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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, February 02 2023

How society's view of tolerance differs from Biblical tolerance

There is a lot in the Bible about tolerance and it is definitely portrayed as a virtue. Tolerance is often linked with civility and respect, meaning we should still treat others courteously when they express ideas that are opposed to our own.

by Becky Sweat

Biblical tolerance involves maintaining a genuine concern for people when they rub us the wrong way, letting go of anger and resentment towards others, and staying committed to relationships. In the King James version, words like patience, forbearance, longsuffering and compassion are used instead of tolerance.

Colossians 3:13 (New Living Translation) tells us to “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.” Ephesians 4:2 (New International Version) says we should “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NIV) says to “encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”

1 Peter 4:8 explains that when we truly love others, “love will cover a multitude of sins.” That means we should not overreact to the perceived wrongs of others or harshly judge people for their offenses, nor should we spread gossip about their faults. Jesus Christ was the supreme example of this, showing unparalleled patience to those he encountered during his earthly ministry, to the degree that he was called "the friend of sinners" (Luke 7:34; Matthew 11:19).

Unfortunately what is usually promoted as tolerance today is a radically different kind of tolerance than what we read about in the Bible. This counterfeit version of tolerance asserts all views, perspectives, belief systems and lifestyles have equal merit, and that none are “more right” than any other. There are no “wrong ideas” or “sin” and people are free to decide for themselves what’s right and acceptable.

In his book, A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanley Grenz explains this new kind of tolerance is a byproduct of the postmodern worldview that has gained foothold in Western society in recent decades. Postmodernism is characterized by the belief that there aren’t absolute or eternal truths. He notes that “truth is relative to the community in which a person participates. And since there are many human communities, there are necessarily many different truths” (ibid, p. 14).

In other words, what’s considered true or right for one person or culture may not be true or right for another. Therefore, those who claim to have the truth or voice objections about certain behaviors are seen as trying to “dominate” or “force their narratives” on people, and are labeled as intolerant.

Historically, western culture emphasized tolerance of individuals, similar to the biblical definition, which meant showing patience and concern for people, even if we couldn’t excuse their behavior. But society’s view on tolerance has morphed from being longsuffering with people to being accepting of all behavior, without judgment or reservation. That includes what in days-gone-by would have been considered sins, like premarital sex, adultery, same-sex marriage, abortion, and dishonesty, to name just a few vices society no longer sees as vices.

Often the only situation where postmodernists say it’s okay to be intolerant is when it comes to confronting those who hold a biblical worldview. The belief that the Bible contains absolute truths that apply to all people and cultures is unacceptable to postmodernists. People just want to be left alone to do and believe as they choose.

Also we should never forget that tolerance is a two-way street. As big as other people’s flaws seem to us, we have our own flaws that they likely see. Biblical tolerance doesn’t stop with just being patient and long suffering with others. God wants us to address our personal shortcomings, and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Tolerance involves bearing with one another, and showing support and concern as people deal with their shortcomings and strive to obey God.