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The Trouble with Tolerance

In recent years, debates have flared up over the limits of free speech. Should anyone be given a platform, no matter his views? Can someone attempt to silence a person whom she finds dangerous or threatening? Some observers condemn the students for their intellectual intolerance, while others argue that reprehensible ideas should not be tolerated.

Are there limits to tolerance? The Bible’s answer is yes. When it comes to the church, some practices should not be tolerated. The same is true for doctrine. False teaching should not be tolerated but must be rooted out. The church in Thyatira had permitted a false teacher who claimed to possess the gift of prophecy to mislead others. This had opened the door to both sinful practices and false teaching. Jesus nicknamed this false teacher “Jezebel,” after the wicked queen who killed the true prophets of Israel and enticed God’s people to worship Baal (v. 20; see 1 Kings 19).

The nature of Jezebel’s teaching was what Jesus had condemned in Pergamum. She claimed to reveal secret truth, enticing her followers to eat meat sacrificed to idols and to commit sexual immorality. God had “tolerated” her ministry for a time, but only in order to give her a chance to repent (v. 21). Now the time for patience was over.

Jesus promised to “cast her on a bed of suffering” and “strike her children dead” (vv. 22–23). To a culture that values tolerance, this response seems harsh. But Jesus understood the destructive nature of her teaching and the vulnerability of this church. The cultural environment in Thyatira was so toxic that the only command Jesus gave to those who had not yet succumbed to Jezebel’s false teaching was to “hold on” until His return (v. 25).

Apply the Word

False teaching opens the door to immoral practice, and moral compromise is frequently justified by modifying biblical doctrine. Consider what beliefs or practices you have been willing to tolerate that might lead you away from the truth. Take the opportunity from God that Jezebel refused: repent from sin and hold on to Jesus.

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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