‘And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
‘I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first. But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practise fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call “the deep things of Satan”, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden; only hold fast to what you have until I come. To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star.
I grew up in the English midlands, and the nearby city of Coventry was well known for car manufacturing, just as the towns of Stoke-on-Trent were famous for their potteries, and, further north, Newcastle for coal. In much the same way, Thyatira was famous for its trade guilds, particularly the smelting of copper and bronze, which probably explains verse 18. Over many years, these industries at Thyatira had all developed their own quasi-religious ceremonies and practices, in an attempt to seek the blessing of the various gods on their work. This was not unusual in this part of the world at this time, but the mistake that the church at Thyatira made was to try and join in with these practices, and they did so in such a way that they compromised Christ.
Some churches today don’t engage with the world around them, and stay closed, as if they are in some artificial cotton wool-wrapped ‘purity’. If a churches does that, I’m not convinced they’re they putting their faith into practice at all well. Christ calls us into the world today, just as he sent his disciples into the world in his own day. Not engaging with the world can be just as big a problem as over-engaging. Surely there needs to be a careful balance, when our engagement with the world can sometimes cause us to challenge what we find, and always to be be offering Christ. What it is that we find which calls us up short, which challenges us and leads us to challenge others, will be very different in your context from mine, but finding the balance is what that over-worn cliché ‘in the world, but not of the world’ surely means today. The example of the church in Thyatira is an example to us of the need to always strive to get the balance right.
We pray with Christ (from John 17):
‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is the Minister of Farnham and Elstead URCs in Surrey.