Why Isn't Tolerance A Christian Virtue?

Text:  Revelation 2:18-29

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

You may notice that the message that Christ sent to the pastor and the church in Thyatira has a similar feeling to the message that He sent to the pastor and church in Pergamum.  That is to say; in last week’s sermon, the Lord brings forth the Old Testament people of Balaam and Balak to prove a point about the problems in Pergamum. Well, in tonight’s reading about the church of Thyatira, the Lord brings up another Old Testament person, one is shameful.  That person is named Jezebel.

Jezebel was the wife of an Old Testament King named, Ahab.  And the reason why Jezebel is not looked upon with favor in the Bible is because she brought to the Israelites a bunch of pagan practices.  Yes, she brought false worship of false gods and the seduction of sexual immorality into the midst of the Nation of Israel. Now, I wish I could tell you that King Ahab stood against Jezebel’s paganism and sexual mischievousness, but unfortunately, Israel adopted these practices alongside their own Israelite practices. 

Jezebel wreaked havoc by introducing all of this paganism into midst of Israel and then to make things worse, she eventually tried to put all of the Lord’s prophets to death.

Now, considering all of this, if we fast forward approximately 900 years, from the Old Testament to the book of Revelation, we hear mention of the name Jezebel.  While it is true that Jezebel had been dead for centuries, it is also not true that her ways and tactics had stopped working among God’s people.  In other words, during the time of the church of Thyatira, her name and significance lived on, for Jesus used Jezebel’s name to say that there was teaching in the midst of the church of Thyatira which was seducing people to practice sexual immorality and to embrace pagan practices. 

And so, we can see that Jezebel is a symbol of churches and people that want to mingle pagan religion and the Christian faith together, much like we heard last Wednesday with the church of Pergamum. 

And much like the church of Pergamum, the pastor and the congregation of Thyatira go the way of tolerance.  Yes, the pastor and congregation are tolerating the tactics and ways of Jezebel in the church.  They are tolerating sexual immorality and getting cuddly with pagan gods.     

Now, as you know, tolerance has become a very popular word in our culture.  It has seen a drastic increase in use; the increase started in the 1950s and had reached a record high in our last decade. It is a word that is positive and good, at least we are told.  It is what our schools teach, what our presidents promote, what music and movie stars encourage, and what people, in general, say that we need more of.  But here the Lord, whose eyes are as flames of fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze, is not promoting tolerance. He is opposing it. He warns against it.  The reason why? The answer, because tolerance is the opposite of repentance.

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that tolerance is not a Christian virtue.  We have heard this before. It actually is a pagan one. (Believe it or not, it was actually Ghandi, not Christ, who coined some form of the phrase, "hate the sin, not the sinner.") Indeed, the idea of tolerance is an ancient pagan idea, in fact, it is at least as ancient as Jezebel herself.  To the point, though, consider a moment how tolerance brought into Israel by Jezebel backfired. Consider how dangerous tolerance is. In other words, at first Jezebel’s pagan practices were permitted. Then they were accepted. And then anyone who dared challenge her pagan practices was killed.  Tragically, this is how false doctrine and pagan practices work.  Indeed, error typically emerges into the church and a culture in three stages.

Permit me to elaborate.    

First, false doctrine and pagan practices and worshipping false gods begin by asking for tolerance. (Let’s just call all these things ‘error’ for the sake of simplicity)  So, the friends and supporters of error say to the majority of the people, who are not upholding error, this:

“You need not be afraid of this error; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of the others. We know that the Church has her standards of doctrine; of course, we shall never interfere with them; we only ask for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.”

As a result, error is tolerated. It is given space and room to breathe.  Error is given a pat on the head.   

Time goes by, though, and error is not content with merely being tolerated, but then wants equality.  More specifically, instead of being on the opposite side of truth, error wants to be on the same side as truth.  Error wants to stand side by side with truth and be respected as good, right, and salutary.  So, error demands equality with truth. And anyone who would dare to try and keep error on the opposite side of truth is deemed as closed minded, unloving, and a suppressor.     

And so error, as we can see, has just traveled from a minority position where it was tolerated, to being accepted as equal to truth.  But as expected, error is not content to merely be equal with truth; it must go on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy.  Error does this by attacking and eliminating truth.

Do you see how this works my friends?  When error is tolerated, it then wants equality, and once it has equality, error seeks to snuff out the truth so that it can be on top.[1]  All of this is why Jesus comes down so hard on Thyatira for being tolerant.  He said,

“Do not hold this teaching, do not learn what some call the "deep things of Satan."

Indeed, my friends, we must reject this pagan idea of ‘tolerance’ especially in the church, for tolerance is self-centered. It is promiscuous. It destroys both itself and others, for tolerance in the end climbs to the top with error – past equality – to supremacy and then becomes entirely intolerant.  Intolerance is the opposite of repentance – it is an enemy of the Gospel. 

Dear Baptized Saints, love and tolerance are very different views of the world from very different sources. The world operates with tolerance, the church though operates with love. Love is not the same as tolerance, for love actually cares. Love is very intentionally intolerant, both of sin, and of its terrible consequences. Love is willing to suffer to serve the other. How different and incompatible are Jezebel and Jesus and how destructive it is to confuse these two, to mingle them.

In Jezebel, we do not see love, but we see tolerance gone wild. We see a strong, domineering character that was self-willed and forceful.  She demanded that her gods have at least equal rights with God, and in the end, she went after the prophets of God to have them killed.  This is fanatical hate, clothed in the pious words of so-called tolerance. 

On the other hand, in Jesus, we do not see tolerance, but we see love.  If Jesus would have gone the way of tolerance, He would ‘not’ have gone to the cross but would have left us in our sins.  And if we were left in our sins, we would be left with damnation.  So much for the way of tolerance!  But because of His great love for us and His rich mercy, Jesus could not tolerate our sin.  Indeed, the Son of God could not tolerate our sin, so He was compelled to the cross – in love – to do something about it.

Therefore, beloved Saints, in light of all that we have heard, hold fast to what you have in repentance. Hold fast what you have from Christ until He comes. Do not bend to the winds of cultural tolerance that excuses and celebrates sin.  Do not become a reed blowing in the wind of trying to blend errors and Christianity together – as if all religions are the same.  Do not bounce upon the waves of popular opinions that are here one day and gone the next. Be aware of false doctrine.  Be sober minded regarding the seduction of false teachers and lousy ethics.  Remember who you belong to.  Remember who you are in your baptisms.  Remember that the Father has taken you from the dominion of darkness and placed you into the Kingdom of His Son. 

And if the world calls you intolerant, count it a blessing, for you know that love and tolerance are far from synonyms.

Remember, as you hold steadfast to Christ, error will push back against you claiming that you must tolerate it and accept it, but do not budge, for you know this day that what error does not tell you is that it will eventually persecute you and kill you.  Regardless of the way of all the Jezebels in the church and our culture, though, you shall not fear or budge for you have a true lover of mankind in Christ, one who gives us His works, His victory, and also His purity. He truly loves and forgives and sustains you.

Dear Baptized Saints, again, do not tolerate the seductions of Jezebels outside or inside the church.  But rather, believe that Jesus died for you. Believe that because Jesus died for you, that He has not left you to fend for yourself, He is here with you now.  He stands by your side upon the plain as you struggle and fight against the devil, the world, and your own sinfulness.  When you are weak Christ is strong.  When you fall, He stands.  When you confess, He forgives.  Indeed, though you and I are unfaithful, He is faithful to you and me.

Dear Blessed Saints, hold fast, hold fast indeed.  Hold on to Christ, the one who holds on to you.   

In the name Jesus: Amen.

[1] The three stages of error comes from Charles Porterfield Krauth (The Conservative Reformation).

This sermon is borrowed in part from Rev. Sean Daenzers sermon on Revelation 2:18-29. 

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