Tolerance: Jesus & St. Paul

  Inspirmedia   Jul 24, 2011     0 Comment

July 24, 2011

Bible Text: Luke 19:10 |


Theme Scripture:

NIV Luke 19:10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."



Welcome back to week 2 of our series on Tolerance. It’s a hot topic in our culture – that’s for sure. There used to be 10 Commandments – now there is only 1. "Thou shalt not be intolerant.” There are some subjects or topics that we can deal with which are "out there”, which are interesting or perhaps not, but which don’t affect us all that much. Not this one. Tolerance is in your face. Tolerance has literally kept me up at night, tossing and turning – last week I indicated that the struggle with tolerance was a personal one for me and my extended family, and I promised we’d get to that eventually. We will.

I want to again encourage you, as I did last Sunday, to call or email me with your personal struggles regarding tolerance – we’ll going to get to those in weeks 3 & 4 of the series. Again, remember where we’ve been and where we’re going:

Week 1: Tolerance vs. the New Tolerance

Week 2: Jesus and St. Paul

Week 3: Tolerance of Differing Beliefs

Week 4: Tolerance of Differing Lifestyles

Let’s briefly review week 1, or introduce week 1 for those who were away on vacation or whatever.

Last Sunday we spent quite a bit of time, in fact the whole message, laying a foundation. Basically we said that a significant part of the reason for my confusion about this topic, for perhaps our confusion, is that there are two radically different competing definitions of the word "Tolerance” that are floating around out there. One definition is, well, traditional. That definition has been around for centuries. It’s the one I was taught from my earliest days.

Tolerance: "Bearing with or putting up with someone or something not especially liked.” In other words, "Tolerance presupposes that there are things I don’t like or things that I judge to be wrong.”

This definition not surprisingly aligns itself with Scripture, and we’ll see more of that throughout the message today. But… but now there is a new definition of Tolerance – in our culture this new definition has almost completely replaced that traditional definition.

The New Tolerance: "To accept someone else’s way of life or habits or lifestyle as just as valid as my own.” In other words, "Tolerance says that I like all differences and that there is nothing I think of as being wrong.”

We’ll come back to these definitions throughout our series, and if you weren’t here last Sunday I would strongly, strongly urge you to go to and check out the message from last Sunday – there’s a transcript if you prefer that, or there is an audio version if you prefer to listen.

Last weekend, perhaps un-notice by you, but not by the keen observers of culture here on staff, Lincoln celebrated a festival downtown called Star City Pride – July 16, 2011 was proclaimed Star City Pride Day by Mayor Chris Beutler and he was there to open the festivities, etc. Our own Inspirmedia Team was there as well, talking with participants about the topic of Tolerance. Before we check out this clip of on the street interviews, let me set it up this way – you are about to hear some things that seem to fit nicely with traditional Tolerance – things to which I would hope both you and I would say, "Amen”. But you will also hear some things that spring forth from a different stream of thought, that of the New Tolerance. You’ll hear things like "acceptance” … and then, because that word even doesn’t quite do the trick, you’ll hear the desire for "affirmation”. You’ll hear that there is no "wrong”. Well, let me not spoil the clip too much, let’s check it out:


Well, my deepest thanks to Inspirmedia for doing those interviews, mostly because it was 100 degrees that day and they were downtown hauling around hot cameras. But what about what that last guy said - how did Jesus approach this whole topic of tolerance? As soon as the topic of Jesus and Tolerance comes up, someone is bound to say, "well, Jesus said that we shouldn’t judge each other”. And so that’s supposed to settle it. And someone else will jump in, who is a little more edgy and a little more willing to call a spade a spade, and that someone else will say, "Jesus says don’t judge. Who are you to tell someone else that what they are doing is wrong?

But did Jesus really say that we shouldn’t judge each other? Did Jesus really say that there is no objective standard of right and wrong? Did Jesus really say that we should accept everyone else’s way of life as just as valid as our own? Is there some new sort of extremism popping up?

Let me hazard a guess here - I’m going to guess that less than 10% of us even know in what chapter of the Bible Jesus supposedly told us not to judge. What chapter? Hands??? No really, raise them high, not if you think you know, but if you know what chapter those words are in. I not going to embarrass you by asking you – I just want to know – how many of you are 90% certain you know the chapter of the Bible where Jesus talks about judging?

Ok, so the point I’m making is that people, most Christians and many non-Christians, have this vague idea that Jesus told us not to judge … and yet you’ve got to admit that almost no one knows the context or the meaning of those words – very few of us have even read them for ourselves. So let’s do just that, OK…

NIV Matthew 7:1 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. 6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Well, there it is. Matthew 7. Part of the so-called "Sermon on the Mount”. Indeed Jesus said, "do not judge”. But what did He mean by that? Let’s not take that line out of context and re-image it as if Jesus were being interviewed by Inspirmedia at a Star City Pride event when He said it – let’s keep it in context and ask, "what did Jesus mean?” Not what do we wish He meant – what did He mean? When Jesus said, "do not judge”, did He mean that we now need to view every other person’s way of life is just as valid as our own? Did He mean that we should never view another person’s lifestyle as wrong? Was He advocating the New Tolerance? Absolutely not.

Check out verse 6. Five verses after Jesus says, "Do not judge”, he then commands his followers to distinguish – that is, to judge – between those who are dogs, whatever that means, and those who are not. Only 5 verses after He says, "Do not judge” … He then commands us to judge, to view some people as dogs and pigs! I’ll bet you my life’s savings, which isn’t much, that that verse isn’t often quoted! So Jesus clearly is not condemning all judging; He’s condemning certain kinds of judging, and commanding other kids of judging. So what sort of judging is Jesus condemning, and what sort of judging is He commanding???

BUILD When Jesus says, "Do not judge”, He is talking about judging the heart. Don’t judge someone’s heart. Don’t judge their thoughts. For who of us can judge someone’s thoughts, someone’s motives? And yet we’re tempted to do that all the time. Don’t do it.

BUILD 2 When Jesus says, "Do not judge”, He is talking about applying a standard to someone else that you would not apply to yourself. Don’t apply a standard to someone else that you don’t apply to yourself. Jesus says in verse 2, "with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. In other words, be very careful when you start applying standards – be very precise – because those standards will be applied to you. Be very careful when you point the finger – as my parents used to say, three fingers are pointing back at you.

BUILD 3 When Jesus says, "Do not judge”, He is talking about not condemning repentant and unrepentant sinners alike, with no regard for God’s mercy. Don’t ignore God’s mercy. Condemn unrepentant sinners – fine. But don’t condemn those who repent. Jesus distinguishes repentant and unrepentant sinners – this will become crucial for us as we live out tolerance, so don’t miss it! Jesus once told a story about two guys who went to the temple to pray – one was repentant and the other was not. And about the repentant sinner, Jesus said:

NIV Luke 18:14 "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

BUILD 4 And finally, when Jesus says, "Do not judge”, He indeed wants us, absolutely wants us, to judge between good and evil words, or good and evil actions. We should distinguish between right and wrong. Don’t lump good and evil words/actions together.

We see this correct judging, this right kind of judging, throughout Jesus’ life. Check this out – Jesus and His disciples were on a trip, and apparently they had forgotten to bring food along. Jesus pipes up with one of His typically obtuse sayings:

NIV Matthew 16:6 "Be careful," Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 7 They discussed this among themselves and said, "It is because we didn't bring any bread." 8 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, "You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? 11 How is it you don't understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

BUILD 4 AGAIN Jesus very much wanted His disciples to judge the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees – who they were doesn’t matter to make this point. Jesus wanted His disciples to judge outward things, and to reject things that were not right.

Review the Build. Now let’s see these principles lived out in the life of Jesus:

NIV John 4:5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

This was a lost sinner – she was a blind sinner stumbling in darkness. Jesus therefore had mercy on her. He didn’t act out the New Tolerance, for then He would have told her it was fine to live with 5 different guys. He called sin sin, and yet loved her! Traditional Tolerance … and beyond.

NIV Luke 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"

Same thing – Z was a lost sinner. Jesus judged his actions to be wrong and so did Z. Jesus welcomed this guy. Traditional Tolerance.

NIV Luke 7:37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. 39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-- that she is a sinner."

Same thing. We could go on and on. Jesus, calling sin sin. Jesus, loving sinful people. Jesus being tolerant and beyond, all according to the traditional definition of tolerance. And yet there were times when Jesus was, well, I guess you could say, He was intolerant. Not that He spit on people or whatever images we might have of intolerant people. But He certainly didn’t tolerate what they were saying and doing. And those occasions always involved people who were proud of their own wrong actions and who were leading others into those same sins. Check these verses out:

NIV Matthew 23:15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

NIV Matthew 23:27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

NIV Mark 3:1 Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Stand up in front of everyone." 4 Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. 5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Basically what we’ve got here is Jesus being very tolerant, actually way beyond tolerant, in fact giving His life for lost sinners. For people like me and you. He went beyond Traditional Tolerance to love … and yet in every case He rejected what we’ve come to know as New Tolerance – He never acted as if sin was fine. He acted as if sin were forgivable, forgave, loved, and called to a new way of life. And we as Jesus’ followers are called to be the same – very tolerant, beyond tolerant, loving to the max toward lost sinners.

And then we’ve got Jesus being, well, I guess you might categorize it as being intolerant – not in a physically abusive way or not doing things against people – but we’ve got Jesus not tolerating prideful people who lead others astray, who have looked at good and evil and have called good evil and called evil good. Jesus does not abuse them or whatever, but He certainly calls sin sin … not out of hatred for the prideful person leading others astray, but out of love for those being led astray.

As a follower of Jesus, St. Paul behaves the same way – let me share just two passages from his life to illustrate, as we close.

NIV Acts 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.

Paul loved these people – they were religious, to be sure, but they were deluded. They were wandering around in darkness. He did not simply approve of their false religions, as the New Tolerance would demand – "who am I to judge another culture?” – but he realized that these religions were false, he called a spade a spade, so to speak, and he loved them enough to gently share the Good News of Jesus with them. He was, in a word, very Tolerant with them, according to the traditional definition of tolerance. But there was another guy toward whom Paul did not tolerate … and this guy was very similar to the people whom Jesus didn’t tolerate – this guy was a prideful person, claiming to know the truth, but leading others astray. Let’s check it out:

NIV 1 Corinthians 5:1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present.

And Paul goes on to command the Church in Corinth to ex-communicate this guy … with the hope that that would bring him to repentance and restoration to the Church. But notice Paul’s criteria – this guy was sinning, he should have known better, and he was proud of it, in fact the whole church was proud of it, which is another story altogether – they were calling evil good and good evil. And Paul says that is not to be tolerated among those who claim to know better and who should know better. Exactly the same sort of reaction that Jesus had to those sinning, and not repenting, in His day.

Well, next week we’ll begin to apply some of this stuff - Traditional Tolerance, the New Tolerance, Jesus’ words and life, Paul’s life – we’ll apply this to our daily lives – next week we’ll talk about tolerating differing beliefs – differing political beliefs, differing religious beliefs, or whatever examples you email me about. And the following week we’ll apply what we’ve learned to tolerating differing lifestyles. So stay tuned. Hang on. Pray. And let’s learn together. Let’s learn together from the One who was not only tolerant toward sinners like you and me, but in fact laid down His life that you and I might be saved. Let’s pray …

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