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Applying the Character Quality of Tolerance

Tolerance vs. Condemnation

3 min

Tolerance is making allowances for those who lack wisdom or maturity and praying that they will see and follow God’s ways.

In a technical sense, tolerance is the amount of variation from a standard that will be accepted. Tolerance presupposes a precise standard of thinking and conduct by which other ideas and behavior can be evaluated as right or wrong.

Such a standard must be based on truth and fact. To form a conclusion or opinion before the facts are known is prejudice, and to tenaciously hold to ideas or behavior that disregards or is contrary to fact is bigotry.

In medical terms, tolerance is the ability of the body to withstand the effects of that which is detrimental to good health (e.g., extreme heat or cold, drugs, unhealthy foods, etc.).

In mechanics, tolerance is determined by the difference between the allowable maximum and minimum sizes of a mechanical part. Tolerance has limitations beyond which consequences occur because a mechanical part is not being used according to its design.

A Biblical word parallel to tolerance is longsuffering. The Greek word most commonly translated longsuffering is makrothumia, which means “forbearance, endurance.”

Tolerance for Believers

Scripture makes a sharp distinction between the amount of tolerance believers are to have toward each other and the tolerance they are to have toward those who are unbelievers. Every true believer is a member of the Body of Christ. (See Romans 12:4–5.)

The sacredness of the bonding and interaction that take place between believers is powerfully affirmed in Paul’s warning not to have immoral relationships. “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit” (I Corinthians 6:15–17).

Because of the need for conformity to God’s standards and for each member to demonstrate sincere love for each other, God has set up a structure of leadership in His Church to strengthen the Body and also to administer discipline to those members who refuse to live by God’s standards.

Because every believer is affected by what one believer does, the Bible gives a series of “one another” commands designed “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12–13).

Tolerance Toward Unbelievers

A believer is to have a greater tolerance for unbelievers than he has for fellow believers. Paul explains this in the same passage in which he warns believers not to have fellowship with other believers who violate God’s standards.

“I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. … For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth” (I Corinthians 5:9–10, 12–13).

A distinction must be made between unbelievers who violate the laws of the land and those who simply express opinions or actions contrary to God’s ways. Crimes against society are not to be tolerated, because a community will have as much crime as the neighborhood tolerates.

How to Show Tolerance

Tolerance is looking beyond the wrong ideas and behavior of people and seeing the needs and struggles in their lives. One who is tolerant is more concerned about showing love to people than convincing them of the error of their ways.

To tolerate people means to not argue with them. This is consistent with the instruction of Scripture. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (II Timothy 2:24). We are also to avoid foolish and unlearned questions, which produce unprofitable debate.

Tolerance is looking beyond the wrong ideas and behavior of people and seeing the needs and struggles in their lives.

Personal Evaluation

  • When you see faults in others, does it motivate you to be an example of Godly living before them?
  • Do you look for common ground with people of different viewpoints and behavior rather than focusing solely on differing opinions and standards?
  • Do you make greater allowances for unbelievers than you do for believers?
  • Do you remind yourself that tolerance is based on God’s right to rule His world and that He has not given that right to anyone outside His delegated authorities?
  • Do you serve people regardless of their viewpoints and ask God to change their hearts as needed?
Explore more about this topic in The Power for True Success


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