Tolerance is all the rage today, and perhaps no other value is so trumpeted in modern Western culture than this one. It is the ultimate test of whether one is politically correct or not. But the modern notion of tolerance is devastatingly false. Unlike the original understanding of the term, in which we were expected to put up with those that we strongly disagreed with, now the word has come to mean something altogether different.
Today it means to accept, embrace, endorse and coddle the ideas, beliefs, worldviews, ideologies, practices, behaviours and actions of others, no matter how much they may be repulsive to us. For example, in the past one could respect or at least tolerate a socialist while detesting his socialism.
But now we must accept any and every belief and practice, whether we like it or not. Thus we now are told we must embrace the beliefs of atheists, or the practices of homosexuals, or the values of humanism, or the worldview of the New Age Movement.
To fail to do so is to be guilty of intolerance. But that of course simply destroys the very meaning of the word. We do not tolerate that which we like, or agree with, or approve of. We can only tolerate that which we find repugnant or disagreeable. But today to show any disapproval or dislike of other beliefs and actions is the greatest of vices.
Christians of all people however should not be caught up in this false cult of tolerance. There is nothing Christian about it. In fact, the Bible makes it quite clear that believers are to be intolerant of many things. Indeed, we are always to be intolerant of sin.
When we are not, then we sin again, for we end up tolerating or accepting that which is sinful. Paul made this crystal clear when he commanded us to “hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good” (Rom 12:9). This is a constant theme running throughout Scripture.
Jesus himself makes this perfectly clear in his words to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. There he roundly condemns those who tolerate evil, while he heartily praises those who are intolerant of it. Take as an example the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7).
Consider his words of praise to the Ephesians: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Rev 2:2).
The Ephesians were intolerant, and Jesus loves it. He commends their intolerance, because they dislike the very things He dislikes. Indeed, Jesus praises them because they actually hate that which He hates: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev 2:6).
It seems that the Ephesians heeded well the admonition of Paul when he was with them: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28-31).
G.K. Beale reminds us that such false teachers were not easy to detect with their deceitful guise. “Nevertheless, the Ephesians’ theological acumen penetrated this disguise and revealed the false ‘apostles’ for the ‘liars’ they were. Consequently, the emphasis is on persevering in guarding the internal doctrinal purity of the church’s faith. This was not an occasional strength of the church but an ever vigilant attitude toward inner purity.”
But Jesus must address the opposite situation in the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29). Consider this word of rebuke: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:20).
The believers in Thyatira are tolerating what they should be quite intolerant of. This false teaching leads to sinful lifestyles as well. Wrong beliefs will lead to wrong actions. Indeed, the connection between idolatry and immorality is constantly found throughout Scripture.
In between these two churches is the church in Pergamum (2:12-17). These believers also are rebuked by Jesus for tolerating that which they should not tolerate: “Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (2:15-16).
As Grant Osborne puts it, “The believers are being given a choice: go to war against the heretics or else God will do so for them but with far more drastic results. This theme will be made more explicit in verses 20-25 (Thyatira, who also has failed to condemn the false teachers).”
We certainly do not hear much today about going to war against false teaching, or even condemning it. Indeed, we don’t hear much about hating the sin of heresy or false doctrine. We don’t hear much about how sinful it is to tolerate that which is evil, that which God detests.
The truth is, we have come a long way from the early church. Back then it was a life and death struggle, and to tolerate sin in any form – be it false doctrine and wrong behaviour – was viewed as a great sin. Today we have totally reversed all this.
Today we seem to think that we are somehow being Christlike and compassionate when we tolerate any and every trendy teaching, lifestyle and activity. Our churches are awash with questionable if not patently false doctrines, yet we say not a word.
Our churches are being infiltrated by those who would promote every ungodly lifestyle, whether it is homosexuality or abortion, and we do nothing about it. We think it would be unloving to speak out about such matters. We think it would be judgmental to actually hold all teachings and behaviours up to the clear light of Scripture.
We are paying a heavy price for this cowardice and compromise. Jesus offers the strongest words of rebuke in Revelation 2-3 for any believer or church who engages in such syncretistic and idolatrous activities. Yet we somehow think we are being quite Christlike in doing the very opposite.
Jesus said to those who continued in such activities that they must repent, otherwise face His just wrath. If that was so very true of those seven churches, how can it not also be absolutely true for us today?