A Demonstration of True Tolerance

“Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6)

It was good to see my friend, as we bumped into each other in the parking lot of a local grocery store. We had developed a friendship when we worked together as colleagues for a former employer for which my friend said she could never work again. When I questioned her, she stated that she had developed an intolerance for the work ethic of some of the persons with whom she had supervised. Finding it difficult to work there, she found another job and is now able to provide services on a one-to-one basis while not compromising her own values. I was happy for my friend, recognizing that not everyone would be in a position to act as she did. Unfortunately, conceding one’s personal ethics to a lower standard has in fact become a reality for many who are forced to tolerate today’s ‘anything goes’ culture. The word tolerance has taken on many meanings over time. Not so long ago, tolerance meant to acknowledge that there are those who have differing beliefs and that they have the right to those beliefs. More recently, however, the word tolerance has come to imply you must accept the beliefs that others hold which are different than your own. To do this, you may have to concede in order to keep the peace.

The Lord uniquely created each of us with our own personalities and preferences; therefore, we won’t always agree with one another. However, this doesn’t mean that we are unable to be loving and respectful to each other despite our differences. Those who consider themselves to be Christians must acknowledge that being labeled “intolerant” is at times a part of their faith journey. Suffering is expected, when you stand up for what you believe is right according to the Word of God. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Tolerance does not require acceptance of all ideas as being true; it is merely a willingness to listen. What is remarkable about persons who say Christians are intolerant are those who actually fit the definition themselves. They are often the ones who are unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression to the beliefs or opinions of others. It is they who endorse the old adage, “It’s either my way or the highway”. 

In the Christian experience, there are occasions when intolerance needs to be exercised. As examples, we should not endorse the modern beliefs that all roads lead to God, that truth is ones’ personal concept, or that everyone’s beliefs are valid. Jesus was loving and associated with all kinds of people. However, He confronted immoral behavior and never instructed us to accept other religions as being true. In some situations, Christ was the most tolerant, broad-minded man who ever lived. But on other occasions, He was quite intolerant. He emphatically stated: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). We must always keep in mind that there are lost people who need to hear the truth about Jesus. Like the Apostle Paul – we are called to become all things to all people, in order that by our words and actions that many will come to know the Lord. For he said, “I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

The Reverend Billy Graham told the following story: “Once when we were flying from Korea to Japan, we ran through a rough snowstorm. When we arrived over the airport in Tokyo, the ceiling and visibility were almost zero. The pilot had to make an instrument landing. I sat up in the cockpit and watched him sweat it out as a man in the tower at the airport talked us in. I did not want this man to be broad-minded. I wanted him to be narrow-minded. I knew that our lives depended on it. Just so, when we come in for the landing in the great airport in Heaven, I don’t want any broad-mindedness. I want to come in on the beam, and even though I may be considered narrow here, I want to be sure of a safe landing there.” As followers of Christ, we must give careful consideration that while allowing ourselves to show enough open-mindedness to encourage others into the faith – we must not be so broad-minded that we miss the mark and lead them astray. That is effective witnessing . . . it is also a demonstration of true tolerance.

REFLECTION:  Have you found yourself in situations where your tolerance of the actions of others has put you in conflict with your own Christian values?  Would you be willing to take a stand in organizations to which you belong, if you felt there was an inappropriate amount of tolerance shown? What if that organization was your church?

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