TOLERANCE – A Four-Minute Sermon
Faith Committee, Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
Contributed by Dr. Paul E. Toms
Senior Pastor (Retired), Park Street Church, Boston, MA
February 16, 2002
ARE YOU GROWING IN TOLERANCE?
- WHAT IS TOLERANCE?
Here is a word and quality that is constantly being shouted in our day. It is urged upon us, and we are threatened if we don’t practice it! “Tolerance” is a perfectly legitimate and useful word. The dictionary tells us, in various forms, that it means: “Respect for belief, respect for the behavior of others” – without necessarily sharing or agreeing with them. It means to “To put up with, to bear” – beliefs, behavior or people not liked.
What does it mean to respect others and their convictions? We quickly acknowledge that this is lacking in so much of our daily living. Everyday we read of violence and trouble because someone does not respect someone else’s opinion. It is part of everyday life for other people to have beliefs and convictions and behavior that are quite different from ours. How do we handle this? On the one hand it does mean it is our responsibility to at least be understanding – although not necessarily in agreement or in support of their position. And it is our responsibility to be forbearing. On the other hand, it surely does not mean the acceptance of evil or wrong doing.
Sometimes we see on a television program a disclaimer that says: “The views expressed on this program are not necessarily the views of this station.” The ability to express views and behavior (within the parameters of decency and normal acceptable behavior) is allowed because of tolerance. Tolerance is a key to enabling relationships and societies to function together.
- THE BIBLE CALLS FOR TOLERANCE
The word “tolerance” itself does not appear directly in the Bible, but there is clearly a biblical basis for being tolerant. For example, one time the disciples of our Lord asked if they should call down fire from heaven upon people who had not been receptive and kind to Him. He refused. (Luke 9:54.) In the previous verses the disciples tried to stop a man from what they considered inappropriate spiritual ministry and Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”
While the word “tolerance” itself does not appear in the Bible, its elements of forbearance and love do. In the context of tolerance, love and forbearance have wide application. For example, when we are presented with ideas or behavior that differ from ours, love and forbearance may be called for to: control our emotional reactions to irritations, insults and errors; or think through foreign ideas to discern whether the Lord is trying to correct us or prompt us to gently correct them; or bear up under the impact and burden of differing ideas and practices; or kindly and gently correct untruths without quarreling; or forgive or ask forgiveness; or earnestly pray for them; or extend tangible acts of love.
However!! Do not misunderstand. There is no biblical tolerance for views and opinions that are not in keeping with biblical revelation, such as: “ All roads lead to heaven.” “Different religions and cultures are all equal in God’s sight.” Scripture is not broad enough to contain these. All religions do not lead to God; that’s why He has given us the Revelation of Truth in His Word. I must not deviate from that given standard, even though the world is constantly telling me that to stand firm upon that conviction is intolerant.
Tolerance is not Moral Indifference!! That is an expression that comes from Elizabeth Elliot Gren who said: “The current popular notion that judging others is in itself a sin leads to such inappropriate maxims as, ‘I’m okay and you’re okay.” It encourages a conspiracy of moral indifference.” (Leadership, Vol. 3, No. 1.)
While I am to be intolerant of views not in keeping with the Bible, I must be very careful about not being intolerant of people. Scripture says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) James continues, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor.” (James. 4:12) “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
(1 Corinthians 10:12) There is a danger in intolerance.
“Tolerance applies only to persons, never to truth.” (F. J. Sheen, “Old Errors and New Labels”, Christianity Today. Vol. 41, No. 3) “Never let us think evil of men who do not see as we do. From the bottom of our hearts, let us pity them, and let us take them by the hand and spend time and thought over them, and try to lead them to the true light.” (Henry Drummond, “Listening to the Giants”, ed. W.W.Wiersbe, Christianity Today, Vol. 34, No 13)
Be tolerant. Be understanding. Be loving and kind. But remember, there is an offense of the Cross and it will be noticed. Be sure in our witness and daily living it is the Cross, and not our own personalities or unloving attitudes that become offensive.
- APPLICATION: ARE YOU GROWING IN TOLERANCE?
Let’s spend these closing moments quietly with the Lord in prayer. In your life, are you growing in tolerance? Are there people in your life with differing views or behavior that you have reacted to unkindly? Hurtfully? Do you need to ask their forgiveness? Are there people in your life holding views or behavior that is displeasing to the Lord? Have you been “loving the sinner while hating the sin”? Would the Lord have you gently share His truths with them? Would He have you demonstrate love to them in some tangible way? Ask the Lord for forgiveness where you have not been forbearing and loving. And ask the Lord to show you steps to take this week to address relationships in which you have not been tolerant. Commit to Him to take these steps with His help. Thank Him for His patience with you, for loving you, and for helping you.
This material is published by the Faith Committee of the Character Council of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Reproduction and Adaptation is encouraged.