which is the place where they had their final camp before crossing over Jordan into the Promised Land, “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab.”

Now The New International says, “The people began to indulge in sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab.”

“These people,” the Moabites, “invited the [Israelites] to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor” (vv. 1–3).

Now this is a complicated story. You’ve got Balak the king of Moab, Balaam the false prophet, and Baal who was the false god of Peor. So I don’t fault you for wondering how all this fits together.

But here’s the point. Moab could not destroy the Israelites by attacking them directly because God had blessed them through the prophet Balaam. So they knew they couldn’t win against them in a frontal assault. So instead they seduced them to compromise morally and spiritually.

And where did they get that idea? Well Numbers 25 doesn’t tell us, but Numbers 31, verse 16 does. You don’t need to turn there. I’ll just tell you it says that Balaam advised the king of Moab to take this approach. When Balaam saw that the blessing was coming out of his mouth toward these Israelites, he didn’t want to lose the fat fee that the king of Moab had offered him for his services.

So since he couldn’t curse Israel, he decided to corrupt them. He convinced them that no harm would be done if they became assimilated into the culture and the lifestyle of the Moabites.

There's a progression her in Numbers 25. The people were enticed into ungodly, immoral relationships with the Moabites. They were seduced to compromise. They participated with the Moabites in their pagan feast to idols, which at first may have been just social interaction. But by that social interaction they were drawn subtly, gradually but surely into the idolatrous practices of the Moabites. And what happened is their hearts were drawn away from God.

And then the end of that passage, Numbers 25:3 says, “So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor.” They became yoked, joined together, linked together to Baal as their hearts were drawn away from the true God.

Now you see in this passage and you see in Revelation 2 the linking together of two things that invariably go together—immorality and idolatry. You see these two linked together through the Scripture. Immorality, sexual sin, sexual adultery linked to idolatry which is spiritual adultery—unfaithfulness to your marriage partner in the physical realm, unfaithful to your covenant with God in the spiritual realm. These people did both with the Moabites. They were sexually immoral, and they were spiritual immoral and idolatrous.

Now this description of what took place with the Moabites is a violation of specific commands that God gave to the Israelites back in the book of Exodus when they were at Mount Sinai where they were given the law. And you remember after God had given them the law, then they had this incident with the golden calf.

Right after that incident with the golden calf and the people had been idolatrous, God says to the children of Israel, Exodus 34, “Behold, I am making a covenant.” That word covenant is important because it shows us what’s wrong with immorality and idolatry. It’s the breaking of a covenant.

God said to the Israelites,

I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. All the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. [But] take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst (vv. 10–11).

God is saying to the Israelites, "I am making a covenant with you. I will be your God; you will be My people. I will do great things through you and with you, in you and because of you. I will bless you. I will make you a blessing.” That’s all part of having a covenant relationship with God.

And God says, “Because I am making a covenant with you, don’t make a covenant with My enemies.” That’s what idolatry is. Don’t commit spiritual adultery.

And so He says—and now I’m back in Exodus 34:

You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars and cut down their Asherim [the poles to the false gods] . . . lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and when they whore after their gods and sacrifice to their gods when you are invited, you eat of their sacrifice, and you take of their daughters for your sons, and their daughters whore after their gods and make your sons whore after their gods (vv. 13–16).

You see, He’s making the connection here between idolatry and immorality. Both are the breaking of a covenant. He’s saying to the people of Israel that you’re going to have to take proactive steps to resist being assimilated into the world.

It’s a picture, a reminder, of the subtle incremental nature of compromise. First you go to their feast, then you worship their gods, you commit sexual sin. And before you know it, your heart is totally gone away from your covenant with God one step at a time.

If our hearts are drawn into the world, we become assimilated into the world; we risk losing our very character and identity as the people of God.

We are in a covenant relationship with God. If our hearts are drawn into the world, we become assimilated into the world; we risk losing our very character and identity as the people of God.

You see, adultery breaks a marriage covenant. And a covenant with the world when our hearts go after this world, we end up having a broken covenant relationship with God. It affects our covenant relationship with Him.

Now in Numbers 25, the story where the Israelites accommodated to the Moabites, they were assimilated into the Moabites. They bought into the teaching of Balaam who said basically, “It’s okay to participate in the pagan feast of the Moabites and have illicit relationships with them and still worship Jehovah.”

Balaam said in effect, “You can do both. You can have the Moabite religion, and you can your Jewish religion.” He taught them in effect that their covenant with God was secure and that they were blessed by God because he had just blessed them with these words that he had spoken, and that therefore they didn’t have to be concerned about their conduct, about their behavior.

And that kind of teaching—saying you’re a covenant people so you don’t have to worry about accommodation to the world or assimilation to the world resulted in sexual sin, immorality, and idolatry, participation in pagan religious feasts and idol worship. That’s what happened when Balaam taught the Israelites in the Old Testament to accommodate to the world. Subtly he corrupted them from within so their hearts were drawn away from God.

Now fast forward to Revelation 2, the church in Pergamum. There were people in Pergamum called Nicolaitans who were teaching along similar lines. Perhaps they rationalized when it came to accommodating to the pagan culture in Pergamum, "We're not really worshipping these gods. We have to relate to non-believers."

You see, the temples in those days, the pagan temples in the Roman Empire there, were the places where people didn’t just go for periodic services. Those were the places they conducted business, where they got together socially, where they had meals together. Those meals for sure were food that had been offered in pagan sacrifices. But those temples were more like nightclubs—if I could make a modern-day comparison.

And the Nicolaitans were saying in effect, as best we can tell from piecing together what we know of this background, they were promoting the teaching of Balaam which was:

  • you can go and live in the world
  • relate to the world
  • accommodate to the world
  • be assimilated into the world
  • adopt the world’s lifestyle
  • live in its nightclubs, so to speak, and still hold onto your Christian faith.

Let me suggest that the teaching of Balaam is still alive and well in the church today. And what is the teaching? Essentially, today it takes the form that grace, the grace of God, gives us a license to do what we want to do, to indulge our flesh.

The teaching of Balaam is something that we used to call worldliness. Now you rarely hear that term today, and when you do it doesn’t have the traditional or historical meaning. Worldliness simply is embracing this world system, loving it, having a heart for it, pursuing it, following after it.

It’s something that theologians over the years have called antinomianism, a compound word that means “against the law.” In a sense, you are so secure in Christ that you can mingle and mix with the world and practice popular sins and still call yourself a Christian.

  • It’s not a big deal.
  • We’re not under the law; we’re under grace.
  • Christ has set us free after all!
  • God is a God of love.
  • No matter what you do He’ll forgive you.
  • Don’t be so legalistic.
  • You can be a Christian and carry on that emotional affair.
  • You can be a Christian and look at that stuff on the Internet.
  • You can be a Christian and be sexually intimate with your boyfriend.
  • You can be a Christian and participate in the raunch culture, hang out in bars and nightclubs and party with the world and dress like the world and love the music and the movies of the world that promote ungodly philosophies and sexual promiscuity.
  • You can be a Christian and love your stuff and worship the gods of sex and money and power.

Idolatry. Adultery. Balaam corrupted the children of Israel and led them into committing sexual sin and eating foods sacrificed to idols. Idolatry.

Don’t accommodate to the world. That’s Satan’s way of capturing your heart.

The Nicolaitans did the same thing in the church at Pergamum, and we’ll see in the church in Thyatira also in the first century. You can be a Christian and yet have a heart for the world—live in the world, participate in the world’s system. And that teaching is alive and well today.

The epistle of Jude says,

For certain people have crept in unnoticed, ungodly people who pervert the grace of our God [precious grace of our God that helps us say no to sin. They pervert the grace of our God] into sensuality. And in so doing they deny our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ (v. 4).

They threaten the covenant that we have with Christ and that He has with us. James chapter 4:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world [adapt, accommodate, a friend of the world] makes himself an enemy of God (v. 4).

You who have a covenant with God. First John 2 says,

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the father is not in him (v. 15).

By the way, do you know what the name Pergamum means? It actually means “married.” Here was a church some of whom had become married to the world and thought it was okay and taught others that it was okay. And Jesus is saying to the church in Pergamum, “It’s not okay for you to be married to the world. You are married to Me. Be faithful. Keep your covenant.”

And Jesus says to the church today, to us, “It’s not okay to be married to the world. You are married to Me. I love you. I gave My life for you. Don’t accommodate to the world. That’s Satan’s way of capturing your heart. Don’t let him have his way.”

Leslie Basham: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been describing the link between idolatry and adultery. She’s given us a lot to think about. When you’re unfaithful to God, it’s like a spouse being unfaithful in marriage. Nancy will be right back to pray.

If you appreciate the way God uses Nancy’s messages in your life, would you join those who make the messages possible? We’re available because of listeners who see the value of Revive Our Hearts and want to share it with others. If you’ve gotten a lot out of this teaching, would you help us share it with other people?

When you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll send a booklet that will help you get a lot more out of our study in Revelation. It’s called Ears to Hear. I hope you’ll read the letters to the churches in Revelation on your own and follow up by answering the questions in this booklet. Ask for Ears to Hear when you call 1–800–569–5959 with your gift, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Tomorrow, Nancy will give you advice when someone in the church is blatantly sinning. How should you get involved? Now she’s back to pray.

Nancy: O Father, how I pray that You will open our eyes to ways that we may have flirted with the world and maybe even become married to the world. Bring us to repentance for the ways that we have breeched our covenant with You, where we have been spiritually adulterous. Have mercy on us O God. Forgive us. Wash our hearts and draw us to a pure, unadulterated love relationship with You. I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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