Recently I listened to an archived show of “Stacy on the Right” on Urban Family Talk. I was curious about her interview with David Limbaugh. In the opening minutes of her show she talked about being tired of the racist, misogynist, xenophobic discussions happening everywhere today. I agreed and continued to listen. She opined about tolerance and how people are constantly pushing for it, but then she broke from what I anticipated. Usually we conservative hosts point out the hypocrisy of liberals. We bemoan the calls for tolerance from the most intolerant among us. But Stacy had a perspective I hadn’t considered before. She held the call for tolerance up against what the Bible actually requires of the believer. And you might be shocked to learn that the Bible doesn’t encourage us to tolerate one another.
Tolerance brings to mind negative experiences, as Stacy pointed out. We think in terms of how much strain an object, or worse, a person can stand before they break. Medically speaking, our pain tolerance is measured by how much we can take before we might pass out due to the excruciating pain we’re experiencing. I had not thought about this in light of how we require people to tolerate one another and rejoice that this is progress. The Bible calls believers to a higher standard, one that excels beyond enduring another person until you snap. And after considering this, I won’t go back to tolerance.
In 2 Timothy 4:2, the Bible records the Apostle Paul’s charge to Timothy to preach the word. He writes to him that he should be ready to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Wait - correct and rebuke with patience? What about tolerance? What about Timothy straining to the point of breaking to correct erroneous teachings and destructive myths? Tolerance is not the encouragement; patience is. The difference may be as small but significant as compassion. Patience has it; tolerance does not.
Elsewhere Paul calls for unity in the body of Christ. And again, he doesn’t mention tolerance. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-2).
The call for the believer is simply higher than what the world can manufacture. The world says to grit your teeth and deal with each other. The Bible tells the Christian to bear with one another in love. Once again, ours is the higher calling, and Jesus is the prerequisite for proper execution.
Not only do we have a higher calling for interaction within our community, but the Christian has a higher calling for engaging non-believers as well. When we are asked to defend our faith or to give a reason for our hope, we are admonished to 1) Be ready, 2) Be gentle, and 3) Show respect, having a good conscience. Why? So that when we are slandered and accused of, oh, I don’t know, being intolerant, our “good behavior in Christ” may put our accusers to shame.
I’m done with tolerance. I refuse to tolerate my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m going to strive for the higher goal: Love, patience, and gentleness. And when things get tough, forbearance. As for would-be accusers? I’m ready. I’m armed with Truth, respect, and a good conscience. They don’t know it yet, but they’ll prefer this over tolerance.