Notes to Pilgrims #7
Love in its purest form is unconditional and deliberate; it is selfless—seeking only the good of the beloved, regardless of any disagreements that may remain. Conversely, tolerance is always contingent, always a means toward an end. Tolerance cares not for the tolerated, only that the end of such tolerance is met. Tolerance, when threatened, becomes intolerant. Love, on the other hand, loves even in the face of strong opposition.
Nowadays people are so concerned with tolerance that one’s positions on some of the main issues of the day (i.e. same-sex issues, religious pluralism, moral relativism, &c.) seem to indicate to observers whether one is tolerant (read: intelligent/progressive/open-minded) or not. Unfortunately what this does is that it automatically relegates Biblical Christians to the “intolerant” camp on many of these issues. And because there is a prevailing conflation of the ideas of love and tolerance in the collective modern mind, Christians are then charged with being unloving. But this is an unfair characterization.
Just because Christians are intolerant (i.e. uncompromising of their positions) on certain issues because of their faith convictions, does not mean that they are ipso facto unloving as well. To say so would be just the same as charging a concerned parent of being unloving for not tolerating drug abuse in his or her child. The Christian’s objections—insofar as they are rooted in a careful and responsible reading of the what the Bible teaches on the matter—may seem intolerant to those with opposing viewpoints, however the Christian must always be fueled by a humble love and respect for the bearer of the opposed view. We are convinced of the truth of what the Bible says, and just as with any truth-loving person, we cannot abandon our positions without our viewpoints first being proven false. However, this does not mean that we should be jerks about it. Indeed the Bible nowhere allows Christians to be abrasive or obnoxious in the name of truth.
In the wake of strong accusations of bigotry and intolerance hurled at Christians by unbelievers, our charge is to maintain our positions while humbly seeking to win by persuasion and dialogue those who strongly disagree with us. It is only when we are able to respond with genuine love that our critics may see that the gospel in at work in our lives. Only when we are able to disagree without demonizing can our objections hope to be taken seriously.
Love and not mere tolerance is what ought to mark the true Christian. We must affirm the Bible as true while opposing what it says is sin; in all of this we must be guided by love. To merely tolerate what is opposed to our faith is itself evil. Can you imagine the fate of humanity had God simply decided to tolerate the Fall and allow the consequences of sin to run its full course?
Thankfully God did not (and does not!) tolerate sin. Instead God chose to love in spite of His deep disagreement with our sin and rebellion. “For so did God love the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
—Pastor James (firstname.lastname@example.org)