“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called … showing tolerance for one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 NASB).
Robert and Sharon Whittaker
In our quest for maturity in Christ, tolerance in our relationships with others is a necessity. It is a basis for developing all the fruits of the spirit, for without it how can we be joyful, peaceful, long-suffering, gentle, and godly — not just outwardly but from the heart?
The chief motivating factor for our love of God is recognition of His astounding grace in tolerating our fallen condition. When we appreciate this fact, we can then be tolerant toward others in their fallen state. We acknowledge that God’s present tolerance of sin is based on His plan of redemption of the human race. The chief gift is His Son’s sacrifice of himself to bring mankind back to oneness with God. His tolerance of sin is temporary. His permission of evil is allowed for the experiential education of mankind and the development of the Bride class of joint heirs with Christ. God temporarily tolerates imperfection in His creatures, and we must tolerate it too. Most sinful conduct is due to either ignorance of what is right or not having the fortitude to pursue righteousness. When we exercise intolerance we are led into many errors in judgment.
Cases of Intolerance and Tolerance
There are many Scriptural examples of overt intolerance. It started with Cain and Abel. Cain would not tolerate God’s acceptance of Abel’s offering if God was not going to accept his. Envy drove him to murder. Many of the Priests, Pharisees, and Scribes were intolerant of our Lord’s teachings and healings. He was not commending them nor keeping the Law the way they interpreted it. They grew in their intolerance of Jesus, to the point that they conspired for his death. Diotrephes did the church much harm in his intolerance of any members not subservient to him, even putting them out of the fellowship (3 John 9,10). Herod was intolerant of any opposition to his reign, even to the murder of boys under two years of age in his attempt to kill the Messiah. King Saul also manifested this trait in his persecution of David, for he could not tolerate any rival to his throne, even though he had been reluctant to receive the kingship when it was first bestowed upon him.
On the other hand, Nicodemus showed tolerance when he went to our Lord to find out more about Jesus’ teachings. Jesus showed tolerance in patiently answering his sincere inquiry. The Athenians gave Paul a hearing at Mars Hill and tolerantly listened, until he mentioned the resurrection of the dead. Paul tolerantly agreed to perform a Jewish rite to remove Jewish Christian prejudice against him regarding the law covenant, the performing of which rite resulted in his arrest and eventual trip to Rome.
Jesus was tolerant toward his disciples, even on the last day of his ministry, when he endured the desire of some to be the greatest in the kingdom. He was tolerant of their inability to watch and pray at the Garden of Gethsemane, when they fell asleep. How tolerant he was of Peter, who denied knowing him, not once but three times. Our Lord did not let the needed lessons slip by, but gently reproved with words that did not offend but rather brought forth the right response. The tolerance continued with Saul, later Paul, who persecuted him (the body members of Christ). Then there is our Lord’s tolerance toward us who were once alienated from God through wicked works. Tolerance is a trait of a mature Christian. It is enduring things one does not like for the sake of obedience to God and Christ.
Tolerance is not putting up with some action that is manifestly wrong; that reaction might be appropriate in our relationship with the world but not with our brethren. We are told to correct a brother if we see him overtaken in a fault, not to condemn him but to help him to see the right way, restoring such a one from the path of sin “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1 NASB). It is our phileo and agape love for the brethren that is to be exercised, and what better place for building up one another than in our gatherings. Doing so helps us grow in love. Because our ecclesia is God’s arrangement for the edification of the saints and the development of character through social interaction with those who love and want to please the Lord, should we not want to cooperate with God in blessing them? At these meetings, we have a choice: We can simply endure our time together (a form of tolerance) or we can rejoice and profit from the interchange with our brethren (true tolerance). Much depends on the mind-set of each in attendance.
“Tolerance” in Our Bibles
The English words “tolerance” and “intolerance” are not found in the King James Bible. Instead the KJV uses “bear with, endure, forbear, suffer.” The New American Standard Bible (NASB) does translate Strong’s G430 as “tolerance” in two texts, Ephesians 4:2 and Romans 2:4. Context gives us the fuller picture: “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 see from this text that tolerance is necessary to continue in unity of spirit with our brethren. Intolerance breaks this bond of unity and can lead to evil works: strife, slander, bitterness, and division. The whole chapter of Ephesians 4 is speaking to our relationship with the brethren. Skip down to verses 30-32 (NASB): “Do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Thus tolerance is part of the fruit of God’s holy Spirit.
The second text using “tolerance” is in Romans 2:4. We quote from the context, verses 1-4: “Therefore you have no excuse, every one of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
“Therefore,” in verse one, concludes from chapter 1 that the saints to whom the epistle was addressed had no excuse for their evil conduct. Their judgment was right in condemning such things, but they were ignoring the fact that they were practicing the same things and would come under the judgment of God. They had taken lightly the kindness and tolerance and patience of God, not realizing that these kindnesses should lead them to repentance.
A lesson we should take from this is that any tendency to condemn others for intolerance while ignoring our own intolerance will not escape the judgment of God. Do not think lightly of the riches of His kindness, tolerance, and patience. Tolerance toward others expresses gratitude for God’s tolerance toward us.