How should a believer understand the concept of ‘tolerance?’ Our society places a high value on this thing we call ‘tolerance,’ but I have to wonder whether or not we are all using the word the same way. One side likes to pretend it holds the moral high ground on ‘tolerance,’ but, at the same time, it seeks to destroy any and all who hold different beliefs. How can one claim to be ‘tolerant’ while seeking to silence all opposing voices? Another side is ‘tolerant’ of anything and everything, to the point where the notion of ‘tolerance’ becomes a nothing issue. If one accepts anything and everything, then exactly what is the need for ‘tolerance?’ In both cases, the word, ‘tolerance,’ is used; but, in both cases, it means very different things. So, again, how should a believer understand the concept of ‘tolerance?’
I suspect I may see this as a tougher issue than most. This is because I find that I cannot agree with the way most people understand ‘tolerance.’ To the average person, believers included, ‘tolerance’ is closely related to acceptance. For me, even considering the possibility that ‘tolerance’ could mean acceptance flies in opposition to what I know of Scripture. For example: when I searched for what the Scriptures have to say about ‘tolerance,’ I found a listing of some 24+ verses that are supposed to be about ‘tolerance.’ However, when I read these verses, I found that many of them seemed to me to be more about ‘patience’ and ‘respect for others’ than they were about ‘tolerance.’ As I continued to read, I found that there are actually few — if any — verses in Scripture that teach us to be ‘tolerant’ in the way our society advocates the idea of ‘tolerance.’ In fact, Scripture seems to teach exactly the opposite of ‘tolerance.’ It teaches us to be intolerant, at least where foolishness, wickedness and evil are concerned.
Consider the many verses in the Old Testament that command a transgressor be put to death. In Deuteronomy 19:19, 22:21, 22:24 and 24:7, we are clearly told that we are to put the transgressors to death so that we may ‘purge the evil from among us.’ In the News Testament, we are often told to have nothing to do with those who refuse to change their wicked and evil ways. We find this teaching in passages such as 1 Cor 5:11 and Titus 3: 10-11. Then there are the many passages that clearly state believers are not to accept differences of opinions on matters of sound doctrine. This would include issues such as unrepentant homosexuality and female pastors, among other things. Our modern understanding of ‘tolerance’ has lead many believers to accept such teachings into the church, but passages such as Romans 16:17, 1 Cor 5:11, 1 Tim 6:2-5, 2 John 10:11 clearly forbid believers from ‘tolerating’ those who teach such things. So, how does a believer reconcile Scripture with our society’s emphasis on ‘tolerance?’
But let’s not stop there. We should consider what Scripture has to say about those who teach the idea that ‘tolerance’ requires acceptance. Proverbs 17:15 and Isaiah 5:20-21 both condemn people who try to make evil into good and good into evil. Then, knowing how the Lord feels about them, how does a believer ‘tolerate’ such people?
I do not pretend to have the answers, but I know that the answers are connected to my previous post on what it means to love one another. I look at it this way: if we truly believe the Scriptures are the Word of God, then we cannot allow ourselves to compromise on those matters where God’s Word clearly says this is right and that is wrong. Nor can we ‘tolerate’ people who claim otherwise. To do so is to ‘tolerate’ evil, and God’s people should have no part with evil. Scripture even says so. However, we are also commanded to show an agape love toward others. This includes those who teach evil. So, how does one show an agape love toward someone who is teaching evil? Again, I do not have the answer to this question as I suspect it will be different for every believer and, maybe, in every case. But I do know this: at no time does Scripture teach us to ‘tolerate’ evil or evil doers. To ‘tolerate’ evil among us is to live with evil, and Scripture teaches us that living with evil is the path toward becoming evil, ourselves.