Understanding Intolerance

There are a number of buzzwords that are used in today’s society toward those who stand up for Biblical doctrine and precepts; one of the most commonly used is “intolerant.” If an individual speaks out against an action with the conviction it is wrong and harmful to society and the soul, he is branded with this term with all of the malice and scorn available to the accuser.

However, it is very easy to throw around terms because that is what has been heard from others; it is quite different to understand what is being said and how it applies. Consider the word “intolerance” for a moment. The root word of “intolerance” is “tolerate.” To “tolerate” something is defined by Webster as: “to allow the existence, presence, practice, or act of without prohibition or hindrance; permit; to endure without repugnance.” In other words, to be tolerant means to allow the presence, practice, or the enacting of something without prohibiting it. It is permissiveness without rebuke.

Therefore, “intolerance” means the unwillingness to allow the presence, practice, or act of something without prohibition or hindrance. You see, tolerance is a façade. It is intended to present the surface of ultimate acceptance, until you disagree with that to which the one accusing you of intolerance is tolerant; then the adherents of tolerance will show their intolerance toward you. In reality, tolerance is nothing more than a byword for those who lack conviction. Tolerance is what is practiced when an individual does not believe in anything; because to be truly tolerant means one can condemn nothing and must condone everything. It is the quintessential principle of anarchy. Very few people actually believe in tolerance, and even fewer actually practice it.

Because of the way this term has been thrown around and used in our society, many religions have gone out of their way to present themselves as “tolerant;” but can a religion be tolerant and be right in the sight of God? God has never been one of tolerance. Long-suffering: yes; loving: yes; merciful: yes; but not tolerant. You see, if God were tolerant he would never have condemned anyone for anything they ever did that was wrong. Maybe we should ask Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, David and Bathsheba, or Sodom and Gomorrah about the tolerance of God? I believe they would paint a very different picture of God than what many today proclaim. As a result, the servant of God must be as intolerant as God is. Consider two ways Christians must be intolerant.

Christians must be intolerant of sin. It is impossible to teach and convert anyone to the truth without showing the prohibition of their wrong actions. If Christians are to stand up for truth, there must be intolerance for sin. It was tolerance for sin that brought God’s wrath down upon the children of Israel in Numbers 25; it was tolerance for sin that brought the church at Thyatira under the Lord’s scorn in Revelation 2; and it was tolerance for sin that God condemned in Romans 1:32 as Paul spoke against those who condoned and took pleasure in the sins of others. If one is to be faithful to God, he cannot condone one’s actions that violate the laws of God. Therefore, it is impossible for the faithful child of God to be tolerant of many of the things for which this world desires toleration (homosexuality, abortion, moral relativism, buffet-style faith and worship, etc.).

Christians must be intolerant of evil. Though it may seem redundant to deal with evil after sin, they are not the same thing. Christians make mistakes and commit sins, that does not make them evil. Evil is the unabashed, unashamed, and unwavering defiance toward that which is good and righteous. It is defined as being that which is harmful, malicious, wicked, and seeking to uphold immorality. God told Israel, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). There are many in the world that are not simply in the wrong, but are actively trying to stamp out the right. These are the actions of evil and to refuse to speak out against them is to refuse to uphold the standard of bearing the light of the Gospel before all men (Mat. 5:11, 14-16).

There is one other matter that must be discussed regarding this understanding of intolerance. Just because one is “intolerant” of an action, belief, or system does not mean that they are hateful, mean-spirited, or desire harm to come to one involved in such actions. We are required to speak the truth about the position in which one’s actions and beliefs place them, yet there is still this commandment from Christ: “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you…. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil” (Luke 6:27-28, 35). Christians should never be those holding ill will toward another or desiring harm to come to them; but instead fervently desiring penitent acceptance of the truth and the willingness to be obedient to it.

Brethren, if we are to stand with God we must be intolerant of those things toward which he is intolerant. This does not mean that every opinion a man has that does not agree with mine requires me to take him on with the fervor of a lion pouncing on prey, for there are many opinions that are just that and should be left in such a state. Nevertheless, when it comes to the law of God and the standard of Scripture for salvation and righteousness, my opinion is of no consequence; it is the Lord’s opinion that matters and his alone. That does not mean we have to be hateful or derisive, but neither can we be tolerant with silent condoning of those things which violate the law of God.

1 Comment

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One response to “Understanding Intolerance

  1. Cheryl Cozort

    Thanks for a good explanation of “tolerance.” May all Christians remain “intolerant” of both sin and evil. Mom

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