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 Worldly Teaching Should Not Be Tolerated by Zac Poonen



In Revelation 2:14,15, the elder in Pergamum was rebuked for allowing people to teach doctrines that led the church into worldliness and into a lax attitude towards sin. He himself may have been a good man, but he permitted others to teach Balaam’s doctrine. So he was guilty.

The Lord holds elders responsible to ensure that no preaching is permitted in the church that leads people to take sin lightly. There is “a doctrine that leads to godliness” (to a godly, Christ-like life), and that alone is “hygienic teaching” (1 Tim.6:3 - margin). Every other teaching is unhygienic to a greater or lesser degree. Why did this elder permit such lax teachings in his church? Probably he never corrected the brothers and sisters for anything, because he wanted a reputation as a humble and gentle brother. If so, he sought his own honour more than the good of the church. “Humility” and “gentleness” are virtues that we must learn from the example of Jesus, as He Himself told us to do (Matt. 11:29). Otherwise we can get a false understanding of what they mean. Jesus’ humility and gentleness did not prevent Him from driving the money changers out of the temple, or from rebuking Peter with strong words such as, “Get behind Me Satan”, when Peter preached a false doctrine, that Jesus should avoid the cross (Matt.16:22,23).

Satan can use even a good brother like Peter to lead the church astray. For that brother may speak in the meetings in such a way as to dilute the word of the cross. Such preaching must always be recognised as the voice of Satan - for thus Satan can turn the church away from the direction that God wants it to take. One of the greatest responsibilities we have as elders of churches is to determine the direction that our church should take. It must not be the direction of worldliness and compromise. Neither must it be the direction of Pharisaism and legalism. But it must be the way of the cross - the direction of the will of God.

Balaam-like preachers usually have great soul-power and can have an unhealthy influence on people in a church. Preachers who have a powerful human personality invariably overwhelm others, and hinder them from being connected to Christ as their Head. They also influence others in such a way so as to lead them away from true spirituality into superficial, worldly religiosity.

When a preacher has not understood what it is to put his soul-power to death, he will connect believers to himself, and not to Christ the Head. The believers will admire and follow the preacher, but they will never overcome sin or the world in their lives. There is a vast difference between spiritual power and soul-power, and we must be able to discern between the two. A person may have a lot of Bible knowledge and a gift to speak. He may even be very hospitable to the brothers and sisters, and help them in many practical ways. But if he connects people to himself and not to Christ, he will be a hindrance to the building of the Body of Christ. Balaam-like preachers are happy to receive gifts from others (Num.22:15-17). A gift can blind our eyes (Prov.17:8), and make us obligated to men, so that we become their slaves. That can hinder us from speaking the truth of God and correcting our benefactors. A servant of God must always remain free. “You have been bought with a price; do not become the servants of men.” (1 Cor.7:23) The teaching of Balaam flourished in the church in Pergamum because the elder there had become a slave of men.

Balaam’s teaching has two parts to it. Peter mentions both of them in 2 Peter 2:14,15 - covetousness and adultery. Jesus said that the one who loves money HATES GOD, and the one who clings on to money DESPISES GOD (Read Luke 16:13 carefully). If we don’t teach that clearly, the teaching of Balaam will flourish in our church, and the brothers and sisters will be lovers of money. But if we are to teach what Jesus taught, we must first be freed from the grip of money ourselves. It is easier to be freed from anger and from lusting with the eyes, than to be freed from the grip of money. Only through constant battle can we overcome this evil.

Have we seen the love of money as “a root of all sorts of evil” (1 Tim.6:10)? While anger and lusting with the eyes are recognised as evils, the love of money is not. And thus many are enslaved to money, little realising that thereby they hate and despise God. The vast majority of so-called “full-time workers” are enslaved to the love of money, like Balaam. They visit the homes of rich believers, because they know that they will get gifts from them. And thus their mouths are shut when these rich and influential people have to be rebuked for their sins. They travel to preach in churches where they know they will receive handsome offerings. How can such preachers ever serve God? That is impossible. They are serving Mammon. Jesus said that no one could serve two masters. There are three essential qualifications for anyone who wants to be a servant of God, under the new covenant: (1) He must be freed from sin in his personal life (Rom.6:22). (2) He must not seek to please men (Gal.1:10). (3) He must hate and despise money (Lk.16:13). We must check our lives constantly in these three areas to see whether we qualify to be servants of the new covenant or not. Money and material things must have NO hold on our lives, if we are to be effective for God. We must also hate to receive gifts, for Jesus said that “there is more blessing in GIVING than in RECEIVING” (Acts 20:35). If we don’t break free from the grip of money in our lives, we will never be able to love God or to serve Him as we should; and we won’t be able to lead others to love God; and we won’t be able to deliver them from the teaching of Balaam.

The second aspect of the teaching of Balaam is immorality. This teaching encourages brothers and sisters to mingle freely with each other, without any restraint. We read in Revelation 2:14 that it was Balaam who encouraged the Moabite girls to mingle freely with the Israeli young men. This led to such immorality among the Israelites that God slew 24,000 in a single day (Num.25:1-9). Only when Phinehas lifted up a spear and put a stop to it, did God’s anger against Israel cease. When God saw Phinehas’s action, He was so pleased that he gave him the covenant of an everlasting priesthood (Num.25:11-13). God always honours those who are radical against the loose mingling of brothers and sisters in the church.

Here again, as elders, we must be examples, by our personal conduct. We must be serious in our behaviour with sisters and avoid all flippant and unnecessary conversation with them. We must be especially wary of those sisters who always want to speak to us. If we love to talk to the sisters, we are unfit to lead God’s church. We must NEVER speak to women alone in a closed room. It is always best to counsel sisters along with one’s wife, or with another elder brother.
When the disciples saw Jesus speaking to a woman at the well in Samaria, it is written that “they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman” (John 4:27) - because Jesus usually never spoke to a woman alone. He was careful not to do anything that had even the appearance of evil. Here is the example for all of us to follow.


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