I read a very interesting article by a Christian parent last week, who said that they asked their 15-year-old daughter: “What is a name that kids in your school do NOT want to be called? (I thought that was a pretty good question for them to ask their child!) But the answer was very revealing: his daughter said, “The worst thing you can be called at our school, is ‘Intolerant.” That says so much about where we are as a society right now, doesn’t it; that the worst thing you could be called, is “intolerant.” Call me anything else, but don’t call me intolerant!
And toleration can be a good thing; we are going to talk in just a minute how a degree of tolerance is an important ingredient in having a well-functioning, democratic society like we have in America. But you can also take tolerance too far. And when Christians begin to tolerate in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, what He has forbidden, then it has gone too far, and will bring down the judgment of God upon them. This is the message Jesus gave to the church at Thyatira — and to us, in this 4th letter to “The Church That Tolerated The Intolerable.”
I. WHEN TOLERANCE IS NOT A VIRTUE
Like He did with most of the churches, Jesus initially commended the church at Thyatira for some things: their “deeds, and love and faith and service,” and so on. But then He begins to call them out in :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.
Jesus says you are “tolerating” this woman Jezebel. The word “tolerate” here means “permitting, allowing.” Jesus used it in Matthew 3, when He told John the Baptist, “permit it at this time, to fulfill all righteousness.” It means to “allow, permit, tolerate” something. And what they were “tolerating” was the woman Jesus calls here “Jezebel,” undoubtedly not her actual name, but a reference to King Ahab’s wife Queen Jezebel in the Old Testament. Jesus was saying this woman was “like” Jezebel. It would be like calling someone a “Judas” today: it means they are a betrayer. Calling this woman “Jezebel” was saying she was very wicked, like Jezebel of the Old Testament.
And what was this woman doing that was so wicked? Jesus said “she calls herself a prophetess, and (and the word “and” here can also mean “BUT”). BUT she teaches and leads My bondservants astray. AGAIN: just like we saw last week, Jesus cares about what we teach. What we believe and teach matters. Jesus used this same word in Matthew 24:5 when He warned people against false prophets in the end times: “See to it that no one misleads you.” This “prophetess” was misleading God’s people in the church with her false teaching.
Again, like at the church at Pergamum we saw last week, there were two aspects to this “Jezebel’s” heresy:
— false teaching
— immoral practice
“She teaches and leads My bondservants astray” – including teaching on “the deep things of Satan” as :24 says! So there was false doctrine.
And then again, as at Pergamum, at least PART of the false teaching led to immoral practice: “commit acts of immorality.”
Many have speculated that the false teaching and practice here had to do with the trade guilds that flourished in Thyatira. They were known for their manufacture of purple cloth. But if you wanted to work, you had to be part of the trade guild, and when these tradesmen got together they would make sacrifices to false gods, and the worship often involved cult prostitution as well. This “prophetess” may have taught that this was ok for Christians to participate in. But whatever form it took, this “Jezebel” taught that immorality was ok for Christians.
There have always been heretics throughout church history who have tried to excuse immorality in the churcch — and that continues today:
— Just a few years ago there was a singles church group in Oklahoma that taught that it was ok to commit immorality as long as you weren’t married. That was a pretty convenient teaching for a singles group! But it was obviously contrary to the New Testament.
— Many in America today are seeking to justify homosexual practice for professing Christians. Some say what the Bible prohibits is just “homosexual prostitution,” NOT a “loving, committed gay relationship.” Others teach that if you condemn homosexuality because of what Leviticus says, then you can’t eat shrimp either, because they are both from the Old Testament Law. Many of you have heard people affirm this — it’s a very common argument today. But if you study the scripture, you will see that the Bible is absolutely clear, in BOTH the Old and New Testaments, that homosexual practice is prohibited by God. In fact the New Testament later specifically declared all foods clean — so you CAN eat shrimp despite what Leviticus says — but the Bible NEVER reverses its ban on homosexual practice. In fact the NEW Testament repeatly reinforces in Romans, and I Corinthians, and I Timothy, and elsewhere, that homosexuality is STILL a sin and prohibited by God.
These are the same kinds of things this “Jezebel” was teaching in Thyatira: that immorality was ok for Christians. Jesus had harsh words against that in this letter. Tolerating in the church what God has prohibited is NOT a virtue!
Now, we need to understand that there are things we tolerate in our society as a whole, that we do not tolerate in our churches. A certain level of tolerance is necessary for us to have a pluralistic, democratic society with varied individuals and beliefs like we have here in America. John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, wrote: “I am glad of liberty to worship God according to my light, and therefore am willing that others should have the same liberty.”(Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 371). We have a pluralistic society in America, with people of many different beliefs. In order to facilitate that, we have to exercise a degree of tolerance towards those who disagree with us:
— You may be a Republican in your political beliefs, and you may strongly disagree on the issues with someone who is a Democrat. But you don’t go out and SHOOT someone because they are a Democrat. You tolerate their right to exist in a pluralistic nation like America. In fact, like the old saying goes, I’ll disagree with you, but I’ll die for your right to disagree!
— In the same way, we as Christians strongly disgree with the Muslim doctrines about God and Jesus, but we don’t go around burning down Muslim mosques. We tolerate their existence in our society.
— Likewise, we greatly disagree with homosexual practice — but we don’t go out and beat up homosexuals we see in the street.
We tolerate all these groups, just as we wish to be tolerated when WE are in the minority. Tolerance to a point is a good thing. And a certain level of tolerance is needful in order to have a pluralistic, democratic society like we enjoy in the United States of America today.
But we also need to understand that tolerance in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an entirely different thing. The church is not a pluralistic democracy. The church is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and HIS WORD is our rule of faith and practice here. We are not free to believe and practice whatever we want to in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ:
— A person is free to support abortion in our society at large. But in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, His word says He knits us together in our mother’s womb, and the life of the unborn child is precious.
— A person is free in our society at large to believe that Allah is the one God, and that Mohammed is His prophet, and that Jesus is not the Son of God. But you are NOT free to believe that in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our confession is “Jesus is Lord” and “there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” Muslim teaching is not tolerated in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
— Similarly, a person is free in America to have whatever relationships the law allows — but again you are NOT free to live immorally in the church. Followers of Jesus are bound by His word, which says sexuality is to be confined within the boundaries of marriage, between a man and a woman. To believe and practice outside that standard is not acceptable in the church. To teach and to practice what God has prohibited in the church, is to tolerate the intolerable.
We see an example of this when the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth in I Corinthians 5 and said: “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. (:2) You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.”
Paul told them, church, I have to confront you about what is going on among you. Someone is living in sin with his own father’s wife. He says not even the pagan GENTILES do this — but here you are, tolerating it in the church, of all places! He said in :6, “Your boasting is not good.” The Corinthians were actually BOASTING about how “tolerant” they were: “Why, we’re so tolerant we have people living in blatant immorality among us.” They were proud of how tolerant they were of immorality! Paul says this boasting is not good! He said in :2 you should remove these people from your midst. You can’t blatantly break God’s moral commands, and still be a member in good standing of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the lesson for us today is: To tolerate the intolerable in the church is not a virtue. It is a sin against God. We must not tolerate false, un-Biblical teaching in the church. We must not tolerate blatant immorality in members of the church. That is to tolerate the intolerable. And as we will see, Jesus will not overlook those things, but He will powerfully judge it.
Now, let’s be clear: there is a difference between forgiving a sin when someone has repented of it, and tolerating a sin when someone has no intention of repenting of it. As Christians, we should be VERY gracious to anyone who knows that they have sinned and who is seeking to repent of it. Who among us has not sinned? The Bible says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” None of us are saved by how good we are. We are all only saved by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and His death on the cross for us. So as Christians, we should be the FIRST people to forgive anyone, and we should be the LAST people to ever look down on anyone who has sinned. We’ve all sinned! We have to admit that we’re sinners to even become a Christian! So we can’t look down on sinners!
But this is an entirely different thing from tolerating, and even approving, blatant, immoral behavior that a person has no intention of repenting of.
And this is just what many in the homosexual movement are demanding today: that we accept their immoral, un-Biblical behavior just as it is, in the church, and not only tolerate it, but also approve of it, and consider them to be Christians in good standing. This is exactly what Jesus says here we must never do in His church, or we will become exactly the kind of “Jezebel” that He is calling out here. Allowing blatant, un-Biblical immorality and teaching in the church, is to tolerate the intolerable.
II. WHEN GOD’S PATIENCE RUNS OUT
Jesus continues in :21, “I gave her time to repent, and (but) she does not want to repent of her immorality”. This is an amazing word right here. God is SO gracious, so patient. Here is this woman, a false prophetess, teaching heresy and immorality — and yet God is “giving her time to repent”?! That is amazing! You’d think He would just instantly “strike her down with a lightning bolt” or something. But instead how patient God is, even with somebody who really doesn’t deserve it.
We see this all the time in scripture. God is so patient, even with people who do NOT deserve His patience:
— The world was so wicked in the days of Noah, God said in Genesis 6:5 that “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” and God regretted that He had even made Man! But with all that wickedness, He still gave the world 120 years before He sent the flood. He was so patient!
— In Genesis 15 God declared how sinful the Amorites were, but He still gave them 400 more years before He judged them and threw them out of the land!
— Israel too, fell into idolatry, and committed sins as bad or worse than the Amorites who were there before them, but again God gave them hundreds of years, sending prophet after prophet to preach to them, before He finally sent Babylon to destroy Jerusalem and take them into captivity.
Some people think the Old Testament shows what a “harsh, judging” God Yahweh is, but I think the Old Testament repeatedly and dramatically shows us how patient God is, even with those who absolutely DO NOT deserve it.
And He is so patient with US too, isn’t He? Aren’t you personally so grateful for God’s gracious patience in YOUR life? I think most of us would say with David in Psalm 103, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness … He has not dealt with us according to our sins or rewarded us according to our iniquities.” (:10) God has been so patient with us; He has not given us what we deserve.
Over my years here at First Baptist Angleton I’ve heard several people ask Jack Franklin, “How are you?” And he always answers: “Better than I deserve.” And that’s SO true! God always treats us better than we deserve. He is so patient with us.
Which should remind US to be patient with OTHERS too, right? Let’s not be so quick to lash out at people, and to judge people; let’s be patient with them. Let’s pray for them. Let’s give God time to work in their life, and bring them to repentance. That is what God does for US, and we should do that for other people, too. Be patient; let God work.
God is so AMAZINGLY patient with us. MUCH more so than we deserve. Jesus graciously gave even this false prophetess Jezebel time to repent, but she would not. Verse 21 says “But she is not willing to repent of her immorality.” So Jesus says in :22-23 “Behold, I will throw her on a bed (of sickness) and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation unless they repent of her deeds.”
Jesus tells us here that His patience, though it is so great, will not last forever. The same Psalm 103 that says “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” also says, But “He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.” One of the Bible words for patience means to have “a long fuse.” God has “a long fuse” — but the Bible also says there does come a time when His patience runs out, and His judgment will come.
Some of us today need to realize this: If there is an area of your life right now in which you know you are disobeying God, and you haven’t been judged yet — you need to know that He is treating you better than you deserve! And the only thing holding back His judgment from you right now is His great patience and love. But His word is reminding us this morning that His patience is not unlimited. It will not last forever. His “fuse” is long, but it is not unlimited. You need to repent of the sin in your life TODAY! Do not presume that His patience and grace will always continue just as it is right now. “He will not keep His anger forever.” His patience is great; but it is not unlimited.
— God was so patient in the days of Noah, but the flood eventually came.
— God was more patient with Sodom & Gomorrah than they ever deserved, but the fire eventually did fall upon them.
— God was amazingly patient with this woman Jezebel who even taught heresy and immorality — but His judgment did come.
And in the same way God is being very patient with some of US today — but you need to know; He will not keep His anger forever. You need to get it right with Him today!
III. WHEN FAITHFULNESS IS REWARDED
:24 “But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching … I place no other burden on you. (:25) Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.”
Jesus told the church at Thyatira, I know that all you are not involved in the heresy and practice of this false prophetess Jezebel. And if you’re not, then hold fast what you have until I come. Keep on holding to the right doctrine that believe. Keep on practicing a life of Biblical holiness. Don’t compromise like so many others around you are.
And that’s a good word for us today too. We are being hit with a continual barrage today, from the media, from the government, from countless people around us, with pressure to compromise what God’s word says we should believe and teach. Despite that barrage, many of God’s people have held fast to what His word teaches. So the word of the Lord to them is, “Hold fast until I come.” Keep believing what you know God’s word teaches. Keep holding on to Biblical moral standards, no matter what pressure there is for you to compromise.
And Jesus makes some great promises here for those who will hold fast:
— He says in :26 “To him I will give authority over the nations.” You will rule with Him when He returns! There will be some some things in this life that you will lose if you follow Jesus. It may cost you financially; it may cost you populairty; it may cost you positons and advancement; it may even cost your life. But Jesus says if you will be faithful to My word, you will reign with Me in the end!
— But even more than that, He says “I will give him the morning star.” What is this “morning star” He talks about here? Look at the very last chapter of Revelation, 22:16, where Jesus says, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” So Jesus says “I AM the morning star”! So He’s saying, if you will be faithful to hold to My word in this crooked generation, you will not only reign with Me over those people who are oppressing you right now, but you will have ME personally! And Jesus Himself is the greatest treasure of all! Psalm 16:11 says, “In (His) presence there is fullness of joy; in (His) right hand there are pleasures forever.” HE is our great reward! He is worth losing everything else for.
Dr. J.I. Packer passed away a couple of years ago; he was one of the greatest theologians of the past generation. His book, Knowing God, is a modern Christian classic. In that book he tells how he had a friend who was teaching at a university, but he was undergoing some persecution because of his Christian beliefs. He had just found out that he was not getting a promotion to a certain position he wanted, because he was known to be a Christian, so he was not the “right” kind of person in the eyes of some. So Packer and his friend were out walking in the university green and talking about his situation, and what he had suffered and lost, because of his faith in Christ. Packer offered his friend his best words of comfort, but he said his friend finally said, “It’s ok. I’ve known the Lord, and they haven’t.”
See, that has to be the bottom line for us as Christians. We have to know that like in the days of the church at Thyatira, and like it was at the university of J.I. Packer’s friend, it is is going to become more and more common in the days ahead for us to lose some things if we are faithful to the word of God. It’s going to cost us something to follow Christ! It may cost a promotion. It may cost a job. It may cost popularity. It may cost financially. It may even cost your life. But Jesus says: if you will hold fast to My word; if you will be faithful to believe it, and to LIVE what it teaches, He says, “I will give you the morning star.” He will give you HIMSELF. Let that be your comfort in the days ahead, just like it was to J.I. Packer’s friend: “That’s ok; I know the Lord”! And rejoice, because you have the One who is worth more than anyone, or anything else!
— This message today may be for some of us as Christians who have gotten caught up in the world’s idea that “tolerance” is more important than anything else. It’s easy to do — there’s so much pressure at work, at school, from the government, from friends and others. But some of us need to sk God to help you today to hold to what HIS word says, in the midst of that pressure.
— And pray for our church; that we as a church body would continue to believe and teach His word, and nevre tolerate the intolerable in God’s church.
— Maybe you have been living in immorality and thinking God’s ok with it, and today He’s showing you, He is NOT “ok” with it! His word for you today is to repent of that sin. It’s driving a wedge between you and God, and you will never be right with Him until you stop it, and get that right.
— Some of you here this morning can say: You know what, this message has been for ME. God has been very patient with me; more patient that I deserve. But it won’t last forever. God may have brought you here this morning to say: it’s time right now to repent, of whatever that sin is, before He brings the hammer down on you.
— Or maybe you’d say: “God HAS brought the hammer down on me …” and I see it; and I need to repent … confess your sin to Him, ask Him to help you turn from it, and restore you to fellowship with Him.
— Or CAN you say like J.I. Packer’s friend, “I have known the Lord”? DO you really know Him? Have you ever given your life to Him as your Lord & Savior? If not, why don’t you do that right now …