Last night at my weekly Bible study, we discussed the idea of tolerance. It’s become quite a hot-button word in today’s society, so we decided to take a step back and look at the definition. Some of the definitions we found were “the ability to accept, experience, or survive something harmful or unpleasant,” and “willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own.” We found that to tolerate something is different than to allow something, because the word “allow” means that you are in a position of authority – and could be in some measure responsible for the outcome of a situation.
It led to some rousing discussion! What should we, as Christians, tolerate? How is tolerating the beliefs and actions of others different from allowing sin in our own lives, or in spheres of our own responsibility and authority?
Yesterday, blogger Matt Walsh weighed in on that very topic in his article Jesus Didn’t Care About Being Nice or Tolerant, and Neither Should You. In the blog, he staunchly calls out those who portray Jesus as “nice” as heretics – and compares the left-leaning “nice Jesus” to Barney, the big purple dinosaur who’s all about hugs, kisses, and being friends.
“The believers in Nice Jesus are usually ignorant of Scripture, but they do know that He was ‘friends with prostitutes,’ and once said something about how, like, we shouldn’t get too ticked off about stuff, or whatever.”
Rather, Matt writes of Jesus,
“He condemned. He denounced. He caused trouble. He disrupted the established order.
On one occasion — or at least one recorded occasion — He used violence. This Jesus saw the money changers in the temple and how did He respond? He wasn’t polite about it. I’d even say He was downright intolerant. He fashioned a whip (this is what the lawyers would call ‘premeditation’) and physically drove the merchants away. He turned over tables and shouted. He caused a scene. [John 2:15]
Assault with a deadly weapon. Vandalism. Disturbing the peace. Worse still, intolerance.
In two words: not nice.
Not nice at all.”
Of course, any biblically literate Christian must admit that Matt is correct: Jesus did indeed say and do many things which wouldn’t be considered “nice.” But perhaps he is missing an important point that some of his opponents are trying to make. Perhaps the gentler variety of Christians aren’t so much worried about being nice, as they are about being humble and gracious.
Joe Thorn on Crosswalk.com writes,
“Churches sometimes get a bad rap because Christians, and often Christian leaders, are dogmatic in all issues, uncharitable in public interactions, and quick to pick a fight. Ron Edmonson recently put a label on it. Christians can be ‘mean.’”
Thorn wonders, how have so many Christians (who have experienced the ultimate form of grace) come to be so graceless and “pugnacious” in our interaction with others?
“In short, because we forget grace. We grow mean because we forget ourselves and our God. We forget who and what we are by nature and grace and exalt ourselves (sometimes unintentionally) above others. We forget the Lord who not only stood for truth, but is truth, and yet remains merciful. The mean Christian is big on conviction and small on compassion. But the former should give birth to the latter.”
Crosswalk blogger Paul Tatuges also tackles this subject in his piece, Two Very Different Ways to Treat Sinners.
“When sinners are treated according to the letter of the law the soul is killed and any attempt at restoration fails miserably. However, when sinners are treated with the redeeming grace of God then the Spirit gives life as He grants the twin gifts of repentance and faith and the subsequent ability to heed the call to ‘go and sin no more.’”
He also asks the poignant question,
“Have we forgotten that the ground is level at the foot of the cross? Do we recognize that no matter how long we've been a Christian we will never get to the point where we will have the ‘right’ to condemn another? Are we daily conscious of the reality that there is only one who has the power to condemn and that it is not you or me? (Romans 8:34).
Matt Walsh points out in his blog that Christians must take our behavioral cues from Christ. But as Tautges reminds us, that should never include passing condemnation. In fact, Scripture even paints a beautiful picture of humility and self-emptying amongst the members of the Trinity, with Christ handing judgment to the Father in John 5:24, the Father giving authority to the Son in Matthew 28:18, and Christ setting aside his authority to condemn in favor of saving grace in John 3:17.
Perhaps it’s not cut and dry. Perhaps Jesus isn’t “mean” or “nice.” Spirituality is much messier than that, argues Pete Briscoe on Crosswalk.com.
Tax collectors were underhanded and greedy. They were shunned by practically everyone in ancient Israel. They were messy.
But Jesus didn’t tell Levi to clean up his act. In fact, Jesus never did that to anyone in any of the Gospels. He didn’t come to turn messy people into tidy people.”
The gospel isn’t about becoming tidy, he writes. It’s about “becoming new.”
Matt Walsh writes that Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple was “vandalism,” “disturbing the peace,” and “worst of all, intolerant.” But does this caricature of the Not Nice Jesus truly capture the spirit of the scene? Doug Bookman on Jesus.org explains that Temple cleansing was a reaction to the corrupt Temple practiced newly put into place by Annas and Caiaphas, which not only cheated poor worshipers and travelers out of their money, but also brought lies and deceit into the very Temple court. Bookman clarifies,
“You got two crimes here. Number one, you’re really milking the public. And number two, you’re doing the whole thing inside the house of God… It produced a tremendous amount of cynicism and resentment on the part of the Jews.”
So is this classic example of “Mean Jesus” a model for us to hold up in how we relate to each other on a regular basis, as Matt proposes we do? Or is it perhaps an example of Christ exercising his God-given authority to protect his people (and his House) from swindlers, liars, and mockery?
Christians, are our only choices to believe in a white-washed, “kumbaya”-singing Jesus, or an angry, riotous, violent Jesus? Is it possible that this dichotomy we’ve created might be doing more harm than good? As we search the pages of Scripture, and search our own hearts, let us remember Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians:
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Publication date: April 8, 2014
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