A Wrong Kind of Tolerance
Tolerance is word we all know. It is a good word with a fundamentally good meaning. Its dictionary definition reads like this:
"Tolerance is lt willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them." (Cambridge English Dictionary)
Sadly in Britain today political correctness seems to be trying to move beyond this definition to turn tolerance into approval of all other religious or moral convictions. This might conceivably be acceptable if the convictions concerned are no more than personal opinions but utterly inappropriate when what is at stake is an objective matter of right or wrong.
As Christians we must demonstrate a true respect and tolerance of others even when they think and do what is harmful to their own best interests.
Jesus allowed the rich young ruler his freedom to walk away when he could not face up to the costly challenges of discipleship.
And at the same we must not pretend that all choices are somehow equally valid – we must be intolerant of error. While Jesus let him go we also read that he loved him and looked at him with sadness – he knew the choice this man had taken was wrong and to the detriment of his eternal well-
This morning we were thinking about another of Jesus’ words:
Lk.9:50 "for the one who is not against you is for you."
The apostles had been trying to stop a man who was exorcising evil spirits in the name of Jesus. The problem as far as the apostles saw it was the fact that this man wasn’t a member of their particular group. But the labours of this man did serve to bring honour to Jesus – the exorcisms were clearly attributed to Jesus’ authority and not to the man himself. As the chief end of man is to glorify God what this man was doing was appropriate and the disciples shouldn’t object and certainly shouldn’t try to stop him.
But how different the situation was in Corinth!
The members of the church in Corinth were being more than tolerant; they were actually welcoming some whose influence was very harmful indeed. As the Corinthians extended a warm welcome to these "super-
Paul however was no mere hireling who had no real interest in the well-
This evening we will break down this passage and look at it under three headings:
Paul’s impassioned plea
The dangers facing the Corinthians
More of Paul’s credentials
Paul’s Impassioned Plea
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul had written:
1Cor.9:22 "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some."
Now in order to try to secure the well-
When Paul had first arrived in Corinth it had been his stated intent to speak of nothing other than Christ crucified but now if he is to secure the Corinthians for Christ he has to speak about himself and it is not something that he is comfortable with at all.
But needs must and he lays bare his heart to them:
Firstly, he says, he is jealous for them with a divine jealousy for them. What he means is that he loves them ardently and the love he has for them flows from God’s own passion burning in his heart. He is jealous for them and this jealousy is a passion which makes a man impatient of any rival or partner in the person who is loved. Now human jealousy can all too easily become an impure and destructive passion full of selfish self-
Such a deep and ardent love calls for a hearing – and Paul pleads for just this sort hearing. When someone you know loves you so earnestly surely his words are worth listening to!
Paul is not prepared to say coldly to the Corinthians: ‘It’s your choice – take it or leave it.’ He loves them too much for that.
Isn’t that challenging? Do we know anything of that same love and zeal burning in our hearts?
The second thing that Paul says is that he sees himself as a father who has arranged a good marriage for his daughter and he has made all the relative betrothal commitments for the coming wedding.
Now this might sound a little strange for us in our western cultural setting where arranged marriages are no longer the norm. Yet throughout history marriages have been arranged usually by parents and other family members. We should not react negatively as though this was something terrible – families would usually make every effort to find suitable partners for their children seeking the very best for their offspring.
Paul sees himself as acting as a devoted father who has done just that for his daughter (the Corinthian church). He has found the very best husband imaginable for this daughter – the Lord Jesus Christ and now longs to keep his daughter safe until the time when the marriage can take place, a marriage that he longs to see consummated in the best possible circumstances. Having been involved in the coming together of the two partners Paul doesn’t want anything to intervene that might through a spanner in the works.
And yet he is fearful that there is a very real danger of that happening. As he looks on Paul is worried that the Corinthians could well be deceived as their minds are filled with lies just as Eve had been in the Garden of Eden. Being deceived in this way they run the very real risk of being led astray and Paul does not want to see that happen.
These are the three reasons he gives at this stage as to why the Corinthians should listen to him – they are prepared to listen to others who show nothing like the same concern for them as does the apostle surely they should be prepare to listen to one who loves them so much!
Deception can be so insidious – similar words are used but the meanings of those words can be subtly changed and then what at first looked like the same language ends up being something completely different.
"All that glitters is not gold" is the old adage and how true it remains today. The Corinthians had heard the true gospel from the apostle Paul when he arrived and preached to them. They had responded to that but since then others had come on the scene and what they were doing was not the same. No they weren’t saying that everything the Corinthians had received was wrong but they were "filling in the details" or "giving a better understanding" of them. In today’s parlance we might suggest they were "bringing the church up to date" or helping "to make it relevant".
Did it matter? Was it important? Weren’t they clever and gifted and sincere?
Paul saw dangers in what was happening and the dangers were not insignificant, they were fundamental.
The Corinthians were in grave danger of:
Accepting another Jesus from than the one Paul had proclaimed to them
Receiving a different spirit from the one they had received
Accepting another gospel from the one they had heard at first
In our world there are so many different Jesuses to choose from – Jesus Christ Superstar, the liberal social reformer Jesus, the Jesus of liberation theology, the Jesus of the Mormon’s, the Jesus of the JWs, the Jesus of the Health, Wealth and prosperity movement and so on – there are many so versions of Jesus on the market today.
Does it matter which of these you choose? The name is the same isn’t that enough?
The Jesus of the Bible is the only Jesus who will do you eternal good because it is only the Jesus revealed in the Bible who has dealt with the problem of human sin and rebellion against God. Other Jesuses may sound initially similar, they may bring you a measure of comfort and happiness in the here and now, they may be easier to live with and less demanding than the Jesus of the Bible; they may speak more positively about who you are and about your own abilities to please God but they will not be able to save you.
The only real Jesus, the true historical Jesus, is the Jesus who is shown to us in the pages of Holy Scripture and summarised in the creeds. Listen to the relevant words of the Apostles Creed:
I believe in Jesus Christ, (the Father’s) only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
He descended into hell;
the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
Is this the Jesus you believe in, the Jesus whom you trust? If not then you too have been deceived and you are believing in another Jesus, a Jesus who simply can’t help you.
If there are many different Jesuses being peddled in the world there are also different spirits at large too. These different spirits are frequently referred to in the Bible – they are called unclean spirits, demons, fallen angels and their head is Lucifer – the devil who likes to put himself about as an angel of light.
Oh these spirits are real and their influence is real – they will draw you in any way they can: are you worried about the future then you can find help in any number of ways – tarot cards, tea leaves, coffee grains, palmistry, horoscopes – or perhaps you’ve lost a loved one and miss them so much don’t worry you can make contact with them through a medium at a séance. There has been a "Christian" Spiritualist Church (their description of themselves – not mine) in Herne Bay since 1949 offering Clairvoyant evenings in addition to their church services which are served by a number of dedicated mediums. Their website speaks about Jesus and the Spirit a little bit but doesn’t mention the fact that the Bible roundly condemns attempts to consult the dead!
These different spirits use many different methods but one thing they share in common is their desire to keep you from putting your trust only in the one true Jesus Christ. Sometimes they will work to cause extreme, paralyzing fear, sometimes they will proclaim a different message that suggests there really is nothing at all to worry about, everyone will be alright in the end. That’s been preached before, it was in Jeremiah’s day and their text was "Peace, peace" but there was no peace!
Along with a different spirit and another Jesus goes a different "gospel" which really is no gospel at all. When the Bible’s message is changed or watered down men may still call it a gospel but there is no good news from God in it.
At one end the message denies that our sin problem is that serious and tells us that we can do something ourselves about it – and we are left with a religion of works – salvation is made to depend upon us ourselves. This is no help to those who are acutely aware of having fallen short of God’s standards.
At the other end the message declares that everyone will be saved in the end no matter what – and hence there is no urgent need for us to make our peace with God now through faith in Jesus Christ and we are rocked asleep, ignorant of the danger that lurks just like the band that played on as the Titanic sank.
The apostle was adamant: there was only one true gospel – it didn’t belong to man who dreamt it up it belonged to Christ who revealed it:
More of Paul’s credentials
Having expressed his fervent love and concern for the Corinthians and having highlighted some of the dangers they were running by succumbing tamely to the influence of those self-
He’s been criticised, has he, for not being a very exciting orator – so be it, he says, what counts is not style but substance. And substance, Paul declared, he did have!
v.6 "Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things."
Frankly I’m not convinced that Paul was a poor speaker, it seems to me that the tenor of the NT is against that idea, but it wasn’t something that he was bothered to argue about. After all what does it matter if you have a wonderful style but nothing to say with it? What does matter is having that something to say and Paul certainly had that. He had met with the risen Christ who had totally transformed and revolutionized his life. Subsequently this same Jesus had commissioned him to be his apostle and had directly and personally revealed to him the truths of the gospel.
Yes, Paul certainly had something to say and something worth listening to! And the Corinthians themselves knew this because Paul had already made so much of it clear to them.
The best preachers and teachers are those who do just that. They don’t dazzle with tricks of the trade but they do make the truth clear and plain so that their hearers can understand. What such preachers long for is not to overhear folk afterwards saying "What a clever preacher!" but to hear them exclaim "What a Saviour!" or "What a gospel!"
Let us pray for preachers to be raised up to preach like that: with passion, with love and divine jealousy motivating them, making the truth clear. Let us pray for such preachers that after hearing them we wonder why we hadn’t seen it all before because they made it so plain to us.
Let us too be sure that we are pursuing those things that ought to be pursued. We don’t need to beware of new ideas per se but let’s not follow novelty for novelty’s sake and wander away from the truth, or wander away from Christ.
Paul was concerned that the Corinthians were being led away from their pure and sincere devotion to Christ – let us make sure firstly that we have such a devotion and secondly that we don’t give up on it.
Well as we close this evening I want you to think and ask yourself a question "What has the Lord said to you?" What does he want you to take away with you from this spent in his presence and thinking about his word, his gospel and his Christ. It may be just one thing – but what is it?
May the Lord help us to learn, to remember and to apply his word to our lives to the glory of his name!