Toxic Tolerance

“I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate–” (Revelation 2:19-20)

Not All Insults Are Equal.

If a three-year-old child calls you a “nincompoop” because you tell him to stop standing on the table, you probably won’t be too emotionally devastated. But if you overhear a close friend poking fun at your appearance behind your back, the damage may be much greater. The weight of an insult isn’t solely based on who delivers it though. It is also dependent on which traits and values are viewed as important and which are viewed as harmful. As a result, in a time when many people believe we should be accepting of everything that does not directly harm ourselves or others, to be called “intolerant” is considered one of the greatest insults. So, should we be worried that Christians are constantly being labeled as intolerant? Does that mean we’re doing something wrong? On the contrary, it may mean we’re doing something right. Like we talked about last week, Christians have been set apart by God and are called to live set apart lives. And part of what it means to be set apart is to not tolerate sin, even when the world demands that we do. As Christians, we can be tolerant in the sense of being kind and loving towards those we disagree with. However, we cannot be tolerant by accepting what the Bible condemns. If we do, it has become a toxic tolerance. The letter to the church in Thyatira will help us understand this concept. Revelation 2:18–29 explains why Jesus gets the final say in what can’t be tolerated and what happens when the Church tolerates such evil.

The Perfect Judge

This passage begins in verse 18 with a description of Jesus that serves as the reasoning for why His instructions are absolute and not to be amended to cultural trends.

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.'”

Here, we start getting more into the imagery that Revelation is known for. This imagery is not intended to confuse; instead, its purpose is to reveal why Jesus is the perfect judge of right and wrong–why we are not to tolerate what Jesus does not tolerate. The first description of Jesus as “the Son of God” is likely a description you’re familiar with, even though this is the only time it appears in Revelation. This title points to the deity of Jesus. He’s not just some random person sharing His preference. He is God revealing how the world ought to function, and it is right of Him to condemn sin. Jesus is then described as the One with “eyes like a flame of fire.” This image is meant to convey Jesus’ piercing and refining gaze. He is omniscient. He sees and knows everything. This is in comparison to phrases later in the passage such as “I know your deeds” and “I am He who searches the minds and hearts” that also point to Jesus knowing all things. And since Jesus sees all, then we can trust His judgement, knowing it is just. Finally, Jesus’ feet are compared to burnished bronze. In this image, attention is likely being drawn to the strength of the metal and therefore the strength of Jesus who is omnipotent. In His power, Jesus’ feet will crush His enemies. Not the devil, nor demons, nor sin, nor death are stronger than Him! We can see that Jesus is the only one qualified to pass judgement, and as a result, we are to trust Him with what we should and should not tolerate.

Toxic Tolerance

The passage shifts its attention then to the church in Thyatira. At first, the church is commended by Jesus for an obedience that was displayed through their deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance. So, we know these Christians were living out their faith. Externally, they probably looked like they were doing very well! But Jesus, with His “eyes like a flame of fire,” sees that despite their obedience in certain areas, the church in Thyatira was being disobedient in others.

“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. I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.”

There’s a lot that could be unpacked from verses 19–21 and the rest of Revelation 2. But in short, the church in Thyatira was tolerating teaching that was immoral and idolatrous. By doing so, the church had, in effect, approved of that teaching. They had allowed sin to spread throughout the church. And though Jesus gave this teacher time to repent, she did not want to. The time of repentance passed, and the time of judgement came which is described throughout the rest of the chapter. Churches today must not fall into this trap of tolerance. Be aware, it’s tempting. Rewards, such as church growth and cultural capital, have proved too tempting for some. But no matter the reward, if it requires compromising the Gospel or tolerating sin, then the cost is too great. May we be a church set apart by our refusal to tolerate what the God condemns.