As I pen down my thoughts on the topic of this writing, I naturally look to be the Bible for answers by asking myself the question, "What was Jesus' view on tolerance? Answering this question will help us have a biblical perspective on how we relate with others, whether they are believers or non believers.
In today's world, tolerance is a word that has become very prominent especially in the face of religious radicalism and terrorism that has continued to rage across different countries in the world. It has become common to hear adherents of a particular faith come out to condemn attacks done in the name of their religion and affirm that their religion is a religion of peace and tolerance. Whether those who were at the receiving end of these attacks believe so is another matter.
So, what does the word tolerance mean? The Cambridge dictionary defines tolerance this way;
"willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them"
Looking at the definition above, the Christian man or woman should have no problem being tolerant. The scripture is clear that we should expect people we come in contact with not only to reject the truth that we believe in but also to be totally hostile to us because of what we believe.
However, we are expected to love them in spite of their opposition to us. In Luke 6:27 - 31, Jesus spoke these words that many of us would find really difficult to process; "I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you."
These are tough instructions from the Lord but obeying them is what makes is what sets us apart as children of God. I wish I could tell you that I prayed for all those who hurt me and blessed all those who cursed me in the past but one thing I can tell you is that the times I have prayed for those who hurt me, amazing things have happened which i never could have imagined!
Now that we have established that tolerance is an expected virtue for a Christian, let us now ask the next question, at what point do we become intolerant as Christians? Should we even be intolerant at all?
As usual, the Bible is our single source of truth to answer this question. One day, while Paul and Silas were going for prayers, a female medium who made a money for her masters through her fortune-telling, began following Paul and the rest of the apostles, shouting, "These are the servants of the Most High God who are telling you the way to be saved!" (Acts 16: 17) The scriptures tell us that she did this for days. It came to a point that Paul became annoyed.
I asked myself the question, "Why was Paul annoyed?" On face value, this medium was speaking the truth, they were indeed servants of the Most High so what was it about what she was doing that miffed Paul.
I believe the answer lies in the motive behind her actions. Why was she doing what she was doing? Making money for her masters. If Paul continued to tolerate her, it would hinder the work that he and the rest of the Apostles were there to do, which was to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul did not immediately jump into action; he waited while she did this every single day, probably even distracting people who had come to listen to Paul's teachings.
It got to a head one day and Paul had enough, He commanded the demon inside her, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” Acts 16:18. That action and the resultant effect on the girl, caused an uproar. The masters of the medium realised that their golden goose was no longer going to lay any eggs. In fury, they dragged Paul and Silas before the magistrates and had them arrested.
As Christians, we are to love others by being good to them even when they are unkind to us. Loving others is one thing, tolerating what they do is another. There is nowhere in scripture where it says we should tolerate the behaviour of those who do not believe but there are many places where we are called to love.
In 2 Corinthians 6: 14, we read, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
Quite a number of young Christians have struggled with the above verse especially when they have found themselves having strong emotional attachments to people who are not of the Christian faith. The fact is the moment we become Christians, we become one with Christ and His body, the church. Any intimate relationship we have afterwards must not be one that will run counter to our relationship with Christ. I am not saying such relationships always end badly but to a very large extent, it would be very difficult for that Christian man or woman to enjoy both their relationship with God as well as their relationship with an unbelieving spouse.
So are we called to love? yes we are. Are we called to be tolerant? We can tolerate the person but we are not to tolerate what they do. We are expected to stand on what we believe so that people will know whom we serve and whose we are.
In doing so, we may end up having to suffer but that's okay, Jesus suffered for us in ways we cannot even begin to fathom and through His grace, we can stand our ground against all opposition to all that He died for.
We are called to love but we do not tolerate sin.
To tolerate sin is to play with fire. The consequences can be far reaching much more than we'll ever know.