CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Biblical Intolerance

Jan 7, 2014

Christians should of course have as a primary goal to be more godly, to be more like our Lord. We should seek to emulate, imitate, resemble, and come closer into conformity to who our God is. We do this by sharing in his attributes. Of course we cannot share in what are known as his incommunicable attributes (eg., omniscience, omnipotence, etc.)

But we can share in his communicable or moral attributes (his holiness, righteousness, love, mercy, and so on). The Christian journey is about becoming more like Christ, more like our master. We are to be little Christs, reflecting who he is to a needy world.

Here I want to speak about one such attribute or characteristic of God that we should take part in, but one which we seldom hear much about. Indeed, it will come as quite a shock to many believers who have been raised on bubble gum theology and pop culture versions of Christianity.

They will be shocked to learn that God’s complete intolerance of evil is a part of who he really is. Indeed, his hatred of evil is part and parcel of his love. There are simply many things God just will not tolerate or put up with. I have written often before about divine love and hate. See here for example:
billmuehlenberg.com/2010/05/26/love-and-hate-biblically-speaking/
billmuehlenberg.com/2007/02/22/love-and-hate-in-an-age-of-tolerance/

So let me speak to a related theme of tolerance. Since this is the buzz word of an entire generation, and one of the most abused words in the English language, it is worth looking at how God views tolerance – and intolerance. The biblical use of these words will of course depend on various translations.

Here I just rely on the NIV and offer a few examples from both Testaments. In addition to the many texts which speak about God hating evil, we also have passages speaking about God refusing to tolerate evil. Consider just several of these.

In Psalm 101:5 we find these words: “Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret, I will put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, I will not tolerate.” There, he said it. Yahweh will not tolerate everything, and in this case, he certainly does not tolerate the arrogant.

Habakkuk is rightly aware of God’s intolerance toward evil, yet he gets confused about why some evil seems to be allowed, at least for a period: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (Hab. 1:13).

Peter of course answers Habakkuk’s question hundreds of years later: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

The fact that evil seems to go unchecked now is no indication at all that God somehow is now tolerating evil, or is slack when it comes to his hatred of sin. All sin will one day be fully and finally judged, so do not look upon his patience and mercy as meaning he is now tolerant of it.

The New Testament also insists that we do not tolerate evil. As but one example from Paul, consider the case of incest in the Corinthian church: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife” (1 Corinthians 5:1).

Pagans would not even tolerate this, says Paul, yet you Corinthians are allowing it to transpire. Paul refuses to tolerate any wrong-doing. But I can already hear some believers who have been raised on nothing but sentimental sap and mushy notions of divine love saying, ‘Yes, but Jesus was always tolerant’.

Um, no. Have these folks ever read the account of him cleansing the temple? To deliberately form a whip and then use it with gusto on the money changers was not exactly what I would call an act of tolerance. Indeed, it sounds extremely intolerant to me.

And we find Jesus himself using the language of intolerance when discussing the seven churches as found in Rev 2 and 3. Check out what he says on two occasions:

“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” (Revelation 2:2).

“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” (Revelation 2:20).

He applauds the church at Ephesus because they will not tolerate the wicked, and they carefully judge and test all those who come their way. And he condemns the church at Thyatira because they are tolerating evil – in this case Jezebel and her evil teaching and practices.

So intolerance is a very good thing indeed. God is intolerant of many things, and so should we be. The sham concept of tolerance as the world knows and uses it should have no part in the Christian vocabulary and lifestyle. We are never to tolerate sin. Evil must always be hated.

Douglas Wilson has just penned an incisive piece on biblical hate so it is worth quoting from him as I conclude this piece. He is spot on in his observations, and his title alone should grab your interest: “7 Thoughts On Becoming a Better Hater”.

Yep, we believers need to become better haters – biblically speaking that is. He begins by appealing to Proverbs 8:13: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.” He writes:

“The fear of the Lord is to hate what is evil. We should be able to immediately see that there is no virtue or vice to be found in a transitive verb. By themselves as verbs, love is not good and hatred is not bad. Everything rides on the direct object. If you love your mom, that is great, but if you love child porn — same verb and everything — you are being wicked. In order to honor God, the right verb has to be lined up with the right direct object. Genuine love lines up with certain things, and so does true-hearted hate.

“In the passage quoted, the direct object for hate must be evil, pride, arrogance, an evil way, and perverted speech. If you look around at the landscape that lies before us in this freshly minted 2014, there are many objects that rightly qualify as direct objects of our hatred — if we are to be disciples of Jesus in 2014. We live in what military men call a target-rich environment.

“So here is how I propose growing in our ability to hate properly. These are the areas I think we should all focus on.” He lists seven areas in which we can all get into a bit of holy hating. Let me offer you just three of these:

“1. Learn to love properly. We should want to give ourselves to the love of God and the love of our neighbor. We should want to rejoice in the Lord, in the public worship of God, in the ordinances He has given to us, and in hunger for His Word. We should be eager for evangelism and mercy work. We must love our husbands, wives, children and grandchildren. The more we are given over to these things, the more difficult it will be for the bad guys to level the charge that our hatreds are somehow ‘phobias,’ or some other sign of a broken mind. We don’t hate because we love hating. We hate because we love what we are defending.

“2. Learn to hate hypocrisy. When we hate the sins of others more than we hate sin in ourselves, we are a couple of miles down that deadly road already. When we judge others by their actions and words, and judge ourselves by our motives, we are already in the grip of this evil thing. When we judge others by a different standard than the one we desire to have applied to ourselves, we are living in high disregard of the Lord’s teaching. Judgment begins with the household of God, and this is why there will never be a restoration of the republic without a reformation in the church.

“5. Learn to hate every attempt to turn the Scriptures against itself. No verse trumps any other verse. No word from God is at war with any other word from God. The very first thing that ‘red letter Christians’ do in their insistence to go ‘by the words of Jesus only’ is reject the words of Jesus about the rest of Scripture. All you need to grow in this hatred rightly is a special edition of the Bible, which you can get at any Christian bookstore, with the words of the Holy Spirit in black. Tota et sola Scriptura. All of Scripture and only Scripture — that is the ultimate and infallible rule of faith and practice. Those who seek to divvy up the Word are hostile to the Word, and so we must return that hostility with warmth.”

He concludes with these words (which will serve as my conclusion): “The Lord Jesus famously admonished the church at Ephesus, telling them they had fallen from their first love. We must never let that happen to us. But we too often forget that when He came to praise them in what they had retained, He commended them for their hatred. ‘But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate’ (Rev. 2:6).

“So the new year is now before us. We must learn to become better haters in it. It is long past time for new year’s resolutions to contain hatred for something other than calories.”

dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/seven-thoughts-on-becoming-a-better-hater.html

[1680 words]

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