-Tolerance And Intolerance PART 1

The Bible sees tolerance as good or bad depending on the circumstances.

The Bible sees tolerance as good or bad depending on the circumstances.

Tolerance And Intolerance

Picture FrameTolerance is a word I have to deal with every day. In the manufacturing industry, metal and plastic die punches are used to cut out certain shapes and sizes. If tolerances are ignored, these expensive die sets will either crush or jam in use. If tolerances are ignored in manufacturing electrical switchboards – controlling the amount of current passing through conductors, or voltage surges – the results could be disastrous.


Tolerance in dimensions during the manufacture of machine parts – such as bearings, bolts and gear wheels – is also important, otherwise friction will occur. In machinery, friction results in overheating and seizure, usually caused by either insufficient tolerance in the moving parts or the lack of lubricating oil. The radiator cap in a motor vehicle holds in the pressure, allowing the coolant to reach a higher temperature without boiling. How much pressure can we take without boiling? What is our tolerance level before becoming intolerant? We need to recognize that we’re all different in temperament, viewpoint and tolerance level.

The dictionary defines “tolerance” as, “forbearance in judging the opinions, customs, or acts of others; freedom from bigotry or racial or religious prejudice.” Despite 1995 being “the year of tolerance,” ten years later we still have intolerance in the world: ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Bosnia, totalitarian rule in Muslim and Communist countries, terrorism in the Middle East, guerrilla activity in Colombia. A sign at a nearby college reads, “Ban religious intolerance!” A bit of tolerance would help us all.

There are some things I don’t tolerate in my own life. However, I don’t try to force my views on others, as trying to do so does not make me a good Christian. I believe the Christian’s approach to unbelievers is to present Christ as the opportunity arises. It’s all right to be intolerant of things in our own lives, but not to force our values on others, particularly when they do not yet know the Lord.

Our main purpose in dealing with others who have not yet accepted the Savior, is not to try to make them better citizens. As Jesus said, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Lk. 11:24-26 NKJV).

The hymn that says, “purify my heart” presents no eternal value unless Christ is allowed to fill the heart. People have the right to their own choices, even if we disagree. We can teach people Bible truths, but there’s no guarantee they’ll have eternal value unless Christ fills their vacuum.

Saul and David
King Saul was intolerant of David and pursued him with 3,000 soldiers, although David had only 600 men (1 Sam. 23:13; 24:2). On the other hand, David was tolerant of Saul in sparing his life.

But David had no tolerance for Goliath who represented the enemies of God. This intolerance angered his eldest brother Eliab who, after hearing David speak, became intolerant and accused him of pride and insolence (1 Sam. 17:26-28). After David’s victory over Goliath, Saul became jealous of David and attempted to kill him. His intolerance continued as he offered his daughter Michal to him in marriage, instead of a dowry, if he killed 100 Philistines – hoping that he would be killed by the Philistines in the battle (1 Sam. 18:7,11,21). The marriage took place. Saul hoped she would become a snare to him, but he overlooked her love for David.

Saul became more desperately intolerant and even asked his son Jonathan, a close friend of David, to kill him (1 Sam. 19:1). This only strengthened the bond between David and Jonathan, who said, “The Lord be between you and me forever” (1 Sam. 20:23). Saul’s intolerance now also showed in his anger toward Jonathan when he tried to kill him (20:30-34).

After this David fled to Ahimelech the priest, who gave him some bread and Goliath’s sword; then he fled to the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 21). When Saul found out, he not only killed Ahimelech, but the other 84 priests, their wives and children. Such was Saul’s intolerance (1 Sam. 22). David’s response was to follow God and spare Saul’s life again, which caused Saul to acknowledge his sin against God (1 Sam. 26). This shows that it takes God to change a person from being intolerant to being tolerant.

What Is Tolerance?
Tolerance involves three elements: disagreement, lack of compulsion and time. About disagreement: we never tolerate something we agree with, like or approve of. We only tolerate things we dislike. For example, I don’t tolerate my wife; I love her. But I tolerate my neighbor’s dog. So, we tolerate what we don’t like. About lack of compulsion: although we don’t like it, tolerance means we won’t stop it from happening. About time: we tolerate for a time. We can put up with something for a short time, but if the time grows longer our tolerance runs out. We forebear; we are patient.

When Is God Tolerant?
The Bible sees tolerance as good or bad depending on the circumstances. On the positive side, Psalm 86:15 says the Lord is “full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy.” God responds to wickedness by letting people do what they want; He “gave them up” to the consequences of their behavior (Rom. 1:24,26,28). He lets us keep doing things He hates, although He could destroy us in a moment. In this sense, God is tolerant of evil in the world. But how much evil can He tolerate?

God is also patient: “Do you show contempt for the riches of His goodness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Rom. 2:4 niv). John wrote, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5). It’s not immediately apparent from the text what “light” and “darkness” mean. Knowledge and ignorance? Life and death? Purity and evil? “No darkness at all” indicates profound intolerance in God. It is such an intolerance that, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in the darkness, we lie” (1 Jn. 1:6).

We can’t fellowship with God and be in darkness, because in God there is no darkness at all, for He is light. It is impossible for us to have any kind of relationship with God if we are in darkness. There is no tolerance, God will not lower His standards to ours. He cannot fellowship with darkness. With whom can He fellowship? Who can He tolerate? With those who claim to be without sin? Who are they? The self-deceived, with no truth in them (1 Jn. 1:8). “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:10).

Well then, either God fellowships with nobody, because nobody can reach His perfect standard, or there is another way to God than by our being moral. That’s the gospel, the great news! We can have fellowship with God, but we can’t make it happen, only God can. What is not possible for man, is possible for God. How? Not by lowering His standards or compromising His character. Not by letting darkness into His presence, because in Him there is no darkness at all. How can the intolerant God tolerate us? The answer is, by His Son: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin … If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:7,9). “And if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1-2).

Notice the word “all” in 1 John 1:7, 9; not just some sins, but “all” sins. He not only forgives, but cleanses and purifies us through Christ’s death. It’s not that He forgets our sins. He paid for our sins by the sacrifice of His own Son. Jesus now stands between us – the accused, and our judge – and He says “Father I died for them, I paid the punishment for their sin.” God can tolerate sin and sinners by paying for their sins through the death of His one and only Son, and rescuing sinners from their guilt and punishment. He doesn’t ignore our sin, He dealt with it at the cross. This is God’s part. Ours is to respond in simple believing faith.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alan Homan and his wife live in Sydney, Australia. They have three children and six grandchildren, and are actively involved in their local church

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website:


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