Do you ever feel pressure to compromise your faith? Maybe it’s a fear that if you talk openly about what you believe, you’ll be ridiculed or gossiped about behind your back. Maybe you’ve experienced persecution in severe ways, like those believers from Syria I’ve met who were beaten by their families when they converted to Christianity. Or maybe you just feel the conflict between what you believe and what our culture believes, between how you live and how our culture tells us to live.
None of this is new. It’s actually what we should expect from the Christian life. The apostle Paul said, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
There are any number of reasons why you might choose to compromise your faith. In the book of Revelation, Jesus writes a letter to the church in Smyrna that gives us three reasons to refuse to do so.
1. Jesus Knows Your Suffering
Smyrna is modern Izmir, Turkey, and at the time of Jesus’s letter, it was a prominent Roman city with an especially strong allegiance to the Roman empire. It was the first city in the ancient world to build a temple in honor of the goddess of Rome, and it won permission over ten other Asian cities to build a temple to the emperor Tiberius in 23 BC (see Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, 73.)
And this strong loyalty to Rome made it an especially difficult city in which to be a Christian. Citizens were expected to pay homage and make sacrifices to the emperor, and this permeated almost every area of life (see G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, 240f.)
Those who refused to participate could be banned from trade guilds, imprisoned, exiled, or even put to death (Beale, 241). All of this was happening to the church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:9–10).
And Jesus’s first words to this church are, “I know your tribulation” (Rev. 2:9). When you suffer for your faith, the first thing Jesus wants you to know is that he sees you and he is not far off.
When you suffer for your faith, the first thing Jesus wants you to know is that he sees you and he is not far off.
Now our employer may not require us to worship an emperor, like employers in Smyrna, but there are ways that our society pressures us to worship other idols. There’s a pressure to make money and success our god, to work endless hours and to make profit our only bottom line. And if we don’t buy into this idol of success, we might miss out on that next promotion.
Whether the cost is big or small, Jesus says to you, “I know your suffering. I see what it cost you in that meeting, or on that Friday night, or in that relationship. I know your suffering, and I am with you.”
2. Jesus Is Sovereign
Jesus not only sees your suffering. He is in control.
In his letter to the church in Smyrna, Jesus identifies himself as “the first and the last”(Rev. 2:8). It’s a declaration of his absolute sovereignty (cf. Isa. 44:6; Mounce, 60). In the midst of their persecution, Jesus tells the church to take comfort in the fact that it’s not their persecutors who are really in control. It might feel like that, but it’s an illusion. Jesus is in control.
When your boss or a client treats you poorly because of your faith, it might feel like God is far off. But Jesus wants you to know that they’re not actually the ones in control. They may have a limited power over you. Maybe your boss can even fire you. But in the grand scheme of reality, the little slice that they control is entirely insignificant. In fact, even this little slice is in the hands of God. They can’t do a single thing apart from him.
And so Jesus says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer” (Rev. 2:10). For many of us, fear of persecution is actually the biggest reason we’re tempted to compromise our faith. When we remember that Jesus is sovereign, we can be faithful to him, even when it’s unpopular, even if it means we’re not accepted by our coworkers, even if it costs us a second date.
3. Jesus Has Conquered Death
We can refuse to compromise our faith because Jesus has conquered even death itself. He is the one “who died and came to life” (Rev. 2:8). And so he says to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10)—that is, the crown of eternal life.
The word “crown” had special significance to the church in Smyrna for two reasons. First, Smyrna was famous for its games. And the word used here for crown is not the word for a royal crown. It’s the word for a wreath or garland that was awarded to the victor of a game (Mounce, 76).
And second, Smyrna had a famous street called the “Street of Gold” that curved around the mountain that overlooked the city, and at the top of the mountain was a circle of buildings, which was called “the crown of Smyrna” (Mounce, 73). It was a point of pride for the city.
Jesus is saying to the church, “Don’t be so concerned with the things your culture values. Forget about those crowns. I will give you the real crown, the crown of eternal life. That’s the crown you should seek.”
This is the key to refusing to compromise your faith: reorient your perspective to what is truly most important. If your goal in life is happiness here and now, then you’ll choose comfort over faithfulness to God. If your chief concern is your physical health, then you’re going to compromise your faith when you are threatened with violence.
The only way to refuse to compromise is to make life with God your ultimate goal, the crown you desire above all else.
The only way to refuse to compromise your faith is to make life with God your ultimate goal, the crown you desire above all else.
Only then will you have the right perspective on work, relationships, life, and death. Only then can you refuse to compromise your faith, even if it should cost you everything else.
And if we’re called to be faithful, even unto death, how much more should we be faithful in the small persecutions of our day? How much more willing should we be to say that we believe in things that sound utterly foolish to our coworkers? How much more should we be willing to lose a client or pass up a job, if that’s what it means to be faithful to God?
Jesus Brings Us Victory
The problem is, our faith is weak at times. In the small and big decisions of our day, we do compromise our faith. But the good news is that there is one who was faithful on our behalf.
Jesus Christ was faithful to the Father, even unto death. He was arrested, beaten, mocked, and killed. But on the third day, he rose again victorious over sin and death. And in his resurrection, he has secured our victory, the crown of eternal life.