20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.
The church at Thyatira was called out by Jesus for tolerating serious sin within their community. After having given them praise for their deeds, love, faithfulness, service, and endurance, their willingness to put up with sin is exposed for all to see.
We live in a culture today that seems to focus on tolerance. While at the surface it seems the right thing to do, tolerance can bleed over into apathy. We become apathetic in our pursuit of holiness because it may seem too hard to push back against the tide as it encroaches on what Jesus called us to do. Or, perhaps, our practice of loving others yields to the whims of culture, with us believing we’re demonstrating God’s love towards them.
While loving God and our neighbor as we love ourselves is what Jesus called us to do (Mark 12:29-31), it’s possible for this thinking to adversely affect what Jesus meant by love. Loving someone for who they are doesn’t mean we accept their practices that are contrary to God’s vision of holiness. We need to keep in mind that, when Jesus recounts these practices for us, they are a matched set. Divergent love of God leans over into our love of others and taints it. Likewise, if we are errant in our love of others, our love of God morphs into something other than it should be.
It is important for us to realize the value of loving God and others. At the same time, it is important to understand the connection between the two, and how dependent one is on the other. Just like a house that isn’t plumb, this framework, once out of kilter due to our own out-of-plumb love for God or others, is weakened. This weakness can then provide the path for unholy practices or beliefs to creep in.
Read the following passage, which begins with the Shema, and then consider the questions that follow it.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14 You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15 for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth. — Deuteronomy 6:4-15
Of the two love examples we are given by Jesus, which, according to this passage, is the most important? What is the result of forgetting, or diminishing, the love for God? As you digest, and perhaps even reread this passage, consider your own love for God. Has anything in your life displaced God? If you find your love for God waning, not ‘plumb’, or not in proper focus, do you think it’s time to realign it to where it needs to be?
By Rich Obrecht