Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Permission for what?
Rev. 2:6 Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Rev. 2:7 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
The words here are spoken to the church in Ephesus. This was the city famous for the worship of the goddess Diana also called Artemis. The tourist industry of the entire city had been threatened during the time of Paul. Too many people were converting to Christianity and the souvenir sellers weren't able to make as much money as they had in the past. Back in Paul's day, they rioted out of anger.
By the time John's Revelation is written the church has been firmly established for a number of years. He is concerned for their welfare and wants them to overcome the evil surrounding them. What had happened was that the evil surrounding them was now much more subtle than in the time of Paul. The evil found itself shrouded within false teachings of Christianity -- teachings which spoke to the idea of "permission." The Nicolaitans were thought to be followers of one of the original deacons of Jerusalem, Nicolas. He had become one of the gnostics of that first century -- believing that everything in the flesh was evil and that it was only the salvation of the soul that was important. Therefore it didn't matter to him how people lived. He gave them "permission" to do just about anything. These people were known for having eaten meat offered to idols as well as engaging in sexual immorality. It's believed that he may even have encouraged polygamy. In other words, the permission from Nicolas was that everything was permissible so long as your "soul" was tuned in to God -- for somehow there was no connection between the body and the soul.
This permission, however, was inconsequential when it came to eternal life. Nicolas' permission only brought about momentary enjoyment and John knew that this was not what the church in Ephesus needed. He was grateful that the people of Ephesus rejected this teaching (sadly, the church in Pergamum did not). The permission that the people needed was that which would lead to eternal life. This is why there was an admonishment to move on and to be conquerors both in the body and the soul -- because those who become victorious -- by listening and being obedient to the Lord -- they will be given the ultimate permission. This is the "permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God." The Garden of Eden was shut down because of the sinfulness of humanity. Now, permission was again being granted to eat from the tree of life because of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross making it possible that God could again open his garden up to humanity and we had the possibility of being restored in relationship with God, our Creator! This permission led to eternal fulfillment -- not a fulfillment found in the pleasures of this world -- but a genuine satisfaction and transformation of humanity into what God had originally intended. We have permission to eat from the tree.
I'm not sure we really understand how dramatic it is to understand that we have permission to eat from the tree of life! This was what Adam and Eve wanted to do so long ago and with great sadness they were banished from the Garden. Unfortunately I'm afraid that there are many who call themselves Christians who might find themselves looking for permission from the Nicolaitans,
There are those who call themselves "Christians" and yet they encourage the belief that anything is permissible within life. We have been enticed away into the activities of the world and we have said it is all okay. One of the issues for the Nicolaitans was sexual immorality -- it was all justified. Could it be that we find ourselves in the same place today? Sexual immorality -- having sexual relations outside of the marriage relationship -- is being justified by Christians each and every single day. In North America there has certainly been a huge cultural shift in the last 30-40 years and suddenly we find ourselves in a new "norm." The new "norm" is that we test out things sexual with multiple partners until we might "settle" on one for a little while. We then decide to "move in" together. This seems to be replacing the marriage commitment of the past. It's the big step for a young couple. Once they move in together they may have a child and eventually they may decide to make a commitment to one another and choose to get married. The wedding is rather anti-climactic. It's more like a party thrown about half-way through the relationship just for fun.
We are seeing a break-down of the very fiber of society because we have given up what were our cultural norms. Single parents are the number one cause of poverty in America today. But who cares?! We have permission to do anything that we want. And that is pretty much true -- society is giving us permission to do absolutely anything that we feel like doing -- and if it feels good, we ought to have the right to do it. And right there we have pretty much defined the Nicolaitans. We have become the Nicolaitans. And John said that wasn't a good thing. He actually said he hated what they did.
Permission to do everything is not a good thing. Permission to do everything leads to permission to self-destruct.
But we are given permission to enter into eternal life by eating from the tree of life. This only becomes possible when we become overcomers. Overcomers realize, through the enlightenment of the Spirit, that walking with Christ does give us incredible freedom and permission to be a reflection of Jesus in the world. When we focus on being in a relationship with Christ -- then our desires become for him alone. We can be given all the permission in the world but the freedom of that leads us to only one thing -- Jesus! I am so in love with Jesus that I want nothing else -- he is the object of all of my desires. When I eat from the tree of life -- the sweetness and the sustenance of its fruit -- I want nothing but more of Jesus. When I get past the things of this world that will not ever satisfy -- I want Jesus!
Too many today are looking for permission to do the things that drive them. That's the problem. The things that drive us are the things that we are focusing on in our daily lives. When we focus on Jesus, then we realize that we have great freedom and permission to be like him. That is when we step above the things of this world and we become more than conquerors. The Spirit sets us free and gives us the power to overcome.
The tree of life has been reestablished and is ripe for the picking. We have permission. Now go -- and do the right thing.
Lord, thank you for the freedom found in you and the permission to eat from your tree. Amen.