A couple of weeks ago I preached in church on King Jehoshaphat as part of a series on the kings of the Old Testament. When reading the story of king Jehoshaphat was what struck me his apparent tolerance in dealing with the evil king Ahab. The sin of tolerance is an ever increasing aspect in the world, and Amsterdam and the Netherlands in particular.
Here is the second part of my teaching notes:
So What Is the Point?
So, what can we learn from Jehoshaphat’s life so far? It seems that overall Jehoshaphat was a pretty good guy. At the end of the story it is even said that he was “doing what was right in the sight of the Lord.” (2 Chronicles 20:32). From his point of view, helping out Ahab was just an honest mistake, motivated by his desire for peace. He was not trying to be rebellious or do evil. But was it “just” a mistake? He was forgetting that his dependence needed to be on God. He not only willingly helped his pagan friend Ahab in war, he even arranged for his own son to marry one of the daughters of Ahab and Jezebel. And for what?! Political gain; an artificial peace which is little more than the absence of hostility. His “honest mistake” carried much more weight than he probably realized. When we continue to read what happened after the battle we come to the key verse in the story of Jehoshaphat. The Bible says it like this in 2 Chronicles 19:1-2: “Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned in safety to his house in Jerusalem. But Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him and said to King Jehoshaphat, ‘Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the Lord.’” It is important to note here that ‘love’ denotes not emotion but the commitment to support a treaty. Here’s the point I want to make: Jehoshaphat went too far in developing a friendship with his buddy Ahab, whose lifestyle and faith opposed everything he stood for. And in that he crossed the line of legitimate tolerance into an unacceptable endorsement or approval. Should Jehoshaphat not have been friends with Ahab? Of course not, but he took it too far. It is okay to be tolerant, but endorsing it, supporting it (like Jehoshaphat did) is quite another thing.
Now, what does this mean for us? I think that we too should heed the warning of Jehu: Where do we “help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord”? Where do we exercise rightful tolerance or intolerance? Where do we endorse or support or approve of sin in our friendships, and in our own lives? Where do we draw the line before our tolerance goes too far? I think the answer to that question is: where Jesus draws the line. We should be tolerant where Jesus is tolerant; We should be intolerant where Jesus is intolerant.
But let’s talk about tolerance a bit before looking at what Jesus has to say about it. Tolerance can be described as having “a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own” or to have an “interest in and concern for ideas, opinions, practices, etc., foreign to one’s own” or to have “a liberal or broad-minded viewpoint.” It is a good word which, in one sense, implies the compromise of one’s convictions, and to yield ground on important issues. Yet, an over-tolerance (if I can say it like that) in moral issues makes us soft or devoid of a conviction, almost indifferent maybe. Think about the “gedoogbeleid” (tolerance policy) of the Dutch drug use or the euthanasia policy. Tolerance (or broadmindedness) has sort of overruled our convictions!
Jesus’ View on Tolerance
Now, Jesus was very tolerant when it came to sinners. He was actively engaged with (and loved) tax collectors, sexually-immoral people, and foreigners. His grace and mercy are evidence of His tolerance. And I love Jesus’ tolerance, because I am a sinner. We all are sinners. But Jesus still loves me. Jesus still loves us. But Jesus was also intolerant…
Jesus was intolerant about the way of salvation
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). He plainly pointed out that there are two roads in life. One is broad – lacking in faith, convictions and morals. It is the easy, popular, careless way. It is the way of the majority, the way of the world. He said, “those who enter by it are many.” But he pointed out that this road, easy though it is, popular though it may be, heavily traveled though it is, leads to destruction. And in loving, compassionate intolerance He says, “Enter by the narrow gate… For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life”
Jesus was intolerant toward hypocrisy
He pronounced more “woes” on the Pharisees than on any other sect because they claimed outward reverence for God but inward pretend. In Matthew 23, Jesus addresses 7 woes against the scribes and Pharisees (in contrast of the 7 beatitudes or blessings in the Sermon on the Mount), and each of them Jesus starts with “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Matthew 23 is a great chapter to read… unless you’re a Pharisee of course (and yet we all, to a certain extent, are a Pharisee. It might be a lot closer to home than we want to admit).
Jesus was intolerant toward selfishness
To the rich young man, Jesus said: “‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22) It wasn’t the giving of his goods that Jesus demanded, but his release from selfishness and its devastating effect on his personality and life. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.'” (Matthew 16:24-25) Self-centeredness is the basic cause of much of our distress in life. Most of us suffer from spiritual near-sightedness. Our interests, our loves, and our energies are too often focused upon ourselves. Jesus was intolerant of selfishness. The ‘life’ which Jesus urges us to lose is the selfishness that lives within us, the old nature of sin that is in conflict with God. So, in your life and mine, ‘self’ must be crucified and Christ enthroned. He was intolerant of any other way, for He knew that selfishness and the Spirit of God cannot exist together.
Jesus was intolerant toward sin
To the adulteress Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11) He forgave her because he loved her; but he condemned sin because He hates it. Some more examples: “Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34, NASB). “Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God.” (1 John 3:4-5,7-9, NLT)
Jesus is intolerant about the way to salvation, hypocrisy, selfishness and sin… but He is tolerant toward the sinner. And so should we…
What Does This Mean for Us?
As Christians we owe it to each other in love to correct on another, to rebuke each other when it is necessary, and to encourage one another in our desire to live authentic Christian lives, faithful to the Word of God. We must love the sinner, but we must hate the sin. We must recognize that we are sinners, and love ourselves, but we must hate the sin that is in us. The same is true of our neighbor. Paul says in Galatians 5:14 that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” We must love our neighbor always, but we must hate the sin that is in them. Hating the sin is necessary if we are to truly love them. If we do not hate our neighbor’s sin, we do not love our neighbor at all. If we do not hate our own sin, we do not love ourselves at all. It was perfectly fine for Jehoshaphat to be friends with Ahab, but he should have continued to be faithful and obedient to God and in that way not only be an example to Ahab (love the sinner), but also to point out Ahab’s disobedience to God (hate the sin), instead of going along with Ahab in his sin. Although being friends with people like Ahab is okay, we should aim in building our strongest friendships with people who will encourage us to obey God’s Word and follow His plan for our lives. In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul says that we should “not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” This verse is most commonly used in relation to marrying an unbeliever, but Paul means much more here than only marrying an unbeliever. It really applies to any environment where we let the world influence our thinking. When we are being “conformed to this world” and are not being “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2) , we are joining together with unbelievers in an ungodly way. This unequal yoke, or ungodly influence, may come through a book, a movie, a television show, a magazine, or even through worldly Christian friends. We all like to believe that we can be around ungodly things as much as we want, and that we are strong enough to resist the influence. But we must take the words of Scripture seriously: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33). As Christians, we must bring every aspect of our lives under God’s control and authority. Otherwise, we can hinder our walk greatly and suffer consequences God never intended for us to experience.
What Did Jehoshaphat Do?
What did Jehoshaphat do in response to the rebuke of Jehu the prophet? He repented and starts reforming the whole country. “He went out again among the people… and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 19:4). He instructed the nation’s judges to “consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the Lord“(2 Chronicles 19:6). He told other leaders: “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, in faithfulness, and with your whole heart” (2 Chronicles 19:9). And then, in the defining moment of his life, Jehoshaphat demonstrates great trust in God in the face of overwhelming circumstances. When a colossal coalition of three large armies marched against Jerusalem, Jehoshaphat called all Judah to prayer and fasting and publicly confessed to God, “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). We too are powerless against the sin of the world, yet we have Jesus, who died to take away our sin and give us new life through the Holy Spirit to overcome power that sin has in our lives.
Jehoshaphat wins the battle because the Lord is with him, and overall it is said that “he walked in the way of Asa his father and did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:32), but ultimately Jehoshaphat made some unfortunate choices that blemished his otherwise good legacy.
In closing, let me give you three questions to think about, in light of all of this:
- Who or what is the Ahab in your life? Who is the person in your life which you may have let influence your choices a bit too much, and who you could serve better by being an example to instead? What is the thing in your life that pulls you away from Christ, and be unequally yoked?
- What is your motivation for joining in with the Ahab in your life? Jehoshaphat’s motivation was political gain. He wanted peace where maybe there shouldn’t have been. What is your motivation? What do you want to gain or achieve by this?
- Are you as tolerant as Jesus? Have you drawn the line of tolerance where Jesus draws it, or are there areas in your life in which you are being too tolerant toward hypocrisy, selfishness or sin?