Saturday, August 10, 2013
Revelation 2:20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
Review from yesterday
Yesterday we began exploring Jesus' message to the church at Thyatira. Why is it important to have Godly convictions as a church? The following convictions from Revelation 2:18-29 were proposed:
1. Conviction to grow in Christ Rev 2:18-19
2. Conviction about Godly tolerance Revelation 2:20-24
3. Conviction to be an overcomer. Rev 2:25-29
In today's post we continue exploring Jesus' letter to the church at Thyatira, noting that Jesus desires His church to have a conviction about Godly tolerance.
Christ's desire for a conviction about Godly tolerance. Revelation 2:20-24
The church at Thyatira was a church at the crossroads. In this letter we see two types of tolerance: ungodly and Godly tolerance. Only Godly tolerance can be regarded as the proper conviction for promoting the desired Christianity unity in Jesus' church. Godly tolerance is another conviction that Jesus wants for His church.
The story of two Jezebels and the problem of ungodly tolerance
The type of tolerance that Thyatira was evidencing was ungodly tolerance. When we say ungodly tolerance, we are referring to the type of tolerance that operates on preferences to achieve an alleged unity. Christian leader Josh McDowell defines the godless type of tolerance we see being touted today as: "accepting that each individual's beliefs, values, lifestyles and truth claims are equal."2
The text tells us that the church "tolerated" a godless individual that had the same name as one infamous queen in the Old Testament - Jezebel. The account of Jezebel in 1 Kings 18-2 Kings 9 sheds much light on how the Jezebel at Thyatira operated. Jezebel of the Old Testament was the wicked queen wife of Ahab. Her characteristics can be summarized in three words: ruthless, religious & reckless.1 The Jezebel of Thyatira operated in much the same way as her namesake. She claimed to be a prophetess and thus was religious. (Revelation 2:20) This New Testament Jezebel was also reckless and ruthless in how she led people astray to combine spirituality with sensuality. (2:21) Jesus stated that unless she repented, she would be severely judged upon a "bed of affliction", along with her followers. Both Jezebels illustrate the fruits of ungodly tolerance. In ancient Israel, The prophet Elijah said to the Israelites who were exercising godless tolerance of Jezebel and her ilk: "how long will you hesitate between two opinions?" (1 Kings 18:21) It was preference and opinion that ruled the day in Israel, at Thyatira and sadly dominates our own 21st century, rather than conviction and objective truth.
Godly tolerance is the necessary conviction needed for Christian unity
In contrast to ungodly tolerance, Josh McDowell notes that Godly tolerance means: "accepting others without agreeing with or sharing their beliefs or lifestyle choices". Now compare the definition with what he said about ungodly tolerance: "accepting that each individual's beliefs, values, lifestyles and truth claims are equal."3 When we speak of Godly tolerance, we are referring to the type of tolerance that operates on convictions to achieve actual unity, rather than operating on preference to achieve alleged unity. As others have noted, tolerance today does not merely mean accepting other people, but demanding that I conform myself to the beliefs and lifestyles of those people. The Thyatiran's godless tolerance of the New Testament Jezebel resulted in chaos. Jesus states that He was trying to give her space to repent, however this New Testament Jezebel refused to repent. (2:21)
Here is a question - Is God a tolerant God? Obviously! Otherwise none of us would be breathing! We come to discover that it is the tolerance or "forebearance" of God that makes repentance possible. (Romans 2:4-5) We are also reminded that He is not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance. (2 Peter 2:9-10) God's tolerance is based on His Divine convictions of holiness, justice and mercy. Without those convictions, God could not practice tolerance towards sinners without violating His own character. God Himself models for us the conviction of Godly tolerance necessary for Christian unity. In order to perhaps better see the difference between Godly tolerance and the godless tolerance in our world today, let me tell you the story of Old Jean Goshorn and the fish pond.
How Old Jean Goshorn illustrates Godly tolerance versus godless tolerance
Old Jean Goshorn was a really good friend of my dad's who for years owned a little fishing pond up above our home. Jean was a godly man who loved the outdoors and loved to ride around in his 6-wheel all-terrain amphibious vehicle. The highlight of our summer was when Jean would come and take my sister and me fishing. We would climb in his little vehicle and off we would go. The vehicle was neat because it could float on the water and so for hours on end she and I would catch Blue Gills and sometimes stuff ourselves with blackberries. Over the years Jean had tolerated other people coming to fish in his pond with the one conviction that you leave the pond as you found it. One year we found "No Trespassing" signs all over the entry way to the pond. We found out that someone had taken some old gasoline and dumped it in the water. Jean practiced a "Godly tolerance" with the conviction that as long as the welfare of people are not in jeopardy and morality and truth are preserved, accepting other people is actually a good thing. Farmers, hunters, young people and families would often frequent Jean's pond.
However when the well-being of people is jeopardized, then toleration must be balanced with justice in order for there to be liberty. Jean had to draw limits in order to ensure the welfare of the pond. I don't think hardly anyone would dare fault Old Jean Goshorn for prohibiting people on his pond after the incident of thoughtless pollution. After a couple of years of restrictions, Jean was able to get the pond back to health and opened the pond up once again with the same principle as before: "leave it as you found it".
Now lets switch the story around a little bit. How would the story unfold if Jean attempted to run his pond by opinion rather than conviction? Lets say Jean chose to operate on the basis of the godless tolerance of all truths being equal and all behaviors being morally the same. Old Jean would have no choice but to let the vandals dump their gas in his pond. According to advocates of the "new tolerance", who is to say what is right and what is wrong? As odd as it may sound, Jean would have to welcome vandals to practice their destruction, since according to godless tolerance: Jean has to embrace any and every lifestyle, since no truth is above another truth. Is Jean not promoting the unity of the community by tolerating all and every belief system as equal while denying the concepts of ultimate truth and morality? What would result? A swamp full of dead fish and an eye sore in the community. How tolerance with no belief in ultimate truth and morality is hypocrisy
Jesus' point to Thyatira was that unless they deal with Jezebel, unless she repents and unless her followers repent, the church would be no better off than a fishing pond full of dead fish. Unity without truth is nothing more than a uniformity with no stated purpose. Any system of tolerance that will not tolerate belief systems that make exclusive claims about truth and morality is hypocrisy.
Jesus wants a church with the conviction of Godly tolerance
We need convictions about Godly tolerance to ensure healthy Christianity and important principles such as liberty and justice. When the church tries to be like the world, she will never win the world. So we have seen thus far that Jesus wants the following convictions in His church: convictions on Christian growth and Godly tolerance.
1. Jezebel of the Old Testament was ruthless in her killing of God's prophets (1 Kings 19:2); religious in her affiliation with nearly 900 pagan prophets and prophetesses (1 Kings 18:19) and reckless in her power over Ahab and the affairs of the nation. (1 Kings 19:1) The nation of Israel tolerated Jezebel for nearly 30 years until someone had the courage to have her executed in a grizzly but effective fashion. (2 Kings 9)
2. Josh McDowell. The Last Christian Generation. Green Key Books. 2006. Page 22
3. Josh McDowell. The Last Christian Generation. Green Key Books. 2006. Page 22