Tolerance is the recognizing and respecting of others with dignity, which is how we are to be to others as representatives of Christ. It is being forbearing and patient with others even when they are different or weaker. It is seeking to understand and know others beyond our expectations, experiences, or comfort zone. This is a call to endure the immaturity, hardships, and shortcomings of others without becoming judgmental or condescending, yet at the same time, not allowing evil or immorality. Tolerance that is beneficial to the Kingdom of God is not the accepting of sin; rather, it is the forgiveness of it (Isaiah 55:7; Hab. 1:13; Matt. 6:16; 7:1, 13-14; 9:10; Rom. 15:1; 1 Cor. 13:3-4; Phil. 1:17; 2:2; 1 Thess. 5: 12-15).
Intolerance, Prejudice, Impatience, and Relativism are the opposites. These bad characters will cause us to be judgmental and allow our pride to rule us. Skewing this character will cause us to think that all beliefs, values, lifestyles, and truth are equal. This mindset will cause our judgment to be hampered so we think that knowing right from wrong really does not matter. Tolerance is not being broadminded or yielding to the flow of popular thinking, forgetting our convictions, or running a church from what is popular and not from God's Word. Beware! If Tolerance is stretched too far, sin will abound and become acceptable!
How are you to others for Christ? Do you show Tolerance? Or does your Tolerance stretch beyond God's boundaries? Are your convictions based on God's precepts or are you yielding to the polls of opinions? Such questions will help determine where your faith and trust lie!
As Christians, we all are at various levels in our spiritual formation and maturity, as are non-Christians. Thus, to get along and model what God wants us to do with love and fruit, we need to beware of others' (as well as our own) judgmental ideas, weakness, pettiness, and irresponsibility. We need to respond to others with forgiveness and grace and allow them to fail so they can learn while we do our best to exhibit good Christian character. People learn best by example, not by forced obligation or manipulation. Character is caught more than it is taught. Modeling is a necessity; teaching it is secondary. At the same time, we are not to allow the worsening of deliberate sin to cause detriment to others or society, or allow our thinking to go along with it and rationalize it as tolerable.
We, as children of God, are all in a process of growth in our social and spiritual development. At some point, we will struggle with what is right and wrong. We are all full of sin. We keep letting it in, and are continually looking for ways to say it is OK. We also need to be more accepting to others. We all need acceptance and should accept others. The struggle for many is not just sin, but what is acceptable and what is not. Accepting others sin or immaturity without counteracting it with character (and words when necessary) will lead to civil and social decay. At the same time, judging others will push them away from the church. So, we have to know when to love and when to discipline and to do so with love.
We cannot be known for our negatives, for they will accomplish nothing. Our focus must be on the positive. We cannot glorify God in the midst of envy and strife or in the presence of anger and bitterness. By remaining positive, we can accept others, their unique personalities, and their varying maturity or immaturity. We are to accept people but not their deviant or immoral behavior. For example, we should accept a loved one who is in sin such has alcoholism, drugs, or homosexuality, but not condone his or her sin or rationalize it as OK because others are doing so. We are to help them and only chastise when that is the only way or as a last resort. A balance of acceptance and Tolerance is necessary as long as it does not bring disrepute. Our standard is God's standard as recorded in His Word, not the standards of culture or media (1 Tim. 4:15-16).
Good Tolerance would be focusing on other people's strengths and not their weaknesses, accepting personalities (that are not dysfunctional), and being patient. When we set the example of authentic Christian living and goodness, we demonstrate faith and not selfishness or judgmentalism. Bad Tolerance would be not accepting others because of some superficial thinking such as the prejudices of skin color, social status, or wealth or because of our pride and arrogance, thus causing us to be callous toward others! The mature Believer should be able to give up his or her selfish desires and inclinations for the good of others, thereby living the example of Christ and His love.
Tolerance is also demonstrated in personal, social discipleship. As we cannot flaunt ourselves because of our maturity or lack of it, we must desire to grow both socially and spiritually, and help others do the same. The more experienced and mature Christian is called to walk alongside new and less mature Christians, helping them grow so they can glorify Christ. In addition, Christians are to remove all aspects of pride and arrogance from their thinking and actions! The mature Christian has the obligation, the imperative command to disciple others with time, love, and patience. Just think how much better your church'玍s impact would be in your community if more people did this!
Tolerance is a mandate, but it has boundaries. As Boldness and Cautiousness are bookends to one another, so are Tolerance and Discernment. Tolerance means not being open to moral or spiritual failure, censure of what is right and true, condoning of what is evil to placate others, or the approval and/or practice of what is morally and ethically inferior. Rather, true tolerance is rooted in the knowledge of God's forgiveness and understanding. Tolerance still requires discernment and the practical discrimination and sensitivity to what is wrong. Tolerance without Discrimination against the bad will bring a church and a nation down to ruins, as sin will take a hold while we rationalize it away saying we are being tolerant!
When Tolerance is combined with Discernment, it will better align with God's call and precepts. We will be operating in the Fruit of the Spirit and accepting others in love, but we will not be, either passively or actively, accepting what is evil or wrong! Because we want the best for others, we do not want to see them engage in evil that leads to their downfall or pull others with them. We must keep our hearts open to the Spirit with passion, and diligently guard against that which is contrary to God's Word and plan so we are not deceived. Pledge yourself definitely not to be deceivers.
Is the Character of Tolerance working in you?
Here is how you can find out. Take a careful look at this character and fruit of Tolerance from God's most precious Word by examining the passages below. Now ask yourself:
1. How do I exhibit Tolerance in my daily life?
2. What can I do to develop a better attitude of Tolerance?
3. What blocks Tolerance from working and being exhibited in me?
4. How can I make Tolerance function better, stronger, and faster even in times of uncertainly and stress?
· Here are positive examples from Scripture: Dan. 6:1-23; Luke 9:50; Acts 10; 28:30-31; James 2:8-13; 3:13-18; Rev. 2:1-3
· Here are negative examples from Scripture: 2 Sam. 12:1-14; Mark 9:38-39; Acts 17:13-15; 19:23-27; James 2:1-4
1. How would you define Tolerance? What is the difference between rejecting the "person" who sinned and rejecting the "sin?"
2. What part does Tolerance play in your relationships with church members, friends, co-workers, and family? How can you demonstrate Tolerance with kindness even when others make you feel uncomfortable?
3. How does being judgmental impact Tolerance? What is the cost to others (God, family, friends, neighbors, church family, co-workers, etc.) when you are a person who accepts relativistic thinking (thinking everything is good and acceptable as long as nobody is hurt)?
4. What happens to your relationship with God, with others, and with the opportunities God gives you when you harbor prejudices?
5. When have you been filled with Tolerance the most?
6. In what situation did you fail to be Tolerant with someone when you should have?
7. What issue is in your life that would improve with more Tolerance?
8. Think through the steps you need to take to put Tolerance into action in a specific instance, such as, where is Tolerance not functioning properly in my attitudes and what can I do about it? What can I do to help others mature? How can I inform others, in love, how to distinguish what is right from what is popular?
© 2005, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org