“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV)
The problem with “tolerance”
Several years ago it came to my attention one of my managers was involved in activities in his private life which were unbecoming to our organization. I confronted him and told him we could not tolerate what he was doing, even if it was outside the work place. He complained to my superior, telling him my religion was influencing the decisions I was making. My super told me to back off saying we had gone through the sexual revolution and what someone did in his personal life was none of my business. His point was that I should be more tolerant in my dealings with others.
As with all uncontrollable passions this individual proved true to form, and it wasn’t long before he made sexually explicit comments to a 16-year old cashier. The girl’s parents were rightly upset, and I think the only thing which saved us from a law suit was his quick dismissal.
Also true to form was my boss’ response: total silence on the situation. The irony was that after being burnt, my superior still held to his belief in toleration, and continued to insist it is the best stance in all situations.
But it is illogical to think we can compartmentalize our lives, thinking what we do at home, won’t eventually spill over into the rest of our lives. For example, an alcoholic or drug addict can’t be addicted only at home and not elsewhere. Eventually the effects of his addiction will show up in other areas of his life.
Christians and evil: mixed signals?
What has this to do with practicing our Christianity in a world which for the most part has gone off course? It has everything to do with how much of the world’s evil we tolerate and what stance we should take as the world defends its actions.
As to tolerating evil, it is enough to say we should never give into wickedness, no matter the personal implications. We should be prepared and willing to stand in the gap, bearing the sacrifice just as our Lord did on the cross two thousand years ago.
How we bear that burden and stand against evil is another issue. Obviously for believers the example of our Lord Jesus is to be our rule and guide. But do we get mixed signals from the Lord? On the one hand he tells us not to resist an evil person (Matt 5:38) and goes on to say we should turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. This seems to say we should be open-minded and forgiving.
But on the other hand we see Jesus cleansing the temple and driving out the money-changers with a whip. He calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, a brood of vipers, and white wash tombs. This doesn’t sound very tolerant, and it certainly was not “politically correct.”
In Matthew 5 Jesus tells us not to judge by pointing out the speck in our brother’s eye before you remove the log in your own. But later on in Matthew 10:35 He says He did not come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. He says He will set a man against his father and daughter against her mother. Again, with only a cursory look these appear to be a mixed message, one of broadmindedness and another of zero tolerance.
So, as believers living in a corrupted culture, how do we merge the ideal with our practice of life? Do we stand in the gap and confront evil and its defenders, or do we tolerate it and stand in the back row watching as the world falls into the pit of destruction?
It is easy to understand why we don’t want to take a stand after all there is safety in tolerance. We don’t have to fear rejection of our peers nor the loss of position. Sitting on the sideline is comfortable and easy. When we are on the sidelines and not engaged, we don’t have to prepare for the fight, we are only observers with no skin in the game. Sideliners don’t have to be well-read on the issues; they don’t even have to be well-read in God’s Word.
So, it seems we have three alternatives. One, we can sit on the sidelines watching the world go by while sitting safely at home, resting in the assurance of our personal salvation. Secondly, we can be mean, judgmental, and vindictive with an in-your-face approach to all the evil going on around us.
Obviously both of those approaches are unacceptable.
So, what should be the approach for those having a Christian worldview? A third way requires that we carefully consider the issue and the circumstances surrounding it. Our approach has to be governed by three considerations: the context, the people we are addressing, and the gravity of the question. Let’s tackle these issues separately.
If the context is our own home, we should approach issues differently than if we were in some larger and more public forum, such as a blog or a public address of some kind. At home soft words filled with love and compassion should be the order of the day. Here we have more time and leisure to discuss and persuade. In more public forums we will need to be bold, vivid, and resolute. At the same time, we must not fail to speak the truth in love. There is no place for us stooping to rude or crude argumentation; instead, we must remember that the goal is to communicate, and that means connecting with others in a clear, convincing, and persuasive manner. Our objective must always be to right the wrong while manifesting the love of Christ.
Second, keeping in mind those we are addressing is critical to our being faithful and loving ambassadors of Christ. We would not address a child in the same manner we would an adult. Nor would we take the same approach with a person who is unintentionally misguided as we would with someone who is blatantly dishonest. We have seen this approach with the issue of abortion. For years abortion activists, politicians, and the media have been blatantly dishonest in referring to the unborn child as a tissue mass. But public sentiment about abortion on demand began to change when right-to-life groups took a more confrontational and graphic approach, using sonograms to show that the child in the womb is a live human being.
The last consideration is the gravity of the situation. My first thoughts were, are not all issues of right and wrong on the same level of importance? Yes and no. If the issue involves one person, then a public confrontation or argument may be overdoing it. But if the actions or views affect large numbers of people, or society as a whole, and have far-reaching consequences, then a more public argument may be appropriate.
For example if your child lies about eating cookies before dinner, this doesn’t require a rebuke on some Internet forum. But if your state governor is corrupt in his dealings, that’s quite another matter.
These are important considerations when addressing any issue, even “little” sins, such as your child lying about cookies. But does the Word of God bear out the approach outlined above? Scripture provides three examples of how God used his men differently to address differing crowds of people in differing situations.
The first example is found in Acts 4 as Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit addressed the Sanhedrin. As Peter spoke the people marveled at his boldness and the soundness of his teaching. When threatened with violence Peter and John refused to recant, saying they would listen only to God and not to men. The operative word in this passage is “boldness.” The people marveled at their boldness because it was then they realized Peter and John had been with Jesus. When we confront the world our first goal is for them to recognize we know Jesus, and that knowing Jesus changes everything in our lives.
The next example is Stephen’s address to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7. After giving a lengthy discourse concerning the goodness and faithfulness of God to Israel, he concluded with a personal attack on the people’s character and their faithlessness to God. He called them, “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.” He judged them to be “murderers and betrayers.” Doing this was considered intolerant and politically incorrect; in their rage the people stoned Stephen to death. We must also be willing to confront evil with the truth, without fearing that we may be persecuted for doing so.
The last example is found in Acts 13 and 17. Here we see how Paul handled a crowd of Jews differently than a group of Greek Gentiles. In each case he spoke to them on a level they could understand, using language and illustrations appropriate to each group. In the first situation Paul gave them a Jewish history lesson, while in the second instance he gave a philosophical address. Knowing our audience is just as critical as understanding the issue.
In all the examples above the speakers were bold and confrontational. We should do no less living in this condemned world. In each case there was a consideration made as to the context, the audience, and the gravity of the issue. These considerations must guide us in standing against intolerable views and behaviors.
True love for the lost comes not from sitting on the sidelines of tolerance while views and behaviors intolerable to God abound on every hand. Loving the lost is manifested in helping them set right the wrongs in their life. We must be willing to invest our time and resources in reaching out to lost and misled people, understanding and accepting the possible consequences we might face.
What should we do next? Be in constant prayer, allowing the Lord to speak to you and listening carefully to what He has to say. We must be in the world not of the world, always ready to defend the Gospel of Christ. And let us be bold and unashamed concerning our faith. Shame only comes to those who fear the evils of this world, and not to those who fear the Lord, Who is able destroy both the body and the soul.
How prepare are you to stand up for truth in the face of views and behaviors God considers intolerable? Talk with some Christian friends about this question. Come up with some ways to pray for and help one another to be more bold and outspoken on behalf of God’s truth in the year to come.
For more insight to this topic, order the series, Doing the Right Thing, and study it with a group of friends.