Perhaps one of the biggest cultural movements over the past decade has been the worship of the idea of “tolerance.” The word is used by many groups, and any who are viewed as “intolerant” are identified with racists, xenophobes, radical, and harmful to society. But, while tolerance is quickly becoming a cultural litmus test, the word is not being used as it has always been defined.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb “to tolerate” as “to endure, sustain (pain or hardship).” Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary is similar: “1. to allow; permit; not interfere with, 2. to recognize and respect (other’s beliefs, practices, etc.) without necessarily agreeing or sympathizing, 3. to put up with; to bear; as, he tolerates his brother-in-law, 4. In medicine, to have tolerance for (a specified drug, etc.).” And, the computer-based dictionary Encarta defines the verb “to tolerate as “…to recognize other people’s right to have different beliefs or practices without an attempt to suppress them.”
But, when we get to the noun “tolerance,” a subtle change appears. The same electronic dictionary Encarta defines the noun “tolerance” as “…the accepting of the differing views of other people, e.g., in religious or political matters, and fairness toward the people who hold these different views.
Do you see the slight difference? Before, it is the acceptance of the EXISTENCE of other views. Now, it is the ACCEPTANCE of other views that is required. This means that culture is now eliminating anyone’s version of “exclusive truth.” No one can hold objective truth as a belief—for this is now intolerant and hateful.
We as Christians must understand that this is not new, and that Satan has been attacking the credibility of Scripture in every way that he can. He has tried to destroy all the copies of Scripture (remember Jeremiah in Jer. 36:23 and King Josiah in 2 Chron. 34:14-21?). Yet even when problems occur, Josiah “finds” the Book of the Law or a little shepherd boy “finds” the Dead Sea Scrolls that were preserved in dark caves for 2,000 years! Satan has tried to destroy the “logic” of Scripture with the so-called science of Darwin and Freud. Yet, people still get convicted of sin and get saved.
Jesus told us this would be so in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” Satan is absolutely intolerant (in the current 21st century definition of the words tolerant and intolerant) of Jesus and His followers.
From the standpoint of the original meaning of tolerance (meaning the acceptance of the existence of other religious views without holding them yourselves), Jesus was exceptionally tolerant, which means God is even now exceptionally tolerant. In the Gospels, we don’t see Jesus condemning Roman idolatry. He did not seek out those who dabble with demons and the occult for ridicule, and did not condemn the demoniac from Gerasenes (the guy who was possessed by “Legion”) as being intolerant or a “hater” for his demonic association. Jesus did not tell the Gentile Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30 that she was racist for her bigoted and idolatrous views. No, in all the cases where Jesus confronted people (mostly Gentiles) with foreign pagan beliefs, Jesus did not condemn them for believing those things. He just lovingly confronted those people with the truth. He gave them God’s truth in love. He did not yield any ground in conceding their arguments. He did not give them any room to contradict. He just presented truth, and the let the Spirit do the Father’s word.
Even in His last few days on earth before His crucifixion, Jesus was confronted by both Pharisees and Sadducees about His beliefs. He was asked about paying taxes, and who is married to whom in the resurrection. In both cases, Jesus was not openly “intolerant” about their questions or their views. In both cases, Jesus just presented the truth without negotiation or “finding common ground.” It was always about lovingly presenting the truth.
For Jesus, there was only one overriding concern—to please God (John 8:29). And, since it is the Father’s will that Jesus will not cast out anyone whom the Father gives to Him (John 6:37) He will not cast out, Jesus pursued all people with the truth. All people, regardless of their views.
God is very tolerant. In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us in Rom. 3:25-26 that God passed over the sins previously committed (intolerance towards God and His law)to demonstrate His own righteousness through the cross of Jesus Christ and that He is both just (a righteous judge) and the justifier (the one who declares someone to be righteous) of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ. God is tolerant towards the ungodly, sinners, and His enemies (Rom. 5:6-10). He is tolerant of their sin so that He would demonstrate His love towards them (Rom. 5:8) by sending His Son Jesus to die for them. God’s tolerance to people is so that He can magnify His own love by loving intolerant people.
The Apostle Peter says the same thing. In his second epistle, Peter writes “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). God is not swift to bring eternal judgment on sinners who are intolerant of Him, but rather is patient towards them as their sins mount up—so that the death of His Son once again proves to be so glorious and righteous that the worth of the death of Jesus Christ can cover the worst of intolerant sinners.
So, as we go about our days in society, we can expect certain things to be true. First, it is totally natural that the world will grow “intolerant” of true biblical Christianity. Satan and the world under His control has been hostile to God’s word of truth from the beginning. We are lying to ourselves if we truly believe that “Christian” or “civilized” governments will prove to defend toleration of biblical truth over time. Secondly, we see God’s toleration of sinners for a time so that the worth of God’s own Son Jesus Christ and His death will be magnified in saving those sinners. It is our charge to follow our Master in wearing the badge of “intolerance” by our belief in the truth and sharing that truth to our hostile enemies.
We are not to bend to cultural rules. To do so is to become tolerant (the new definition, which is not only accepting the existence of ungodly beliefs, but the actual acceptance that they could be true) of sin, society, and ultimately Satan himself. To do so is to become intolerant of God’s objective truth. We actually see a great warning in Scripture to what was a thriving church (thriving enough to be mentioned in Scripture as a prominent and wealthy church) found in Rev. 2:20:
But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.
The Church of Thyatira was a prominent church in the 1st century, and was one of the seven churches that received a letter from the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation. But, the church diminished to obscurity. What happened? What happened is that they became tolerant of sin, immorality, and the teaching of a lady metaphorically named Jezebel (after the wicked wife of King Ahab in 1 Kings). Firstly, this was an established woman teacher in the church who called herself a prophetess. She convinced the church to be tolerant of woman teachers and go against the Apostle Paul’s instructions (1 Tim. 2:12). And then, her teaching was for the church to be tolerant of various actions and practices that went against clear biblical teaching regarding immorality. Everything was to be viewed with cultural acceptance. She taught that God’s real instruction is that we are to tolerate one another’s choices. The church then believed that what is important is everyone’s happiness. They began to see that they must be tolerant of one another, and thus intolerant toward God’s objective truth.
When we are in the world, we must tolerate (accept the existence of) sin, immorality, and hatred towards God. We accept that this is the state of the world, because (1) we came out of that state, and (2) God is continually revealing Himself to Godless sinners and saving them which magnifies and glorifies His Son Jesus Christ.
As Jesus’ disciples, we must be eager to go right into the mouth of the lion to proclaim the truth of God’s love and God’s grace to godless, sinful, enemies of God without fear. However, in the church, all Christians (including leaders) must be intolerant (meaning that we do not accept any validity or goodness at all) of any sin and that which slanders God especially in their teaching. We are to be intolerant (meaning we do not give any space to unbiblical views about God) of anything that does not lift up the person and worth of Jesus Christ and move us to greater heights of holiness.
In the face of accusations of being “intolerant,” “racist,” “homophobic,” and “hateful,” we are to go into the world understanding that the prevailing view is that God’s truth is wrong, Christianity is a colonial enterprise, and that there are other valid views of worship and other valid views of religion and the person of God. We know our battlefield and we know our enemy. We are to go into battle standing on one thing—the absolute and exclusive truth of the Word of God, which is intolerant of any other view. We are to unequivocally proclaim this truth with no toleration for accepting the validity of any other claim. This is our weapon against Satan. This is our joy.