Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)
We don’t like the word tolerance in today’s culture. Well, I suppose it depends on who is talking about it. We talk about being tolerant of one another until we experience someone who is being intolerant, then we won’t tolerate it! But let’s keep the use of the word “tolerance” in the context of these verses.
These verses and the ones that follow speak directly to the unity of the church. And while it’s easy and comfortable to approach tolerance as an us/them issue, assuming people inside the church fall into one group and everyone else falls into the other, we have enough tolerance issues within the church itself. Of course, as God directs us to love one another and strive for unity within the church body, He also provides examples of the issues and solutions we can use as examples for outside the body of Christ.
We have a lot of issues. And we have many approaches in how we can deal with them. There are the biggies: gun control, abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, and the list goes on. Then there are the ones that aren’t quite on the same wide-market scale, but they soak into the very same topics as well as permeate our daily lives: forgiveness, tolerance, hypocrisy, mercy, pride, rights, humility…
We separate one from another, because we don’t want to have to apply the same standards everywhere. We can support one issue based on a premise that undermines another. We can set ourselves emotionally aside for one issue but come unglued for another. We point out the logical flaws of someone else’s argument but fail to see our own. Worse yet, we apply God’s Word to condemn others while applying God’s Word into our own lives to support ourselves. Let me just remind you: these are not us/them issues. People within the church body wrestle with these things. If everyone around you agrees and there is no difference in opinion, good for you…but you might not get out much, let others in much, or go very deep in some of your conversations.
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:1-11)
Adulterers aren’t just outside the church. We all sin. We’re all guilty. We can all be condemned. So…you don’t want to show tolerance to one another in love? Go ahead. Be the first to throw the stone.
How can we approach all the issues surrounding us?
God’s love. We can’t force others to walk the same journey we’ve walked, recognizing every truth we’ve struggled to face. We can’t fix all wrongs or become the keeper of all moral rights and wrongs. God is the judge, and He does a good job at it. He doesn’t need our help. He needs our obedience. And being obedient to God means living out the lives He created us to live, becoming more and more like Him every moment of every day.
When we walk with God, the issues become secondary. How we approach every person and every situation comes from the core of our faith. We yield to how He guides our responses, and He knows what He’s doing more than we’ll ever know while walking this journey on earth. When we’re concerned with where God has us and what He’s teaching us, we’ll be a lot less concerned with keeping track of everyone’s issues. Oh, we’ll certainly still be engaged in issues, because God engages us in the community and the world we live. But we stop trying to fit God into the issues; we let the issues fit into our relationship with God.
Dear God, I don’t want to get caught up in the world’s definition of tolerance. I want to follow You and live the way You intend me to live. Help me not to try to figure it out but to live it out. You know the way. Show me.