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Five Slippery Steps to Spiritual Compromise from the Church of Pergamum

By October 3, 2018Christian Living21 min read

I was surprised by the following true story:

The location: Pearl Harbor The date: Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. Three hundred and fifty-three Japanese airplanes began swarming all around the harbor. Within a couple of hours, America lost eight battleships, six major airfields, almost all planes and 2,400 men. What began at 7:50 a.m. was supposedly a surprised attack. But these are the startling facts:

That morning, 50 minutes earlier, at 7 a.m., while the Japanese warplanes were 137 miles (50 minutes) away, two US soldiers on a small radar station in the Pacific scanned the screen and saw dots appearing, until the whole screen was filled. These soldiers notified their youthful supervisor, a lieutenant. No other officer was around, that being a Sunday.

The lieutenant thought these must be planes from California, and without another thought, said these crucial words: “Don’t worry about it.” There would have been time to scramble the planes at Pearl Harbor, prepare the battleships and shelter the men, but this lieutenant, at the most responsible moment of his career, failed the nation with the words, “Don’t worry about it.”

In our own lives, is there something that could wreak havoc–spiritual destruction in your life–and yet you dismiss it away, thinking, “Oh, don’t worry about it! It’s just a ‘little’ sin”? It is nothing big.” That is what we call spiritual compromise. Pearl Harbor may have been prevented if someone took the warning seriously. But because they didn’t, they said, “Don’t worry about it,” and numerous lives were lost.

Many of us may have an area of spiritual compromise in our lives as we read.

Compromise. We hear that word in politics, and we think that it is a good thing. Recently, we had a limited federal government shutdown. I heard media personalities asking the question: “When will the Republicans and Democrats reach a compromise on DACA, so we can move forward together?” Compromise: It sounds like a good thing, at least in politics. What about compromise in relationships? Compromise in marriage is not only important, it is necessary. Think of married couples going shopping together, and you’ll understand the importance of compromise.

My wife Jenn tends to shop in slow motion, like she’s leading a group of children on a field trip. There is very little attention span, lots of bathroom and snack breaks, and generally you move about .5 miles an hour. On the other hand, in a mall I’m more like a Navy Seal team on a rescue op. It’s an in-and-out mission–we’ve got to make the clothing extraction. I’m running in, almost at a frantic pace, checking the sign to find the location of the store I need; then I’m mapping out the most strategic route to find the fastest shortcut, and I’m in the store and out with my jeans in about 18 seconds, while the cashier is thinking, “Did you see something?”

So when my wife and I go shopping, we have to use this word “compromise.” I have to slow down, and simultaneously, Jenn has to speed up. We both compromise our strategies and generally enjoy our life and marriage much better that way (plus Amazon doesn’t hurt…) In politics, relationships and business agreements, compromise is important. But in our moral and spiritual lives, when we use the word “compromise,” this is a very negative thing.

Tony Evans said:

“Compromise is the cancer of the church, and we must rid Christ’s body of it. While Christians can compromise on preferences, they cannot compromise on principles. We can’t be one way on Sunday and another on Monday. This is a major problem among Christians in America today. We don’t take a stand. We don’t keep our standards. We merely shift to satisfy society.”

There was a church in Asia Minor that was beginning to take those slippery steps. Today we’re going to study the church that met in the city of Pergamum. John the Apostle was on the island of Patmos and turned around to see Jesus in all of His unveiled glory. And Jesus said, “write these things down” and then spoke a word for seven churches in Asia Minor. With each of these messages, we see the following outline:

. A City

. A Characteristic of Christ

. A Commendation

. A Criticism

. A Correction

. A Crown

The City of Pergamum

Pergamum was a religious epicenter. We’ve already looked at Smyrna–the commercial center–and Ephesus–the political center– but then there was Pergamum, the religious center. It was quite an impressive city, built high on a mountain and a very strong tower of defense. In fact, the name, “Pergamum,” means “citadel,” or “lifted up” or “high.” It had beautiful views of the country around it. Usually high places invoke a sense of wonder, awe and meditation, and the religious cults took advantage of that fact. Pergamum can also mean “marriage.” The church there was married to Christ but were allowing spiritually adulterous thoughts to creep in.

As soon as you walked into the city, you would see the imposing temple to Athena, right inside the city gate. Then there was the great temple of Caesar Augustus and also Hadrian’s temple.You look a little farther and oh, there’s the large altar to Zeus with an idol on it near the king’s palace. If that wasn’t enough, look along the side of the mountain, and you’re sure to see the temple of Dionysius, the goat god of wine. He is depicted with horns, but his upper part as a man and his lower part as a goat, with cloven feet and a tail.

When you think of the spiritual oppression with all of these temples all gathered in the same vicinity, it is no wonder that Jesus refers to this area as “the throne of Satan.” The word “parchment” derives its name from Pergamum. In fact, the people there so appreciated books, they had a library of 200,000 books second only to the library of Alexandria. Though they were immersed with piles of literature and parchment, only one divine paragraph was needed to heal them!

Characteristic of Christ

“These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword.” Interestingly, Jesus refers to the church that is beginning to compromise back to His mouth, where the sharp, two-edged sword was extending out from. When you think of “sword” in the Bible (mentioned 404 times), in the New Testament, it is almost exclusively–though not entirely–used in the context of the Bible/the Scriptures/the Word of God.


“I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

First, Jesus says “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is.” What does “Satan’s throne” mean?

If you polled the average person and asked them, “Where is Satan’s throne?” They would invariably, unequivocally say “HELL.” Or Las Vegas or maybe even Washington, D.C. But in John’s day, Jesus would say it was in Pergamum. “Satan’s throne” was most likely referring to the large throne of Zeus, which was located in Pergamum. Interestingly, this throne was discovered by the German engineer, Carl Humann. Humann excavated the throne stone by stone and took it to Berlin, where it was reassembled in placed in the Museum of Pergamon. In 1930 the museum opened with the throne as its centerpiece. Eventually, the altar caught the eye of Albert Speer, the new chief architect for the Nazi Party. Germany’s new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, had commissioned him to design the parade grounds for the party rallies in Nuremberg. For inspiration, Speer turned to the Pergamon Altar.

Can you imagine living in the midst of “sin city?” Having the throne of Satan right down the street from you? You may not have a literal throne that you can point out, but we still dwell in the midst of a sinful people. Jesus knows that where we live in this world can prove difficult. He who dwelt in the dregs of Nazareth understands the difficulty of living in the world but not of it.

Notice the second commendation:

“You Hold Fast to My Name”—they weren’t selling out, as a whole. They remained true to God, even though they were right there in the midst of incredible evil. The verb “hold fast” (krateo) means to “grasp forcibly,” or in this figurative use, “to remain firm.” In Revelation 2:1, Jesus “holds the seven stars” as He watches over the churches and here the believers “hold fast” to His name. “My name” points to their adherence to the deity of Christ. In the midst of a pluralist society, much of the church refused to bow the knee to the false gods among them.

Willing to die for the faith—they were even willing to die for what they believed, and Jesus points out an example: Antipas—Jesus’ faithful martyr—whose name means “against all.” Antipas was the first recorded martyr of Asia. Some people believe he was slowly roasted to death in a bronze kettle during the reign of Domitian. His name represented the convictions he lived by: He would not give in nor compromise. Even if he had to be “against all,” he would not bend the knee to spiritual compromise.

So you have this great positive report from the Lord Jesus Christ. You have a wicked city but a faithful group who were willing to DIE for what they knew was right. So what’s the deal? Is that all Jesus had to say to them? No, there’s still a problem. Look at the criticism in verse 14.


“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Revelation 2:14-15).

What? Not the high and lifted up citadel of Pergamum! I thought they had it all together! Perhaps at first glance. They were in the midst of evil all around them, and they were willing to die for their beliefs. But it was their behavior that was bringing them down.

Jesus mentions the doctrine of Balaam. Balaam was a prophet that Balak, the king of Moab, wanted to hire to pronounce judgment on Israel. But Balaam opened his mouth to speak for the Lord, and all he could do was utter blessings on Israel. And Balak said, “No, please don’t do that! Utter curses, not blessings.” And Balaam said, “Well, there’s no way I could do that. Even if you were to give me say, $10,000 in cash and five wives; I could never do that!”

So then again, he pronounced blessings, instead of curses, and Balak says, “No, utter curses, not blessings,” and this happened three times. Balaam said, “Hey, I said, ‘even if you offered me $10,000 in cash, I still couldn’t do that!” Then the very next verse we see that suddenly the children of Israel began to get involved in sexual immorality with the Moabite women, and God sent a plague and 24,000 of them died. What happened? Elsewhere in Numbers it says that Balaam gave them that advice.

It doesn’t say this in Numbers, but we can read between the lines. It seems Balaam was hinting at something with the money suggestion, and said, “Look, I simply can’t utter curses, but I do know these Israelite guys really well. They seem to be tempted easily by the seductive Moabite women. So bring a bunch of the women around to persuade the men to commit sexual immorality, and then God Himself will curse them; and we’re all happy: I get paid. I don’t have to lie when I prophesy. You get your curses, and we all go home happy!”

Balaam was the prophet for profit. His advice led the Israelites to compromise–and sin–and thus, his counsel was successful. Balaam’s counsel became the prototype for all false teachers.

Peter said this about false teachers:

2 Peter 2:15-19 (ESV)

“Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness. These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.”

So what is the doctrine of Balaam? It is to compromise what we know is morally upright for what is expedient. It’s to put stumbling blocks in front of people, things that will trip up our walk with God. For the church of Pergamum, it began by eating food sacrificed to idols; and then eventually, the slippery slope led to spiritual idolatry.

What about the teaching of the Nicolaitans? As we learned with the church of Ephesus, the Nicolaitans were followers of Nicolas, who apparently taught that you were free in Christ to do whatever you wanted to, with no consequences, a license to sin. There was a separating of the leadership and the laity–a hierarchy of superiority versus the everyday man or woman.

So the combined hybrid teaching of both Balaam and the Nicolaitans was that you could compromise your behavior and mix in what the world is doing, yet at the same time, have the reputation of being a lofty, high stronghold of authority and religious superiority.

What a sad indictment on the church. There may be some among the visible church that have compromised what they know is wrong, because either they thought they were free to do it, or there were no consequences, or because it looked fun or exciting, yet at the same time, maintaining the guise of spiritual superiority toward others.

The church of Smyrna was unbending toward compromise, even under intense persecution, but the church of Pergamum wanted to maintain their lofty standing while still allowing sin to creep in.

One official in India purportedly said off the record one time: “Don’t persecute the Christians, or they will become strong and spread. Instead, wherever you find Christians grouped together, build cinemas, drinking halls, night clubs and gambling dens, and they will destroy themselves.”

All too often this is the case. We worship Jesus on Sunday morning and put on the Christian radio station posture, and then go home and worship pleasure, or money, or success or self the rest of the week.

Spiritual compromise isn’t choosing other gods to worship INSTEAD of Jesus. It’s trying to include other gods along with our worship of Jesus.

Plenty of people are bowing down to other idols. The problem is when Christians purport to bow down to Jesus and then also choose to bow down to other gods. It’s compromise. It’s the way of Balaam.

D.L. Moody said: “Christians should live in the world, but not be filled with it. A ship lives in the water; but if the water gets into the ship, she goes to the bottom. So Christians may live in the world; but if the world gets into them, they sink.”

Compromise says, “I know I shouldn’t, but why not?” Compromise chooses to either ignore or belittle judgment that comes upon wrong behavior. You could define spiritual compromise as: Accepting a lower moral standard to live by that lessens or deadens your spiritual effectiveness. In spiritual compromise, you begin by taking a step, then another step and then another step in the direction away from your convictions and eventually toward destruction.

Sin begins in the mind, develops in the heart and comes to fruition in the body. All sin can be traced back to an initial moment of compromise.

What if the world decided to compromise one percent. That’s all? Here’s what would occur:

Verizon would have no cell service for 14 minutes each day. One point seven million pieces of first class mail lost each day. Thirty-five thousand newborn babies dropped by doctors or nurses each year. Two hundred thousand people getting the wrong drug prescriptions each year. Unsafe drinking water three days a year. Three misspelled words on the average page of type. Two million people would die from food poisoning each year. In fact, there are:

Five Slippery Steps to Spiritual Compromise:

1. A failure to purpose in our hearts ahead of time to do the right thing.

2. Underestimating evil (including the failure to recognize temptation).

3. Rationalizing.

4. A failure to consider the costly consequences.

5. A sudden, deliberate choice to give in to sin.

The best example of this sort of compromise in the Bible is Lot. Lot got into an argument with Abraham over the land because they had their own sheep, cattle and farmers, and the land wasn’t big enough for them both. So Abraham was a godly man and said, “Look out onto the land, and choose where you want to dwell.” And Lot looked, and Genesis says that he saw that the land was fertile and pleasing to the eye, so he set out for that land. What land was that? The plains near Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot went out. You would think he would have stayed as far away from Sodom and Gomorrah as possible. But his eye was appeased, and so often it is with our eyes that we see something we want; and we head toward it. We didn’t actually do anything wrong yet, but we are taking a step closer to it, putting ourselves in danger and harm’s way. So his tents were pitched TOWARD Sodom.

The next we read about Lot, he was IN Sodom. Not only IN sin, but at the city gate, in the most prominent place, fully engulfed in culture, politics and all that Sodom had to offer. He couldn’t get out easily. His family thought he was joking when he tried to convince them to leave. That is the most saddening: Your compromise will usually affect others.


“Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.”

What does that mean? If you look back in verse 12, Jesus wanted to identify Himself to this church as, “He who has the sharp, double-edged sword.” The sword is coming out of Jesus’ MOUTH. This kind of sword is used in judgment. If you do not repent of your compromise, Jesus says, “I will come with judgment and My Word, and you will reap what you have sown.” God is offering the church of Pergamum (and you and I) a chance to repent of our compromise. But not only that, He also offers a crown–a reward for those who overcome.


“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it”’ (Revelation 2:17).

Manna is the bread, the supernatural spiritual sustenance that God alone provided miraculously. And Jesus promises this, along with a white stone. This stone, also called “Tessera,” had many usages in the ancient Near East

(1) It could be used for a ticket to special banquets.

(2) It could be used to vote for acquittal by a jury.

(3) It could be used as a symbol of victory for an athlete.

(4) It could be used to show the freedom of a slave.

Notice that all of these represent something amazing about Jesus.

. Jesus provides Access to a banquet feast.

. Jesus brings Acquittal from the penalty of sin.

. Jesus brings Victory over sin and death.

. Jesus has Redeemed us from the curse of the law.

Many ladies had on their left hand a very expensive and beautiful stone. It was given to them by someone who loved them deeply, and probably given sacrificially, at great cost. That stone represented a relationship with someone. Amazingly, Jesus offers us a white stone, and on that stone is a name written which no one will know except the one who receives it. Jesus desires a marriage relationship without compromise-with intimacy and fellowship-with provision and an identity found in Him. And it is promised to those who overcome.

Are you already heading down the slippery slope of spiritual compromise? You may need to purpose in your heart not to sin. Or you may need to start heeding the warnings around you and start taking serious what is tempting you. Or perhaps you may need to put safeguards in place to protect your heart and mind. Perhaps someone reading this needs to repent and confess that they have given in to compromise.

Dr. Laurence M. Gould, president emeritus of Carleton College, once said this:

“I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don’t think our civilization will end that way. I think it will die when we no longer care. Arnold Toynbee has pointed out that 19 of 21 civilizations have died from within and not by conquest from without. There were no bands playing and flags waving when these civilizations decayed. It happened slowly, in the quiet and in the dark when no one was aware.”

Does that describe you? Is there spiritual apathy that has crept in to your heart; and like the lieutenant at Pearl Harbor, you find yourself saying, “Don’t worry about it”? Are you in need of the Word of God to come and speak to your divided heart? My prayer is that you will hear the Word of God, and you will heed the Word of God. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying…” ( Revelation 2:7).

Enjoy “Lessons from the Church of Smyrna” & “A Letter to the Modern Church” by Pilgrim in this series.

Pilgrim Benham is the founding pastor of King’s Cross Church in Bradenton, Florida, and the co-founder of The Gospel Forum. He has written several books, including Hail the King, available now on Amazon. He and his wife Jenn have two children and are also the hosts of the Marriage and Ministry podcast. Learn more at