I saw a bumper sticker today with one of those fancy uses of various religious symbols to spell out words: one was “coexist” and the other was “tolerance”. They express the world’s current cardinal virtue sometimes stated in various other ways like acceptance, put up with, open-mindedness, broad-mindedness, forbearance, liberality, patience, charity, indulgence. The world recognizes it as a virtue, but clearly has no idea how to really apply it, so it gets applied everywhere without discernment. And while tolerance is indeed a true virtue (a Christian virtue), practiced without discernment it can also be a terrible vice.
God Himself is tolerant (Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”). And because God Himself is tolerant, we also should be (Ephesians 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,”). And Paul strongly appealed to and commanded from this principle in his letters to first century churches that were divided down the Jewish/Gentile lines.
We today would find God’s approval for tolerance along racial, economic, educational, and age lines. Skin color, educational advantages, money, and facial features are such superficial triggers for divisions! Yet such divisions used to divide us severely and sometimes still do. While I’m sure it was true that Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, Romans and foreigners would have felt more comfortable worshipping “with their own kind”, Paul condemned such thoughts and called for tolerance and true unity between them despite their worldly differences. God approves of this tolerance.
The Lord specifically commanded tolerance for one another’s opinions (Romans 14:1 “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.”). Of all the things that divide men, opinions and tastes seem to be the most divisive — and something that Christians must grow past to be pleasing to God (1 Corinthians 3:3, 4 “for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not mere men?”). We should be tolerant of other opinions. Including politics. Honestly, no politician or party is God-inspired or preaches righteousness like the Bible does. While there are political systems which are systemically evil (e.g., Naziism), most have a mix of good and evil. Jesus tolerated both Matthew (the tax gatherer) and Simon the Zealot (a revolutionary group opposed to the Romans) in his close group of 12 apostles. He taught them that the spiritual Kingdom of God was more important by far than any political regime.
But tolerance is not approved by God regarding morality. How much immorality have we learned to tolerate in the last 50 years or so? I’m not just talking about homosexuality, but casual sex outside of marriage, adultery, living together, hard and soft porn (think Victoria’s Secret ads), swearing, gambling, bare-knuckled blood-sport, raw materialism, permissive parenting, open disrespect for the marriage covenant, disdain for one’s husband/wife, and scorn for parents. Morality is founded directly on God’s own nature (1 Peter 1:16 “because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.’”) and since God never, ever changes, neither does morality — no matter what century it is. Jesus said in Revelation 2:20, “‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” Tolerance for moral sin is not approved.
God expects His people to not tolerate false doctrine. The church is being challenged in many places to tolerate false teaching. God doesn’t approve — Revelation 2:2 “‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;” The inspired apostle Paul put it very strongly, (Galatians 1:6-8) “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” Although the world sometimes challenges the idea of truth, no one will tolerate mathematical or technological error. So also with spiritual truth, there is to be no tolerance for false doctrines.
And this would also naturally include no tolerance for denominationalism. Paul put it this way, (1 Corinthians 1:10-13) “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” This was nothing less than first century denominationalism, and God disapproved!
But being intolerant of sin, false teaching, and denominationalism doesn’t give any of us a pass to behave poorly or in an unloving fashion. So, how does a Christian not tolerate these sinful things in a good and proper way? Let’s talk about that next time.