Last night, I preached about the church at Thyatira from Revelation 2:18-29. After a few words of praise, Jesus quickly moved into a serious problem that needed to be addressed in that church:
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” ]Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev. 2:20).[/box]
I see a three-fold problem:
- Tolerance – He said, “you allow that woman…” They didn’t do anything to stop the terror that she brought to that congregation.
- Teaching – “… to teach…”
- Taking – “… and seduce My servants…”
It occurs to me that the issue of tolerance is one that we’re facing in our culture, too (as is the case with most, if not all, of the issues that Jesus addressed to the seven churches in Revelation). I wonder why. What makes tolerance such a temptation for God’s people that they would struggle with it in the first century as well as in the twenty-first century?
I think part of the answer has to do with the definition of tolerance that we’ve been given. The New Oxford American Dictionary (the dictionary app on my Mac) defines tolerance as follows:
[box type=”shadow” align=”aligncenter” ]tolerance |ˈtäl(ə)rəns| noun 1 the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with: the tolerance of corruption | an advocate of religious tolerance.[/box]
We understand that there are certain situations in which it is healthy to accept a difference of opinion or behavior. The truth about religious matters, however, is not one of those areas. Jesus said that God’s Word is the truth (John 17:17), and that we can know that truth (John 8:32). It is God-breathed, inspired, and thus intended to be understood (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I’m not advocating that Christians declare war on unbelievers. That’s not the peaceful lifestyle that we’re to be living (Romans 12:18). At the same time, though, I’m not advocating that the relativism that permeates our culture is ok. It isn’t. God has revealed His Word and He expects us to study it, to understand it, and to live by it.
I think that most members of the church sincerely want to do what is right. There must have been a time when many of these Christians in Thyatira were on fire for the Lord. According to the commendation section of Jesus’ words to them, they were still involved in many good works (Rev. 2:19). So, what is the real draw for tolerance? I submit four reasons why tolerance is so tempting for Christians:
1. Tolerance is the path of least resistance. I do not like conflict, and I do not enjoy awkward, tense situations, but Jesus said that our way will not be easy. In fact, He said it will be difficult (Mat. 7:13-14). The tolerance that Thyatira exhibited, and the tolerance that many people in our culture are going for simply doesn’t match up with the Scipture’s view of Christianity. We’re not trying to pick fights with people, but we certainly don’t expect everything to be easy, do we? Read 2 Timothy 3:12.
2. Tolerance satisfies culture. Paul said this would happen. After charging Timothy to preach the Word, the inspired apostle warns him that a time will come when men-pleasers, “having itching ears,” will arise. Peter and John would not approve (Acts 5:29).
3. Tolerance takes the pressure off of Christians. The famous passage is still in the Bible: “judge not, that you be not judged” (Mat. 7:1). Even a candid look at the verses that follow will show the glaring truth that Jesus was teaching that day. He describes two men: one with a beam in his eye and one with a speck in his eye. The beam-eyed guy is trying to remove the speck from his brother’s eye. Jesus says this isn’t the way to go about teaching people the truth. He says that one who desires to help another spiritually must first purify his or her own life through obedience to the Savior. I think the concept Jesus addresses there explains a lot about why our culture is so infatuated with tolerance. Christians today know that, when they try to offer the Bible’s guidance in someone’s life, their own spirituality is going to be scrutinized. We’re imperfect people. We’re trying our best, but we still come up short (Rom. 6:23). God expects faithfulness, not perfection (cf. Rev. 2:10). I’m afraid many Christians, instead of seeking to do their very best to be pleasing to God, simply keep quiet for fear that their faith will be placed under a microscope.
4. Tolerance eliminates hell. If everyone is accepted and ok, then doesn’t it follow that hell is not a real place? If so, what is its purpose? Who will go there? Jesus taught that hell is just as real as heaven is (Mat. 25:46). He said that people will actually go to hell (Mat. 7:13-14). Christians cannot act as those these passages do not exist. Hell is real. The prophets talked of false teachers who went about proclaiming, “Peace! Peace” when there was no peace (Jer. 6:14; 8:11; Ezek. 13:10,16). May we not be among the number who act as though – or even teach that – everything is ok, when everything isn’t ok.
Finally, I’d like to hasten to add that God is patient with mankind (1 Tim. 2:3-4; 2 Pet. 3:9). He loves us, and He wants all of us to be saved. His delay in ending time, however, is not His tolerance of the evil that is being done here. Instead, it is another opportunity to obey.
QUESTION: Why do you think tolerance of sin is such a temptation for Christians?