Jesus’s Patient Intolerance

To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 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. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
-Revelation 2:18-29

Jesus is, once again, upset with one of the seven churches because of their tolerance of, let’s call them alternative teachings within a congregation. Do you remember when tolerance was the big cultural buzzword? It was considered a virtue to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs, decisions, and ways of living. Who are we, after all, to judge another person? There was some truth to this perspective. Christians need to understand that it’s none of our business what those do who are outside of the church (see Paul in 1 Corinthians 5). We are, however, supposed to express a certain level of intolerance toward those who are inside the church — those who, like Jezebel from this passage, are teaching and practicing things that are transgressive, that are against God’s laws.

That which we tolerate will dominate.

If you’ve been paying attention to the culture over the past couple of years, you may have noticed that tolerance isn’t good enough anymore. It is an insufficient minimal virtue. We have moved beyond tolerance, and the new minimal social demand is acceptance. The call to tolerate the transgressive has become the demand to accept the transgressive, and is quickly becoming the mandate to celebrate the transgressive. It is no longer culturally acceptable to let other people live their lives, even if you disagree with or disapprove of their choices. We must now at least accept, if not outright celebrate, every choice. (Well, not every choice, but you know what I mean.) We might call this “the transgressive journey,” where something which was once roundly condemned slowly becomes tolerated, then accepted, then celebrated, and finally it will dominate and redefine the culture itself.

The same principle applies in our churches. The transgressive teaching or behavior that we tolerate in our congregations will eventually come to dominate them. We see this in America. Mainline churches have become dominated by the sexual revolution because they tolerated that doctrine in the 1930s. Evangelical churches have become dominated by conservative politics because they tolerated it in the 1980s. That which we tolerate will dominate. Look at both of these institutions today. The former has lost all sense of its witness and commitment to Christ. The latter has perverted its witness by aligning itself with political power rather than Jesus. The enslavement of the American Church to various ideologies and non-Gospels today is the result of decades of toleration of certain Jezebels. Intolerance of the transgressive is the only rescue from its tyranny.

Intolerance of the transgressive is the only rescue from its tyranny.

In Thyatira, Jesus rebuked the church leaders for allowing this woman, a so-called prophet, to carry on her “ministry” of sexual immorality and idolatry. He was angry at them for their failure to correct her. Their failure of intolerance resulted in great harm coming to the church, and especially all of the people she duped into becoming her followers. Many people were led astray by her teaching and influence, all because the leaders of her own congregation were too cowardly to confront her. Jesus gives each church time to call the transgressors to repentance because he wants the churches to police themselves. He is patient and gracious with us, and he will never rush someone through judgment. In Thyatira, Jesus was patient with both the church leaders and Jezebel herself. Only after the leaders demonstrated their cowardice, and Jezebel demonstrated her stubbornness, did he decide to act.

Jesus is both patient and intolerant. He shows patience with sinners even as he expresses intolerance of their sin. He is patient with transgressors within the church but will lay them low if they willfully disobey him; he’s not going to just let his people do whatever they want. He doesn’t accept teaching and behavior like Jezebel’s, but he also gives us time to come to our senses, repent of our sin, and return to him. He is kind and gracious with us, never demanding perfection from us. But if we reject his grace and willfully disobey him, like Jezebel did in Thyatira, then we can expect to experience significant judgment in our lives. That is to say, we can expect the normal consequences of our sinful and wicked behavior to lay us low. And none of us knows just how long Jesus will be patient with us.

Jesus shows patience with sinners even as he expresses intolerance of their sin.

Church leaders can’t tolerate transgressive teaching and behavior. They simply can’t let it fester in their church, hoping that the Jezebels of their congregation will move along to someplace new. They don’t move along, and their teachings don’t disappear unless they are confronted and refuted. The Jezebels (and by this I don’t mean just women, obviously) of our churches only gather more influence as the pastors and elders sit on their hands and bite their tongues. That which we tolerate will soon come to dominate, and this is especially true in the Church.

It’s okay to express a little bit of intolerance from time to time, but we should always do it graciously. Remember, it’s not the person who is condemned — it’s their teaching or behavior. They can escape this judgment through humility and repentance, even as what they taught and did is roundly condemned by Jesus and the Church. But if they refuse to repent, stubbornly continuing on in their disobedience, then Jesus Himself will be their judge and they can expect to experience the full force of the consequences of their actions.

We could all use a hefty dose of humility in this because there’s a little bit of Jezebel in each of us. None of us gets everything right, and we all fall into sin from time to time. How quick are you to repent? Or do you justify yourself and continue on in your sinful and selfish behavior? How entangled are your politics from your faith? Can you even tell them apart anymore? We should never assume that we’re innocent in these matters. Even so, that doesn’t mean that we should keep from confronting those who are clearly leading others astray and defiling the church’s witness. We can’t be afraid to lose the Jezebels of our congregations. The church might get smaller, but it will be much, much healthier. So be courageous. Be introspective. Be humble. Don’t tolerate what Jesus doesn’t tolerate, but remember to be as patient and gracious as he is, too.

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