Darrow Miller and Friends

Love is Better than Tolerance, part 2

  1. Love is Better than Tolerance
  2. Love is Better than Tolerance, part 2

This post is the continuation of “Love is Better than Tolerance.”

When Jesus departed the Gerasenes he was exemplifying neighborliness. He didn’t have to leave; he was the Lord of every place, as He is today. But a gentleman doesn’t push in where he’s not wanted, and Jesus is a gentleman.

For those who aspire to gentleness, and nothing more, that is enough. This is an example of Christian tolerance.

Three crossesBut this tolerance has to be seen in light of the cross. God cannot tolerate sin. In the eternal counsels of the Three-in-One God, a plan was made and implemented by which the Son paid the full penalty of God’s wrath for human sin. Believers experience saving grace from Christ’s substitionary death.

The same death provides for what theologians call “common grace.” One of the effects of the cross is common grace.  Abraham Kuyper defines common grace as “that act of God by which negatively [God] curbs the operations of Satan, death, and sin, and by which positively He creates an intermediate state for the cosmos, as well as for our human race, which is and continues to be deeply and radically sinful, but in which sin cannot work out its end” (Principles of Sacred Theology, 279).

One example of common grace is the gift of human conscience, by which even the unregenerate may be said to perform good. “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness …” (Rom 2:14-15 NIV)

In this world, all humans enjoy manifold gifts from God. David wrote, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing (Psa 145:15-16 NIV). Jesus said God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mat 5:45 ESV).

As followers of Christ we do not judge or destroy others. We hold out the gospel and the offer of God’s forgiveness. We tolerate them in their sin while praying that they will come to repentance before it is too late.

Life in a civil society is a gift of God’s common grace, a gift to be cherished and protected. But the inevitable judgment for sin on such a society is only temporarily suspended. Jesus taught a final separation of people, the “sheep” (to eternal reward) and the “goats” (to eternal destruction).

When tolerance is clearly wrong

This brings me to the baka bazhi I mentioned above.

I refer to a recent news story that captures a compelling example of the folly and shame of a culture in which tolerance (as popularly defined today) is given absolute value. The New York Times published a story titled, U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies. When American soldiers encounter pederasty they are naturally motivated to intervene.

How distressing, not to mention foolish, to find that political correctness in the military has reached such a place that soldiers, who are commissioned to bring help to a culture, are ordered to tolerate such unspeakable abuse.

These soldiers were practicing a virtuous intolerance. Yes, there is a Christian intolerance.

Jesus says so himself.

In his letter to the church in Thyatira, Jesus rebukes them for an inappropriate tolerance, “But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols,” Rev 2:20 (ESV).

On the other side of the coin, a few verses earlier he commends the church in Ephesus for their pious intolerance, “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false,” Rev 2:2 (NIV).

Even when tolerance is appropriate, maybe the better (and more biblical) term is “forbearance.” The Greek word translated forbearance, anoche, means “to be patient with, in the sense of enduring possible difficulty.”

Tolerance, after all, is simply giving people freedom to persist in their error. Such an attitude is not incompatible with love, but sometimes love intervenes for an individual’s benefit, where tolerance might simply walk away. Love always seeks the good.

Grand TetonsAuthor and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis writes, “Our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy.”

Love is better than tolerance.

At a lunch table recently with several pastors and a seminary professor I posed the question, “Is tolerance a Christian virtue?” The immediate response was, “Tolerance of what?” In the ensuing discussion, the consensus around the table was that sometimes we are to be tolerant, and sometimes not. In other words, while grace, love, mercy, etc., are absolute virtues and always appropriate, the propriety of tolerance depends on the situation.

Clearly, the Christ follower is to tolerate some things, and not to tolerate others.

If you were to make a list of things we should tolerate, and a list of things we are not to tolerate, what would those lists look like?

  • Gary Brumbelow (This article was a team effort. Thanks, Mary Kaech, Scott Allen, and Darrow Miller for your input.)

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Gary is the Disciple Nations Alliance editorial manager. He manages Darrow Miller and Friends and serves as editor and co-writer on various book projects. For eight years Gary served as a cross-cultural church planting missionary among First Nations people of Canada. His career also includes 14 years as executive director of InterAct Ministries, an Oregon-based church-planting organization in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Gary is a graduate of Grace University, earned an MA from Wheaton College and a Graduate Studies Diploma from Western Seminary. He lives near Portland, Oregon with his wife, Valerie. They have two married sons and twelve grandchildren. In addition to his work with the DNA, Gary serves as the pastor of Troutdale Community Church.

1 Comment

  1. Jon

    November 12, 2015 - 4:14 pm